Saturday, June 25, 2005

Strange Things I Believed as a Catholic Child

My mother was Catholic, my father was not. They had a deal that any boys they had would be raised Methodist by him, and any girls they had would be raised Catholic by her. God might love Catholics more because they ended up with three girls, and Dad never had to become Methodist (he was raised Jehovah's Witness, which is a whole 'nother post).

So I spent 12 years in a plaid skirt. And yet, I know quite a few non-Catholics who know more about the religion than I do. Perhaps it's because I stopped listening around second grade. So I present these to you, not as weird things Catholics believe, but as the weird ideas I got in my own head about what they believe.

1. Anyone, at any time, can get "The Calling."

On Vocation Day, we had to watch videos of nuns and priests talking about their vocation. It was sort of like career day with one career. What it really was, was a recruitment seminar. They wanted to be sure that we heard The Calling to become a priest or nun if that's what God wanted. But they did a lousy job of making it look like a fun life, so I was scared to death of "The Calling." The nuns would explain:

"I was in high school when I got The Calling."
"I always thought I'd marry and have kids, so I was not expecting The Calling."
"I got The Calling as a small child."

You know how sometimes you think you hear someone saying your name and you look around and don't see anybody you know? As a child, every time that happened to me I was terrified that I was getting The Calling. I thought these people really heard a voice calling their names. I didn't realize that The Calling was actually a conscious decision, and one that most nuns/priests were happy to make. The ones at my school certainly didn't look happy, and I already hated going to mass.

2. Babies who die before they're baptized are in a big airport lounge somewhere.

Surely you've heard of Limbo. Besides being a dance performed by drunk people on cruise ships, it's where babies go if they die before they're baptized. See, we can't have people who aren't baptized getting into heaven - that will make people think they don't need to get baptized and will go against our claim that we're all born with original sin. But on the other hand, we can't say that we think little innocent babies go to hell, either, because that'll offend all the baby lovers out there. So the Catholics made up Limbo.

As a child, when I thought of people stuck waiting, I pictured an big airport waiting lounge. I'd flown enough as a small kid to know that that's where everyone waits. Sometimes you wait a long, long time, especially if you're a military family waiting at an Air Force base to travel space available on a cargo plane to Hawaii because your dad doesn't want to pay for real airplane tickets (again, another post). Thus - many babies stuck at gate 7C.

The idea of babies being stuck somewhere was distressing enough that they shut Limbo down a few years back, and said babies were virtually baptized or something. But it was ingrained enough in me that I felt we had to get A. baptized. Just in case Limbo reopened.

3. Jesus is 10 inches tall.

Many Catholics take their First Communion around second grade. I guess they think that's the age most kids can start to understand the idea of the Body of Christ and all the mystery surrounding the sacrament. They're wrong. Kids are still very literal at that age, so if I'm seven and you tell me that Jesus lives in that little house at the back of the altar, I'm going to think that Jesus lives in that little house at the back of the altar.

But I'm not a complete idiot, and even at seven years old, I'll know that the host doesn't actually turn into Jesus' flesh, even if you tell me it's not a symbol, it really does change. That's why you want us to bow our heads when the bells ring during mass,* signifying the transubstantiation - so we won't see that, actually, NOTHING HAPPENS.** Well, you guys might not know this, but I kept my head up once. And nothing happened. Also, I reasoned, if the host really did turn into Jesus' flesh, we would have run out by now. Especially if he's only 10 inches tall. And why do we have to be cannibals, anyway?

Whenever I brought these issues up in First Communion class, the nuns would start talking about faith. Again, I wasn't an idiot so I understood that they were really saying, "If you ask those kinds of questions, you're a bad Catholic and maybe you're not ready for the First Communion." Well, my mother was counting on me wearing that very short poufy dress that both my sisters wore to their First Communions, so I learned to keep my mouth shut.

And stop listening.

*When A. first heard these bells at his great-grandmother's funeral, he turned to me and said, "Telephone!" Ack! Maybe it was THE CALLING.
** I need to watch out. Apparently sometimes when you doubt the whole transubstantiation thing, God plays a trick on you and actually turns the host into a slice of heart and the wine into coagulated blood clots. Yuck.


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