As a sometime Catholic, I often find myself apologizing. Primarily, I find myself apologizing to those more devout than myself for my negligence. This comes up most often having dinner at my parents’ house with the priests from their parish, who ask the perfectly innocent questions of why they haven’t seen me in a while or where I go to church in my neighborhood.
The other side of the coin is having to apologize for having religious convictions at all. As someone in my twenties living in an urban area and in a so-called creative profession, it’s generally assumed by my acquaintances and associates that I am either an atheist or subscribe to some kind of a New Age-y religion (possibly with the intention of annoying my more conventional parents).
I get a lot of surprised reactions when it comes out that I am Catholic, and I often have to run damage control; this ranges from assuring whomever I’m talking to that he or she hasn’t offended me with an off-handed comment, or telling someone else that my social philosophies aren’t that different than his or hers despite my faith.
I feel worse at these times about apologizing for my faith because I don’t feel it’s something I should have to apologize for. However, amongst the young, hip urban set there are those who mistake an open mind and progressive attitudes with antiquated prejudices against religions they don’t understand. These are the people who wouldn’t bat an eye if I said I was Buddhist, because that would be appropriately New Age-y enough for them.
While religion is typically a very personal (and thus private) thing for me, Lent is a curious time of year when even those of us who aren’t deeply devout become a bit more public about our faith. For starters, what you give up can be very public — if you give up coffee, for example, and are slumped over half asleep at your desk, your co-workers are likely to ask questions. In my case, the abrupt pauses in my otherwise rapid speech as I grope for a word other than the expletive one that comes to me naturally raises eyebrows after it’s happened a few times.
Not eating meat on Fridays really seems to be one of the greatest social hurdles for me during Lent. The dietary restriction can influence what restaurant I go to (steak houses are usually out, unless they have fish on the menu.) Worse still is going to dinner at someone’s house. A friend invited me over on a Friday during Lent once to try a potato soup recipe she was very excited about. The soup turned out to have finely chopped ham in it. Forced with the dilemma of refusing her hospitality (and possibly getting a ribbing about being “pious,” which I certainly am not) or eating meat on a Friday, I ate the soup. I decided it was easier to ask God’s forgiveness than hurt my friend’s feelings.
Of course, sometimes I ready my apologies when they’re not even necessary. I was at a friend’s party last week and got chatting to a woman that I met for the first time. Upon learning I’m a freelance writer, she asked what projects I was working on now. I prepared to explain why writing a Lenten blog didn’t make me a religious fanatic, and explaining that I had given up swearing for forty days. Readying myself for a rolling of eyes or a disdainful look, I was surprised by her response.
“Oh really?” she said. “Guess what I gave up?”
Penalty Box Tally: $6.50
Originally published on March 26, 2011.