Kiss My Ash

     Given that today is Ash Wednesday, I am reminded of a rather humiliating experience that I encountered when I was a teacher in what seems like a lifetime ago. Other than the Jewish Spanish teacher, I was the only non-Catholic teacher in a Pre-K through eighth grade Catholic school.  Luckily, I was never really shunned for being a < GASP! > Methodist until one particular season of Lent in which a rather peculiar priest gave a ridiculously biased homily in which I was indirectly made to look like the scum of the earth.

     As a teacher in a Catholic school, I was required to take my class to a whole school mass once a week.  This was really the only time that my students ever noticed that I wasn’t Catholic.  Since this particular church wasn’t crazy about the idea of non-Catholics participating in Communion, I had to just stand over in the aisle and let my eighth graders pass by me to receive the “body and blood of Christ.”  Sometimes the kids would ask me why I wasn’t participating, but they always seemed to be cool with my simple explanation of not being a member of their church.  It just wasn’t an issue with them, and I never ever felt they were looking at me like I was the devil reincarnated.

     That all changed one day though when Father Clueless decided to try to make a comparison between Ash Wednesday and a baseball game.  This guy was famous for trying to get the kids to participate in his homilies, asking a shit ton of questions that made all the teachers cringe as their students shouted out a whole string of ridiculous answers at volumes that nearly shattered the stained glass windows of the church. This time, he asked the kids how they could tell the difference between the “good guys” (the home team) and the “bad guys” (the away team) when they go to a baseball game.  After five excruciatingly long minutes of insane responses, he finally was able to get someone to yell out, “Their uniforms!”  He said that the way you could tell Catholics apart from others on Ash Wednesday is much like how you tell the good guys and the bad guys apart at a baseball game.  He went on to explain that Catholics wear a uniform of ashes on their foreheads in the shape of a cross, so they’d be able to tell who the “good guys” are all day long.  Slowly, I could see multiple sets of eyes turning towards me and my naked forehead.  Now, keep in mind that I wasn’t supposed to participate in the marking of the ashes since I wasn’t a member of the church, so in turn, to my students, that would mean that I, in fact, was one of the “bad guys.” Awesome.  As if I needed to give my punk-ass eighth graders any more ammunition to use against me!  I was so pissed that I wanted to go smear those damn ashes right off his head and onto his pretty white robe.

     I actually contemplated taking some eye shadow and smudging it above my eyebrows just to get through the day, but I later decided against it.  I knew that I was a damn good person even if I didn’t have a freaking cross drawn on my head.  And thankfully, kids have ridiculously short attention spans, so my students had forgotten about the whole ordeal within minutes of the mass’s ending.  However, it still infuriated me that someone with that kind of authority would choose such a slanted message to present to an audience of young, impressionable minds.  Way to preach that holier than thou attitude, dude. Call me crazy, but I personally think we should be teaching tolerance and acceptance and respect.  The world’s biased enough as it is — do we really need to be adding more fuel to the fire?


11 Responses

  1. That’s a heck of a story!
    LOVE your message though!
    We have enough to divide us in this world, and not nearly enough to unite us!


  2. Great story but, unfortunately, I bet some of those 8th graders remember that judgment to this day. We can only hope that they saw how ridiculous and intolerant this man was/is and chose to rejoice in the variety of life/cultures on this planet, rather than judge and condemn those who think differently than he does. What a horrible message to give to anyone! This ‘Father’ should not be teaching and influencing young people.

    And, that really is a terrible analogy for him to use: the “away team” were the “bad guys”? Really? What sort of sportsmanship is that? In sports, you are taught to respect the other team and their efforts – win or lose. There are no “good guys” or “bad guys”, there are only athletes. Period.

    For him to teach that because other people believe in a different religion that makes them “bad guys” (seriously, did he think he was speaking to 4 or 5-year olds?) is ridiculous! Wow. Guess he would have loved the Ori in Stargate Atlantis.

    He has a right to believe what he wants as long as he’s not promoting annihilation of the “bad guys”, but, in my opinion, he shouldn’t encourage intolerance, judgment, and condemnation towards those who think differently. This world is filled with fascinating cultures and loving belief systems. We should embrace our differences and learn from each other. Isn’t that what we’re here for? To love, learn, and grow? Just my two cents. 🙂

    • You’re right — his message was so wrong on MULTIPLE levels. He clearly didn’t think it through when writing it.

  3. Oh my god…literally. There are probably numerous stories like this. I agree with Lisa, too, about the sports motif being wrong in so many ways.

    Where is the grace? compassion?

    Thanks for sharing a memoir that got my blood boiling!

  4. So sad that a man that has literally given his life to God can be so rude and biased, not to mention insensitive.

    As a child who attended Catholic school 1st through 8th grade, I can sadly say that I experienced more than one homily such as this, and this is part of the reason that I no longer go to a Catholic church. I don’t agree with the fact that you are to go to church and listen to a man preach his opinion that you are supposed to also believe. The icing on the cake was listening to a priest that was a close family friend tell dirty and racist jokes.

    No thanks.

  5. That’s ridiculous. I was taught that you aren’t supposed to disrespect others’ religions. It’s one reason I prefer Byzantine Catholic Church to the Roman Catholic Church.

  6. Oh, my goodness! I’m so sorry you had such a terrible experience! I’ve never really understood the double-standard that surrounds the Catholic faith. I, too, am a Methodist, so I feel your pain. (though our particular church – or perhaps it’s just the UM branch – does do ashes for Ash Wednesday).

  7. Kiss my Ash…Awesome!

  8. Boy was that preist waaaaaay off. We just returned from Ash Wednesday services at a METHODIST church where my husband, the ASSOCIATE PASTOR, just led the service and ing with the SENIOR PASTOR, imposed ashes on the foreheads of everyone there. Imposition of ashes is SACRAMENTAL not a SACRAMENT, meaning anyone regardless of faith or mo faith may participate. Evidently this priest must have been absent that day at seminary. I am a former Catholic and it’s attitudes and lack of knowledge like this that led me to leave the church.

    • He was really just a clueless priest. I honestly don’t think he meant harm, but he clearly didn’t think about how that message could be perceived by someone who was not Catholic. It was a very poor choice of words.

  9. I think any priest, preacher, minister etc. who hasn’t been on the “bad guys” side of a homily, doesn’t know what it feels like to be there & consequently doesn’t check their words for harmful meanings.

    (try growing up Mormon in a predominantly Southern-Baptist small town)

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