Thursday, September 22, 2011

Once Upon A Time...

This is how most fairy tales start. I'm beginning to realize that for years, I've had sort of a fairy tale mentality about Catholicism. I grew up in the Protestant church, but was introduced to Catholicism early on as my neighbor's kids went to the Catholic school just down the street.

I remember the church used to hold a bazaar once a year to support the school. My family looked forward to it & usually went both days. Food booths, game booths & even a few mechanical rides were crammed into a tiny parking lot across the street. The weekend would be filled with beer, music & the scent of grilled onions & bell peppers. Their burgers were the best. The school itself was a huge 3 story brick building & each day, hundreds of blue shirted boys & checker skirted girls streamed in & out of its doors. The Catholic kids I knew were kind of snotty & foul mouthed.... the stereotype was effectively cast early on.

I sometimes went dumpster diving (it was actually safe 25 years ago) behind the church. That's where they threw out their half used candles- the pillar kind in glass- I would rescue a few & bring them home to burn. I wondered what would happen if I ever got caught. I saw an actual nun on the grounds once or twice & it both fascinated me & scared me... I had seen my share of “nun movies”. From these, I learned that nuns (which translated as all Catholics when I was a child) were stern, disciplined & took no guff. They had fun, but only at great cost of their obedience to the terrible, all seeing eye of Mother Superior. The ones who had kind, generous hearts were always portrayed as the misfits, the disobedient, the seemingly halfwitted (think the Sound of Music, the Flying Nun, the Singing Nun, even the Sister Act movies).

In general, only the symbolism of Catholicism was portrayed in the media, not necessarily the heart & soul of it. Crucifixes, rosaries, statues of the saints, genuflection, crossing ones self & the chiming of the steeple bells were frequently present. I equated these things with Catholicism, but I understood it was not a faith like mine... I was taught that symbols equated to idol worship or that they meant nothing to real Catholics. They were just outward manifestations born in response to the inner superstitions Catholics seemed to believe... They weren't really Christians, the hierarchy always wanted money & they were riddled with bitter guilt until they went to confession & said their Hail Marys.

So here I am, decades later. I packed up all these memories & fairy tale notions & put them in a pile next to my knapsack. I was ready to board the train & head toward "Rome", but it seems one has to go on foot. So I left my perceptions at the station & left the station with my knapsack. I carry only my faith, my intellect & the hope that my God will keep me & guide me on this journey.

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