Sunday, May 28, 2017

Living in Bodies and a My Sunday Best

I guess when you think about it - our bodies are really important.

Get used to that outfit folks. I'm currently 17 weeks preggo
and it's just about the only Mass-worthy outfit I gots, so
you're going to be seeing a lot of it

Earlier this week, I picked up my copy of The Catholic Catalogue (my first actual, physical, non-internet reference for how to live like a Catholic), with the intention of reading up on the Ascension which we celebrated today.

Instead, I found myself in the beginning of the book reading about the sign of the cross. You know, that quintessential hand movement that makes Catholics stick out like sore thumbs at any ecumenical prayer meeting or that football players sometimes make after a touchdown? It seems so basic to Catholicism. So fundamental. And yet...

Can I share this in my most quiet, private voice?

I've always had such trouble with it. Not inside the church, of course. It's quite easy to make the sign of the cross when you're standing with a hundred or so others who are making it with you. But outside. With others. Certainly with non-Catholics, but oftentimes with Catholics as well. Heck, we don't even make it at dinner before we say grace. (Which, as you can guess, will now change as a result of this post.)

"But why?" you may ask. "Aren't you, sort of, a cradle Catholic?" Well, yeah. Sort of. I've spent more time in a Catholic church than any other. But you know what the real deal is?

(Lean in close please... cause I'm not really wanting to say this out loud.)

It makes me feel like a fake.

It's a pious action, and I fear it makes me look more pious than I am. It feels like a "holier-than-thou" motion when in the company of Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

So this was my frame of mind when I ran across this passage in The Catholic Catalogue:

"I remember as a teenager sometimes wishing for a disincarnate, less bodily Christianity. I wanted to belong to a church that was less ancient, more modern, less strange. I worried when my parents made the sign of the cross in mixed company that people would think they were superstitious, or uneducated fools. I wanted God to be a private matter. I wanted him to live in my heart, not on my head. Being Catholic was embarrassingly bodily, and I knew that public expressions of religion, like the sign of the cross, were considered poor taste." (emphasis mine)

This woman got me! She might be coming at it from a slightly different place, but she nailed it for me: being Catholic is embarrassingly bodily. From making the sign of the cross, to fasting from meat on Fridays; from using rosary beads while praying, all the way to practicing Natural Family Planning (NFP) instead of using contraception - the Catholic church insists that we are not to ignore how our bodies play into our spirituality (and more than that, it provides guidance on what a holy use of our bodies looks like).

To be honest, this was one of the aspects of Catholicism that drew me back to the Church - it forced me to get out of my head. When I have to physically go somewhere and talk to someone to confess and repent, then forgiveness no longer feels like a mind game. (And, on a related note - it then also happens! Prior to returning to the Catholic church I hardly ever thought about confessing my sins - because, honestly, who ever wants to think about that? - and so, I didn't.)

But this is also the aspect of Catholicism that is the most uncomfortable - because when I use my body to, say, make the sign of the cross, I am immediately communicating to others that I'm playing by different rules. My whole self shrinks back from sticking out like this. I'd like to call it "being sensitive to others" or even "showing by example how to not let ritual get in the way of authentic prayer" - but we all know it's fear. So maybe, maybe, if I remember that the sign of the cross *is* a prayer in of itself; maybe if I remember that "to make the sign of the cross is to say yes to God, yes to the Blessed Trinity, yes to the passion of Christ and the forgiveness of sin" then maybe I can put this fear aside, and step into this reality of new life and being clothed with Christ. Because that is what I really want - from the top of my head, to the tips of my toes.

Brownie points to you for reading to the end - if for no other reason than to find out why in the world I considered this a "My Sunday Best" post... well, isn't it obvious? Bodies, clothes, Catholicism... it's all related, right? Right? Well, should you disagree, head over to Rosie's to see what a real MSB looks like. And thanks for letting me ramble.


  1. Hey, any MSB is a "real" one! And I really enjoyed reading your reflection - keeping our religion private and in our heads means we have no accountability, right? Sometimes it feels awkward making the sign of the Cross in public, but maybe there's someone who really needs to see that!

    1. Oh good! I'm glad I'm still playing by the MSB rules :)
      And yes, that's a good point about the accountability. I feel like that was an aspect that was lacking in my "protestant phase" (I'm still looking for a good way to talk about that). Certainly you could have an "accountability partner" but you had to find that person yourself, and of course, it was something you needed to desire for yourself. And how many people do that? It's a strength, I think, of Catholicism to expect *and provide* a way for people to live in accountability to each other.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this. I have been a revert now for over 13 years. When we came back to the Church, it was from a non-denominational Christian background. I struggled with making the sign of the cross in public as well. I knew I wanted (needed) to, but I didn't want to make it too hastily like I was embarrassed. I also didn't want to make it too slow like I was holier than everyone else. I really struggled with it for the first year. I love what Rosie said above about how someone else may need to see it. It is very true!
    I love the colors in your skirt. Pretty!

    1. Thank you for your perspective Erica! So may I ask what helped you get over your embarrassment? Was it "just doing it"?

  3. Yes! I worry about alienating people or sending the self-righteous vibes out when making the sign-of-the-cross in public, too. It's odd to think something so little could be a form of evangelization, but it is. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Ah, that was the aspect that Rosie and Erica must have been talking about above: evangelization. I'm not sure how I missed what they were saying the first time around... In any case, that's a good point, well taken.