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They’ll Take You As Soon As You’re Warm May 10, 2011

Posted by J. in Genius.

Every Sperm is Sacred Set of 4 Stitch Markers by knitoramaa

Did you know that today is Monty Python Day on Facebook?  I don’t know what that means, exactly, but any day I get to quote those glorious bastards freely and with wanton abandon is going to be a good day in my book.

I’m a Roman Catholic, and I have been since before I was born,

And the one the say about Catholics is they’ll take you as soon as you’re warm.

You don’t have to be a six-footer; you don’t have to have a great brain.

You don’t have to have any clothes on, you’re a Catholic the moment Dad came.

(Lyrics reprinted completely without any permission whatsoever.)

The idea that I am the product of a Catholic education has been mentioned and requested as a topic, but I hope it’s not disappointing to report that I’m rather the opposite.  The real story lies in how I got to be a card-carrying Church Lady despite my family’s somewhat tepid approach to religion when I was growing up.

The story begins when I was baptized on June 22, 1969 at St. Joseph Parish at the tender age of two months.  We were not what you would call a religious family by any stretch.  My parents, conscious in some part of their duty as Catholic parents and having been married in the Church, duly enrolled us in our catechism classes, which in the 70’s was called CCD.  (That’s short for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine or Catholic Children’s Detention, depending on who you ask.)  Nowadays it’s just called Religious Education and you non-Catholic Christians probably call it Sunday School.

Anyway, we were Catholic kids and we didn’t go to Catholic school (with the rich kids) so it was CCD for us.  Mind you, their duty ended with catechism.  We only went to Mass sporadically, when my mother felt like going, but she made sure we attended CCD every damned Saturday morning from first grade to Confirmation, which in my case was 9th grade.

"Christ didn't come to Earth to give us the willies... He came to help us out. He was a booster." --Dogma

We received our Catholic education in the years when the ink on the Vatican II reforms was still wet.  My priest, himself a product of the religious formation programs of the 70’s, describes the religious education programs of that particular time in history as “the dumbass years.”  The rigid and unyielding Baltimore Catechism and its straightforward question and answer style was gone and was replaced with what he calls “Jesus and balloons.”   Because of this new approach to the Gospel, I think a lot of us grew up thinking that on some level Jesus was basically just a sweet, hippy dude who totally got a bum rap.  “Love one another as I have loved you” became “I’m okay, you’re okay.”  Jesus is your pal, man.  He’s Buddy Christ.

I think our poor catechists must have had a devil of a time of it.  No pun intended.  They had grown up with the Baltimore Catechism.  They knew, because they had had it drilled into them for their entire lives, that for every question, there was one and only one correct answer.  Memorize it, and move on.  They had been told, when they asked a question, “Just because,” and that’s the only answer I think they knew how to give when it came their time to teach.

I was the beta testing generation.  I also suspect it’s why so many of my generation migrated away from the Catholic Church once we received our Confirmation.  They went from a method of teaching that was all substance and no spirit, to one that was all spirit with no substance.  How the hell do you build a faith on that?

Anyway, I had 9 years of religious instruction, received all my Sacraments in their time, and considered my Catholic education finished when the Bishop anointed my head with the sacred chrism of Confirmation.   I was ready to go out into the world fully prepared to be a lapsed Catholic.

Then I went to a Catholic college.  I didn’t go to Salve Regina because it was Catholic.  That was purely by chance.  And it’s not like I suddenly got to college and became uber-Catholic or anything like that.  But the school year and the liturgical calendar went hand in hand.  The seasons of the Church were celebrated daily, as unconsciously as breathing, and most of my professors were religious sisters, brothers, and priests.  The Church has a definite rhythm to it, and Salve was in harmony with the Church, and I think it was aligning me with the Church as well, even though I didn’t understand it at the time.

I also took religion classes for the first time in which I received a proper catechesis. I learned what the Church teaches (beyond just Jesus loves you, baby) and more importantly, why.  And how.  And the history of why and of how.  I studied Church history and comparative religions and delved headlong into our Judaic roots.  We had heated discussions is class about moral issues and Christian response, and the ramifications for the future.

It was heady stuff for someone who had only had Jesus and balloons.

But the biggest turning point came when as a freshman I attended a dorm Mass that Father Ray celebrated.  He came to our dorm and we all gathered in the common room and he explained that because there were non-Catholic students here as well, he would celebrate the Mass, but he’d stop and start and explain what was going on and why so that anyone who wanted to could ask questions.

It was a hell of an eye-opener.

Mass was no longer stand up/sit down/kneel/pray/sing/chant “just because.”  Every movement, every word, every song and every single thing in that space and in that liturgy is there for a reason, and Father Ray patiently and with his gentle good humor taught us what they were.  He made the Mass make sense, and I wish every Catholic person in the world could have that experience just once.  In a fairly simple analogy, it’s like the difference between the fan who goes to a baseball game with a complete understanding of the subtle nuances of the game and the person who goes to a baseball game with only a rudimentary understanding of how it’s played.

Mind you, I had (and still have) a long way to go theologically, but knowing that “just because” is NEVER the reason we do what we do opened a whole new world of thinking to me.  I spent a lot of years asking Why? and finally–FINALLY–receiving answers and being able to discuss them over and over again until they make sense.  Or not.  I love that there’s never just one right answer to any question and that they’re rarely simple.  And that just when I think I’ve got a handle on something, I discover another whole way of thinking about it that changes the game again.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Unthinking faith is a curious offering to the creator of the human mind.”  I believe I’m a theologian at heart.  I might have made a good Jesuit.

I didn’t become a regular mass-goer until after Aunt Elaine died in 2003, and I credit Father Albert with that.  Her funeral Mass was so beautiful that I felt the urge to go to the 4:30 Mass that following Saturday.  It was during the Octave, or eight days of Easter, so it’s exactly like going to an Easter Sunday Mass.   He understands how important each single detail is, so all the bells and whistles, which of course, having been trained by Father Ray to know that they’re not just there for show, plus being a theater person with a great love of a good show anyway no matter what the reason, stimulated every fiber of my faith being.

At one point during the Easter Mass is the sprinkling rite and the renewal of baptismal vows.  During the prayer, he says something about welcoming those home who have been away, and something just changed in me.  I felt like he was talking specifically to me and welcoming me back, and for the first time since I was confirmed, I felt like I was finally home.  I sat there in the pew and cried like a big, old idiot because I really and truly felt that God loves me and that he wanted me there with Him at that very moment.  And, while I might not be on the same page with everything the Church teaches, it is truly my faith home.  I’ve never felt spiritually fulfilled outside its doors, and I know now that each time I receive the Eucharist, I grow closer to God and stronger in faith.  It’s a blessing, and never a burden.

Emma and Mary Easter morning in front of the baptismal font.

Now we’re raising our kids so that they grow up in the Church.  Not just going to religious ed on Sunday morning and receiving all their sacraments in due time, but going to Mass every week.  We’re active in the Parish and we live our faith at home and I try to make our life here like it was at Salve: in rhythm with the season and the cycles of the Church.  I hope they grow up feeling like St. Joseph’s is as much their home as are these four walls, and that their faith is a blessing as well, and not a burden.

Someone asked once what my concept of God is.  I explained it this way.  Every morning, my Dad stands at his mailbox and waits for us to come out and walk down the hill to the bus stop.  The kids and I come out of the house and they race up to meet him with big smiles, and he puts his arms out and scoops them up in a giant Grandpa hug like they are the three people he wants to see most in the whole wide world.  He kisses each one of them and greets them individually and they stumble all over each other to tell him all the things that kids tell their Grandpas. No story is too silly, no detail so small as to be overlooked, no concern is ever inconsequential to him.

I think that kind of love is what God is like, but infinitely more so.

I guess at the end of the day, I’m not so much a product of my Catholic education as I am a practicing Catholic in spite of it.  Somehow, I managed to find my way back to where I started.



1. Trillian42 - May 11, 2011

You really do have a gift, Poops. I have known so many people in my life who claim to be “religious” but have no concept of what I’d call faith. This is a really lovely glimpse into what faith means for you, and I really appreciate you sharing a little of that journey.

2. string - May 11, 2011

that is beautiful

3. Kelly - May 11, 2011

Thanks, Poops. I needed that today.

4. MouthyMavensMusings - June 15, 2011

I needed to read that today. Thanks Poops. Now I see why you don’t talk about religion either 🙂

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