A Heathen Among the Faithful

10:30 was cresting and his fickleness on the matter quickly turned to decisiveness in wanting to go to mass.

I was secretly hoping my son’s interest in Christianity might be outweighed by his desire to play with sharks that Sunday. But, no, that was not the case – I pulled myself together towards some modicum of present-ability. My hair barely wrapped around a chop-stick, jeans devoid of most tragedies beset by too much wear, and the minutia of that Catholic chip still embedded in my shoulder was about all I could do as I drummed up some of that guilt about not wearing a dress to a house of God.

I had only attended mass 3 times since I was 17 and was a little nervous about remembering the sit-kneel-rise-communion waltz. I mean, I know that there are similarities between the Presbyterians and Catholics, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself if a missed an important move in the sequence.

I digress, my son and I sneaked in the door and found seats in the second to last pew where he made himself comfortable by taking off his shoes and grabbing the missal. I, however, felt like I had just been caught doing something out of character having been spotted by the minister (his son attends the same school as my own). Mass began, and proceeded in a rather casual way that I was not used to in the Catholic tradition in which I was raised. People were invited to share announcements about the upcoming tamale sale, ask the congregation to send out prayers to people in need, even Happy Birthday was sung.

Children were asked to come up to the alter by the minister to discuss the meaning of peace during the Advent season. But, then they were ushered out of the sanctuary to attend Sunday School, bible study, re-programming? My son was disappointed that he could not follow, but it was more to socialize than to learn what color candle would be lit the next Sunday. He had a hard time grasping what it was to be there and why people were required to demonstrate restraint and follow certain behaviors; he became bored. But, I was determined to stick it out and really amazed myself with my religious muscle memory; remembering songs, prayers, that communion comes towards the end of mass.

It was then, though, that I found myself in crisis for a few reasons: 1st, I had to shake hands with people and found myself saying “we’re just trying this on for size, we’re not Christian”, or “he’s bringing home Christian ideas from school, so I thought I would expose him to what’s out there.” I felt like the biggest knob. Well, he enjoyed the attention and the “peace be with you” mantras. 2nd, I got into a mild panic over what I do for taking the Eucharist. If I take it does that mean I accept Jesus as my savior, can I even take it having abandoned the church so long ago? Was it like in the Catholic faith, if you divorce you can never again receive communion again? What about my kid, he hadn’t been baptized or gone through 1st communion, is he permitted to participate in the ritual? Chaos in my brain! Taking communion is probably the most exciting thing about attending mass, you get a little drink and morsel to tide you over until coffee and donuts, but I had easily turned it into a moral dilemma. Fortunately, we were let off the hook, encouraged to partake; crisis averted. 3rd, when mass was over I was stopped by the minister and welcomed into the church, as well as to attend again with my son, not to be rivaled with the Sunday School Coordinator (?) who creepily enough knew my son’s name and invited him to attend class. I realized I had just been pegged as a church-goer. Thank you, and exit left.

There was one thing I found redeeming, the sermon. It was nurturing and spoke to things that have emerged in my life concerning love, and living a life fully and without regret. Though it was shrouded in the outstretched hand of religious faith and piousness, it was poignant and relevant. What I’m coming to see, is that this journey that I have set out for my child can easily be one for myself.