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The Catholic Moment: What keeps me Catholic? Church festivals

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

By Michael Daley

Wanting to test my hypothesis I asked my wife what word came to her mind after ”St. Rita’s.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “festival.”
Was there any other possibility? Yes, I know that St. Rita is a school for deaf children, but the importance of its festival cannot be underestimated. What may surprise you is that I say this theologically, not financially.

Most Cincinnati cradle Catholics take church festivals for granted. In fact, they’re synonymous with summer. They’re a holy weekend of obligation, if you will. For someone who grew up on the northern edge of the Bible Belt in Lexington, Ky., however, they were a very new and appealing experience for me. With funnel cakes, snow cones, cotton candy, bid-n-buy, carnival rides, poker and blackjack, it’s like the state fair and Jesus combined. Who would have thought being Catholic could be this much fun?

My wife and I even had one of our first dates at a festival at St. Cecilia Parish in Oakley. Over the years I have become convinced that festivals are one of the best things about Cincinnati Catholicism. In fact, they help keep me Catholic.
Though I don’t agree with them, I can sympathize with those who say that in having festivals the church is being hypocritical and/or sacrilegious. Just look at all the drinking and gambling going on. Being guilty of these activities myself every now and then, thankfully I can count as no less a model than Jesus himself who was accused from time to time of being a “glutton and drunkard” (Luke 7:34). (One of the few times I can count myself in good company.)

It should never be forgotten that Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11). There, much to the surprise of those gathered and to the delight of the host, He turned water into wine.
I remember well the engagement party of my older brother. He was marrying a Southern Baptist. One of the first of many marital concessions was that her family allowed wine but nothing else.
The beauty of Catholicism, though, is that we’re a tradition that combines both Mardi Gras (celebration) and Ash Wednesday (penance). The path to holiness comes in many shapes and forms. Jesus never separated the body from the soul, life from spirituality. Through festivals, the church takes the things of life — food, water, entertainment, family, friends, weather — and consecrates them, makes them holy or recognizes the presence of God already there. It’s what the Incarnation is all about.
It is strange, then, that a common critique of Christians is that we are an angry, unfriendly, unhappy group of people. In the midst of her conversion to Catholicism, a woman once mused, “You say you have the truth. Well, the truth should set you free, give you joy. Can I see your freedom? Can I feel your joy?”
A Rabbinic saying captures this sentiment in similar fashion: “At Judgment Day we will be called to answer for all the good things we might have enjoyed but did not.”
Our reply as Catholics should be, “Get thee to a festival.”

Daley is a religion teacher at St. Xavier High School and a freelance writer.

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