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Mass Confusion 

Church Shouldn't Be Like A Monster Truck Rally.

I have been a Catholic all my life, and, if I am to believe the Church's dogma (which I do, unfailingly), even longer than that. I've been going to Mass every Sunday for decades and I look forward to someday travelling through that lighted tunnel and then looking God right in the kneecap and saying, "Ha! You didn't think I could do it, did You?"

A few years ago I wrote about the Newman Center, the somewhat free-form Catholic Church on the University of Arizona campus. I was mildly critical of their willingness to experiment with what should be a fairly straightforward ceremony. Last time I attended Mass there, some woman was praying really loudly, apparently trying to persuade other people to join her in her efforts to make prayers non-gender specific, as in "In the name of the parent, the child, and the Holy Spirit ..."

Swear to God! So to speak.

I've always enjoyed being a Catholic. I even like going to Mass. Even on those days when the spirit doesn't exactly move me, at least I can sit there and think for an hour. But lately, it's becoming difficult. It's not a crisis of faith, just a general displeasure with the way things are going.

In just the past few months, I've seen things that fill me with questions about what is happening to my church. Among them:

· I went to a quinceanera at a Southside church. This used to be a relatively religious ceremony in which a young Hispanic girl would, on her 15th birthday, pledge to the Lord and Virgin Mother her virginity until marriage and then, in a post-Mass ceremony, be presented to society as a young lady. In the past 20 years, however, it has become a bank account-busting nightmare for parents, with rented halls and disco balls, and a dozen or so each of overdressed girls and uncomfortably tuxedoed guys making it more of a circus than a religious ceremony. A lot of priests have stopped doing them for that very reason. (Plus, unfortunately these days, by the time some of the girls hit 15, that pledge of virginity takes on a certain "closing-the-barn-door-after-the-horse-is-gone" quality.)

The priest who presided over the one I went to should have seen this one coming. All of the girls wore backless gowns! Purple backless gowns. In church. It looked like a junior hoochie convention. The parish priest I had when I was growing up would have thrown holy water at all of them and then cussed out their mamas. In Latin.

· I went to a wedding of two people who had been living together for years. Better late than never, I suppose. But the bride wore a white gown and a veil! What the hell?! Are we not supposed to know? Are we to assume that for all those years, y'all just shook hands goodnight and then retired to separate sleeping quarters? Or is your wearing a white dress just a selfish matter of your wanting to have your cake and eat it, too? You always wanted to wear a white dress when you got married; who cares if you didn't earn it?

I have to make this part real clear. What a woman does with her genitals is her business. It's between her, God, and (quite often) her gynecologist ... and then her pharmacist. In strict terms, I believe that premarital sex is a sin, but I'm not going to get all judgmental. That's their business.

I want to make it clear that I'm talking about people who have chosen to become sexually active, not those poor souls who have been brutalized in one way or another. But if you're woman enough to voluntarily engage in sex, be woman enough to admit it at crunch time. Don't stand up there in church, in front of God and everybody, and think you're fooling somebody. And most importantly, don't cheapen it for those who have chosen to live by the teachings of the Church, thereby earning the right to wear a white dress and veil. How are we supposed to teach our kids to do the right things (by the Church) if they see other people doing all the wrong things without any consequences?

And that goes equally for guys, as well. There has long been a wink-wink double standard, but it should be gone. You want to be a man-whore, that's your business. You want to follow the teachings of the Church, cool. You can have it one way or the other, but not both.

· Finally, I went back to my own church and went to the Spanish-language Mass. Remember the old days where people showed up on time, dressed conservatively and sat quietly with their kids and prayed to themselves before Mass started? Nowadays, guys wear shorts, women wear strapless stuff, and kids run around like they're at Peter Piper Pizza. And I've been in packed movie theaters that were quieter before the start of the movie than the church was before Mass started.

Then, about halfway through Mass, some idiot's phone rang. AND HE ANSWERED IT! He sat there and talked for 30 seconds or so, then hung up. I'm sorry, where I come from, he'da' been beaten to death by a cadre of irate nanas, who would have been in such a state of grace afterwards for having done so, they wouldn't have even needed to go to confession.

These are just some of the bad and selfish people who are messing things up for everybody else. Next week (or month, or whenever I get around to it), I'll discuss the good people who are making it harder to go to Mass. I call it the Tyranny of the Choirmaster.

That will be followed in short order by the Excommunication of Tom. My church can accept everything except criticism.

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