Tag Archives: catholicism

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: My son and the Book of Mormon

Mormons       Most people who know me, know that I am an Olympic junkie. I love everything about the games and will watch sports I have never heard of if it means that the US might bring home the gold medal. I’m even worse if the games are actually held on US soil as they were in 2002. The Salt Lake City games were a big deal for the country and an even bigger deal for the state of Utah, which is known for its large Mormon/Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints population.

I willingly admit that I do not know much about the LDS. I have watched documentaries about their history on PBS and I was a big fan of Donny and Marie back in the day, but beyond that…my scope is limited. I can say with some certainty that they seem like really nice people who work hard and live good Christian lives. They build beautiful temples. They believe in big families, and they are constantly doing good works for others. As far as I am concerned, the mormons are fine by me.

I don’t know what my son thought, though. As it happened, the Salt Lake Games coincided with a unit on other religions in his theology class and after reading a Time Magazine article about their penchant for overseas missions and door-to-door evangelism, my ever curious child had a LOT of questions about the tenants of the LDS movement and why the governor of Utah encouraged them to quell their “enthusiasm” during the Olympic season.

“Did you know that these people have a different Bible?” he asked me.

“It’s not a ‘different’ Bible…they have the same thing we do, but they also have The Book of Mormon,” I informed him.

“Well, whatever it is, they give it away for FREE…all you have to do is call the toll-free number and they’ll send one to you!” He was giddy with excitement over getting a free book in the mail.

I shook my head. “Yeah, no…I am not calling that number. Do you have any idea what comes WITH that free book?”

“What?”

“The MORMONS!” I shot back. “I’m here to tell you, they are wonderful people, but they are harder to chase away than a Jehovah’s Witness. They’ll show up on their bikes looking like Steak & Shake servers and talking about God-only-knows-what and I am not in the mood for that conversation! No thank you. No ‘free’ book is worth all of that.”

He was so disappointed. After his success with the Jewish temple, I think he was under the impression that I would actually encourage his curiosity and have him call them right up. However, a few months later, while he was volunteering for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, he happened to work alongside a group of mormons and didn’t even know it.

“Hey, are you guys LDS?” I confirmed as we sat in the break room eating ice cream.

Their eyes lit up and big smiles spread across their faces. “Yes, we are,” one of them answered. “What can we do for you?”

I explained that we were Catholics and that my son had recently finished a unit on other religions and wanted to know a little more about the LDS faith. “If you have a couple of minutes, would you mind talking to him? He’s not going to convert or anything, but I think he would get a lot out of the conversation.” The pair readily agreed and told me to send him over.

“OK here’s the deal, see those two guys over there?” I indicated to them with a nod of my head.

“Yeah,” he replied. “What about them?”

I smiled. “They are Mormons.”

To explain the child’s reaction would make no sense in the English language. His jaw dropped open. His eyes became huge and he stared across the room as if he’d just discovered the one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. “Oh for heaven’s sake, they are Latter Day Saints, not zoo animals! They agreed to talk to you for a couple of minutes and want you to come over.” I hesitated for a second before adding, “Just do me a favor, whatever they say, just listen. Don’t argue with them, don’t tell them they are wrong, and don’t get into some kind of theological debate. Remember, we asked them not the other way around so be respectful.”

“OK,” he said, and went off to introduce himself.

A few minutes he returned with a strange look on his face. His smile seemed frozen in place and he spoke through gritted teeth. “You are never going to believe this one,” he informed me. “Do you know these people think Jesus lived in America with the Indians and that when they die they can become gods?”

“Well, it seems I may have heard some of that along the line,” I told him, impressed by how much they were able to convey in such a short period of time. “I’m sure there is a bit more to it than that, though.”

He narrowed his eyes in suspicion. “Maybe, but I don’t know. They seem to think that they are the only people who are going to go to heaven too.”

Not being privy to the official list, I jokingly pointed out that perhaps they were right. The important thing was to hear what they had to say and not to judge them. After all, we as Catholics have our beliefs, and they have theirs. My son unfortunately had no intention of giving them the benefit of the doubt, especially where the hereafter was concerned.

“I’m judging them, but they are wrong. I am totally going to heaven when I die and I don’t need an extra Bible or a crazy fairy tale to tell me that! I’ve got two sacraments and I plan to get the rest of them as well…if that doesn’t get me in, nothing will,” he said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Holy Week

Jesus-Picture-On-The-Cross-It-Is-Finished-Crucifixion-WallpaperMost Catholics consider Holy Week to be the highlight of the Church year. The events commemorated are the cornerstone of our fundamental beliefs and culminate in an occasion more glorious than the coming of the Word made Flesh that we celebrate each Christmas.

Needless to say as a child, I was not a fan.

First of all, NOTHING in a child’s mind is better than Christmas! I mean, Easter is great and all but it always struck me as a watered down version of a much better holiday. If Spring Break corresponds with it, that’s a little better, but you only get one week off instead of two. There is the half day on Good Friday that public school kids didn’t get and that was kind of fun, but again…it’s like a consolation prize for a shorter break. There are fun scavenger hunts to go on and a small cache of toys involved, but then you also have to endure seven weeks of sacrifice and an entire week of Massapalooza, which centers on a rather grisly death before you even get to the Main Event. I just had a hard time looking at Easter as a “happy” time.

Don’t get me wrong, I understood that Jesus died for my sins and Lord knows my teachers liked to point out how He made this big sacrifice for our benefit, but I have to tell you…I would have been fine with a less gruesome sign of His love. However, if you are going to do something to save the world, I guess you have to go big or go home, right?

With time and maturity, my attitude toward Holy Week has mellowed considerably and I am pleased to announce that I actually enjoy it nowadays, but not to the same level my youngest son does. If you think my reactions to all things church related are unique, this kid is going to seem downright peculiar!

Vincent     I can’t remember a time when “Boy Wonder” wasn’t wacky for Holy Week….or more specifically Good Friday. From the time he was very little, I would often catch him staring at the illustration of the crucifixion in his Kids’ Bible fascinated by this particular style of Roman execution. I’m not kidding, he had that page of the book open so much, he broke the spine at its location so if you stood the book on end, it would open to that scene.

“Wouldn’t you rather look at another picture?” I asked. “There’s a really nice picture of Baby Jesus in His manger bed.” Honestly, I wasn’t trying to dissuade his interest, I was just concerned this was going to become an obsession.

“No Mommy, I like this one,” he’d say.

Although there was nothing wrong with his enthusiasm, it occurred to me that it might be misinterpreted by others who didn’t understand or were unfamiliar with the prevalent images of the crucifixion that exist in the Catholic Church. Sure enough, when he was four, I took him to a local Christian church that was having a big Christmas event including barn animals and a live nativity and afterwards the congregation invited us to stay and hear “the rest of the story.” Now, I suspected I knew where this was heading, so I took the kids into the sanctuary to watch what I correctly surmised to be a passion play.

Everything started out fine. Jesus rode in on a live donkey while people waved palm branches and sang “Joy to the World (The Lord has Come)” Side note: I really kind of thought that was a cool tie-in and would pay big bucks to see a Catholic Church sing that song on Palm Sunday for a change. The scene then shifted to the last supper, Judas’ betrayal and the trial before Pilate, who of course, sentences Jesus to death.

As the actor playing Jesus was stripped of his garments and “nailed” to the prop cross, some women sitting in front of us became so moved by the scene that they started crying. Not Boy Wonder. With his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open, he picked that moment to holler, “Check it out, Mom! They’re stringing Him up!”

Now, I don’t want to imply that he was delighted by what he was witnessing…but he was. This was his illustrated Bible, Jesus of Nazareth and every other Gospel-based movie he’d ever seen brought to life. It was dramatic. It was wrenching. It was real! I cupped my hand over his mouth to shush him, lest anyone get the wrong idea, but I’m sure there were a few people in the audience who were convinced I was raising a heathen.

“You know, you really can’t get that excited about the crucifixion,” I explained later. “People get the wrong idea.They think you actually LIKE it.”

“I do like it,” he told me. “You can’t have Easter without it.”

Astonished by his simple wisdom, I knew that I had been beat and every year, I can count on him to get giddy over Holy Week knowing he will hear his favorite Bible story on Palm Sunday, announce “Today’s the big day!” on Good Friday and ask me  if I think they actually commemorate this event in Heaven. (I’m not being sacrilegious when I say I KNOW that kid has visions of party hats, balloons and a cake that says “Happy Crucifixion, Jesus!”) He actually gets excited if the weather is gloomy on that day because he is convinced it’s God’s way of reminding everyone about His son’s sacrifice and I have to admit, more often than not, it is kind of gross and rainy on that particular day. Who knows? Maybe he knows something the rest of us don’t.

They say that the worst punishment a parent can get is having a kid that acts just like them, but sometimes think the greatest gift is having those who are complete opposites, because every once in a while they teach you a thing or two with that child-like faith Jesus admired so much.

Happy Easter Everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: In Mass Entertainment

Mass kids     Last night I was in Mass, completely distracted by the family in front of me.  I do not hate children, nor do I have a problem with the occasional crying baby or fidgety kid…but this was something else entirely. These three made Huey, Dewey and Louie look like saints and could not stop dropping hymnals, lobbying for restroom breaks, sliding off the pew, banging their heads, poking, pushing, prodding each other, and of course there was that exciting round of Pass the Baby between the parents. To be perfectly honest with you, I never did figure out what the Gospel was about thanks to this group the only part of the homily I caught involved a story about beer, cheese, a German lady and a campfire, but I suspect there was a theological lesson in there somewhere…either that or a really bad punchline.

Now I appreciate the old adage “If you’re church isn’t cryin’ it’s dyin'” as much as the next person, but come on, when you’ve got a three-ring circus happening in the pew, no one’s having a good time. It made me wish more than ever that Catholic parishes had nursery rooms or Sunday School classes where kids could be dropped off and picked up at a parent’s leisure. My dad’s church had them and, quite frankly, I liked that a WHOLE lot better than sitting in Mass with my mom where everyone was taller than me, I didn’t get to participate in “snack time” and no talking was allowed. In Sunday School we sang, drew pictures, heard stories, ate cookies. I’m telling you… it was a heavenly experience.

Yes, Catholic churches have a “cry room”…a windowed space that for some reason reminds me of an aquarium or a People Exhibit at a local zoo…and some do have a children’s liturgy on Sunday, but the sheer volume of Masses that occur at a Catholic parish on a weekend make this impossible for every service. As a result, Mass goers in special VIP sections of the church are often treated to a unique brand of dinner theater which features an assortment of interpretive dance and and mime performance and can only be pulled off by the six-and-under-set.

bored       Now I was never that bad but I will say that I had my own brand of Pre-Mass and in-Mass entertainment that had a good-long run at my childhood parish. It was always low key but very effective and it kept the boredom from settling in. Generally speaking, it was also the kind of shenanigans that typically flew right under my mother’s radar (bonus!) While I have never shared my secrets before now, after last night, I feel I must spread the word so that others may learn from my knowledge. If you are a parent, or a particularly precocious child who can read and understand my blog, may I suggest the following activities:

  • Bug your mother for change so that you can light a candle. (Ordinarily playing with fire is forbidden so take this one while you can!)
  • Braid the bookmarks of the hymnal together. (This works especially well if there are multiple bookmarks in the hymnal otherwise some odd re-arranging must occur.)
  • If you are in the second grade or older, go to confession. (This not only kills time, but gives you an excuse to chat with someone.)
  • Ask your mom for a mint. (She always has them, don’t let her tell you otherwise.)
  • Read the Bulletin (Especially during the homily)
  • Stand on the kneeler to see better (Every kid does it…it’s OK! But don’t jump on it. Let’s have some class.)
  • Stare at the ceiling fan and then look away, noting that it always appears to rotate faster in your peripheral vision. (I have a feeling every adult is going to try this now that I have brought it up. LOL)
  • Tug on your mom’s arm until she let’s you put the envelope in the collection basket. (No one will believe that you really tithed, but you will feel oh-so-impressive)
  • Stare at the brightest stain glass window for 30 seconds then close your eyes to see a “ghost image” of it in your head.
  • Bring along the Mass book you received for First Communion and note that the word “lived” is “Devil” backward and look for other words that may have backward messages in them.
  • Play Guess the Saint with the statues then ask your mother who they are. (Delight in the fact that she doesn’t know either.)

Trust me, there is some Tomfoolery you CAN get away with in Mass, but subtly is the key here.You do not want to go for broke only to cause people to hate you prior to the Sign of Peace. As a former child myself, I can assure you, they aren’t giving you a big smile, they are gritting their teeth and biting their tongues to keep from telling you what they really think!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: The Problem With Purgatory

Purgatory-Traffic-SignI was nine-years-old before I ever heard the word “Purgatory.” I playing some elaborate pretend game with a friend of mine when she announced that her character was going to die and that she would continue to interact with my character from the hereafter. (Believe me, It made perfect sense in the context of the story and if you knew anything about the two of us at all, you would understand that we were a tad…unconventional to put it mildly. LOL)

So of course we staged this dramatic death bed scene in which I hugged her, told her character how much I would miss her and then laid her to rest near a bush in the backyard that quite frankly, looked like it should have been a tombstone. A few minutes later, I watched as she stood in front of the bush with her arms out like she was waiting for the mother ship to beam her up and said, “What are you doing?”

“Getting my sins burned off in Purgatory,” she said, solemnly.

Where? I wondered. She said it so seriously like it was a real thing, but the only place I had ever heard of where fire was possibly involved was Hell. I assumed she had made up the word. “But your character was good. She wouldn’t have gone…Down There.”

My friend looked at me like I was crazy. “I didn’t go Down There, I went to Purgatory. You have to wait there for a while before you can go to Heaven.”

This was a new one on me. Prior to this conversation, I was only aware of two final destinations and none of them involved what sounded like a celestial equivalent to a doctor’s waiting room. “Let me get this straight,” I began. “God’s in charge of this Purgatory place, so it’s not like where the Devil is.”

“Right. It’s not a bad place to be, but it’s not Heaven either,” she told me.

I ran that one around in my head a few times. “So how long do you have to stay there?” I wanted to know.

She shrugged. “It depends on how bad you were here on Earth. If you die with a lot of sins on your soul you could be there for millions of years.”

Millions of years? Oh, she had to be pulling my leg. “I don’t understand. Why do your sins have to be burned off? Can’t God just take them away?”

“It’s not like that kind of fire,” she informed me, as if she had personal experience with the place. “It’s not hot. It’s warm and it makes you better. It doesn’t burn you up.”

My mother called me in for dinner after that and my friend went home, but the conversation stayed with me all throughout dinner, as I took my bath and got ready for bed that night. When my mom came in to tuck me in, I came right out and asked, “What’s Purgatory?”

“Where did you hear about Purgatory?” She wanted to know.

I offered her the five second explanation of what went down in the backyard, but before I could ask for any clarification, she dismissed the whole thing by saying, “Oh don’t worry about that. You’ll go to Heaven.”

But I wasn’t so sure. So, naturally I went to my father. “What’s Purgatory?”

My dad looked a little uncomfortable as though I had touched on something forbidden or taboo. “It’s a Catholic belief,” he said simply.

“So you don’t believe in it?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, I don’t.”

I thought my parents had a very strange attitude where this Purgatory place was concerned and it wasn’t helping me at all. My dad was pretty smart and even though I knew there were some “differences” between his faith and mine, this seemed like a pretty big thing to disagree on. I didn’t like the idea of believing in something that my dad seemed fairly confident wasn’t there. And what about my mom? Dad said that Purgatory was a Catholic belief, but my mom dismissed the idea of it so fast, I couldn’t help but wonder if she DID believe in it. After all, she had been Methodist before she was Catholic. Maybe she didn’t believe in Purgatory either.

And if this place was so important, then WHY hadn’t I heard about it before now? I was in fourth grade. I had two sacraments under my belt, a phenomenal amount of prayers committed to memory and logged more hours in religion class than I could count. How had I missed the Purgatory discussion?

After giving it considerable thought and reading the section of the Bible where the concept is drawn from, I decided it was too loose of an interpretation for me to buy into. Now, I know this will not make me popular with hard core Catholics, but I stand my ground. The issue of Purgatory was very difficult for me to write about in The Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism because I just wasn’t sure. It was as if I couldn’t do it with a straight face or without rolling my eyes. It’s not that I didn’t want to, I just…struggled. At one point, I called my former religion teacher in desperation and said, “How am I going to sell this to the populous if I don’t believe it myself?”

“Wait a minute, why don’t you believe in Purgatory?” She asked.

God love this woman. She listened as I recounted the tale, laughing at the idea of two little girls talking about this over a game of pretend and how frustrating it must have been for me to ask my parents and come up empty on an answer. “No wonder you don’t believe in it. You grew up in a post-Vatican II world where no one talked about it. You lived in a home where it wasn’t discussed and then all of a sudden you heard about it and couldn’t confirm it? Why would you believe in it?”

She put on her “teacher hat” and began to explain Purgatory to me from the ground up. She didn’t tell me that I had to believe in it, but she gave me food for thought. I still struggle with the idea but if you haven’t believed in something for four decades, it’s a little hard to suddenly buy into it overnight. Thankfully she understood that and encouraged me to pray on it.

I have, but so far I have not reached a conclusion. While I would love to be a good Catholic girl with a rock solid faith, like it or not, God made me this way and He seems to like challenges. Who am I to deny Him of a great Fixer Upper project like me?

IG Catholicism Cover  The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism is available wherever books are sold including:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/idiots-guides-unknown/1119619022?ean=9781615647194

2 Comments

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: That Certain Undefinable “Something”

Cathbook    I knew I was in trouble the minute that I had to define “faith.” I knew the definition I had learned when I was 11 watching Miracle on 34th Street, “Faith is believing in something when common sense tells you not to,” but somehow I knew that wouldn’t fly as it pertained to the Catholic Church.

Two days ago my latest book, The Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism was published and as I celebrate this accomplishment, I have had several people ask me some of my thoughts on the writing of it now that some time has passed. As I have said before – and will repeat time and time again – the fact that I was even asked to do this is proof positive that God has a sense of humor. After all, I was the one with all the questions…who was I to start offering answers?

One of the things that surprised me the most in writing this book was how little I felt I DID know…even the definitions that I had memorized fell apart under scrutiny leading me to wonder more that I care to admit if some of the things I professed to believe were nothing more than a game with words. Think I am kidding? Try defining “sacrament.” Go ahead…I’ll wait…

Chances are, you learned some variation of the same definition that I did: “A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of inner grace.” Wonderful, but what does it mean and how do you explain it to someone brand new to the Church if you aren’t even sure you understand it yourself? I don’t mind telling you that I  spent hours trying to pick that one apart until I felt like a dog chasing its own tail and finally called a former religion teacher to try and get her to explain it to me in plain and simple terms. “If you know of a way to do that, you tell me!” She retorted. (Somehow I wasn’t comforted.)

We eventually figured it out, and the explanation is in the book, but it wasn’t easy. Neither was writing a brief history of God. Although He  has quite an impressive list of accomplishments to his credit, God’s actual biography is more than a  little hard to track down. Don’t even get me started on that kid of His. FOUR men tried to put the life and works of Jesus in to writing  and could only agree on two things: that He was baptized by John the Baptist and was ultimately crucified by Pontius Pilate. (Yes, there are other similarities within the Gospels but I am focusing on what all four attest to.) As for the Holy Spirit…well, I admitted that this part is the hardest to grasp and offered a less-than-helpful anecdote involving St. Patrick and the shamrock. Beyond that, you’re on your own.

Heaven, Hell and all that might be in between were another fun section I battled with. While I understand the concept of Purgatory, I am one of those weird Catholics that is not sure she believes in it. (But I’ll save that saga for another post.) As for the process by which someone enters these various locations…there seem to be a lot of loopholes. I was told as a child that good people, of course, go to Heaven while bad people went to Hell. It seemed pretty cut and dry to me early on but then the questions started. Why do you have to be Baptized to go to Heaven? What if you were a baby who just died suddenly? Well of course God would look out for them. What about a mentally disturbed person who killed someone but didn’t go to confession? Would God have mercy on them? What about all of the countless stupid-but-not-too-awful things I did throughout my life? Did reconciliation really wipe those away or am I going to have to answer to a highlight reel of all my shortcomings on Judgement Day? What about Hitler? What happened to him? (This is the go-to bad guy most of us assume didn’t make the cut for Heaven and who we assume we have a better chance than for admittance.)

My point is that writing this book was HARD! Harder than anything I have ever done in my whole life. Like it or not I was forced to confront all of my cynicism, make peace with it and find a way to take everything I didn’t understand and couldn’t explain and….somehow find a way.

There were subjects I wanted to tackle, like saints and Mary, for example. I never understood what is so hard to grasp about all of that, but it is a sticking spot for some people and I really wanted to try and make sense of it all. After all, my father was Baptist, and while I am sure that he had his reservations about it, he never told me that I was wrong or that I was worshipping false idols. I really tried to step out of my comfort zone on that chapter and look at the whole thing from another point of view. Maybe if I wasn’t Catholic it would look weird to see a guy who was alive only a decade ago canonized on live TV and revered by billions of people as if he were something other than human.

But there were also subjects I wanted to avoid like the plague…one in particular that I kept successfully dodging until I could not sidestep it any longer. For weeks I felt like a slime ball for not facing it head on and at one point I wondered if I might take the cowards way out and eliminate it completely. I don’t mind telling you, if I had…it would have been my biggest regret. However, one morning last spring the perfect opportunity presented itself and thanks to one of the finest documentaries I have ever seen, God showed me how I could be “Both” true to the Church, “And” true to all that I believed in.

That’s the only hint you are getting…read the book and you’ll figure it out.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism is available wherever books are sold including:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/idiots-guides-unknown/1119619022?ean=9781615647194

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Who was Jesus Talking to?

JC Gethsemane

Although I have a lot of fond memories from my sixth grade year in Catholic school, one stands out above all others. We had just finished a unit on Hebrew history, culture and traditions and to celebrate the completion of this unit, our teacher decided to host a watered-down Passover meal and invited one of our priests, Fr. Rick to join us and to recite the words that Jesus said during His Last Supper with His friends.

As we passed the loaf around, ripping small portions from it to eat and sipping Hawaiian Punch from minuscule Dixie Cups, Father offered his knowledge about Jewish customs and asked us what we had learned. Near the end of the event, Father said that he had a few minutes to spare and was willing to open the floor to any faith-related question that we might have since it was pretty rare that we ever had the chance to grill a priest on religious matters.

Now as you might expect from a group of 11-year-olds, most of the theological queries were a bit…shallow. Some kids wanted to know if Father was expected to wear black all of the time. Another kid asked if he had a curfew. Some wanted to know if the Pastor of the parish could “ground” him for coming home late or if he could get in trouble for eating dinner with a woman without a chaperone. Worried that I may never have another chance like this again and with time running short, I tentatively put up my hand.

“Yes, Julie?” Father asked.

“Well, I kind of have two questions,” I told him.

He nodded. “That’s fine, go ahead.” I’m sure he was bracing himself for more of the same kinds of things he’d been asked before.

I took a deep breath. “If Jesus was Jewish and the Jewish people do not believe that the Messiah has come yet, how could Jesus believe in Himself?”

The room fell silent and Father stared at me. “Uh-huh…and your second question?”

I sighed. “OK…if Jesus is God and God is Jesus, exactly WHO was Jesus talking to in the Garden of Gethsemane?”

I felt like the world’s biggest blasphemer, but once the words left my mouth, there was nothing I could do about them.

“You’re a very deep thinker, aren’t you?” Father commented like he was amused.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

For the life of me I cannot remember how he addressed these two critical issues of faith, but I do remember my parents’ reaction when I told them what went down in religion class that day.

“You asked a priest WHAT?” My mother cried at the dinner table. Needless to say she was not a big fan of my calling into question the very foundations of Catholic belief. My dad, on the other hand thought it was great.

“What did he say?” Dad wanted to know. Although he was a man of faith, he always encouraged my questions.

I cupped my chin in my hand and thought about Father’s rationale, which was about 10 years beyond my comprehension…at least. “He had a big ole explanation for it,” I commented, “But I don’t think he really knows either. I guess it is just a question of faith.”

I looked so sad that my father tried taking a crack at the answer, but his logic didn’t make any more sense than Father Rick’s. No matter how many ways he tried to tackle it, it was a concept I couldn’t wrap my brain around. After all, I was baptized and initiated into a religious organization and I understood that part of the process included the acceptance of certain established tenants as one’s own.By believing Himself to be the Messiah, wasn’t He going against the grain a little and running the risk of being excommunicated from the Jewish faith?

As for the other issue, the one about the garden, well…that one was even harder to figure out. Both Father Rick and my dad tried telling me that Jesus was talking to God the Father as if that explained everything, but I wasn’t satisfied.If God and Jesus were one in the same then the whole thing seemed like a pretty pointless conversation. Looking back on it, I guess I was seeking an explanation on the Holy Trinity, not a bunch of biblical mumbo jumbo.

It would be another two years before I “got it.” I saw Jesus Christ Superstar for the first time and fell in love with the song “Gethsemane” in which Jesus flatly says that He wants out. He doesn’t want to die. Though it doesn’t stray too far from the Biblical account, it is devoid of the Shakespearean language and showcases a guy scared out of His wits. This was God trying to talk Himself out of it, wondering if it would all be worth it, asking if submitting to an all-too-human and grisly death would be enough to save these people from themselves and what would happen if it wasn’t? Suddenly, I no longer wondered who Jesus was talking to. I just knew. Andrew Lloyd Weber’s show stopping number solved a mystery my priest and my father couldn’t  explain and gave me an answer that my way-too-human mind could get behind. Although it would not be the last time I would question the faith, it would prove that God will provide the answers in a way that speaks to you when you just “have to know, have to know, my Lord.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

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?”

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

advent4    As a child who was raised in a home comprised of two religions, there were certain sacramentals and rituals that we didn’t do. For example, my mother never hung a crucifix. I have no idea what she did with her leftover Palm Sunday palms. We didn’t have the words to the Hail Mary or other traditional prayers affixed to the refrigerator like some of my friends did and we didn’t have an advent wreath. This last item was extremely perplexing to me because I knew for a fact that my father’s church had a large advent wreath in the front of their sanctuary during the appropriate season, so I knew he wasn’t against it or anything…but regardless…we didn’t have one at home.

Because of this oversight, I was denied what I consider to be one of the greatest events of the build up to Christmas…the lighting of the fourth candle on the advent wreath. I never saw it growing up…ever. Each year I would watch as the servers lit the various candles at Mass or my teacher led us in a daily reading complete with our own miniature advent wreath, but the third candle was as far as I got. By the  start of the fourth week, we were on Christmas break and I had no idea what happened. Before you tell me that I still should have seen it at Mass…I have to say I had one of those moms who didn’t always adhere to the whole Holy Day of obligation thing when there was still shopping to do, gifts to wrap and food to prepare. Not only that, but she still and to hold down a 40-hour a week job at a time when bosses didn’t understand “flex scheduling.” As a result, if the fourth Sunday of Advent occurred a few days before we would have to double back to Mass for Christmas Eve services…guess which one we attended?

So I never saw the fourth candle lit and it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I first saw a completely lit Advent wreath. There is something so amazing about the sight go the candles glowing after a month of preparations. The short stubby first week candle looks like it has been through Hell and back while the rest stair step to the nearly pristine fourth candle. (By the way, it always seemed like the fourth candle gets a raw deal in the whole production as it is lit for far fewer days – especially on years when Advent seems shorter than others.)

As silly as it may sound, my kids know that I get absolutely giddy over the fourth Sunday in advent as much if not more so than Christmas itself. Now that I have my own advent wreath, there is no “missing week” and nothing is incomplete. The season of preparation unfolds as it should and I don’t feel like I skipped ahead somehow. The way I see it, God didn’t intend for us to skip over the portions of His story and only show up for the good stuff. He wants us there for it all and He is there to light the way. If you are a parent like my mom who thinks missing one Mass is no big deal, I beg of you…take the time. Let them see the fourth candle. Let your children complete their advent journey. even if they don’t have a handle on the whole thing yet, trust me…they think about it. They won’t tell you, but deep down inside, they have been building to something and when it’s not there…well it’s not the same. Take it from someone whose been there. Don’t snuff out the light inside of them.

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: “Julie is ready to be baptized”

VBS Jesus     It was all my cousin’s fault that I started attending Vacation Bible School at my father’s church in the first place. She was spending a few nights with my grandmother and going to VBS so she invited me to come along. We were like Frick and Frack and when she told me how much fun she was having, of course I wanted to go along too.

So the very next day, we were sitting together in a pew singing The B-I-B-L-E song…I loved that tune. There is a lot of stand up/sit down action in that song and…hey, I’m a Catholic…so you know I can totally do that! When the pastor’s wife asked if anyone had brought a friend with them that day, my cousin jumped up and said “I brought my cousin with me, Mrs. Chapman!” which resulted in a huge smile from the pastor’s wife and a special sticker for my cousin’s special evangelization efforts. I narrowed my eyes  suspecting that my cousin was less interested in my theological development as she was about sucking up to the Lady in Charge.

But whatever. We had to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian flag. Neither my cousin nor I had ever heard of this practice. She attended public school and wasn’t overly religious while I started every morning with the traditional Pledge, a quick Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be so neither one of us were familiar with the words and had to mumble through 95 percent of it.

The rest of the morning was spent learning the special VBS song, making our crafts, having a snack and learning about Jesus of course. I couldn’t help noticing that as we listened to the Gospel stories and discussed them as a group, I was one of the few kids who tended offer a lot of input to the conversation. I would bring up a LOT of different things, ask questions and give responses that boggled our teacher’s minds. I remember my cousin asking me “How do you know all of that stuff?”

“Religion class,” I shrugged.

“Well the teachers sure are impressed with you,” she noted.

It appeared that way and boy, did those teachers beam at me later in the week when the Pastor’s Wife took a moment to offer  one last solemn prayer just before the end of VBS Ice Cream Social and ask if there was anyone present who “wanted Jesus to be in their hearts forever.”

I was stumped. Wasn’t He already there? What kind of guy was He to leave me hanging like that? Here I am going to a Catholic school, attending Mass each week and praying to Him and He isn’t even THERE yet?? Well,  I wasn’t going to wait a minute longer. I looked at my cousin and nodded and we both raised our hands. The Pastor’s wife called us up to the altar along with a few other kids (I was surprised that there were not more people getting in on this deal…after all, this was JESUS we were talking about!) and took us off into another room to discuss Jesus’ life and ministry while everyone else went outside to eat half-melted ice cream in little plastic pods with tiny wooden paddles. (Yes, I seriously questioned the fairness of this in my head.)

I don’t remember the exact line of questioning, but I do remember Mrs. Chapman asking me why I wanted a personal relationship with Christ and my offering a very long, drawn-out, parochial school child answer. I’m sure I mentioned something about how God made us and wanted us to belong to Him forever, that Jesus sacrificed Himself for me and that I couldn’t take something like that for granted, etc…She had to think that she hit pay dirt with me. LOL Finally she taught me some little prayer in which I was supposed to “invite” the Lord in…as a girl who was a little more accustomed to elaborate rituals this was a bit….simple, but hey…simple can be good.

It didn’t matter. Me and JC were good to go and I happily skipped off to get my ice cream. (I have no clue how my cousin did in the cross examination.) I didn’t give it another thought until a few days later when someone from my father’s church called my mother and said, “We feel that Julie is ready to be baptized.”

“WHAT???” My mother said. I recall her sending me to my room while she and my father gently explained to the well-meaning person on the other end that I was already baptized and a practicing Catholic. When they got off the phone, my mother rounded on me. “What on earth did you tell them to make them think you wanted to be baptized?” She demanded.

“I never told them that I wanted to be baptized,” I countered. “I did that two years ago, remember?”

“So what happened?” My father asked. “Did they say something to you about it?”

I shook my head and then remembered the prayer session. “They asked me if I wanted Jesus in my heart and I said yes, but what’s so wrong with that???”

My father groaned, realizing what had to have occurred. He assured me that I had done nothing wrong but told me not to worry and that Jesus was already there. I didn’t have to go say a special prayer for that. “So if you are ever asked about that again, don’t worry about it and don’t answer the Altar Call.”

I wasn’t completely sure what an Altar Call was, but I was glad that I wasn’t in any trouble and that I was not going to have to endure the dreaded “Dunk” (aka a Baptist Baptism.) I don’t tell this story to bash my late father’s religion or its practices. To the contrary, I am proud that they offered the opportunity to the VBS kids, I just wish I would have known what that whole thing was about before putting my parents in an uncomfortable situation. Still, I can’t help wondering how bummed my father’s church was not to score the child prodigy who waxed ideology in Bible class  and answered deep, theological questions just like she was a 12-year-old Jesus in the Temple…

Of course if I recall the story correctly…His parents put the kibosh on His plans as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic

Confessions of a Cynical Catholic: Blessed are the….

Beattitudes    When I was little, there was something I positively loved about Vacation Bible School. While some kids were forced into attending, in my opinion there was nothing more fun than a morning of snacks, song, crafts and the occasional religious debate.

For reasons I do not fully understand myself, I typically attended my father’s (Baptist Church) VBS week. In fact, I was nearly in junior high before I even realized my Catholic School HAD a summer VBS program (which goes to show how well it was advertised in the 80’s) so…I went over to my father’s venue. I didn’t mind. When you break it right down, the theology was the same in both locations. I understood that Jesus loved me, he died for me and one day I would live with him in heaven. There was no conflict of interest in denominational doctrine.

As an added bonus, my grandmother was one of the teachers, which meant I got to go home with her in the afternoons and play in her basement while she talked to her friends on the phone until my mother came to get me. My grandmother was very active in her church congregation and not exactly a “let-me-entertain-you” kind of grandparent…so I was left to my own devices. If I was exceptionally clever, I would wait until she was on the phone and hold up a Coke and wave it at her in hopes that she would agree to let me drink it rather than end her conversation. (It usually ALWAYS worked!) But I digress….

So this one year, the Pastor’s wife came up with a challenge to the kids at VBS: If they could memorize the Beatitudes, they would win a genuine, imitation, gold-plated bookmark with the Beatitudes printed on them. (This of course defeats the purpose of memorizing them, but I am assuming that wasn’t the point.) I took a gander at the Beatitudes and quickly ruled out my chances of scoring one of these bookmarks. Unlike the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes are not short, simple and easy to memorize. These things are long, complicated, repetitive and, in my opinion,  proof-positive that JC needed a good speech editor!

“So how are you coming on Mrs. Chapman’s challenge?” My grandmother asked, setting a box of Town House Crackers in front of me for lunch. (I swear I could have eaten my weight in those things back then…nothing else, just the crackers.)

“Yeah, about that…I don’t think I am going to do it,” I replied.

My grandmother looked horrified. How could her own granddaughter not even TRY to make her look good in front of the pastor’s wife? Here she was, a VBS teacher with a granddaughter in the program and she wasn’t even going to ATTEMPT it? “Why not?” she wanted to know.

“Grandma, they are too long,” I told her. “I know there are less of them than the Commandments, but I just can’t do it.”

The woman narrowed her eyes at me. “You mean to tell me that you don’t know them?” she asked.

I shook my head. “Nope. They’ve never come up.”

See, us Catholics…we aren’t really “chapter and verse” kind of people. We don’t memorize where to find things in the bible or rattle of the book and numbers when quoting something like a walking citation and this fact, literally boggled her mind. She could not believe that a girl with my education, who went to a religious school for heaven’s sake never had to memorize the Be-Like-Jesus-Attitudes. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said.

“No grandma, I am not kidding you. I do not know the Beatitudes…I do know how they elect the Pope though and I know all of the mysteries of the rosary,” I offered.

She was unimpressed. More importantly, she was determined not to let this hole in my education go unfilled. “Well, you are just going to learn them, young lady, starting now.” I swear she looked just like Dana Carvey’s SNL character Church Lady as she grabbed her Bible (stuffed with every church bulletin since the Johnson administration), opened it to Matthew, stood me in front of her and said, “Go.”

I knew I was sunk. I knew the lyrics to the song “Blessed Are They” but every Catholic knows that the composer took creative license with the original text and will not help you when it comes to memorizing the real thing. I shifted my weight from foot to foot and stammered, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of God is theirs.” I said as if I were asking a question.

“Good, go on..” she prompted.

“Blessed are the….peacemakers…because….”

“Blessed are they who mourn…”she corrected.

“Blessed are they who mourn,” I repeated. “For they shall…stop crying?”

“For they shall be comforted,” Grandma sighed.

I am in hell, I thought to myself, reciting her words back to her before going on to what I hoped was the next one. “Blessed are the peacemakers…”

“Blessed are the meek,” she interrupted.

“Can’t we just give peace a chance?” I asked.

Needless to say, my joke fell flat and I spend the next millennium (or what felt like a millennium) sorting out who inherits the earth, who will be called the children of God and who will receive His kingdom. (By the way…God has a LOT of beneficiaries in his will.) I was tired. My poor grandmother looked exhausted. It was a valiant effort on her part, but there was no way in the WORLD I was going to get this. Not in order. Not in a few minutes and certainly not within the next couple of days. It wasn’t going to happen.

“Continue…” she said, staring at the text in her hands.

“Fine,” I sighed, narrowing my eyes and letting the wheels turn in my twisted brain. “Blessed are the cross-eyed for they shall see God twice!”

To explain the look my grandmother gave me would mean nothing in the English language, but suffice to say the woman was stunned that I could be that blasphemous in front of the King James Bible. Her jaw dropped open slightly and she seemed slightly bewildered as she slowly closed the book, and whispered that I could go play. I skipped off happily knowing that she probably wouldn’t push the issue for the rest of the week. (I suspected she would also spend considerable time praying for my soul as well.)

Funny thing…at the end of the week, we were all given the Beatitude bookmarks…not the gold kind of course, but we were still given them which of course made me question the idiocy of the challenge once again. In the decades that followed, both of my sons had to memorize them for religion tests but somehow I never did. In 1996, my grandmother passed and in his eulogy, her pastor talked about her deep religious convictions and mentioned how “blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”

I’m pretty sure I was the only person choking back laughter in the middle of a memorial knowing that somewhere, my grandmother was trying to get those things committed to my memory one final time. It didn’t work, but I can say with complete certainty, “Blessed are the grandmas who had the patience not to kill me, even though I probably deserved it at the time.”

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Confessions of a Cynical Catholic