I watched The Bible series showing on the History Channel recently. We sat and binge watched the entire series in one Saturday. Each of us with our own fresh popped on-the-stove popcorn bowl, a fizzy drink, and the television.
Its difficult for me to watch any show for more than a few minutes at a time without getting up, emptying the dryer, folding clothes, making a meal, feeding the outside animals, emptying the garbage, or whatever else I have half a mind to do. Sticking with any day-long programming is really rather rare indeed. This day, however, I actually watched this gem from beginning to end.
The subject matter has always been curious to me. I was raised a Roman Catholic in a tiny Midwestern town. There was no Catholic Church where we lived so we always traveled on Sunday to a neighboring town that did house a Catholic Church.
My memories of those times were mostly of my dread to get dressed up in our Sunday finest complete with white gloves, the almighty hat pushed down over my unruly curly hair, black patent leather Mary Jane shoes, anklets with lace trim, and a small clutch purse that had to match my shoes, dress, or something else I was wearing. (Mom insisted) containing my Chapstick, rosary, small prayer book, — you know, the necessities for that spit-shined weekly appearance. I still have those things on my dresser to this day 1/2 century later. There was never money because I never had any. (Still to this day. True story. hahaha) Dad would slip us girls a dollar sometime during the service so we would have something to add to the collection basket. My mind would sometimes wander while I wondered if I was ever able to get my hands on one of those baskets with the 10′ foot pole attached if I started passing that around wily nilly on the school bus or while standing in the lunch line if people would rotely throw some change in there for me . Maybe on the class trip to Springfield I could make a little souvenir money. (haha – jk)
We’d park the car across the street from the church, walk up the flight of stairs to the entrance (handicapped accessible wasn’t even a term back then), make the sign of the cross by gingerly tapping our forehead, heart, left shoulder, then right shoulder with the blessed holy water sitting in a shallow dish just inside the door. We then entered the small building with 15 or so benches on either side of the aisle. I inhaled the lemon scent wafting from the pews we polished the day before as it had been our family’s turn to clean the rectory that Saturday. The funny thing I remember most about that was we were in our casual play clothes with lace doilies pinned to our heads cleaning the church because as girls we weren’t allowed to be in that holy space without a headcovering of some kind. Then, one of the two ushers would guide us to our seat. This was strategic because if you arrived too early you were right smack dab in the front, and if you were too late you were relegated to the back where hearing was a challenge. Entering the simple but beautiful building with the stained-glass windows that were particularly gorgeous on a sunny day was always a serene pleasure. I had gotten over the shock of the dead guy hanging on the piece of wood behind the priest and the statue of the barefooted lady on the side of the altar years before. It was horrifying at first when I was a very young, but by the time I was ten or so, I was used to it although still curious as to why we have a dead man hanging on the wall regardless of who he was. It didn’t seem to make good decorating sense to me at all. If Jesus had been hung would we have a man hanging from the rafters with a rope tied around his neck? Macabre in my opinion. I totally get the cross concept, but the dead guy too? I am at a point in my life where I do not wish to keep reliving the emotion and horror of this poor man being tortured to death.
First, there were people waiting in the last pew to enter the confessional and tell the priest who knew who we all were our innermost miscomings. After the family was seated I would slide from my designated place and head toward the back of the church. Just this one behavior alerted not only my parents but everyone else I knew that I had done something so wrong I felt the need to get it off my chest and set my soul free. Whispering was what I wanted to do, but coincidentally our priest was hard of hearing. “Speak up please,” he’d say. I declared to the voice behind the dark screen, “I made my sister make my bed for a whole week for not telling Mom and Dad about what she did.” “What did she do, my child?, he vociferated. “I promised I wouldn’t tell,” I answered. He doled out my prayer orders 2 rosaries, 3 Hail Marys, 3 Lord’s Prayers. Then I’d leave the confessional keeping my head down and not making eye contact with people snickering and smiling because of course everyone could hear me talking about my most agregious ‘sin’. After all the confessions were made, the priest came out of the phone booth dressed in his black slacks, black shirt, and white collar preceding to his staging area behind the altar.
Mrs. Lane pushed everyone dumb enough to try to sit in the third row on the aisle of the right side of the Church out of her way. By now everybody should know that’s where she sat when she led the congregation in the rosary before the ceremony. I mean, c’mon! There’s no way it would work if she sat in a different pew, for heavens’ sake. It would be ludicrous! Get your stuff together, fellow churchgoers.
Father Condon would finally appear in his satiny colorful robes which always looked like something Patti LaBelle would wear on stage at the Apollo. During the service the priest would plod through the ceremony which at the time was in Latin. During the sermon which fortunately was in English my mind always wandered — Marietta had on the prettiest light pink hose to match her dress. Well, her Dad was a doctor so even though there were a bunch of kids in that family, I’m sure they can afford it. Mrs. Bischoff was sporting her usual plastic judgmental crooked smile. The Long’s were late again. Could the Masters please take that crying baby out of here? I wonder what we’ll be studying in Catechism today after Mass. The overriding thought though was always when will he stop talking up there? Then it was time for communion while the ushers stood at the end of each pew alerting that row it was their turn to walk up and kneel to be blessed, stick out their tongue for a communion wafer to be placed in their mouth. Yum… (Yuck). Since I had just gone to confession, I proudly took my turn in line at the altar to receive the tasteless sacrament. The weeks where we were too late for confession were embarrassing because the usher would still stop at our pew while we all sat there trying to act like it wasn’t awkward.
Mass was FINALLY over, and all the school age children would march down to the church basement for studies. We learned about Catholic rules, regulations, why we wear hats (still have no idea why), what the different colors of the robes mean, memorizing prayers, learning Latin, etc. I only remember being instructed in the Catholic way. Any Jesus teachings were probably conveyed during that long boring speech during the service; but of course I wasn’t paying attention then. We had to memorize these different things so we could pass the quizzes. That’s what I remember –trying to memorize the test material. You’d think I would have an upper hand because Mom was the teacher, but the only stuff occupying my thinking was the wonderful brunch we were going to have at home after class was over. Love scrambled eggs and bacon. Maybe today we’ll have French toast too. That would be devine! It was a far sight better than the cold cereal we usually had for breakfast during the week. My recollections of growing up Catholic were about learning to be Catholic and not learning why we were followers of Jesus. I heard all the text, and rules, and knew which day we were doing what, why we rapped on our heart when the bell rang, the songs sung by the choir, but the real reason why escaped me.
The Catholic Church still escapes me to this day. We have never been the best of friends although we’ve never been enemies either. They’re there, I’m here. I don’t get them, they don’t get me. I Ike to think spirituality has transcended the rules and regulations of an organization run by flawed people as is everything else in the world. Imperfection is the perfection of mankind. The more recent revelations of the church were more about the church itself than the higher calling of finding the Lord. The Church has been steeped in sexual improprieties, hiding the truth, manic control to evade Earthly judgment, hypocracy, duplicity, hiding non-taxable wealth in the ornateness of their statues, marble halls, buildings, etc. In my opinion, its grandeur and self-promotion has superseded its purpose. I admit I am a fan of Pope Francis and even follow him on Twitter. He has brought a smile and tolerance back to the fold. I’m not disappointed in the Church any more than society in general because I personally never held it to the exalted status others appear to. In other words, you didn’t have me at hello.
I’m writing this article because after watching The Bible series in one fell swoop, it suddenly put it all in perspective for me. The joyless existence, poverty, tyranny, brutality, state-sanctioned wide-spread murder wiping out entire generations of small children and communities of the time before Christ was broken apart by this one man who started a revolution for peace, love, thinking outside yourself, being kind, and accepting of others. His death gave us permission to enjoy our lives and not be enslaved by the violent control of miserly, evil rulers. He freed us from the dour cowering lives of imprisoned souls of the day. Terrorists in current day are misguided in believing their mission is to return us all to BC lives. Jesus is the reason we adopted a Before Christ (BC) and and After Christ (AD) delineation in time. It is because of the tremendous impact of his revolutionary mindset of freedom, kindness, happiness, and peace eventally infused throughout the world that we all care so much about him and strive to be more like him. Putting the mythical aside, he was an actual person who lived, loved, sacrificed, and changed lives for the better forever. Jesus, I love that guy! … Sandy