My son built a cross–a ten foot high, six foot wide Lenten cross and stand.  This is remarkable because he is seventeen and typical.  His room is a mess, he grunts instead of saying hello, he is far nicer to other people than he is to his mother, and only prays before meals when I’m watching.  Because he is a very private person, I really have no idea about the depth of his spiritual life.  When I bring up faith or social justice (or just about anything) I am guaranteed that he’ll take the opposing view.  Like I said, he’s a typical kid.

And yet he built that cross.  True, it was his eagle scout project and served a higher purpose than just making our liturgical minister happy, but he could have built a bench or planter box or cut a trail or any number of other eagle-worthy projects.

It is a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.  It was constructed from 100-year old redwood timbers: the floor joists of a parishioner’s remodeled home.  The heavy wood had to be hollowed out so that when we pass it above the congregation on Good Friday, we don’t crush a senior citizen.  It also had to be sanded, stained, and varnished while keeping the patina of age.  During the hollowing out stage, my son and the other young men who assisted on the project, wrote their names on the inside of the cross.  These names will never be seen, but I like to think that when the congregation prays over the cross, these boys will get a little boost of grace.

The liturgical minister asked my son and me to assist during Good Friday services.  Part of the job is passing the cross, but the other part is to prostrate ourselves before it–five minutes of full face-on the floor prostration with the deacon while the congregation watches.  I anticipated that when he found out about the prostration, he’d decline. Instead, he’s going to do it–no hesitation.  It’s amazing where you find grace.  Sometimes it is in wood and work.  Sometimes it is hidden like the names in that cross, or inside the silent heart of a teenage boy.

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I heard another reference to “Catholic guilt” today.  I tried to smile knowingly, but I honestly do not understand the phrase.  I am Catholic;  I do not feel guilty.  My conscience will alert me when I’ve done something wrong, but that’s not the same as guilt, is it?  A conscience keeps us–humanity–from barbarity.  Sometimes it seems as though not enough people have a well developed conscience.  Pick up the newspaper.  You know what I mean.

Back to the idea of Catholic guilt.  It is not listed in Cannon Law nor in the Catechism of the Catholic Church–I checked.  So, it must not be official church teaching.  All I can surmise is that it malingers among Catholics raised in the pre-Vatican II church, especially among those who attended parochial school.

I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and attended a distinctly post-Vatican II church.  I do not remember Latin mass, though I do recall that my older sister used to wear what looked like a doily on her head.  The doily disappeared before I was of an age to wear one and I think I felt cheated for a little while in the same way that I felt cheated that my sister had anything that I did not.  We went to public school, so there are no memories of nuns with rulers.  On Saturday mornings I had to forgo cartoons in favor of CCD (I have no idea what the initials stand for).  Lots of nice ladies and one or two nice nuns taught CCD.

istock_000003724724xsmall1Instead of guilt, I was raised on grace.  The concept of grace is an official church teaching.

Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace.  With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of good.  The virtuous man is happy to practice them.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1810)

Admittedly the above is rather dense.  The point is that God’s grace helps us to do good.  God does not operate through threats nor a guilty conscience.  It is grace that helps us be better people.

In the future, when I hear the phrase “Catholic guilt,” I will ask “What do you mean?”  There is just so darn much misinformation about the church today that that phrase has become pejorative.  If I am accused of any malingering Catholic-ness, let me be accused of having Catholic Grace, of that I am quite guilty.