When I was a senior at Manhattan College, I gave my twin sister Regina away to Charlie, right before he shipped off to APO addresses in Vietnam. I never saw him again. The marriage took place in St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Bushwick Avenue. My parents refused to attend because their priest said Charlie’s priest wasn’t a true priest. But their refusal wasn’t really based on clerical righteousness. It was all about King Henry VIII creating the Anglican/Episcopal Church in 1534. After all, Irish Catholic immigrants were never keen on the Protestant Royals.
Months later “The Troubles” erupted in Northern Ireland, dragging over 3,000 Irish to their graves in tribal battles revolving around nationalism, ancestry and of course, religion. Kenneth Branagh, a Protestant child then, recently dramatized the onset of the violence he witnessed in his marvelous movie, Belfast. In an empty theater depopulated by the Omicron surge, I sobbed as the closing shots scrolled: “For the ones who stayed. For the ones who left. And for all the ones who were lost.” (As I walked out, I imagined Branagh quoting Steely Dan to the many critics who pronounced his film too soft: “I cried when I wrote this song, sue me if I play too long. This brother is free, I’ll be what I want to be.”)
Three years after the Good Friday peace accord halted that madness, nineteen zombies – following months of whoring and drinking their way across the land of the free and the brave – targeted iconic American buildings with jets, killing thousands of innocent people on a beautifully clear Tuesday morning in order to “defend” their religion. WTF!
So yeah, call me crazy but bodies blowing up bodies to champion religion kind of turned me off to religion. Also, your religion saying our daughters aren’t allowed to make decisions involving their own bodies seems kind of, you know, fascist. And not in a good way. But I do believe in the survival of the spirit. Partly because I saw a ghost when I was a kid. And partly because Pascal’s Wager makes a lot of sense to me.
Pascal was a 17th century mathematician who calculated that when it came to The Hereafter, the best bet was to believe in it. Why? Well, if you don’t believe but it does exist, you might get snubbed by the heavenly Maître d’ for being stupid. Because, face it, if there is no Hereafter, believing in it has no downside. Hell, you’ll be too dead to be disappointed by the time you find out. As Pascal put it in the first recorded example of probability theory: “If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that the Hereafter is.” (Pascal wrote “God,” I wrote “Hereafter,” but it’s the same difference.)
And now, as a value-added extra for Star-Revue readers, and to foster Inter-Faith acceptance and tolerance, I will explain the six Holy Days of Obligation promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church in America which requires that on these dates the faithful must attend mass, avoid unnecessary work and in return, reap the blessings of alternate side of the street parking cancelations…Anyway, my memories of them…
January 1. This used to be called “The Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus” when I was a kid attending St. Jerome’s on Nostrand Avenue. I was not alone in thinking “Circumcision” was a synonym for “New Year’s Day.” But a few decades ago the Pope changed it to “The Solemnity of Mary,” maybe to throttle back on penile-related sermons by the clergy. Anyway, my son Jamie was not circumcised when he was born in Jackson Memorial down in Miami, the largest hospital in the country, possibly because of a scalpel shortage. So based on neighbor recommendations, we hired a Mohel who performed the procedure on our dining room table. In the absence of any Circumcision songs, I played a collection of soft mellow tunes by an Irish chanteuse. After packing up his tools, the Rabbi said he enjoyed the soundtrack. I handed him the CD. Thus was another Enya fan born. (She’s second only to U2 in Irish record sales.)
40 Days After Easter (The Ascension). This one features images of Jesus rising off the ground into the sky. But his arms are by his side, not pointing upward like Superman. Hard for kids to understand.
August 15 (The Assumption). To this day, I have no clue what this is about. I will note however, the date is close to the surrender of Japan that ended World War II. Coincidence? Or evidence of divine intervention on behalf of our worn-out Pacific forces? I think you can guess where I stand on this one.
November 1 (All Saints’ Day). This was our favorite miracle: the day after Halloween, God gave us a day off from school so we could recuperate from the bellyaches brought on by too much chocolate.
December 8 (The Immaculate Conception). Would it be too sacrilegious to say we called this one Pearl Harbor Day Plus 1? So many World War II movies to watch on TV back then. But as we became fully-fledged adults with WWII memories receding all around us, we began to associate this Holy Day with the Immaculate Reception by the great Pittsburgh Steeler Franco Harris on December 23, 1972. RIP, Franco (1950-2022).
December 25 (Christmas). In 2022 Christmas fell on a Sunday. It is a mortal sin to miss mass on a Sunday or on one of the six Holy Days. But if you miss mass on a Sunday that’s also a Holy Day, does that count as two mortal sins? Of interest, the Archdiocese recently ruled that if a Holy Day falls on a Saturday or Monday, we do NOT have to attend mass on the Holy Day because we’d be worn out if we had to worship (GASP!) two days in a row. Fine, but that doesn’t answer my question…Asking for a friend, not me…I’ll wait here for an answer…Nothing? OK, drafting my ghost story for the next issue…