I’m a lapsed Catholic. Ok, that’s an understatement. I progressed from lapsed to heathen years ago. I was raised in a hard-core Catholic family where you were only allowed to miss 8 o’clock mass on Sunday mornings in the case of projectile vomiting because that could be uncomfortable for those in the pew in front of you. Even if the Iowa winter had wrecked havoc on the roads between our farm and church, we still went because Jesus was expecting us. My parents that were strict but the real heavy was Grandma Mc.
According to Grandma Mc., eating meat on Friday, missing Catechism on Wednesday or skipping mass on a Holy Day of Obligation were sure tickets to purgatory. She kept a jelly jar of Holy Water in the fridge and would liberally douse you during tornado warnings, thunderstorms, before travels and whenever else she deemed you might need a little help from Jesus and her afternoon nap was sandwiched between the rosary and a Novena. That gurl was old school.
While those roots were deep, they weren’t solid. Once an adult, I’d hit mass only on a rare occasion even though I had many friends who were priests. When I turned thirty, suppressed Catholic guilt caused me to join my neighborhood parish in Philadelphia. It was fine until I showed up late for Good Friday mass, saw the priest prostrated on the floor and the only connection I could make was to the Thornbirds. That’s when it occurred to me, perhaps, I wasn’t meant to be Catholic after all.
The demise of my soul was fine but once I had offspring, my latent Catholic tendencies returned and I thought I’d better try again. In 99% Muslim Turkey, our city had one Catholic Church but after extremists murdered the priest I made the call that Jesus was cool with me just being Catholic via the Internet. I did move mountains to make sure both of my kids were baptized once in the U.S. but that’s where it ended until now.
Since we are finally settled in one state I decided the boys need a little Jesus. We tried Vacation Bible School but after faking sick and complaining every day, Number One Son finally admitted, “I can’t deal Mom, there is just so much singing. Does Jesus really want so much singing? I don’t think so.” Word little buddy. So I made him a deal that if he went to 2nd grade Catechism and made his First Communion we’d call it good on his Jesus education and that’s where we are now.
Last week I attended the First Communion Preparation Parents Meeting. In a room full of 90 other Catholic parents I hoped there would be no sprinkling of Holy Water because obviously, it would burn my skin and reveal me for the heathen I am. I took my seat in the back, between Cathy Catholic and a very tired looking mom in scrubs texting like a tween. My vibes said while Cathy knew I was a fraud she would be torn as to wether the Lapsed vibes were coming from me or text mom.
As I listened to the priest prattle on about the life changing attributes of this event and why it was important that the boys wear dark socks (Because obviously Jesus is all about fashion do’s.) I realized, it’s over. I can’t even fake it anymore. I’m a Cultural Catholic, doing this because it’s part of my genetics and nothing more. I was pretty sure Cathy Catholic saw my epiphany and knew what was up but she kept it on the down low. Thanks Cath. I had this great dream that forcing my children through this would reignite something deep in my heathen soul. No go.
The light of my epiphany began to twinkle during the clothing selection portion of the meeting. “The girls’ dresses must be white and are traditionally made of her mother’s wedding dress.” (Back in ’79 I wore floral. It’s starting to come together now isn’t it? And PS, good thing I had boys because my wedding dress was red and my 2nd grade communicant would look like a harlot.) When the Religious Education Director was asked if boys could wear bow ties as opposed to just straight ties she was tossed into a stammering panic, “Well this has never come up before. I don’t know. I will have to ask Father and get back to you. We don’t usually deviate.” Since when is a bow tie a deviation? (Back in my Philly neighborhood the boys wore white tuxes, now that’s a life changing moment.)
My epiphany was affirmed with what followed after the Director added, “If anyone has food allergies please let me know that now.”
Logically, I assumed this was regarding the celebratory cake for the post-life-changing-event reception. I raised my hand, “Um, my kid is allergic to wheat but he can just avoid it.”
“Oh no he can’t.” She quickly refuted. “One cannot simply avoid the host at Communion.”
“Huh?” I was confused.
“Father will have a gluten-free host for him.”
“Hubba waaaaa? Jesus comes in gluten free? I mean, I’m not being fresh but isn’t this all based around that whole bread and wine equals Jesus’ body and blood thing?”
“Or course, but the Catholic church is understanding and we don’t like to exclude.”
My mind screamed- Guuuuuurl, since when? But for once my mouth remained silent as I processed the information. Thanks to his bum tum, my kid’s unleavened body of Jesus would be a rice cracker. Is this even legit? Does the Pope know? Does that mean he gets saki rather than wine?
I looked around to see if I was the only person who found this odd. I was. Catholic Cathy next to me was taking notes and text mom on my left was now asleep. I’ve been a lot of places and seen a lot of things in this world and perhaps I’m too doubting for organized religion.
It all comes down to the idea that maybe my kids don’t need Jesus to be moral people. The Turk grew up Jesus free and he’s one of the most moral people I know. I guess in the end, maybe Catholicism is just part of my culture like making colcannon on St. Paddy’s day or having a fondness for booze and it’s ok if my kids are just cultural Catholics too. I’ll lead them to mass but it’s their decision to swig the wine and buy into the gluten free host. As for me, I’ll be the one in the back row, dodging the Holy Water. I hear it burns.