This, young lady, is why I make you go to Mass.
You are 13, and you ask why you have to go to church, as our Annie asked years before you. Your close friends — sister and brother L and M —and also, a nice boy named Y, go to Hebrew school. Your friend next-door has talked of dreidls, latkes, challah, matzo ball soup, a menorah and nightly Hanukkah gifts over the years.
You like to say you’re Jewish, but it’s entirely untrue. In fact, you have even made a point of sharing that fib in religious education (CCD) class, just to get a rise out of the students and teachers. I did indulge you and order two traditional honey cakes in a Rosh Hashanah fundraiser last month, and picked up a pretty braided yellow challah loaf at Wegmans.
Because of you, I have been involved in some embarrassing high jinx at our Catholic church. The time we brought L and M to Mass with us, and L would not remove the red sequined headband with devil ears (a gift from you) that she wore every day. A lady whose face I’ve recognized for 30 years shook her head at us and made a negative comment to someone else on the church steps. (By the way, in my book, that lady was not showing kind or Catholic behavior.) The Sunday you begged me to let your nonCatholic friend V come with us, and had her walk up with you to receive Communion. In loud whispers, you coached her on how to hold her hands and put the wafer in her mouth. Religious people — CCD teachers, priests — have to prep you for First Communion, not your friend.
And yesterday, when the petitions read aloud included a prayer for a political figure you do not support, someone who is ailing, you burst out in a laugh, which was incredibly rude, and walked out.
I did not follow you. I can do so much and no more, without entirely losing myself and my timeworn thread of faith. Our town is safe and we both know it like the back of our hands. I knew you would show up after Mass, to meet me at the car, the secondhand gray Toyota Camry, and you did.
Still, I will try and explain why my Catholic faith is important to me. And in these turbulent times —it’s a presidential election year, we’re in a pandemic (COVID-19) and a conservative Catholic judge has been nominated to fill Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s seat on the United States Supreme Court — it’s even harder to sift and sort my beliefs.
Because TBT, that’s what I do. I sift and sort. I do not agree with the more conservative tenets of Catholicism.
But as I’ve tried to tell Annie, when my mother died from cancer when I was 20, my faith comforted me — that and my friends, my Dad, my Sis and my extended family. The church was a constant in my life, just as my Mom had been.
But that day — that day. The heavy black rotary phone (with a receiver held to ear and mouth, and a metal dial with holes for the index finger) rang in the early hours of Wednesday, May 20, 1981. My Dad hurried to get it. A twist in the pit of my stomach. We all knew. I had just seen my mother the night before at Holy Name Hospital, where she was on morphine, to ease her pain.
I walked straight to Saint Mary’s Church, as if on autopilot. I had been baptized, and received the Sacraments of Penance, First Communion and Confirmation there. I had gone with my family to potluck suppers, Christmas fairs and May Processions in our parish.
I sat in a polished pew and sobbed. It was almost as if the church were my mother. My heart was ripped out, my life path loomed uncertain and lonely. It was dark. But the church was still there — a place of tradition, ritual, color, candlelight, song, incense, luxurious flowers and familiar faces.
Skipper, I won’t always be here. Tough times inevitably crash into our lives. Major fails, heartbreaking losses. Rocky relationships, money issues. Ill health, addiction. Dashed hopes. Times when you need something or someone bigger than yourself to lean on — between, of course, buoyant stretches of beauty and joy. Happiness, love, health, aspiration, security, true friends, true love, success. (All that goodness is what I wish for you.)
Well, so much for this spiritual post. It’s 7:46 p.m., and you’re acting wild again. I’m less interested in passing down faith lessons at the moment.
So let me just give you 5 good reasons to keep the faith:
- Spiritual comfort. A power greater than you exists all around, in the air, in the sky, in the stars, and that means you don’t have to shoulder your problems alone. That is a great relief.
- Community. Ever since I brought you to Mass as a small girl, you have loved the friends we’ve made there….the babies, toddlers, young parents, schoolmates. (You also go for Hospitality, the coffee-tea-apple juice-and-donut time after Sunday Mass from September through mid-June. But that’s suspended, of course, due to Covid. Now, parishioners sit in alternate pews, at a socially safe distance. We must wear masks. We don’t shake hands as “a sign of peace” and there is no Holy Water. Attendance is way, way down.) I believe this community also teaches kindness, tolerance and acceptance.
- Beauty and pageantry. Regal white Easter lilies, snowball-sized mums, blue stained glass that the sun shines through, bouquets left at the feet of the Blessed Mother statue in May, her month. Babies grinning and drooling, little girls sitting on their mothers’ laps. Velvet Christmas dresses, banks of poinsettias.
- Quiet prayer and meditation. Even when I don’t focus and pray, I like the time to be still and reflect. Say the “Hail Mary” prayer. I like the words “full of grace.” My mother and her mother prayed to Mary with special requests — such as for Auntie, then a college student, who needed to pass her organic chemistry exam.
- The words. Phrases like “Peace be with you,” “Go in peace” and “Lord, hear our prayer.” Listen to the words. Listen to the language, the short phrases that mean so much.
Good night, Skip.