I was sitting in church on Sunday with my husband and our two youngest bubbies. My eleven year old son was serving that morning. As I sat watching him, my four year old arranging the missals and prayer cheat cards on the pew into what appeared to be a house, it occurred to me: my kids are Catholic. This is their normal. Sit stand sit stand kneel repeat. The antiphon, the prayers we recite every week, the eucharist. It is home to them. If I took it away, they’d be off kilter.
When I was growing up, I took great pride in the fact that I was one of the only kids in school who was not baptized. My parents didn’t attend church and didn’t believe in hypocrisy so they did not go through the usual obligatory white baptismal gown, ceremony, after party with any of us. I respected them for that. I still do.
My parents had spiritual beliefs but I never knew what they were. Still don’t. They said it was a private matter between each person and God. My father had been raised protestant (Presbyterian I think) and my mother Catholic. They had both left their churches shortly before they began dating.
As I recall, my father left because of hypocrisy and greed amongst the elders of his church. My mother left for a lot of reasons. She’d had problems with the dogma ever since she was a girl growing up in Catholic school. The Church’s teachings unbaptized babies go to purgatory (something she obviously didn’t believe given she didn’t get any of us baptized), the requirement she go to confession each week and make up some kind of sin since she was just a child and hadn’t committed any. She resented Vatican II and its removal of Latin from the mass. And she was wronged by some people in the Church. I can understand why she left.
My friends would try to persuade me to come to youth group with them and would matter-of-factly state I was going to go to Hell if I didn’t. Hell. The worse imaginable pain for all eternity. All eternity. Horrible suffering. They stated this casually. If they really believed this, shouldn’t they have tried a little harder? I questioned the depth of our friendship.
There were sidewalk preachers handing out mini Bibles and telling us homosexuals would burn in Hell. There was a lot of talk about Hell. Very little about Heaven. None about love. And no dialogue. It was the holy roller Bible belt. We had a Catholic church too. The predominant evangelicals referred to it as voodoo. As they made fun of gay people.
So, yeah, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. I mean, keep-it-away-from-me-with-a-ten-foot-poll nothing. I fled my hometown happily when I turned 18 and wound up at Oberlin College, a progressive small liberal arts school in Ohio of all places. It was there I met amazing Quakers, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, who weren’t anything like the Christians I’d known my whole life. They were loving and kind and focused on social justice. They didn’t judge. They didn’t hate gay people. They didn’t talk about Hell incessantly. In fact, not at all.
I soon decided that maybe I should look into this religion thing. I took an amazing course with Professor Kamitzuka called Roots of Western Religion where we covered the great texts and thinkers from Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Buber and Maimonides and Teresa of Avila and Mary Daly. I was sold. And so began my spiritual journey.
It’s a long story. A very long and winding story. And it will necessarily unfold as this blog continues. For now, I will just say I was finally baptized Catholic at the Easter Vigil in 2015 and have found my home.
I don’t agree with my parents (and my ex-husband with whom I have two children) that it is brainwashing to raise children in religion. Quite the opposite. When done right, it is a wonderful thing to give them that grounding and comfort. To let them know there is perfect Father and Mother that’s always there for them. I think the other thing not recognized in their belief is that they’re raising their children in a spiritual school of thought as much as some with religion. Beliefs are beliefs. At least with religion it is a belief in hope and love, a belief in something rather than a belief what ought not be.
I raise my children in the Church and I hope they will remain as they grow up but if they don’t, I will respect that. My eleven year old loves the mass and volunteered enthusiastically to be an altar server. My 12 year old? Not so much. Our four year old daughter loves Mary and Jesus and St. Lucia and lighting candles and singing “Loooord have mercy. Chriiiiist have mercy” around the house. We had them all baptized this past summer and we require they go to mass with us but it is up to the old ones if they want to take first holy communion (eleven year old is impatient for it, twelve year old could go either way depending what moment you catch him) and confirmation. We do send them to Catholic school also (where my twelve year old, who has autism, often loudly proclaims “I’m not Catholic!” as weekly mass. Like I said, depends what day you catch him).
We don’t talk about Hell. In the teaching my husband and I have received from the Church, Hell is most likely empty and that makes a lot of sense to (well, most of the time. I definitely have my days where I hear of something horrible someone has done and say “special place in Hell for people like this.” That’s just my Irish temper though. It calms down). We talk about love and Mary and the saints and the eucharist. My eleven year old asks really good questions and we talk about what the Church believes and why and what other people believe. I leave it him to decide for himself and so far he’s siding with the Church. His dad presents him with the other side of things and that’s fine. He’s a smart boy. He can handle it.
The Church isn’t perfect (because it’s made up of imperfect people) but I really do believe it is the Truth. I believe that there is a peace to be found in this modern fallen world that you can only get from religion. I am glad I can raise my children in this security and peace and I hope they’ll keep the faith their entire lives, no matter where they’re led. In the meantime we’ll keep reminding them they are loved perfectly, going to mass, sitting and standing and kneeling and making the sign of the cross and asking Loooord have mercy. Hell be damned.