OMG Lent is here. Doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? How many of you are ready for Lent? In New Orleans it’s Fat Tuesday. Here in Maine, we’re all fat every Tuesday. But it’s time to repent, to deny the good life, to get “ashed up.”
You know who you are. You are among the over-60-years-of age-Catholics who still remember when Lent was a big deal, a period of deprivation and atonement when you were forced to “give something up,” and you picked something easy. I always gave up Black Jack gum, which I hated, or chocolate-covered cherries which I couldn’t afford.
This year I may give up Facebook.
You all have your stories of Lent. You remember going to get your ashes, and then walking around all day with a dirty smudge on your forehead that told everyone you were Catholic.
I remember a strict boss at the Plaza Hotel when I was working there. He always got his ashes, and everyone else, eager to please or afraid of crossing him, got theirs as well, even Bernie Goldman, the doorman, who was of course, Jewish. Before coming to work or on our coffee break, we walked down the street to St. Patrick’s, and had it done. There was a sort of exclusivity about it. “Hey, look. I got my ashes and you’re going to hell.”
I was a grown man before I dated an Episcopalian girl and found out they got ashes too. I felt betrayed.
As kids we always wondered where the ashes in that bowl the priest carried came from. Horrible, scary rumors were whispered around the school yard: Alan Powers said they came from dead people. Paddy Car said they were donated from all the furnace ash pits in the neighborhood, and that the ashes had to be from Catholic ash pits. The worst was Betty Eichelberger’s rumor that they were from cremated dogs.
In the spirit of Lent, I wrote to my baby sister to find out where my old friends were, and to ask them to share with me their memories of the season of Lent in the four square blocks we called home. I am afraid to do so because I fear the letters will come back. She wrote that she could find none, that they were all passed, in distant nursing homes, or were so elderly that they wouldn’t remember me.
There must be some. If women do truly live longer than men, then my old girlfriends should still be alive, and surely they wouldn’t have forgotten me or the sins we committed together. I’m sure my name came up over the years in many a confessional box.
Of course most of them married — except for Mary McNamara, who became a cloistered nun — and so have names I don’t recognize.
Yes, I admit I was not the most blessed of Catholic boys at St. Mary and Josephs, but I was popular. I was popular because I was good at drawing caricatures of other students on the blackboard. But my greatest gift was making up more colorful sins to confess to father in the booth. I can’t repeat them here as this is a family newspaper, but they mostly had to do with what the father called “impure thoughts.” From age 10 until I reached “elderly,” I have enjoyed many an impure thought. I actually made money from some of them that became television scripts.
For those of you raised in religions that don’t have confession and therefore are doomed to eternal fire in hell, confession is a feel-good practice.
Once your sins are spoken to a priest and unloaded from your conscience, you’re absolved and free to go forth and commit them again, often with greater flourish.
For those boys and girls who led purer lives, the sisters would often write some general sins on the blackboard for them to confess.
Sister’s sins were pretty banal: cursing, disobeying one’s parents, eating meat on Friday and missing Mass. They were never as good as mine.
But that was long ago. It’s Lent 2014, and Good Friday will be here soon, which means that the devout will have to the go to the Stations of the Cross.
This involves a lot of soul searching, abstaining and genuflecting.
I don’t do any of that anymore, I’m elderly.
J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer