Communicated and ashed

I am my Dad's worst nightmare- a fallen away Catholic. For years he would call on Sunday, and slyly ask if I had been to church.  He grew less demanding as years passed, and asked if I would please just attend once a month.  Sad to say, I did not even meet that low benchmark.  I think the collision course for me and Catholic observance was set early.  I made my first confession (Penance) prior to my first Communion.  Then I whispered the priest's order of three Hail Marys  to my friend on the kneeler.  At this point, Sister Marilyn Ann made me make yet another confession, highlighting my sin of talking in Church.  The next Sunday, all gussied up and pin curled, I received the Body of Christ with my fingers pointed right to heaven.  Linda Light, placed next to me by our alphabetic proximity, was anxious and vomited Jesus' body upon the stone floor of Shrine of the Little Flower.  Priests dashed over and covered the spot with a sacred cloth.  It was quite an event.

Epiphany is Celebrated at The VaticanI was always a nervous confessor, often volunteering "Bless me Father, for I have sinned" before the priest slid the screen to the side.  Father Rodgers told me to shut my mouth one Friday.  After that, I was paralyzed to begin my recitation.  Father Koenig once left me in the confessional, where I knelt like an obsequious sinner for 45 minutes. I did not need the catharsis or the humiliation.  Early on, the only confessions I made were the Easter duty drills mandated by my elementary school.  After that I went to the Big Guy directly.  I suppose it is a sin of vanity to presume he listens.  What the heck- reciting one's shortcomings certainly helps a person to form a firm purpose of amendment- see, I remember the lingo. Things did not improve in high school as Father Francis started the "Fighting 69th" (complete with a pledge) to encourage his teen charges to obey the 6th and 9th commandments.  It was an unfortunate name, and he was a little ahead of us in the admonition not to covet our neighbor's wife. These memories made me a Catholic who questions the Church at times, or, in the words of the Pope, a non-Catholic.  On a trip to Rome where my fellow travelers observed Easter in St. Peter's square, I went to Pompeii. A frail John Paul II did not miss me, I am sure.  He was succeeded by Pope Benedict, whose writings declare that you can only be a Christian within the Church, not beside it.  Sorry, Protestants.     

I can take the hint: the Catholic Church does not want me.  I do not embrace every mandate, and 100% compliance is the mandate.  I am a reviled  candy jar Catholic, holding dear most morsels, while rejecting others.  The most basic precept that I have trouble with is Transubstantiation, the belief that bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Christ at the Consecration.  It is just so unnecessary.  I think Jesus was trying to say that if we thought of God with grace and thanks every time we took nourishment, we would have faith woven into each day.  That is not the Catholic position. I also have some problems with Mary being taken into Heaven body and soul.  And infallibility.  And with the marginalization of women into positions of servitude.  
I know servitude.  I was a sacristan, and after Mass I would fold and return garments, wash the cruets, refill the wine, and clean off the altar.  Then I would hustle back to school while the altar boys ate lunch with the priest.  It took two decades before girls could serve Mass, finally getting into the inner circle.  I don't suppose there are any kids eating lunch at the rectory these days.
I am estranged, to be sure, and yet I deeply appreciate all that the Catholic Church has done for me.  My family was forged in belief that marriage was a blessed Sacrament.  I absorbed the lessons of the beatitudes, and have always worked to be kind and of service. Faith without good works was empty, and we were pushed to add outreach to our lives.   My parents' faith guided their actions, and their actions enriched my days.  Mom's rubber banded missal was a treasure to her, and Dad faced every day to the end with absolute certainty that Heaven awaited. Last year, after an episode of American Idol, I tucked him in with a back scratch and a conversation.  I asked him what the greatest blessings of his life were, and he said without hesitation, his faith and his family.  Throughout his life, these two pillars held him up.  
In an effort to please Dad, I went to Mass with him the day before I left last year.    He drove the two blocks, refusing my assistance. (I think I scarred him with my bad driving back in the day).  Saint Gabriel's parish was his Catholic home away from home, and he LOVED it there.  Father Tony, 100% Irish, always leads with a joke, follows with a short sermon and speed skates through the remainder of the Mass. ( Dad's kind of priest)   I would never attend Mass again with Dad -until his funeral Mass ten days later.  
 Visitation, prayers for the dead, and the Ceremony of Remembrance (funeral mass) is the structure that the Catholic Church excels at.   Dad's was comforting and celebratory.   A Sister from Shrine conducted the wake.  Rather than direct us to recite the rosary like a Greek chorus, she asked Dad's kids and grandkids to remember him.  She had written a poem where Heaven was a golf course where he was always content- exactly the Heaven Dad dreamed of.   It was a night where the Church surrounded us with love and support.  His Mass was the same, with a Monsignor creating a joyous "going away" party.  I wanted so much to carry this spirit of love back to Chicago, and to reconnect with my Catholic roots.  
The next Sunday, I headed to my home parish, seeking wisdom and peace.  Alas, the homily was a professorial discourse, nattering about the Greek roots of words, and the history behind the Gospel.  My peace came from tuning out and turning within myself.  Again, I found myself skipping the middleman and talking directly to God.  Steve has dallied with Mass because he romanticizes the "secret codes". He threatens to find a "fast track" Catholic conversion course, and to lap me on the way to heaven.  I don't think that will happen.  Even my Dad, as I scratched his back, acknowledged that there are non-Catholic roads to heaven.  He gave me decent odds, based on my track record.  I'll take them.  
Yesterday I returned to St. Gabe's for ashes and peace.  The pews were crowded, the joke sweet, the sermon short, the ashes efficiently distributed. Despite the "come back" entreaties on TV, I am not  a returning Catholic. Sorry, Pop.  I am a daughter honoring her Father for his faith.  I prayed in thanks and in supplication, for the gifts that my parents gave me, and the blessings  I enjoy daily.   I prayed that my boys might embrace religion, or faith,  as a  pillar of support for life's challenges. They have never been left in a confessional.  It could happen. 


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  • Wow, that sure hit home for me Janet, I think maybe we were sisters in another life. I too was raised Catholic, I went for 8 years but balked at high school, figured there were no boys in the all girls school they were campaigning for. I won that fight, and as I had my own kids, I sent them through 8 years of CCD. However, when I got divorced and heard the church views on divorce, I kind of strayed. Then when all the publicity surfaced about the molestation charges, I truthfully was disgusted and did not go back. I believe in God in my heart and my own way. I dont need commercials to tell me to come back, I never left God, I left a building that doesnt stand for what it used to and I hope he understands.

  • Janet,
    You prayed...that's really all that mattered and all that your Dad ever wanted..

  • Excuse the lack of charity, hon, but you do come across as an astonishingly smug ignoramus. Heaven forbid a homilist actually challenge you to think seriously about the Gospel.

  • Janet, God understands why we do what we do, and I think he is looking out for you in his own way. He seems to have blessed you with a great family, and he helped you escape from the halls of hell at Kimball H.S.(where teenage boys like myself were unable to stop looking at your legs!)

  • Who's smug? Hon, I did 12 years of Catholic school and untold hours in the pews. Guess I've logged the gospels, the epistles and the psalms. I think the message of the gospel is not the origin of words, but the call to positive action. Priests condescending are really not enlarging the circle of believers, or doers. Since the priest's best shot at igniting the message is in inspiring with words, I would call that homily a failure. Since it is so easy for you to call me a smug ignoramus, I am guessing you are more a commandments person than beatitudes. And I never excuse a lack of charity. I'm pretty sure I'm in God's corner with that.

  • Did your sons receive any of the Sacraments growing up?

  • In reply to sdavern:

    Yes, My sons are all baptized and confirmed Catholics. They are embracing religion in their own way now, as adults. Mike will be married in the Catholic Church, and I encourage him to find a congregation that adds meaning to his life. I am glad when they seek God in any way. My views are only mine- and grow from my life and experiences. I was totally unsuccessful in programming them in most areas, and so now I watch and encourage as they search for the place religion and faith will have in their lives. I would never dissuade them from Catholicism. I encourage belief, faith and good deeds. But the Highest Power is not any denomination- it is God.

  • In reply to sdavern:

    I too am a "cafeteria" Catholic but I feel good about it. I don't agree with everything taught in the Catholic church yet I am very religious. I too went to a Catholic grammar school, a Catholic high school and even a Catholic college (DePau). I am raising my two boys Catholic and as part of their upbringing I remind them that you do not always have to agree with the "man-made" rules but you can still be the person God wants you to be.

  • In reply to sdavern:

    Doubley you could have been writing for me, same history of education, raising two boys Catholic. Their not of the age yet to go into not always agreeing on man-made rules but they do understand that they need to always try and do their best such as their parents try to do and that when we slip and fail on some of the man-made rules that God will always forgive us.

    What I find sad is seeing people turn away because the reality is they just aren't motivated to attend to their spiritual lives. Some will say that they have turned away from Catholicism due to the scandals, women not playing a more significant part, etc etc. and those reasons are completely understandable and hard to work through as a Catholic.... but given that, these same people do not turn to other Christian denominations in order to connect to God so then it leads me to think that these reasons for leaving are just cop outs for some. Please remember I said some. I mean no disrespect to those who have suffered at the hands of the highly disturbed priests and those who did nothing to correct the scenarios.
    I wish more people would find the importance again of having faith whatever the denomination it is.

  • In reply to sdavern:

    There is a place for committed and empowered people like you Janet who have the same issues with Roman Catholic theology--the Episcopal Church (we're Pope-lite: great liturgy, less guilt). Our Presiding Bishop and the Dean of our Cathedral are both brilliant and empowered women. Our Dean has 2 children similar in ages to your boys. Eucharist is a "mystery" and all we know is Jesus said "this is my body"--so why explain it as transsubstantiation or anything else? Enough said. We try to remove the secret codes and get everyone in on the traditions that mean so much to people. Yep, we invite everyone in--gays too. But Jesus hung out with the outcasts, so why shouldn't we.

  • In reply to sdavern:

    C'mon Janet, give the Catholic church a chance to serve the you of today--not the girl in knee socks waiting in line for the confessional.

    I too don't buy all the man-made rules and rigamrole, but I can set that aside and still get great comfort and hope from my faith.

    I lost my dad in the last year as well...and like you I got great comfort out of the rituals surrounding a Catholic burial. I knew that my dad's faith meant he left us with no fear and great anticipation. I'd take that any day.

    Your dismissal of your local church after one Mass seems surprisingly knee-jerk for you. Give a few more churches a try. You have a wide-range in your area. Shop. Try to find somewhere more like St. Gabe's in Florida. If you find a good match, you've found another way to enrich your life. Seems worth the investment of a few Sunday mornings.

  • In reply to sdavern:


    Controversial, yet honest dialogue. That is what blogs should be for.

    Life is a mystery, and we are fortunate in this country to be able to practice whatever religion or faith best suits us. It is unbecoming to criticize those who do not follow your path.

    As my uber-Catholic grandmother would say when we kids would complain about not lack of air conditioning, having to say an entire Rosary or a Novena - "Offer It Up to the Poor Souls in Purgatory".

    Janet. I think you'll be just fine - not that I'll be the one deciding.

  • In reply to Shasta:

    Tonight I am flying home is bad weather, and my rosary is in my carry on bag. Some habits are hard to break. If ever.....

  • In reply to JanetDahl:

    I only learned in my adult years that, in addition to a prayer and homage to the Blessed Virgin (as referred to by my grandmother) that the Rosary is a form of meditation.

    So if it calms the mind I say there is no hippocracy in that.

  • In reply to JanetDahl:

    Hi Janet, I agree with one of the commenters, give another Catholic Church a try. I have an idea of the area you live in based on Steve's broadcasts and Dahlcasts, and it may be worth the car ride....give St. Joseph's Church in Downers Grove a try. It is a beautiful, welcoming, friendly parish. It changed my life and I think you may be pleasantly surprised. Peace out!

  • In reply to JanetDahl:

    I read all the comments and still feel that my one sentence sums it up. it is about prayer and our relationship to God. Whatever way we feel closer to Him..... is the best way for us. Janet's Dad felt closeness through Sacraments. Janet is still seeking her way to God. Just know that He is there.

  • In reply to sheilau:

    Thank you for your kindness. And I DO know. And He knows I know!

  • In reply to sheilau:

    I don't mean to be rude, but I am still laughing at the thought of being left in the confessional for 45 minutes! I can absolutely see how that could happen, though. I attended a Catholic grade school, where we had mass before church every morning and I also cleaned the alter, etc. I do kind of miss the "Stations of the Cross" on Fridays in Lent. I hated going as a kid, except it meant that we got out of class earlier on those days. What I really wanted to comment about was that I too "left the Catholic church" because of a confessional incident. I was 18 and about to go on a trip to London and Paris with the high school French Club. I hadn't gone to confession in a while, but I figured it was a good idea since I'd be leaving the country and all. When I confessed to my priest that I was no longer a virgin, he called me a whore and told me to leave. I was stunned, humiliated and very upset. I couldn't believe that a priest who is supposed to represent God or Jesus would speak to me that way! So I walked out and never went back. I know now that one ignorant, stupid priest doesen't represent all the priests in the Catholic church, but at the time, it was very hurtful. Anyway, I understand where you are coming from and absolve you of all things considered sins in the Catholic church. Amen!

  • In reply to sheilau:

    Janet, are we clones? Well, almost. My parents insisted that we (the kids) go to Catechism and Mass every Sunday... yet they just dropped us off at the door. We were subjected to the inspection of Father Malloy, a 6'5" bass-voiced Irishman who ruled with an iron pointer stick as did the nuns who taught us to FEAR God.

    At the Pre Cana private conference with the priest before I married, we were interrogated - individually - by the priest as to whether we had pre-marital sex, were going to have kids, and if not right away, what form of birth control we planned on. We both lied and said we never had sex, and wanted a passel of kids, and if any form of birth control would be used it would be abstinence or the dreaded rythym method.

    When I registered my 2nd grader for "Faith Formation" (the new Catechism classes), I was scolded by the Priest for not getting her in the year before! Unlike my experience, the parents were to participate. It was uncomfortable to say the least. It lasted until her Confirmation in 8th grade. Now, if I attend, I'm attending a marriage or a funeral Mass.

    I, too, am a believer that I can worship and pray to God wherever I am. I don't feel the guilt that many my age carry because they have not embraced their Catholic upbringing. For me, it is a more peaceful and private way of faith. When I falter, I do think to myself that I'm bringing myself one step closer to hell. Yet when I think of all the good in me, I know it will outweigh my "bad" moments.

    You were dead-on with all your comments, Janet. And after living with Steve all these years, you've gotta end up in heaven!

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