Thanks for All the Fish

Lent means no meat on Friday, because… well, because God said so, that’s why.

Many Americans abstain and indulge at the same time, taking in the great tradition of the Friday fish fry. In a lot of communities, it’s the local fire department that serves up the fish dinners. When I was a member at Elsmere Fire Company, the Lenten fish frys were a big deal: hundreds of community members who would show up and it’s an important fund raiser for the fire company.

The menu varies from place to place, but you’ll always find cole slaw and fries, and at some, baked potatoes or clam rolls are offered. I’m biased, but for me, Elsmere has the best fish around. New Salem Fire Department, in the shadow of Thacher Park has great pies for desert for those with a sweet tooth — assuming you haven’t given it up for Lent! At my firehouse, we also served chicken nuggets, known in some circles as the “sinner dinner.”

Fish frys, church suppers and the like are part of the old-fashioned glue that holds us all together. It’s easy to find yourself a roast beef dinner or all-you-can-eat breakfast. You don’t need to be a regular; everyone is welcomed and it’s a great way to get a taste of a community. Literally.

On Football and Prayer

I don’t understand all the fuss over Tim Tebow because I pray all the time during football.

In fact, everyone in my house can hear me praying during NFL games, invoking the name of our Lord and Savior, especially when the NY Jets are playing.


My wife will call out from the other room, “No swearing!”

I inform her that I am not taking the name of the Lord in vain, but in fact praying for strength. And what could be holier than screaming out the name of the Lord on the Sabbath? Then, another incompletion.


“Stop that,” she will shout back.

What is with this infernal woman — does she not recognize my prayers?

I should mention here that I am not praying for God to alter the outcome of the game — no, I would never pray for victory, except maybe during the playoffs. Instead I am asking the Lord to help me survive a brutal ordeal. I pray for patience, resolve, fortitude. And maybe just a little for the Patriots to lose.

Does This Count As Church?

We went to a Bat Mitzvah Saturday morning. Congratulations to Hannah, who did a wonderful job during the beautiful ceremony. The party afterward was great, too.

I haven’t been to many Jewish services, and I was struck by the deep spirituality and symbolism. It made me feel a connection to to an ancient time, and its similarities to my own faith were unmistakable – like the blessing of the wine and challah. Where have I seen that before?

Naturally, I whispered to my wife, Ann, “Does this count as church?”

That’s a question that always comes up when we attend a wedding, a funeral, or other event with significant religious content, especially close to the weekend.

Wedding on a Saturday. Maybe that’s church. With Communion? That’s definitely church. A Friday funeral? That’s a stretch even with Communion and probably not counted as attending mass. Everybody has different rules.

So, for me to suggest that the Bat Mitzvah Shabbat service could count as church was going out on a limb. Surprisingly, Ann agreed and we all slept late on Sunday.

And how could it not count? To say that would be like suggesting what I believe is better than what you believe. I don’t want any part of a God who would tell you that.

Take Your Coat Off and Stay Awile

Imagine if you invited a bunch people to your house for a celebration and most of them left their coats on? Now you know how Jesus must feel.

I’ve noticed that maybe 70 percent of the people at my church don’t shed their outerwear during mass. It can’t be that they’re cold, because the temperature during heating season is always comfortable. Summer’s a different story; the parish’s lack of air conditioning is worth its own blog post.

Over the years, the Catholic Mass has not really been about comfort, what with all the annoying kneeling and standing. I was told as a child that this is so you don’t fall asleep. But what’s with wearing the coats? All I can figure is that people do not feel welcome. Or perhaps they’re just waiting to be asked to take them off.

Jesus was not a guy to stand on ceremony. If he could see today’s church, with all of its formal adornment, ring kissing, and Papal palaces he wouldn’t be happy. He was not about fancy schmantzy nonsense, but was more of a down to earth guy.

If Jesus saw you in church with your coat on, he’d suggest you take it off. Then, one of the apostles would write about it and it would be scripture — and nobody would ever leave their coat on.


Gary Mercure used his position as a Catholic priest to gain the trust of young boys. And then he raped them. Now he’s going to prison, where he belongs.

What makes this worse is the shadowy involvement of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany who, it may be argued, did not do enough when they first heard allegations of Mercure’s crimes. Don’t know about you, but I’m not satisfied with their explanation.

So to prison he goes. Some will say he’s getting off easy.

In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the death penalty is an unconstitutional punishment for child rapists. Me? I tend to agree with President Obama, as cited in this 2008 NY Times story:

Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said, “I think that the rape of a small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime, and if a state makes a decision under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances, that the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution.” He added that the Supreme Court should have set conditions for imposing the death penalty for the crime, “but it basically had a blanket prohibition, and I disagree with the decision.”

It’s tempting to compare Gary Mercure to an animal, a dangerous creature who deserves to be treated like a rabid dog. That would be wrong. A rabid dog does not understand the consequences of its actions.

True Confession

There’s an app for everything these days — even one for helping you unburden your cluttered Catholic conscience. A new download, called “Confession: A Roman Catholic App,” helps users navigate the sacrament of reconciliation. It’s like a workbook to prepare you for penance.

One thing the app doesn’t do is replace the actual act of going face-to-face with a priest. Too bad.

When I was a wee lad — probably eight years old — my mother took me to confession at our local church. I was a little shaky on memorization and couldn’t recite the Act of Contrition. The priest, rather than helping me out, yelled at me from behind the darkened screen and told me I’d better get my act together.

I was a bit rattled, but it’s what came after that knocked my socks off. My mother stormed from the confessional and dragged me out of the church. The priest told her I didn’t know my prayers. Imagine the embarrassment of going to confession and hearing that your kid’s a lousy Catholic.

We were told at religious education class that what happens in the confessional is confidential. Apparently not.

Looking back, I probably deserved a kick in the ass for not working hard enough, but after that I always avoided the confessional. It’s funny the things that stick in your head forty years later.