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On Being Catholic
Things we learn as children, come back to mean something as we grow older. Such is the case with being Catholic
On Being Catholic
It certainly aint what it used to be!
In today's world, being a Christian is somewhat looked upon as an affliction and I sometimes feel very much in the minority for my beliefs on many social issues and the teachings I was raised with concerning those issues.
It wasnt always this way.
Growing up Catholic, I was steeped in religion. Like a teabag..I was drenched with Catholicism.
In those days, we went to Mass and Communion every day of the week, except for Saturday and then again on Sunday. Lots of us would have tried to get out of the Monday-Friday requisite Mass, but nuns had a way of knowing exactly who was sitting in those pews and who wasnt. God help you if you werent there and didnt have a note. There werent too many acceptable excuses for not being at daily Mass either, so you knew that if you werent there, you had better have a pretty darned good excuse. Even if you'd been in the hospital with a deadly illness or disease or had to have your tonsils out or worse your tonsils AND your adenoids, the nun would look at you with those eyes and that expression that conveyed a total lack of belief. Basically, it just wasnt worth the wrath of the good Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur to bother skipping Mass.
Now, all these years later, what I am realizing is that the strictness and resolutely dogged determination of those nuns to make sure we were at Mass, was the beginning of a solid life ethic which transcended for many of us into good work ethics, acceptance of responsibility for our actions and just an overall good way of living our lives.
There were traditions upon traditions. We could count on midnight Mass at Christmas and May crowning in May. There was First Communion and Confirmation, both held in pretty high esteem by parents and the nuns and the priests. For girls, we got a pretty new dress and neat veil to wear at First Communion. For Confirmation all we got was a slap on the cheek from the Bishop and a crap-load of incense thrown around church but we were now Soldiers of Christ and what that meant probably didnt hit any of us then, but later in our lives, if nothing else, the solemnity and tradition of receiving that sacrament, did.
First Communion was usually in May and after an entire year of being “prepared", we knew enough to know that we had better not screw it up and God help you if you were that unlucky kid who puked all over the place during First Communion. It happened in my class and looking back, Im pretty sure it was because Sr. Julia made such a damned big deal about it. The kid was green and those of us sitting around him just knew what he was about to do. Out came the inevitable green sawdust and the horrible stench was enough to make someone else start retching.
I remember thinking that if he puked anywhere near my brand new white shoes and my brand new white anklets with lace on the top that Id probably have to “accidentally” push him into his own puke.
We took for granted this thing called religion. It was mundane and repetitive. Like the uniforms we had to wear. What we didnt realize, however, is that the very repetitiveness of it was building a foundation of belief and of faith for, most of us, the rest of our lives.
There were components of it, however, even back as far as 2nd grade when I made my First Communion that I appreciated.
I loved singing in the choir. 7th and 8th grade girls were required to sing in the choir, everyday at Mass. Back then it was all in Latin and Im still amazed at how effortless it was for us to roll those responses off our tongues as tho we had always spoken Latin. There was "high" Mass and "low" Mass. High Mass was candles blazing all over the alter and more songs sung and usually a longer sermon. Low Mass was "quick in...quick out".
It was a BIG deal to be able to sing the Panis Angelicus in two part harmony. We would put our fingers in our ears so we didnt hear the other girls singing their part of the hymn and that way we wouldnt get confused and start singing their part with them. (maybe you had to be there to understand) I have linked a beautiful rendition of this hymn by Sting and Pavarotti. Give it a listen.
Many years later, while planning my mother's funeral Mass..the Panis Angelicus was one of the hymns I chose. Both for her and for me.
By the time I graduated high school..I had had quite enough of this religion stuff and I was ready to move on and see the world and explore life w/o worrying about being a sinner. Coming of age in the 60's was a pretty tantalizing thing and if you lived thru it, you know what I mean. There was definitely temptation to sin around every corner and I found myself checking to see which “sins” were the really bad ones and which ones I could probably get away with by saying a quick “Im sorry, God” or by jumping into a confessional and saying a few Our Fathers.
I got married in an absolutely stunning cathedral. Cathedrals are the most preeminent of all Catholic churches. So if you get married in a Cathedral, you were REALLY married. I would like to say that deciding to get married in the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption was because Mike and I were such devout and devoted Catholics that it just made sense, but really it was because it was in Kentucky, across the river from Ohio and in Ohio you had to be 21 to marry w/o parental consent and in Kentucky you didnt. My Mom during that time was kinda like Cruella Deville and I didnt trust that she would sign for me...so we jumped across the Ohio River and had a bang up wedding at a bang up, over the top Cathedral.
Life took over. Kids were born. Bills had to be paid. Work had to be done and so religion and going to Mass was a distant 999th item on my list of things that I had to do every Sunday morning. Besides, it really was hard getting up and trying to get 4 little kids ready for Church and try to drag at least a brush thru my own hair and make sure I wasnt wearing my pj's on the way out the door.
I regret those years. I wish I had taken the time and done it more often than I did. When we did take the kids to Mass, I felt like I was being a good Mom. I know I wasnt a bad Mom when I didnt take them, but I felt that old, familiar Catholic guilt creeping into that place called my soul, when I didnt make the effort.
We made sure they were all baptized and they made their First Communions and we put them in religion classes. Despite my turning away from the Church, I felt a strong need to make sure that my kids, on some levels, got religion instilled. It wasnt the “shove it down your throat” kinda religion that I had when I was growing up, but it worked enough and even tho going to Mass on Sunday wasnt my strong suit, I didnt feel like a complete loser Catholic mom.
Im glad that my kids knew, growing up, that God is important in our lives. They didnt have the constant drumming that I had, but they had enough to know that God was a factor in our everyday lives. Kids need to know that having faith can get you thru a ton of stuff that might come your way later in life. They need to learn that believing in a higher power can get us thru the hard times. They need to know that when life knocks them down and kicks them in the gut, that they have God whom they can always turn to for comfort.
I took a detour from God. It seemed easy enough to do. After all, my life had had a fair amount of sadness and disappointment and I was pretty sure that God didnt care all that much about me. But I got older and despite not feeling close to God....I once again started to feel that I needed Him and all of my Catholic upbringing, all of those agonizing days of sitting in religion class and reading our Baltimore Catechisms began, once again, to make sense to me.
Maybe its this way for everyone. I think it must be. As we get older, we feel a stronger need to connect to God. We recognize that we arent immortal. We need to tidy up our souls which have been long neglected. We come back and we feel, once again, as we felt as kids....that we belonged to something that is constant and traditional and familiar.
Being Christian isnt always easy and God knows its not always popular these days. But then I am reminded of what Jesus sacrificed and the commitment He made when He died on the cross for us and I know that no matter how many times I fall (and I fall often), He is there to pick me up, dust me off and send me on my way, yet again.
So now I commit to Sunday Mass, every Sunday. If I miss for whatever reason, then I miss, but its important to me to make a real effort. I pray for those I love. I pray for friends who are in need. I pray for our country and our world. There is a peace while Im there, that I dont feel any place else. And as I sit there and listen to the time honored words of the Catholic Mass, I am taken back in time and Im a little girl sitting in Christ the King Church, hearing those words, singing those hymns and feeling Gods presence surrounding me.
I make this effort for myself and for my children and my grandchildren. I want my kids and my grandkids to know that when all else fails...when no one else loves you and when it seems that the darkest of days is upon them...that there is a place within themselves where, even for a brief time, they can find solace.
Its Holy Week. The holiest week of all in the liturgical calendar. This week is filled with about as much Christianity as anyone can handle. One can easily OD on religion this week and thats exactly what I intend to do. Of all the religious holidays, the days of Holy Week and leading up to Easter Sunday, make me feel connected to my past and yet on the right road toward my future.
Growing up in Cincinnati, there is a tradition that many Catholics still take part in. Its called "the praying of the steps at a Church in a part of Cincy called Mt. Adams.
Mt. Adams is considered one of the 7 hills of this beautiful city. In the 60s, the area was home to hippies and counter-culture types and anyone who was young and looking for fun/food/and great music on weekends. Back then, I certainly and deliberately fell into that description.
When I was a little girl, my parents, for many years, took me to the steps on Good Friday at Immaculata/Holy Cross Church in Mt. Adams and we would climb and pray the steps together. I get a pretty big lump in my throat when I think back to those years and my parents dedication to not only God, but to me, their only child, in teaching me this tradition.
This week is about dyed eggs and chocolate bunnies and Easter egg hunts and pretty new dresses and shiny new shoes...but its also about remembering that Jesus died on the cross for all of us.
And so at the end of the day, after years of not belonging and feeling that something was missing in my life, it was the tradition of being Catholic, that I could never completely run away from.
In many ways, I feel as though I came home.