The end is near in the great Let’s Catholicize My Kid adventure. First Communion is only a couple weeks away and in honor of the life-changing event, we had to spend the first beautiful Saturday of the year stuck in a First Communion Retreat last weekend. When I hear the word retreat my mind immediately conjures black and white images of men climbing out of trenches as John Wayne screams “RETREAT! RETREAT!” But as I learned, that’s not how the pious view the word. (I also learned running away from the church with arms flailing shouting “RETREAT!” is frowned upon.)
Back in the 80s, Catholics didn’t do retreats. That was something best left to the Methodists but it seems in my absence, Catholics have decided to go full-boar into Retreating. In 2nd grade alone we’ve had two: one for Confession (Which we skipped due to my moral opposition to the practice. Like my dad used to say, why make a conference call when you’ve got a direct line at home.) and one for Communion. Due to the afore mentioned skippage and the falsities I may or may not have propagated justifying our absence, we needed to attend the Communion Retreat or risk being outted as the heathens we are. So at 8:00 on Saturday morning, mere hours before 13 children were to descend upon my home for a free-range birthday party, Number 1 and I slid into the back pew and prepared to Retreat.
Last week , I mentioned to my mom that I worried Number 1 Son wasn’t doing any actual First Communion preparation during the Catechism class I’d been hauling him to every Monday for the past year. How did I know this? Because in the past month alone he’d brought home approximately 4,782 Jesus-themed, shoddily-constructed arts and crafts projects and had no idea why there was wine involved with communion. (How is he even my child? Even at 8 I knew all about the wine, then again, I’d just read The Thornbirds so maybe I was advanced.)
In 1980, when I did First Communion, we spent a year preparing with Sister Nora standing over us, ruler in hand, making certain we had things down. We practiced with saltines and grape juice, rehearsed the procession like a drill team and knew every prayer Father was going to utter during the course of mass even before he got to them. Sister Nora had no time for Jesus-themed arts and crafts, souls were on the line damn it! In the weeks leading up to the big dance, the pressure was on as were weekly rehearsals.
“Do not drop it! If you drop it, you are dropping Jesus.”
“Sip the wine, don’t gulp. You are Communicants not drunkards.”
“Genuflect! We genuflect, we do not squat!”
“Kneel up! No butts on the pews children. Butts up for Jesus.”
By the time that organ blared on a crisp April Sunday, we were a well-oiled religious machine. That does not seem to be the case for Number 1’s class and so we Retreated.
The first hour was an intensive, Priest-led cram session, going over everything from the whats and whens to the hows and whys. I quelled the urge to point out that perhaps if the Jesus-themed crafts were taken down a notch, this curriculum could’ve been covered in Catechism. According to the mutterings of the other 90 parents in my general vicinity, I was not alone in that thought.
As Father wrapped up with what I now realize must be standard First Communion wine instruction, “Sip, don’t chug” we were sent off into groups for an entire hour of rotating through…you guessed it…Jesus-themed arts and crafts!!!!! (For the love of God people, what is this madness? Is there a Jesus-craft discount center nearby?) Our first task, glazing a ceramic communion chalice, wasn’t too bad with the exception of the mother on my right reminding her 8 year-old daughter, “Make sure you do a good job on this, we’ll be using this at your wedding.” WHAT?!?! No pressure kid, no pressure. I just wanted my kid to get paint on the chalice in addition to his shirt. I guess if I’m going to Retreat, I need to up my expectations.
Unfortunately as we moved to the next rotation, Number 1 Son was done. Why? Because even with the power of Jesus in your arts and crafts, no 8-year-old boy is down with playing Martha Stewart for an hour. As I observed a room of 45 parents crafting and 45 kids wandering aimlessly, it seemed the feeling was mutual.
While Retreating didn’t give me a full change of heart on this Catholic madness, I did feel a twitter of joy in the cultural significance of it all. It’s a good feeling to pass something down to your kids that was an important part of your own childhood; even if you’re not so sure you buy into it anymore. Maybe that’s what Retreating is all about.
Pulling out of church, I relished the fact that I wouldn’t have to Retreat again for 5 years when it’s Nugget’s turn. Right now, Nugget doesn’t need organized religion, his soul is in a holding pattern. But then, Nugget, the child who has been raised in a heathen household, has about 3 words in his spoken vocabulary and has attended church exactly once -at his baptism- changed that opinion. He was sorting through various Catholic paraphernalia we’d amassed that morning, stopped on a postage-stamp sized painting and said “Hi Esus.” The Turk and I shared a wide-eyed Scooby to Shaggy look while mouthing, “Did he just say Hi Jesus? How does he even know who that is?”
He went on to say it again and again and again. Perhaps the Catholic force is strong in that one and maybe 30 years from now, 90 parents will be reluctantly Retreating with a half-deaf, half Turkish, Father Nugget. Even a terribly lapsed Catholic mother would be proud of that.