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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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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.

 

 

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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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