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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: The “daughter” of Man

womangod    It remains the finest moment of my eighth grade year, not to mention, my most controversial one. As you may have figured out from some of these posts, when I was a kid, I tended to have a healthy skepticism about a wide variety of religious matters, despite my upbringing and often grilled my religion teachers on a variety of issues that were long on faith, but short on logic.

Such was the case the day that my religion teacher told us how important it was to recognize Jesus’ return the minute the Second Coming got underway. He suggested that as good Catholics we would have no trouble with this because our faith would not allow us to question and doubt Him the way the Jews, Romans and other first century factions did.

As you can imagine, this didn’t sit too well with me. After all, if I understood the story correctly, the people who were waiting around for the Messiah to show up had a very definite image of what He would look like, what He would say and more importantly, what He would do. They were certainly not banking on a carpentry major from Nazareth whose birth story was tantamount to tabloid fodder. Think about it, when Jesus began His public ministry he was known for being a headstrong pre-teen who went off on His own in one of the biggest cities on Earth, making wine at a friend’s wedding, and having a loud-mouthed cousin who ate wild locusts and invented his own sacrament. Call me crazy, but does that SOUND the like the resume of a deity to you? I’m just saying.

So I couldn’t really fault people for not exactly “getting it” the first time around, and I thought it was rude to condemn a whole population for not jumping on the bandwagon right away. After all, whose to say we wouldn’t act the same way in similar circumstances? I brought this point up to my teacher, saying that it seemed pretty human to err on the side of caution and be suspect of anyone claiming to be the Messiah.

“Well, perhaps, but we won’t make that mistake,” he assured me. “When Jesus returns, we won’t question it, we will know.”

Hmmmmm….exactly how would we do that? I wondered. It seemed pretty easy to get things wrong from time to time. After all, only a few years before I had been duped right in Mass if you recall, so I didn’t have a lot of faith in myself to recognize the Second Coming if it were staring me in the face. I’d also heard of countless stories in which folks blindly followed crazy people that they believed to be God including Charles Manson and Jim Jones. It seemed to me that there was nothing wrong with their faith, it was just placed in the wrong thing. How would we somehow know the difference? “So let me get this straight,” I asked, “So, if I am walking home from school today and someone tells me that he is Jesus and He’s back, I am just supposed to drop everything and follow Him?”

“Yes,” my teacher told me.

This flew in the face of every “don’t talk to strangers” lecture my mother ever gave me. Not to mention, I could be following a lunatic. Yet, here was my religion teacher actually encouraging this behavior. I let it go for the time being and allowed him to continue on with the day’s lesson, but it continued to eat at me. A few minutes later, I raised my hand and he called on me.

“Yeah, OK…I didn’t want to bring this up before, but I’m Jesus…I’m back.” I told him.

The room fell quiet. There are certain things that you just don’t do in life.  You do not yell “fire” in a crowded theater. You do not say “bomb” on an airplane. You don’t tug on Superman’s cape and you do not claim to be the Son of God if you are a 13-year-old girl attending a Catholic school. I knew that I was treading on dangerous ground and I couldn’t help wondering just how much trouble I could get in for making a statement like that. Still, I knew that there was something wrong with this teacher’s theory and I would not rest until I had made my point.

“No you’re not, Julie,” he told me, his face growing red.

“Oh yes I am,” I countered. “Where is your faith? You aren’t supposed to question it, you are supposed to just follow.”

He tried telling me that I couldn’t be God’s “Son” but I was ready for that argument. “I’m God, I can be whatever I want. Isn’t that what you are always telling us? I know I was a boy before, but….now I am going to get it right and be a girl.” (The girls in my class were delighted with this pronouncement of course.) I told him that if he would like, I would make him an apostle like some of the boys in the class who were known for clowning around. True to form, they rose to the occasion and got behind my new “movement.”

I can’t imagine what was going through my teacher’s head at the time, but I suspected that he would have loved nothing better than to smack me. Looking back on it, I really couldn’t blame him if he did. I was wayyy over the line, even if my comments were justified. I was just so mad that he was promoting blind faith and maligning others for having their reservations.  We ask for proof in every other aspect of our lives, why not this one?

In the end, he could not prove that I was not the daughter of God and eventually he dropped the argument. (The class period was over by then anyway.) Unfortunately he never quite learned that some blanket statements should not be made. A few  years later, my son ended up in his class and came home all excited that his new religion teacher told the class that if they ever had a faith-based question, they could come to him and he would answer it.

“So, he still thinks he has all the answers, does he?” I sighed, feeling that rebellious teenager rise inside of me. “Great, tomorrow I want you to go in there and ask him if Adam and Eve had belly buttons. That will make him squirm”

My son did as he was told and sure enough the teacher took the bait. Of course the whole class was perplexed by the question which prompted a discussion about evolution vs. creationism. Eventually he had to admit that he did not know the answer to my son’s question, but he was fairly confident from where it came. “By the way Chris,” he concluded. “When you get home tonight, please tell your mother I said hello.”

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: All in a day’s work

God-creating-the-galaxy-via-Shutterstock     I was in fourth grade when I discovered that perhaps the Bible wasn’t exactly…true. I’m telling you, for a kid like me, that was on par with peeking behind the curtain, seeing the secret behind the magic trick, spotting the wires or seeing a ventriloquist’s lips move. It was BIG.

Like most kids, I was raised on the concept of a “wham, bam, alacazam” God who could do anything with the snap of His fingers (well, I assume that He has fingers…the jury is still out on that one) and I heard stories about His creating the world in six days before taking Sunday off, how he put this apple tree in the middle of everything and told the kids not to touch it and how some talking snake convinced them otherwise, and I wholeheartedly believed it.

Then there came a day when I started picking at holes in the story. I had so many problems with this tale, I’m not sure where to begin. First of all: the talking snake or The Serpent, since a lot of people want to act as though it fell into a one-of-a-kind species. Where did it come from? If God was responsible for everything in this garden, did He make this snake and if not, then how did he get in? Why can he talk? Outside of Disney’s The Jungle Book, I don’t happen to know a lot of “chatty” snakes. After Adam and Eve get in trouble for listening to the snake, God tells the snake that he will have to crawl on his belly from here on out. So….did snakes have legs and feet before? If so, how many? The Good Book doesn’t go into all of that and in my opinion, those are some pretty important details to leave out. Did God also take away its voice box while He was at it? Does this account for the lack of snake/human interaction throughout the millennia?

Next: I had an issue with God’s version of “natural family planning.” If the whole tale begins with two people who are essentially responsible for putting God’s divine plan into action…what was the logic in giving them three SONS?? I mean, I am not a fan of incest or anything but there is some reason to believe that if you had a son and a daughter at least at some point there would be a diluted gene pool but even at a young age I knew this family couldn’t get very far with three boys. (Not to mention with one going around killing people.)

I will spare you some of my other problems with the “accepted” version of events and explain that naturally I was thrilled when my  religion teacher basically told us that you can’t believe everything you read. OK, she didn’t put it that way, but she did open up the concept of “symbolic interpretation” to me and I was extremely happy at the thought that somewhere along the line, someone took some literary license with the words.

I was so jazzed about this that I came home and announced to my parents that God did NOT create the world in seven 24-hour periods because TIME wasn’t invented until the fourth day. I was ecstatic when I told them that no one ever said it was an APPLE tree that was Adam and Eve’s downfall and that maybe the SNAKE wasn’t really there…it was just used as an example of evil entering the world and man choosing to exercise his free will over God’s instructions.

Needless to say, my father, who was a scholar of both faith and logic was thrilled by my being able to wrap my head around this heady concept while my mother, who preferred a more literal interpretation of the scriptures was mortified. “I guess I just believe that if they said it happened in seven days, I believe it.”

“Yes, but what is a day to God, Mom?” I asked. (My father beamed with pride.)

Dad brought the message home by telling me that my mother was not wrong in her convictions and that even if it took “billions and billions” of years (please read that in your best Carl Sagan voice) for God to create the process that lead to our evolution, He still did it in less time than we could. I could accept that…this is not to say that I never questioned the existence of God, but this knowledge of symbolic interpretation made the entire Old Testament a lot easier to swallow.

My mother didn’t buy it however, and the following Sunday we were at Mass when our priest stood at the ambo to give his homily and opened with with his thoughts on Genesis. “We are told that God created the world in seven days,” he said, leaning into the microphone and offering a Cheshire Cat grin. “You didn’t really believe that did you?”

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: What to do when Jesus Returns

jesus_communion    It started out as an ordinary Mass on an ordinary Sunday. The only thing outside of the norm was the presence of extra chalices on the little table next to the altar signifying that the Blood of Christ would be distributed at this particular service. While this is customary now, it wasn’t the case back then and it was something of an occasion when a little kid like me got to partake in a dab of wine. To this day I have no clue how my parish determined which Masses would have wine and which ones wouldn’t but needless to say it felt a little like winning a raffle to see the extra cups lined up for the service.

Of course it also meant that there would be extra communion ministers processing in during the entrance all wearing long while robes similar to the kind that the servers wore. This usually meant an extra verse to the entrance song, but I learned early in life that sometimes, you have to take the good with the bad. I was getting to drink illegally, I could handle an extra few measures of “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.”

At the start of the consecration, the Eucharistic ministers all took their places behind Father as he said the prayers over the bread and wine and that’s when I saw….HIM. Standing a little to the left of Father’s shoulder and looking very pious was a young man about 30-something with longish brown hair. He sporting sandals along with a mustache and beard and to be honest, he looked like every picture I had ever seen of, well….HIM. You know who I am talking about. Jesus. Christ. JC, God’s only begotten Son!!

Now, no part of this should have surprised me. I had that rapture-minded softball coach who warned me that this could occur at any time and at any place. I supposed if He was going to come back on that particular day, it made plenty of sense that He wouldn’t start with the Vatican but rather  a random Catholic parish on the East Side of Indianapolis. After all, my world was a LOT smaller when I was eight.

I looked around to see if any of the other parishoners were witnessing the same event that I was but no one seemed to notice. The Second Coming is getting underway, people! I wanted to shout. I was convinced that at any moment, He was going to take over for Father and speak the lines that He made famous during the Last Supper. However, Jesus didn’t do that. He was polite and let Father do his job. Talk about having a servant’s heart!

When the consecration was over and Father passed out the communion bowls and chalices, he handed one of the implements to Jesus but once again, there was no moment of recognition. He must be waiting until announcement time to tell everyone, I thought to myself as I watched Jesus bring His bowl of wafers to my side of the church.

To say that I was flabbergasted is putting it mildly. Jesus was going to give me communion! What would he say, “Body of Me” or go with the usual line? I had no idea but I have to confess I have never been so prayerful as I approached the altar. Looking into His eyes, I don’t know how I got through it, but somehow I did. I went back to my pew and continued confessing every sin I could think of. After all, if I was being taken to paradise, I wanted to be ready. No point in Jesus second guessing His position on me.

Needless to say, “Jesus” never took over the Mass and I left a little disillusioned. I said nothing during the entire ride home and it wasn’t until we pulled into the driveway that I carefully asked my mother, “Did you happen to see that one guy behind Father?”

She didn’t have to ask who I might be referring to. “Yes Julie, I thought he looked like Him too,” she said.

Oddly enough I never saw that particular communion minister again. Perhaps he shaved and cut his hair. Maybe he was visiting. Maybe he was scheduled at other Masses from then on. I have no idea. However, in my quietest moments, I can’t help wondering if maybe, just maybe I saw something extraordinary that day even if no one else wanted to admit it.

Then again, maybe it was the wine.

 

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: “Was that a Trumpet?”

michelangelos-last-judgment-2      As Catholics, we don’t put a lot of stock into creepy Apocalyptic tales found near the end of the Bible. It’s not that we don’t “believe” in it per se, but we tend to think that the Book of Revelation is largely symbolic and written for a first or second century audience. So you can imagine my surprise when my softball coach “enlightened” me about this unique book and told me all about the battle that would get underway shortly after the rapture and what would happen to those who were “left behind.”

I’m not a big fan of scary stories as a general rule, but this one took the cake. During an end-of-season slumber party, my coach told me and a friend all about how the end of the world would come like a thief in the night. She told us that it was entirely possible that Jesus would send his signal,  grab everyone who he wanted regardless of what they were doing at the time and leave the rest of the poor fools standing there with no clue as to what happened. Babies would be spared of course, but when we pressed about what would happen to ordinary grade school kids like us, she wasn’t reassuring. It appeared that one wrong move would cause us to be stuck here on Earth without a prayer, branded with some number and thrown into a fiery pit. Nightmares, anyone?

“Do you believe that?” I asked my friend who like me, was a bit of a night owl and heard the same story.

“I don’t know,” she said. “I know Revelation is kind of creepy, but I’ve never heard any of that.”

“Me either. Do you think she could be wrong?

She shrugged. “I don’t know. She seemed pretty specific about how many people would be taken. I don’t think she could have made that up.”

“What about that movie?” I asked, referring to the hideously made 1970’s A Thief in the Night that churches showed to scare the crap out of their young congregants, including our coach. “Do you think it will happen like that?

“I’m not sure, but I’m here to tell you, I am going to start listening for trumpets,” she told me.

“Me too.”

And  I did. For the next two weeks, I strained to hear Gabriel sound out the beginning of the end and I prayed like never before. I freaked if I came home to an empty house out of fear that my parents had been taken to the Lord while I was left behind with the godless heathens. (Which seemed to include a phenomenal amount of good people! ha ha) Finally, when I lost enough sleep over the whole thing, I told my mother everything and asked her thoughts on the subject.

“Julie, quit listening to that crap,” she said, matter-of-factly.

“But Mom,” I protested. “It’s in the Bible.”

“So is ‘Don’t have sex with goats,'” she mumbled.

“Huh?” I asked, confused.

“Nothing,” she amended. “The point is that you simply can’t worry about all of that stuff. No one knows how the world is going to end or what Jesus will do when He comes back any time soon, but it is a pretty safe bet that you could not have done anything so bad as to keep you out of Heaven.”

I felt a lot better. After all, I trusted my mom’s assessment of Armageddon better than a coach and my father, who was Baptist, just like my coach certainly had never mentioned anything about a rapture so I assumed she was just trying to scare me. It certainly worked, but after talking to my mom, I was over it…

Or so I thought…not long after this event, I would experience something that would convince me that perhaps my softball coach knew more than my mother did. But that’s a story for next week!

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Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: One kid, two parents and a “host” of problems

First communion    Last week, I “confessed” the true story of how I became Catholic. This week, I will tell you what happened next. It turned out that Baptism was only the tip of the iceberg. As the night of my first communion drew near, I found myself staring down a new conundrum. Let’s call it the “parent predicament.”

As I mentioned last week, my father was not Catholic. My mother was, but the two of them married in my father’s church, which effectively cut my mother off from the sacraments. Because she couldn’t go up for communion, my mother always left Mass as the lineup got underway, which meant I had no idea what occurred after “Lord, I am not worthy to receive Thee, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” (Yes, I know we use a different translation now, but that’s what we were saying in the ’70s.)

Until I started Catholic school, it was like a big mystery to me…I was convinced that things got really interesting and was probably something that my mother felt not to be appropriate for a young girl. You can imagine my disappointment when I first got to see the proceedings and realized that what I was missing out on was an over glorified snack break that I was not allowed to participate in. Talk about a bummer!

But all of that was about to change. I was going to get to be part of the BIG MYSTERY at last. My mother took me shopping for a simple white dress and we borrowed a veil from a girl down the street. (My mother thought it was silly to buy one considering I would only wear it one time.) I practiced walking in height order with my class until I was blue in the face and I remember the day Father stopped by the classroom to do a mock drill of what would happen on the big night.

“OK, so when it is your turn, you will come up to Father with your parents behind you. With your left palm over your right, Father will give give you communion and then he will give communion to your mother and father…”

Come again?

My parents didn’t DO communion! My father didn’t qualify for it and my mother had a tendency to bolt for the door! I suddenly had this vision of having to walk down the aisle solo while my parents waited for me in the car. It was the kind of problem only a six-year-old could understand and after the Baptism debacle, I didn’t feel like having another religious issue!

I went home once again completely confused as to how I was going to get through this one and after batting the whole thing around in my head with no feasible solution, I finally approached my mother and told her the whole problem. In one breath.

My mother smiled and assured me that everything would be fine. “You are going to leave everything to me and Daddy,” she told me. “First of all: Both of us will be behind you that night. We are not going anywhere and you won’t have to walk down the aisle alone. Secondly, Daddy is not the first non-Catholic to have ever been in this situation and he will handle it. They won’t even offer it to him. Thirdly, I will take communion that night.”

My eyes widened. “Can you do that?”

Mom laughed. “I think God will understand. I think He would rather I take communion with my daughter than watch her have a nervous breakdown over this.”

Just as she predicted, the night went off without a hitch and it was truly a special occasion. A few months later, after my brother received his first communion, my mother called the priest to ask about her “situation” and find out if there was any wiggle room regarding her “excommunication.”

“Look, if you feel comfortable going up for communion with your children, that’s between you and God. I am not going to judge you,” he told her.

From that weekend on, she never ditched the Mass again and she regularly participated in the sacrament until she died. She never thanked me for being the catalyst for this change, but I didn’t hold a grudge. In fact, the lesson I took from the whole event is that EVERY kid going through first communion has an issue or concern that they are hiding and I encourage every parent to find out what that might be. Remember what seems like a “no brainer” to us, is a big deal for a little kid. And you don’t want to cause a “host” of problems for them, do you?

 

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Confessions of a cynical Catholic: Why I am Catholic

Baptismal font     I don’t tell many people the true story of how I became a Catholic. It’s not that I am embarrassed by it, but it does cause people to give me a lot of strange looks. I get it. I will be the first person to admit that it is a strange tale, but it is my tale and for the first time, I am willing to come clean about it.

I am a Catholic because at the time, I couldn’t swim.

I am not a cradle Catholic. My mother converted to Catholicism when she was 21 and my father was an American Baptist. When they married, they had the logic that they vowed to expose my brother and myself to Christian principles but wanted to let us choose our own “religion” when we felt the time was right. However, when they enrolled us in a Catholic school, they had to know that there was a possibility that this decision could come sooner rather than later.

Now, my brother started his academic career at the local public school but then transferred to the parochial school when he was in the fourth grade. I began in the first grade when at the time, first graders prepared for first Holy Communion. None of us really and truly knew what was happening. My mother assumed that these little “gold books” had something to do with our religious education, but she didn’t think anything about it. Suddenly about a month before receiving a sacrament I technically didn’t qualify for, my teacher asked if we were all Catholic.

“What’s Catholic?” I wanted to know.

“What’s Catholic?” She repeated, like I’d lost my mind. “Haven’t you been baptized?”

“I’m not sure,” I told her. “What’s baptized?”

She gave me a confused look. “You don’t know if you have been baptized?”

“Nope,” I confirmed.

She tried again. “Well, where do you go to church?”

When I answered that I attended church in the same building that we were standing in, she seemed happy with that answer. However, a second later I added, “Of course sometimes we go to my dad’s church.”

The faculty all looked at each other like they didn’t know what to do and my teacher finally told me to go home that night and ask my mother if I had ever been baptized and more specifically, if I was Catholic. I rode home on the bus, came in through the back door and say my mother stirring spaghetti sauce. “Mom, am I Catholic?” I asked the minute I walked in.

“No, and who told you that you were?” She asked.

I shrugged. “Well no one…but we’re getting ready for First Communion in a few weeks and apparently I have to be or I can’t do it.”

“THAT’S what this has all been leading up to?” My poor mother cried. “No, you are not Catholic. No, you’ve never been baptized. Your father and I wanted to let you choose….”

That night, my mom and dad sat my sibling and I down and explained some of the differences between their two religions. To be honest, it seemed to my 6-year-old mind that they were pretty similar in what they believed and who they believed in…but the way they went about initiating new members was verrrrry different. My mother explained that in the Catholic Church a priest would pour a bit of water over my head while my father described some sadistic practice in his church in which a preacher would lead me into some pool I’d never seen before and push me under water.

“But I can’t swim!!!” I protested. “What if I drown?”

“You won’t drown,” my father countered. “It’s only for like a second.”

No part of this sounded reassuring. To complicate matters, I learned that if I became a member of the Catholic Church I would be expected to swallow a consecrated host. I couldn’t swallow an aspirin at the time and was more than a little nervous about that possibility. (My father let me that I could “chew” the cracker that they used at his church – maybe he was trying to make up the ground he’d lost in the Baptism discussion?) While I am sure that I should have based this monumental life decision on something deep and theological, I was too consumed with the possibility of my untimely demise in the water or by choking on the Body of Christ. What was a girl to do?

Very quickly my brother announced that he was going to become Catholic. My parents assured us that we did not have to make a decision right away, but because of my situation I had to know if I was going to go for it or wait so that she could tell my teacher what to do about me and first communion. I remember thinking that I didn’t know if a Catholic host was wet or dry, what it tasted like or how creepy it would feel when it melted in my mouth. Still, it seemed like the lesser of two evils. “If he’s going to be Catholic, I guess I will be too,” I declared.

A few weeks later, we gathered at the back of the church after Mass and I was welcomed into the Catholic Church feeling pretty good about my new religious life knowing that I was a child of God with my feet firmly on dry land. It wasn’t the most theological plan ever, but when I was six, it was all I had. The following month, I went up to the table of the Lord and received the Eucharist for the first time. (To my utter relief, I learned that I was allowed to chew it.) Two Sacraments of Initiation down, and one to go.

Good news though, I had better reasons for getting confirmed than I did for being Baptized. Luckily I realized that I liked being Catholic and thankfully, I didn’t have any dinner reservations that day. (Just kidding!)

 

 

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