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What keeps me Catholic? I can’t hide

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One thing that both amuses and frightens me about Jesus is His table manners or, better and more honestly put, His table mates. In contrast to the ascetical practices of John the Baptist, Jesus is accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

Pretty much fits the definition of the classic parental scold if you ask me: “You are judged by the company you keep.” Growing up, hanging around unsavory characters, I was sure to get that judgmental line. In reference to Jesus and the season of Lent, it looks like Jesus is too much Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday,” and not enough Ash Wednesday. He is a person we should avoid. Scandalous things are bound to happen if we do.

As a religion teacher, I spend the better part of my day, week, and year trying to convince myself and others that I’m a good person, damn good in fact. As a Cincinnatian, it’s even worse due to the fact that wherever you are in town, someone seems to know someone who knows you. And that’s how rumors and gossip get started. Therefore, in keeping with my righteous standing, I try to spend as little time as possible with “tax collectors and sinners.”

Wouldn’t you know it, but every Sunday, I’m put back in my place. Prior to receiving the Eucharist, I am asked to publicly voice the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” It is here where I’m forced to admit and recognize the person — a sinner — I have been hiding from for the majority of the week.

This sinful realization is not meant to keep me away from the Eucharist, but better prepare me for the graced encounter to come. Never, and I do mean never, upon uttering these words have I heard Jesus say, “No.” He always replies, “Come, receive my body, drink my blood.” His table fellowship, His love, His breaking of any number of false boundaries, is, indeed, boundless. As a result, the Eucharist doesn’t allow me to hide from God’s grace.

Similarly, the ashes of Ash Wednesday do much the same thing. As Americans, we spend the bulk of our time trying to tell others through what we have and own that we’ve made it; that we’re important. House. Car. Clothes. Education. Surely, they communicate to others that we’re successful. Yet, the formula accompanying the ashes says otherwise: “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” At least for one day a year, I can’t hide from this truth of faith. I’m not defined by what I have, but who I am. Equally unsettling is the other formula of the day, “Repent and hear the good news.” Awash in the supposed good news of materialism and consumerism, I can’t hide from the false messages they offer either.

To top it off, my dad is visiting soon. I tell myself that he’s come not to visit me, but the grandkids. They seem to enjoy him. Each visit between us, however, brings unspoken words and stories. We’ve never recovered from an act of infidelity long ago. It allows me to easily peg him with the word sinner though. As a result, in so naming him I can avoid from doing so with myself.

As I’ve come to realize though each visit, however uncomfortable, brings with it the grace of not being to hide from the fact that I’m as much a sinner as he is.

I can’t hide. It’s what keeps me Catholic.

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

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