Friday, April 14, 2017

TGI Good Friday

I spied two mourning doves perched on an electrical wire this afternoon as a somber procession—from my old parish church, St. John’s—passed by. I couldn’t understand anything because everything I heard—from the prayers to the singing—was in Spanish, but it sounded and felt appropriately solemn. On second thought, I did translate one word into English: Jesus.

Well, if it’s a somber procession with a police escort on the neighborhood’s back streets, it could mean only one thing—it’s Good Friday. The weather was certainly good—no violent midday thunderstorms to contend with. I kind of remember believing that skies typically darkened for a few hours on Good Friday to underscore the time Jesus spent dying on the cross. It must have been part of my Catholic education and probably happened a time or two, too. And speaking of stormy skies at high noon, I recall watching the movie King of Kings during several Easter holidays in the colorful 1970s. Replete with super-dark clouds, loud thunder, strong winds, and undulating lightning, it depicted the crucifixion of Christ—a scary story if ever there was one.
Another Good Friday memory revolves around Pat Mitchell’s Irish Food Center, a legendary local grocery. The place used to close during the afternoon—between the hours of twelve and three—on this sober of sober days. The shuttering was considered huge in the neighborhood, because the store was otherwise open—seven days a week during the waking hours. In the good old days, a mom-and-pop shop like Pat Mitchell’s closed during the overnight. In the same hallowed spot—but not so hallowed anymore—Pat’s grocer predecessor is now open twenty-four hours. But in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s—the Pat Mitchell Era—that sort of thing didn’t happen. What couldn’t wait until the morning?

It’s interesting to see what’s become of so many of my peers from the old neighborhood and beyond in the Bronx—many of them who, like me, grew up Catholic and attended faith-based institutions of learning. With the exception of kindergarten, I went to Catholic schools, including college, and believe I received a quality secular education. My paternal grandfather, who emigrated from Italy, once complained that the Catholic Church desired keeping its flock ignorant. He was a wise man—not a wise guy. And the proof is in the pudding, I think. It’s not a scientific survey by any means, but I’d say that the majority of my peers and schoolmates are not practicing Catholics—and certainly not as devout as their parents and grandparents were.

My alma mater, Manhattan College, posted on Facebook apropos biblical poetry for Good Friday: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life.” As the recipient of the aforementioned fine Catholic education, which taught me to think and to reason, I find that bit of verse strains credulity and doesn’t quite pass the smell test. In fact, I’d even employ the words of a long-time, now deceased neighbor of mine who—when confronted with things illogical—would cry, “It don’t make no sense!” Indeed, it don’t!

Forty years or so ago, my younger brother and I decided to attend an Easter vigil on Saturday night to fulfill our Sunday obligation. We were visiting our maternal grandparents in Bangor, Pennsylvania and walked to the church, which wasn’t all that close. We made this choice—really, a Hobson's choice—to “get it over with,” so that we could be free as two mourning doves on Easter morning. It was April, after all, and the Wiffle ball bat and baseball gloves were at the ready. However, God intervened and punished us with a three-hour, incredibly exhausting mass with baptisms, readings upon readings (no Gettysburg Addresses in the mix), and the passing around of lit candles as well. An important life lesson was learned that night—getting something over with often comes attached to a stiff price. Happy Easter!

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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