Busted Halo

In repentance for her usual neglect of churchgoing, sometime-Catholic Amanda Farah gives up swearing for Lent and explores the season’s meaning & traditions. (And follow her penalty box total.)

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March 26th, 2011

Apologizing for My Catholicism (or sometimes lack thereof)


apology-flashAs 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.

The Author : Amanda Farah
Amanda Farah is a freelance writer and photographer living in Brooklyn. Amanda spends most of her time writing about music and pop culture for magazines and websites in the US and UK.
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  • Jelmar

    True my bru!!When we think of submitting to the Lordship of Jesus, we must not think in terms of faleln earthly lords and kings…. He is entirely different. Submitting to or obeying God is submitting/subjecting ourselves to His Goodness over every area of our lives. Under His Lordship, there are no burdens…. and an easy yolk. How often it is so difficult to just rest beneath such undeserved favor!!…. This is the obedience required by our Good God: that we would let His Favor invade our entire lives and allow Him to entirely express His love to each of us!

  • David O’Sullivan

    as someone who grew up in and around London, I can say that my religion was regarded as weird by my acquaintances, so I did not explain it…I was regarded as part o a minority…

  • Tim

    That which is eternal does not change.

    Many “new age religions” although they may have some elements of truth in them are fads. Fads developed by man for the satisfaction of man.

    That is to say often they pick which truths they like and which lies they would like to be truths. And when both truth and falsehood exist within a “religion” the religion contradicts itself and as such ceases to serve any purpose.

    That human desire to be accepted and loved by his fellow man often manifests itself in an acceptance of these new fads, or at least not opposing them so as to not hurt anyone’s feelings.

    Accepting a lie is essentially accepting sin and in accepting sin we become contradictions, contradictions which are foreign to ourselves and foreign to God.

    This is all very easy to write but very hard to put into action when presented with a situation in which one must defend the truth. But we should also always recognize that deepest desire of man is to love and be loved and that desire is only satisfied in truth. This eternal truth resonates within the inner being of all men. Therefore merely stating the truth, although it will put you initially in an uncomfortable situation sticks with the person regardless of how hard they try to ignore it.

    I mean look at Christ. He stated the truth and lived it. The perfect example of this eternal truth and the perfect example of who man truly is! This made him so unpopular that his own people, those who were supposed to love him, murdered him.

    We have been shown something magnificent, eternal, and true within our catholic faith and that is not something to be ashamed of!

  • Jorge

    Your story about accepting a dinner invitation on a Friday in Lent to try a friend’s potato soup and finding that it had chopped ham in it made you feel that it was easier to ask God’s forgiveness than to offend your hostess, reminds me of a sermon by a Jesuit priest who helped out in my parish on Sundays in the 1950’s. This was the pre-Vatican II days when Friday abstinence was known worldwide to be a signature Catholic requirement and everything in the Baltimore Catechism was black and white: there were no gray areas.

    This priest, in talking about how we should bear witness to the gospel commands to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, said that if you found yourself dining at a lunch counter or a non-catholic friend’s home on a Friday, you shouldn’t worry about what might be floating in the soup. Being courteous to your host (or for that matter, realistic about limited restaurant choices) would not in any way offend a loving God who knows your heart. So, while you might decline the pork chop entree as witness to your lenten observance, praising your friend for her delicious soup would please God. And I’m confident that His mother would approve as well.

  • Jorge

    Your story about accepting a dinner invitation to try a friend’s potato soup on Friday and finding that it had chopped ham in it made you feel that it was easier to ask God’s forgiveness than to offend your hostess, reminds me of a sermon by a Jesuit priest who helped out in my parish on Sundays in the 1950’s. This was the pre-Vatican II days when Friday abstinence was known worldwide to be a signature Catholic experience and everything in the Baltimore Catechism was black and white: there were no gray areas.

    This priest, in talking about how we should bear witness to the good news of Jesus Christ commandments, i.e., to love God and love your neighbor as yourself, said that if you found yourself dining while

  • DMM

    Apology, from apologia, meaning an explanation.
    It seems apt to me that when I apologize for who I am or what I practice or believe, that it says much more about me than of the other person.
    Perhaps another Lenten practice, for those of us struggling with making such excuses, would be to stop (before offering such apologies) and consider why we feel the need to provide justification, excuses, or further explanation. As your last paragraph nicely demonstrates, maybe I should consider my presumptions about the other person and consider what it is that I feel awkward about or what I feel a need to clarify or justify.

  • Jairo

    There is wonderful book that you may enjoy.
    Its written by Pastor Tim Keller
    Its called The Reason for God, Belief in an Age of Skepticism. your not alone.

  • Brad

    I understand your feelings and feel the same way sometimes myself. Sadly, there should be no reason to apologize for being Catholic. But there is and it is the terrible way the church has handled the sex abuse issue that just doesn’t seem to go away. I mean if that isn’t evil nothing is. I hope they purge everyone involved out of the church once and for all and get this behind us.

  • William Grogan

    Apology for belief is sort of an oxymoron isn’t it? I mean if you feel a need to explain or apologize for your beliefs, then there is something amiss. Faith and religion are very private. For me, it’s something I don’t discuss with others, unless it is the preferred topic of conversation at a social gathering, say. And even then, particulars of my beliefs are pretty carefully guarded, not because I feel a need to explain or apologize, but because it is between myself and God, whomever I consider Him or Her, to be. The best part about this practice, I believe, is that I feel free to believe as I am comfortable with, and others the same, granting respect for all different faiths, without pigeonholing anyone into being fundamentalist, New Ag-y, or whatever.

  • Pauline

    Faith, I agree is a very private matter, how we honour God is between you and the maker, BUT to applogize for being Catholic, leaves me speechless. We are so honoured to be part of the church that Jesus personally establised. When asked a question I try to answer to the best of my ability, I remind them that the Catholic faith is the one church that all Christians belonged to. Man pulled away and made new rules, now what has happened, there are thousands of new religions being formed daily, if you don’t like the rules in the current church, just start your own. Thank you for allowing us to express how we feel.

  • Megan

    Great entry. I completely identify. I’m also writing a Lenten blog and sharing it with friends on Facebook. It’s the same dilemma: there are those who are going to be like, “What do you mean you don’t go to church regularly?” and those who are probably thinking: “JESUS FREAK!” But not only has it been a great discipline for me, but I’ve also received beautiful, thoughtful feedback from friends of all stripes. Very affirming!

    Keep up the good work!

  • Caitlin

    My old pastor would always rant in his style about people who obsessed about not eating meat on Fridays but never worked on anything else during Lent.

    You did the right thing at your friends house.

    And I’m always apologizing for being Catholic. People just don’t expect it.

  • Frank

    Religion IS personal and private. How and when you worship, even IF you worship, is between you and God. It is nobody’s business. No apology is necessary for any action or for any inaction. Matthew, Chapter 6, verse 6 mentions keeping your worship between you and God.

    I might explain why I do or don’t do certain religious things. I do not apologize for them.

  • Philly Joe C

    Thanks for your thoughts and experiences on this matter. Yes, sometimes I apologize too much, only to find that the person is much less biased than I presumed. I think I have to look at my own inner biases that I project onto others. I am proud of Catholic Social Teaching and a Church that takes the time to explicate what a Catholic sense of Justice would actually look like in our lives today, rather than trumpet The Kingdom as some sort of prize that we win after death. CST concerns itself with a reality that we can each commit ourselves in order to follow Jesus’s
    example in real terms and be a “Neighbor” to those who suffer, now, and not fill the air further with pious yet empty platitudes.

  • PJ

    I totally empathize. I find myself walking the tightrope more often than one might think in a week. When I first relocated, my Methodist neighbors brought me welcome gifts every week until I had to make a public declaration of faith:) Now everyone knows and I just answer a lot of questions. With a smile.

  • Otto kobler

    Rather than being bothered about the questions just realize it’s an opportunity to talk about your faith and God. God knows, they probably don’t have anyone else to talk to about it.

  • Kathleen Lyons

    I so enjoyed this blog entry as I could definitely relate! I have found myself put on the spot more than once since the Ash Wednesday comments – “there’s dirt on your forehead”; “you can wipe that off now”, and so on – and it’s only been two weeks! “Why do you go to mass at lunchtime”; “Why don’t you eat meat on Friday, it’s not a rule anymore”. Why are people comfortable in questioning how I practice my faith!? I find myself always playing defense!

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