Saturday, February 07, 2009

25 Impudent Things About Being Raised Catholic

Really, I shouldn't touch this subject, but it's hard to resist!

I got the idea from a friend who wrote a list of trivia about herself, and called it "25 Reasons Why I'd Get Excommunicated from My Childhood Church." It turns out that she was not, in fact, raised as a Catholic, , nor was the list made up of that kind of trivia, but it immediately brought up a host (no pun intended) of memories that haunt me to this very day. The question is, can I come up with 25 items without getting utterly bitter and resentful?

I suppose that before I start, I should make clear that I don't think that the Catholic church fails everyone. No, not at all. All I know is that they failed me, but I have lived to tell the tale. Still, if you're easily offended as a Catholic, you probably will be.

Therefore, in no particular order:

1) The communion wafers taste like crap. Let's quit kidding ourselves, we've all eaten school paste (on a dare, at the very least) that tastes better than those things. Just another thing to suffer through, I guess.
2) The wine tastes like expired vinegar. Look, I don't want to get into the whole transubstantiation argument, but I'm pretty sure that the blood of Christ tastes better than that. Ever notice that the outside of the chalice is silver and the inside is all yellowed? Looks like chemical corrosion to me.
3) Nuns are trained in boot camps, and are required to have an SQ (Sadism Quotient) of at least 122. Maybe the nuns of today are a different story, but in my day (yes, I realize that using those words marks me as being old), they still wore those starched habits that would cut you if you, God forbid, came close enough to a nun to get brushed by one. You ask my brother, he'll tell you.... my kindergarten teacher was a Nazi, and my first grade teacher was a nun from Peru, about four feet tall, who bordered on sociopathy. Damn (no pun unintended), that woman was mean.
4) Metal-tipped yardsticks should be banned by the Geneva Convention. Were them nuns into corporal punishment? Every chance they could get! I still have scars on the back of my hands, and do you want know why my penmanship is as bad as it is? Try having your fingers broken and still write cursive. Do they even teach cursive anymore?
5) I always got in trouble for asking "Why"? Apparently, a kid is never supposed to question Sister or Father or Mother Superior, even when the question is perfectly legitimate and the product of a child's curiosity. Why should I believe in Salvation when all you do is tell me why I'm going to hell? They didn't like that one, trust me.
6) They don't teach the Bible. Practically never. They don't encourage people to read it. "No," they say, "let us interpret it for you." Horsefeathers! You could go to Mass every day of your life and never hear all of it. Be defiant and read it for yourself. You'll be astounded by all the things they have wrong and/or misinterpreted. Then go ask them about it. Bring first aid dressings for your hands, you're going to need them. It doesn't matter if you're 70, that yardstick is a-comin' out again.
7) The organists are zombies, undead and unclean. How else could they turn even "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" into a monotonous funeral dirge? Everything is played in a minor key and at half its intended speed. And, only Catholic organs have a "fingernails across the chalkboard" stop. It's a wonder that I still became a musician.
8) No Mass can be said without mentioning the "parish debt". It's just another guilt-mongering tactic. Among the many problems the church has failed to consider in wondering why people don't give more money is that a good Catholic family with eight children can't afford a full tithe. Mixed messages, people, mixed messages.
9) Priests shouldn't engage in marriage counseling. I don't care how many classes they've taken, what do they know about it? There's no good reason that they shouldn't, because:
10) Priestly celibacy is a crock of fetid dingo's kidneys. They made it up in the 11th century (don't take my word for it, go look it up), not wanting to have to pay to provide for the families of priests. Before that, priests (even Popes) could and did marry. Now, a thousand years later, they're knee-deep in a seemingly unending series of sex scandals, mostly involving priests and young boys. This is a serious and severe problem which I do not take lightly, but: If you decide to take the Word of God out of context and twist it into church dogma, then don't be surprised when it turns around to bite you. By the way, those large settlements they've had to pay out? Where's all that money coming from? See #8.

I'm getting dangerously tetchy, am I not? I'd better back down a bit to:

11) Why does anyone want to go back to Latin Mass? I'm just old enough to remember them. I had a missal (your basic little book that you bring with you to church; nowadays, they're paperback pamphlets that live there) with Latin on one side and English on the other. I admit that it has served me admirably in vocabulary and classical studies, but is there a good reason to take an already-unclear ritual and conduct it in a "dead" language?
12) How come the priests have to read the liturgy every week? Can't they memorize it? Look, I'm an actor and I memorize my lines.... these guys are doing almost the exact same thing every week, and they get to read it out of a book. Unfair.
13) "Sunday School" classes are not held on Sundays. No, they have this wretched thing called "CCD" (which, for the majority who do not know, including many Catholics, stands for "Continuing Christian Development") which they schedule at the most inconvenient times, either after school or in the evenings. The parents don't like it any better than the kids do, so why isn't there a revolt? See #5.
14) The Mass missals have no centerfolds. Come on, there must have been some racy saints....
15) I could never collect a whole deck of 52 holy cards. Also, if you attempt to use them in a game of Magic: The Gathering, you will get your butt handed to you. Saints preserve us!
16) Speaking of the saints, many of the stories are patently untrue. The whole business about Saint Patrick? Almost entirely blarney. Don't get me started on it, since I'm Irish and it hacks me off. Saint Genesius, of whom you have never heard? The patron saint of actors. Even the Catholic church acknowledges that the story isn't at all true. Saint Christopher got demoted because it got out that his story wasn't accurate. However, if you're in the mood to challenge them on this, remember #5.
17) Mary did not remain a virgin. Get over it. Oh, I've really done it now, haven't I? Look, she was a good Jewish wife, and certain things were required of good Jewish wives. One of them was producing children. She probably had a bunch. We know the name of at least one of them: "James, the brother of Jesus" is referred to in the Bible, and the root word in the original language means brother in the literal and traditional sense. Half-brother, to be sure, but they had the same mother. Argue with me all you want, I'll just get out the Bible and prove it. Same deal with the Assumption: It's not in the Bible.
18) The Pope is human, and therefore is fallible. See, the whole point of Jesus coming to love the life He did was that it isn't possible for a human to live a perfect life. You have no idea how much trouble I got into for contending this in CCD (See #13). It's simply a matter of logic. Besides, anyone can pick an issue about which they think the Pope is flat wrong, whether they're willing to admit it or not. For instance:
19) This whole argument over contraception is ridiculous. Most people cannot afford to have huge families, and only a few want to. Practically every Catholic couple I know engages in "family planning", as it were, and I think it's responsible to do so. No, abortion is a whole other issue and I'm not talking about that. However, "be fruitful and multiply" doesn't mean to do it with complete abandon. And we've already covered in #9 & #10 that the whole celibacy thing doesn't work. Also, even talented musicians can't make the "rhythm method" work.
20) They fail to admit that Nunsense is so funny because it's so true-to-life. I thought I'd stop breathing the first time I saw it. When they came out with the little metal "cricket" to call on the audience for an answer, I nearly died laughing. "Amusing satire", they call it. Hah! What's a "cricket"? You'd have to have attended a Catholic school to even know. I will say that it curiously resembles a metal roach. As opposed to a roach clip, which I've never seen a nun use. In class.
21) Holy water tastes like stale diet tonic water without a twist of lime but with a hint of toilet cake. Yes, I know you're not supposed to drink it. I was also a little kid, and logically figured that if I drank some, I'd be a better and holier person. Apparently, even if it worked, it's had no lasting effect, or I wouldn't be writing this.
22) There's a patron saint for every ridiculous thing you can think of. Think I'm exaggerating? Hah! For instance, if you're having trouble with your browser while reading this, then just pray to Saint Isidore of Seville Sanctus Isidorus Hispalensis, who's the proposed patron saint of the Internet. There's a whole site full of such trivia at Catholic Online. It's official and everything, so you can't have an opinion about it. Not unless you want to be in danger of #5, which we just don't seem to be able to get past.
23) Confession is too prone to extortion. I'm not saying that most priests would blackmail you.... or even that a lot of them would. It only takes one, and that's the one you're going to get. Also, it doesn't matter how many "Our Fathers" you say, nothing can atone for the Detroit Lions. My chief objection to this process is that it implies that God will not listen to you unless you're talking to a priest. Um, Jesus never said that and I can prove it. There's that pesky Bible again, it just keeps getting in the way. How is it really supposed to work, anyway? Do priests have a little iGod in with them and input it whilst in the little booth?
24) What's the deal with Purgatory? Huh huh huh? Only the Catholics have this "place" between heaven & hell where you supposedly go if you've been bad, but not too bad. Here, your venial sins (as opposed to mortal sins, which are more serious and usually involve more profanity) are burned away (no, that's what they told me as a kid) until you're "clean" enough to go to heaven. Look, none of us is "clean" enough to get into heaven; that's why we need Salvation, and that's why Jesus came, and that ought to settle it. It's just another thing they hold over your head. Like the metal-tipped yardstick. Except this one's in another dimension.
25) WILL YOU PEOPLE PICK A DATE FOR EASTER AND BE DONE WITH IT?? Every single significant occasion in the church calendar (don't forget that Bingo is on Tuesday) has a specific date for it, including Christmas, even though we don't really know on what exact date Jesus was born. Fine; a day was picked (there's a reason why it was December 25, but that shall remain unexplained, in order to create an air of mystery and wonder at this blog entry)(Mainly, you wonder why I wrote it). We all agree on it & use it, and it's the principle, the significance of the occasion that makes the day special. This one day is set aside to observe the birth of Christ. All well and good, and mostly everyone is happy with it, especially the merchants whose livelihoods depend so much upon the commercialization thereof. Oh, but not Easter.... it's a movable feast. Rather than taking the space to explain how they do it, if you're really curious, check out this "Explanation". The crux of the matter is why they do it, and the answer is this: It's based on the pagan lunar calendar. There are 13 months in the lunar claendar, which does not line up with our 12 month calendar. Toss in the fact that 13 lunations do not equal 365 days, and you've got a bit of a mish-mash on your hands. Come on, it could be much easier than that! OK, you want it always to be on a Sunday, because there's Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and all that? Fine. Make it like Thanksgiving, which is the last Thursday in November. How about the first Sunday in April? Not the second or third, because that would be too close to April 15th, and there's that whole thing about death and taxes that doesn't fit in well with the whole Resurrection thing. Nooooooo, that would be too easy. They'd rather preserve their piece of mystery and wonder by making it too hard for the average person to figure out (although once you know the system, it isn't difficult). So, Jesus arises on a different day every year.... which day is it? You don't know, so you'd better be ready! Besides, see #5 and find out what asking them to explain it will get you. More of #4, just for starters, and then a healthy dose of #24. Ouch.

So, that's my experience with Catholicism by the numbers. The good news is that I have, over time, come to terms with all of these things, and come out all right in the end. One of the keys to this process was becoming "Not-a-Catholic-anymore", since we never could resolve the #5 issue. Oh, that doesn't mean that I don't believe in God or anything. Indeed I do! But, that's another story for another time. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to figure out when Easter is.... count back 40 days to Ash Wednesday, when all good Catholics come out of the closet with their smudge of ash on their foreheads, and most importantly, figure out what the day before Ash Wednesday is. The church calls it Shrove Tuesday; most of the rest of us refer to it as Mardi Gras. Now, there's a movable feast we can all enjoy!