Today is one of those days out of the year when PACE Catholics all over the state attend services to receive ashes – signaling the beginning of the Lenten season.

(PACE is the acronym for Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Christmas, and Easter – days in which those who don’t normally attend mass feel as though they have to go!)

However, while today is not what we learned in Catholic school as a “holy day of obligation,” it’s still a day to commemorate the belief that we are mere mortals – here for only a short while and “unto dust we shall return.”

That is – if you are a believer.

But even among those who are believers, there are many who eschew services completely.
Could be because there’s always something more important to do, recent scandals, or the feeling that religious institutions are merely businesses with the advantage of being tax-exempt.

Thus according to this recent survey, - about 30% of New Jersey residents go to services of whatever religious affiliation they profess to belong.

Nearly half say they never attend.

Whatever the numbers, it points to a culture that we here in New Jersey are a part of.
Perhaps “left leaning!” Seeing the “futility” of religion in our lives.

Certainly not like some other states.

For instance, Utah, which ranked first in the nation for religious service attendance.
Followed by a good many states to our west and south.

To the north, Vermont reports 17 percent of the state's residents saying they go to a religious service at least once a week – as did residents of New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii, Colorado, Connecticut and Alaska.

Why do I attend?

For one, it makes me feel at peace – even though I’m in disagreement with some of the tenants of my religion.

And while Karl Marx was quoted as saying:

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

I view it simply as a respite from the clamor of everyday life – and an opportunity to get touch with the spirit I believe lives inside of me.

Do you regularly attend religious services?