I’m a very bad Catholic. I’m very lackadaisical about going to Mass and figure The Great Muhawumba must understand that lounging around drinking two cups of very strong coffee while devouring the entire Sunday paper is a form of religious ritual. I am pro-choice and a major fag-hag. I distrust hierarchies and if the Church isn’t the Grandaddy of those, I don’t know what is.
But still. I like being a Catholic. I appreciate that the Church is adamantly anti-death penalty and constantly agitates on behalf of the poor, voiceless, imprisoned, and weak (unless they’re gay. Kidding.) I’m a classic ‘cafeteria Catholic’ and am happy to belly up to the bar and order all the frankincense, holy water, and Hail Marys (though I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get the Rosary down) I can get.
There are a few days in the ecclesiastical calendar that I try not to miss, and yesterday, Ash Wednesday, was one of them. It’s the first day of Lent and a day of repentance and atonement (not unlike the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur), when one is encouraged to leave one’s past and sins ‘in the ashes’ and prepare one’s heart for Easter. One is reminded that ‘from dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,’ reminding us (in a very Buddhist-like way) that our existence is transient, our troubles similarly ephemeral.
So I was, you know, a little pensive. I expected some dry, uptight priest to emerge for the Mass, but instead got this great, deep-voiced brother whom, even on this solemn day, exuded joy. As he made the cross of ashes on my forehead he said, ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.’ When I sat back down to meditate upon that, I arrived at this: the greatest sin is that which you commit against yourself; the lies you tell yourself, the addictions you allow to enslave you, the way you sometimes have to harden your heart just to get through the day.
Later that day I stumbled across the story of Pogo, a little three-legged pit bull puppy that had been dumped at the pound, had a vet donate surgery to remove his bum leg, was flourishing in a foster home and was expected to make a great recovery and live and long and fulfilling life. Last July, on a night when I was packing up and preparing to leave the City after 18 years, Pogo was taken for a walk with his foster guardian on Ocean Beach, a block from my house. He ran behind a sand dune and was not seen again until ten days later, when his stabbed corpse was found miles away in the Bayview District.
Reading that, I felt like I had been punched in the face. What does it take, I wonder, what darkness of the human heart has to exist to take a wiggly, three-legged puppy who obviously already had the odds stacked again him and stick a knife into his flesh, again and again and again, while he yelped and struggled and screamed? What kind of person does it take to do that? It’s the same thing I had when I first heard about the Michael Vick case. There are few things in this world that make me feel truly violent, but sick people who hurt weak animals are one of them.
In my tenderhearted moments, in those hours when my body feels like one raw, exposed nerve, I sometimes wonder how one can stand to go on living in a world where puppies are stabbed, where children are abandoned and hit and worse, where fathers grind down their sons and women are commodified and pimped, where wounded deer lie by the side of the freeway dying and none of the thousands of motorists driving by at 75 MPH can be bothered to pick up their cell phone so someone can come put it out of its pain.
If there is such a thing as Original Sin, it is this: we are born with a selfishness beyond that inherent in our simple animal biology; a selfishness and a cruelty that surpasses that of any other species, one so ugly and dark and irredeemable and impossible to beat, breed, or perhaps even love out of us, that at times I believe we really are lost, that we really are ‘The Virus,’ that the sooner we die out – and that means our beauty as well as our bottomless ugliness – the better.