The holy smoke came out of the chimney of the Sistine Chapel yesterday morning, reminding me of my Catholic upbringing and signaling a new Pope is in the big Pope chair. I was never a very good Catholic, otherwise I would have remembered the formal name for His Eminence’s fancy seat. In fact, I may be the only Catholic child to get “held back” in Sunday School. Most kids do their first confession in the third grade. I was so nervous about confessing my sins to the priest that I came up with every excuse imaginable to miss out on the Sunday School lessons where they taught you the proper way to rat on yourself in front of a holy man. I had to remediate many years later.
As a freshman in high school. I was the Catholic Billy Madison.
This created some real angst for me. By the time I finally mustered the courage to release my face-to-face tell-all biography to Father Mikliska, I had moved way past lying to my parents and into regularly taking the Lord’s name in vain and entertaining a constant stream of impure thoughts about the varsity cheerleading squad. I may be the first sinner on record to ever have to pay a security deposit on the confessional. The first 15 minutes are free, but each additional quarter hour will cost you.
After my first confession, I never went back. I piled up sin-after-sin for another fifteen years or so before visiting Europe on a trip of self-discovery. The year was 2001 – the Jubilee Year. Every fifty years or so the Catholic Church celebrates its Jubilee, and opens the special doors on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The belief is that anyone who walks through the Jubilee doors is automatically absolved of his sins. You don’t even have to do anything to receive the forgiveness. It’s kinda’ like walking through the turnstile at a Major League Baseball game on a big promotional night. Only instead of a Derek Jeter bobble head you get total absolution.
I went through three times, just in case.
Now a real-life priest and friend from college (see Fr. Stuart's comment below this post) informs me that both my tour guide and Wikipedia have misinformed me. Walking through the doors isn't enough. It still requires a sit-down with a holy man. Looks like it's now been over twenty years since my last soul cleanse. So, today, as readers of the Year Without A Purchase blog, you shall be my priest.
Forgive us readers, for we may have sinned.
The rules state we will not buy anything this year. We haven’t technically broken these rules. We’ve just found some loopholes. So, we need your judgment to determine if we need to do penance of some kind.
The first one is a minor sin. Jake is playing catcher for his little league team, and the coach suggested he get a cup to protect his nether regions. That’s not something you typically want as a hand-me-down. And, while I’m sure we could have used a recycled yogurt container or something, we bit the bullet and bought one. I think it qualifies as a need.
Next up, Jake’s shoes.
Last week’s blog mentioned that we made Jake wear his summer swim shoes when his regular tennis shoes became more hole than shoe. Well, the elastic cord on one of those shoes snapped, leaving the shoe floppy and slipping off whenever he ran. We checked with a few relatives for some hand-me-downs. Finding none that fit, we bought him a new pair.
One Hail Mary.
Then there is the lunchbox. I am fortunate enough to have married a woman who knows the exact location of the receipt for any purchase she has made since Milli Vanilli won a Grammy. We were able to take Jake’s broken lunch box back to Costco and receive a refund, which we used to purchase a replacement.
Three Our Fathers.
And finally, there was the Scholastic Book Fair last week. Jake was very excited about it, and it was promoted all over school. He kept talking about wanting a new sports almanac book – the new version of last year’s book which he read cover-to-cover hundreds of times.
So, we let him use his Christmas money (before the Year Without A Purchase, mind you) to buy a new Almanac at the book fair, with the provision that we could read it together.
Two Rosaries and bring the main dish to the next parish potluck.
* Apparently, some of us still like new things. "The Pre-Year-w/o A Purchase 2012 Santa made me do it."
I know our rationalization sounds a bit like, “I know the sixth commandment says ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill,’ but that guy was a total jerk!” But this is a learning process for us. We intentionally went a little crazy with this manufactured wackiness at the risk of looking patronizing to those who live the Year Without A Purchase reality every day. But Gabby and I know that we’re not the type of people that can just say “we need to get more focused on what’s truly important” and stick with it. We’ll just backslide. Or worse yet, do nothing at all. In many ways it is a selfish pursuit for us. My cousin summed it up best in a recent email.
“So the Dannemiller family consists of highly educated, healthy folks in their prime in the wealthiest nation earth has ever seen ... and you still find a way to make challenges! Bully for you! Ain't it fun?”
So, we shoot for the moon and then fiddle with the rules. Maybe even fail. But sometimes brokenness speaks louder than perfection. We’ve heard from a lot of people that our little adventure, both successes and failures, has made them think a bit more about their own lives. Maybe even alter a perspective or two. But most importantly, it has stirred changes in us. Some are too hard to name or describe at this moment. That will come with time. But we do know this: Every time we see something we want to buy, we’re reminded that connecting with those near and far is more important than the object of our desire.
So our penance is continuing the journey. Day by day. Learning and growing.