As I write this, Sunday is winding down. It started the way it always does, this Lord's day. I sat here at my computer, drinking coffee, puppies sleeping on my feet, and Walt went off to Mass. I haven't attended Mass since the kids were all still living at home. Well, there's been a wedding or a funeral here or there, but "church" hasn't been a part of my life for a long time, which is strange because I was such a church-oriented person when I was growing up.
I hesitate to bring the word "spiritual" into this because I do still think of myself as a spiritual person. I just dropped the organized religion thing.
It was quite different when I was growing up. It seems like it was nothing but organized religion.
Going to a Catholic school meant there were no arguments about whether to have prayer in school or not--it was a given. We had regular religion classes. Our school was on the grounds of our church, which was handy.
We regularly contributed to the support of the missions during our weekly "pagan baby" drives, where we bought "pagan baby stamps." kind of salmon colored with pictures of saints on them, I recall, to fill a book. There were little 10 cent ones and big 50 cent ones. In my mind's eye I can even see, I think, a picture of St. Dominic on one of the larger stamps. Kind of like green stamps. With green stamps, when you filled a book, you got to pick out a prize. When you filled a pagan baby stamp book, you got to name your own personal little black pagan baby and I laugh to think about all the "Tammys" and "Billys" there should be running around Africa these days. (You don't suppose the nuns actually misled us, do you?)
On Sundays we went to the 9 a.m. Mass and all the school kids sat together. We lined up outside the church in two groups, those who were going to receive communion and those who were not. You couldn't receive communion if you had put anything in your mouth that morning. If you accidentally swallowed a bit of water while washing your teeth, it was a sin to receive communion. I still remember the day I got in the wrong line, forgetting that I'd had a glass of water, but being more afraid of Sister than I was of God, so damned my eternal soul by receiving communion with the sip of water in my stomach.
Now you could probably walk up to the communion rail munching a Big Mac and still receive! Despite its rigid adherence to the word of the Bible on homosexuality and how it is absolutely forbidden to go against those ancient and not exactly clear laws, other laws seem to come and go on a whim.
We regularly had religious events that involved the little kids dressing in white and carrying chrysanthemums in their hands (I always think of Church when I smell chrysanthemums) and processing into the church until we lined the outside aisle. I'm not too clear on which events required processions, but we seem to have had a lot of them. I remember lining up in the church basement, my stomach in knots, waiting for the procession to start. I had performance anxiety even then.
There were novenas, 9 days of prayer, where we gathered together in the church every day (or night) for 9 days. I remember being at a novena at St. Dominic's church, a big tall Gothic thing one night, with my mother, when an earthquake struck. I still remember the priest reassuring us that we couldn't be in a better place....but I dunno. I think I would have preferred to have been somewhere that wasn't in danger of raining thousands of pounds of stone down on me!
Every Friday afternoon we were marched over to the church to go to confession. We stood in line waiting our turn in the black box where I confessed the same 3 sins each week because I couldn't think of anything else: I disobeyed my mother and father, fought with my sister, and told three lies. (Even as a kid, I had no ability to create a more interesting plot!) And the priest always gave the same penance: 5 Our Fathers and 5 Hail Marys. If I had to confess anything else, I got so nervous standing in line that invariably I wet my pants.
During Lent we went to the Stations of the Cross on Friday afternoons, when we sat, stood, knelt or genuflected as the priest prayed his way around the 13 stops which represented Jesus' processing from his trial to his death and being taken down off the cross.
When we were in the older grades of grammar school, we sang in the choir, climbing the tall steps to cluster around the big pipe organ and sing Gregorian chant. I can't pull one of those chants out of the top of my head, but if someone were to start one, I know I could sing it flawlessly. I remember being jealous of one of my friends once when she felt faint and got to leave Mass to get some fresh air. I decided to get faint the next week, but Sister knew I was faking and I had to stay and sing anyway.
I wanted to be a Carmelite nun when I was in grammar school. I read lots and lots of biographies of saints and I was particularly drawn to St. Therese of Lisieux. I think I liked her picture on the holy card. Or maybe because she was a modern saint (well, late 1800s) and this was an actual photograph, not an artist's representation of some of the earlier saints. Or it might have been her sad childhood and tragic death from tuberculosis. I don't know what it was, but I was determined to be just like St. Therese. I think I even visited a Carmelite monestary in San Francisco once.
By the time we got to high school, my school had its in-house chapel and we frequently had Mass in the chapel. At noon a group of us went to the chapel to say the rosary together. I belonged to the Sodality and the Legion of Mary. And we had retreats. A retreat was a period of time -- usually a weekend -- where we had talks by the priest, prayed a lot, went to Mass, did not speak to anybody and at the end, when we could finally speak, we got to ask the priest any questions about religions that we wanted. Most of them involved how far you could go with a boy before it started to enter the territory of "sin."
Also, by the time I was in high school, I was a bit more social and didn't need the "safety" of a cloistered order of nuns, so I was more attracted to the Daughters of Charity, "God's geese." The Daughters didn't have to stay locked in a convent, but went out and did stuff. They ministered to the poor, they taught school, they were nurses. And besides, Sister Anne was a Daughter of Charity and I felt I would be able to work with her if I joined up. My father wasn't too happy that they were never allowed to visit their home after they joined the order, but I was determined I was going to become a Daughter of Charity.
Cooler heads prevailed, specifically Sister Anne, who talked me into waiting and thinking it over, so I did...and then I didn't go and went to UC Berkeley instead, where I became active with the Newman Club, where I spent most of my time. There was choir and Mass and more retreats...and no religious order to join this time.
After we got married, we continued to go to Mass at the Newman Center, or then to our parish churches (where I sang in the choir). I took a Bible Study class with Char, which was fascinating.
But somehow when we got here, things slowly started slipping away. I began questioning the teachings that I'd taken for granted for all of my life. I saw people hurt by the beliefs of the Catholic Church. There were several contributing factors, but the straw that broke the camel's back was when a priest and nun were forbidden from ministering to the gay community. If that had been a single incident, I could have gotten past it, but it was just too much. And when the College of Cardinals elected Cardinal Ratzinberger, the most homophobic man in the Catholic Church to be the new pope, I knew there was no going back. Ever.
Sometimes on Sunday morning when Walt leaves for Mass, I feel a little guilty. You don't go through a lifetime of indoctrination about the sin you are committing by not going to Mass without it sinking in. The problem with having been raised a Catholic is that you don't feel comfortable looking for another church (that's a sin too). If we lived in San Francisco and I could attend the Metropolitan Community Church, I'd be there every week, but I'm not into church shopping.So I keep the Lord's day in my own way. I minister to God's creatures, who cuddle in my lap, give me puppy kisses and don't judge anybody for anything other than how well they skritch behind the ears.