Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pardon the Blasphemy

I have been thinking a great deal about spirituality this past week. I think I am a spiritual person, and I know that I am not a religious person, but I respect every person's right to choose their own path. I certainly mean no disrespect to Catholics when I describe myself as a recovering Catholic. God knows I've recovered from worse.

I like to say that not practicing Catholicism is my right and my choice, but my fiery Irish Catholic grandmother always claimed that I had ruined my chances of becoming a good Catholic girl before I had even turned seven. Nannie was responsible for all things Catholic in our family because my mother had turned her back on the church of her childhood when she married my father, a Protestant. My parents had to promise the priest that any children of their "union" would be raised Catholic before he would agree to perform the ceremony. Even at that, they weren't allowed to be married in the main part of the church, and my mother resented the church for most of the rest of her life for having banished her to a back room ceremony on the most important day of her life. To be honest, it kind of pisses me off too.

When my brothers and I were small, Nannie would take us to church on many a Sunday. At age six, I was supremely jealous that my two older brothers, who had both been confirmed and received their first communion (Catholic things), were able to line up with Nannie to receive the holy eucharist (symbolic for body of Christ, another Catholic thing). I didn't have the slightest idea about what that little white wafer represented, but I really, really wanted one. One Sunday I watched and waited as David, Danny and Nannie crossed themselves and exited our pew. About fifteen people fell in line behind them before I sprung from my seat like the sinful little bat out of hell that I was. As was the usual case, my family members kept their eyes cast down at the floor as they made their way back to their seats, so it wasn't difficult for me to keep from being seen. Finally, at the front of the line, I opened my mouth and the priest put the wafer on my tongue. I was extremely pleased with myself, until I got back to the pew and saw the look on my grandmother's face. On the way home Nannie made it clear that what I had done was a mortal sin. I didn't know what a mortal sin was, but it was apparent from her tone that I was in shit with god, and I would probably catch it good when I got home too. Fortunately for me, as previously noted, my parents were no great fans of the church, so it wasn't as huge a crisis for them as it was for Nannie. They may even have admired my spunk at the time. In any event, I wasn't punished. Everybody in our family, except Nannie, probably even smirked a bit when on my eighth birthday, I dressed up in a white dress and veil and wandered up the church aisle with twenty or so other mini brides of Christ and received my not-really-first communion.

Although I don't do religion, I think sometimes that at least some part of me will always be a little bit Catholic. I will certainly always be my Nannie's granddaughter. The last time I was in a Catholic church was two years ago last month, when I gave my cousin Carol's eulogy. Like many of us, Carol had drifted away from the church, but for some reason she really wanted a Catholic funeral. A few days before the ceremony, when my cousin Joanne came down with a bad migraine, I was sent in her place to speak with the old church priest about the funeral mass. The priest knew of our family because we have been dying off in large numbers, but he came across to me as extremely miffed at continuously being asked to do funeral masses when nobody from our family had seen the inside of his church on any regular Sunday for several decades. He told me that he would do the mass, but that there would be no personalized eulogy allowed. I took that as a challenge. Before I knew it, I was lying to the priest in an effort to convince him to let me deliver the eulogy. I told him that I recognized that the rest of my cousins were indeed lapsing and lapsed Catholics, but that I, as a devoted member of St. Mary's parish in the city that I had moved to (I don't know if there really is  a St. Mary's), felt very strongly that Carol deserved a brief, personalized eulogy. Certainly, my parish back home would allow, if not encourage it, I fibbed. By the time I left, the cranky Father had agreed to a ten minute eulogy (delivered by moi) and even to allow two more personal readings by various cousins. The service was lovely. Even the priest said so.

I don't actually care for lying, and if I ever do make it back to the Catholic church (I probably won't), I'll have plenty to talk about in the confession box. Lying to the priest was yet one more of my mortal sin episodes. I am still glad that I did it, for Carol's sake. And I feel a bit sorry, for my grandmother's sake. She may have been rolling in her grave while I was pretending to be a devout Catholic, but she called it right when I was still just a little girl. I still think she'd be proud of me, for other things.


  1. I love this post. I struggle with organized religion and all of the rules. I feel that it's a human construct to explain things we don't understand.

    I'm definitely not ready to discount a higher power. I just can't commit to one set of rules on how to practice spirituality.

    I've heard someone say that they believe in all paths to God and that made sense to me.

    My parents are very religious (presbyterian), but this occurred some time after my sister and I left the nest. My parents are the only reason I go to church (we attend the same church). It makes them happy and my kids like Sunday school.

    I'm honest with my kids about why I attend church and have told them that they have to come to their own conclusions on religion and spirituality.

    Good post.

  2. Thanks, Jenni. I love the idea of "believing in all paths to God," or "all paths to a higher power." Thanks so much for sharing.