I was so happy to finally be able to go to Midnight Mass again. I've been too sick to go for the last three or four years and I was excited to feel up to a late night in a crowd. I began attending Mass about ten years ago when I missed a religious component to Christmas in our very secular household—I particularly missed singing all the Christmas carols. I chose Mass over a Protestant service because there's lots of singing, praying, liturgy (that I can bring my own meaning to), and not so much preaching. And generally Catholics really know how to enjoy the Baby Jesus and the Holy Family, Protestants tend to skip over Jesus' actual life—he was born so he could die, that's the only important thing!
Last night my 15yo and I went to a different church than we've gone to in the past, to meet up with a friend of hers. The service was very much about the pageantry and spectacle: the Knights of Columbus in full regalia, swords aloft, to guard the procession of the Bible and the priests to the altar; incensing everything; bowing, kissing, crossing, in front of statues, Bibles, Eucharist paraphernalia; the entire liturgy was sung, we bounced from seated to standing to kneeling to standing. It was high drama religious theater.
Then the pastor comes down in front of the altar to preach and starts out with a slide of an Orthodox icon that he used to introduce his point in object lesson form. Initially I was impressed because this guy was clearly reaching outside his own tradition in what he considered a broad-minded and ecumenical inclusion. But then he veered off into his main point—the baby Jesus depicted in grave clothes and in a coffin, the Reason for the Season is Death and Ultimate Sacrifice (as if being born a human baby isn't a bigger sacrifice for a deity). That God "loved" us so much that …blah, blah, blah, John 3:16…that God loves us enough to transform us (loves us enough to change us from our obviously currently unacceptable selves) if only we will let him. Still the onus on us to DO something to "be reconciled" with God.
But truly, all that depressing theology aside, the bits of the homily that upset me the most, that I raved about all the way home (at one in the morning, to the annoyance of my totally "all religion is a joke" daughter) was the casual, almost throwaway references to the Culture War: the priest opened his homily with "Merry Christmas! (We responded "Merry Christmas, Father") You can say that here. Unlike Out There, like in the stores and stuff, where you might not be able to say it, here we rejoice that we can loudly proclaim the reason for our celebration…." (Really? There are places, stores or anywhere, where people are not allowed to say Merry Christmas to each other? Where does this priest hang out?), and then later his patronizing tirade about an atheist conspiracy to evangelize our youth into atheism, by spending "lots and lots and lots" of money on "billboards around town, I'm sure you've seen them" that try to claim God isn't a rational proposition "when we all know, everyone knows deep in your heart that God exists."
Why? Why make up shit like that? There are enough reasons that actually do exist, that are real problems faced by Christians even in a society that privileges Christianity, why make up stuff? Although I admitted, that he probably actually believed it was true. He seemed like a True Believer™ so he most likely didn't even think he was propagandizing.
Which was probably the saddest thing I saw last night.