Postcards from a Heathen

I grew up in a Catholic household. You know, where there are crucifixes in every bedroom and a bust of John F. Kennedy. THAT Catholic. My parents are French Canadian and Polish, so you know their parents were Catholic too. (Although in searching for the missing limbs of my family tree, it turns out my little Polish John Paul II-loving babcia might have really been a Russian Jew, but I digress.) I went to Catholic grammar school, complete with plaid jumper and saddle shoes, back when there were real nuns in habits. Back when it was still legal for them to rap you on the knuckles with a ruler. I was once kicked by a nun for the unladylike offense of propping my foot up on the lower desk rung. Hell, it wasn’t like my skirt was up around my neck like a Britney Spears video. In fact, my mother made sure I had the longest skirt in school. Looking back at class pictures, you can see all the girls with the cool moms who got to roll the waistband to shorten their skirts. I, on the other hand, had a mother who let the hem down on mine to lengthen it. I was only allowed to show ¼” of kneecap between my socks and skirt. I’m pretty sure if she could buy a burqa she would have made me wear one, but I was spared because she was Catholic, and so, didn’t trust Muslim traditions. The Crusades and all that jazz.

So I grew up going to church every Sunday and holy day, and fearing eternal damnation for eating McDonald’s on Friday during Lent, even though all my friends were doing it. My mother didn’t understand that the Filet O’Fish was nasty; a repulsive fish sandwich was small penance for Jesus dying for my sin of wanting to eat something tasty that came with a toy. (Perhaps next Lent I will point out to my mother that McDonald’s burgers contain wood pulp, so technically she owes me an apology for all the hell-scaring. That was barely even meat.)

After many years of not going to church, I was moved to visit Rome when Pope John Paul II died. For some reason, perhaps my Polish babcia’s influence, it felt a bit like a grandfather had died. I do have to acknowledge that I’ve never experienced a more peaceful moment in my life than standing in St. Peter’s Square with the bells tolling at 11:00 pm. It was such an energetic rush I wasn’t even fearing the gypsy pickpockets. I even attended a Papal audience with Pope Benedict XVI and received a blessing, but I’m not sure if that really counts since he quit.

For many years after this trip, my ex and I regularly attended a Polish church where we lived and were quickly latched on to as volunteers since we were the only couple under 50. But then came the divorce, and I moved back with my parents. Since the Catholic church has a “complicated” view of divorce, I quickly grew jaded. It wasn’t as if I wanted the divorce (stupid me at the time), but legally I had no choice. It seemed incredibly unfair to be punished for that, or to have to spend a thousand dollars and endure the Inquisition to get an annulment. Kind of sounds a little extortiony to me. And for that reason, I’ve turned into a twice a year Catholic.

My mother (aka Miss Daisy) is not happy with me for not going to church with her. For one thing, she goes at 7:30 am, and that is just not happening on my weekend. She also has this theory that I can find a nice man to marry at church. I really want to point out that I was in a sexless marriage for 8 ½ years, so I don’t think a devout religious man will keep me happy at this point. That would just open a can of worms I don’t want to open. For the most part, she has given up, but occasionally likes to lecture me about not going to church and committing sins like wasting food and spending too much time on Facebook. (Somehow I don’t think Moses’ stone tablets said anything about either subject, since Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t even born.) She is slowly learning that I will always hold the trump card: “Oh yeah? Well, I was blessed by the Pope, so that should cancel it out.” It’s like a “get out of purgatory free” card.

 

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