God, Holy Week used to be such the huge deal to me. Back when I was much younger and not yet perceptive enough to recognize the rather large disconnects with reality that ultimately drove me from the Catholic church, that is. I lived just a couple of miles from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, the big beautiful church on the campus of Notre Dame. I always went to the 10:30 mass ("Smells 'n' Bells" in campus parlance) that hearkened back to the High Mass of the pre-Vatican II church, with the full choir and twenty priests concelebrating.
I didn't think as much about the Church then as I did about the simplicity of that Chuy guy's message. It all made sense then--love everyone and treat others as you would want to be treated and give your resources to help those less fortunate than yourself. As a teenager, kneeling under the Gothic Revival arches and vaults in the air thick and heady with incense, surrounded by the other members of the Notre Dame family, I was certain I could feel that universal love and interconnectedness reverberating through me as surely as I felt the bass notes from the massive pipe organ and the vibrations of a thousand sets of vocal cords raised in song.
Then I grew up and moved out into a world where, I eventually learned, that simple exhortation to love and serve was just a hippie smokescreen cherry-picked to obscure the real message of Christianity, which is to follow the anal nit-picking of a humorless, self-hating git named Paul, to use the Bible as a cudgel to smack down everyone who doesn't follow the same dour proscriptions against human nature Paul did, to "love" people different from yourself by condemning them and claim that those who perceive your actions as hatred are bigots who hate Christians. That's what I'm picking up from Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Michael Marcavage, and their ilk, anyway. I can't help but think, were he to come back for a visit, Jesus would yank the planks from their eyes and then knock them upside the head with them.
The last Good Friday I spent at Sacred Heart was in 1985, my senior year in high school. The mail had come just before I needed to leave the house for church, and there was the big fat envelope from Notre Dame I'd been hoping for, the letter that told me I was admitted and designated a Notre Dame Scholar due to good grades and letters of recommendation. It was hard to get through the service with the appropriate solemnity, given the very good news indeed I'd just received. The next week I got another fat letter from Northwestern with a much bigger scholarship offer, making the decision moot and setting me off on my journey to Chicago and, eventually, Arizona. I often wonder how my life might have unfolded if I'd aggressively gone after some grants and ended up at Notre Dame after all. I wonder if I'd be sitting inside the Basilica today, still believing.