’m a lapsed Catholic. If you pointed a gun at my head and made me decide on an organized religion, I’d probably go with Judaism. Or Buddhism. Or maybe heroism. Wait, that isn’t organized.
Still, when my in-laws celebrated 50 years of matrimonial bliss, I was happy at the prospect of the usual seven-hour Italian lunch — because I am not a lapsed eater. I was much less happy to find out that before the feast came a Mass my family had to attend.
I teach my kids a slew of things: English, table manners, how to ride a bike, how to do a cartwheel, how to structure a joke, how to do a spit take and a pratfall. What I haven’t taught them is God or religion, at least not that way.
But each night before bed we do what I feel is a variation on prayer. It goes a little something like this:
Me: “What was your favorite part of the day?”
One of them: “Getting a Skylander at Target.”
Me: “No. Something you really appreciated.”
One of them: “Getting a Smurf inside our Happy Meal?”
Me: “Something that you can’t buy at a store or restaurant.”
One of them: “When you picked us up from school?”
Me: “Okay great. So you are grateful for that. When we are grateful, we should thank the heavens. So what would you like to thank the heavens for today?”
One of them: “Target.”
The other one of them: “McDonald’s.”
It was a bit rocky at first, but they gradually got it and started thanking the heavens for things that mattered: Seeing their grandparents, playing with cousins, reading a book with me before bed, watching a soccer game with their dad or having fun with their friends.
So when I got the Mass heads-up I thought, “Oops. I guess I kind of dropped the ball on that. And kind of on purpose.”
Growing up we dressed for Mass and went to Mass every Sunday. We had a no Jordache jeans clause in our household canon law contract. Skirts or dresses were obligatory because (and I quote), “If God could give you life, you could give him one hour with exposed legs.” The speaker (my mom) forbade grapes in our house because of what we learned one Sunday about Cesar Chavez and the plight of migrant workers. But I digress.
Leading up to my in-laws’ Mass, I realized my kids had no idea how to behave in church. I asked myself if putting skirts on them might make them behave better. The answer came back, probably not. So I had to prepare them.
“Guys, on Sunday we are going to church.” No response. They weren’t even looking my way.
I forged ahead, “Church is a place where people pray to God, kind of like when we thank the heavens every night.”
“God?” asked one son.
“Yes.” I said.
“Does God have special powers?” asked my other son.
Wow. Maybe they get this whole spiritual thing after all.
“In a way, yes. God does.”
“Good than can we kick and punch and fight. We can battle with God!”
You can battle with God if you grow up Catholic, I thought. But I stuck to the discourse at hand.
“It is super-important that you behave in church because people go there to connect with God. So please be good.”
They continued playing with action figures and not making eye contact with me.
“Be good in church or I’ll take your Skylanders and Ninja Turtles and Smurfs and anything else you hold sacred for three days.”
“Okay,” both finally responded.
I repeated this spiel until D-Day came and we dressed properly for lunch and the Lord.
We were assigned up close and personal vow-watching seats. I would have preferred to lay low in the back. Beads of sweat started forming on my brow.
But my kids were eerily calm and quiet. “Who is that?” said my younger son, pointing to a modern fresco.
“That’s Jesus,” I answered quietly.
“Why is he with all those Chinese people?” The fresco’s Apostles did have a sort of Thai twist.
I wanted to quip, “Jesus liked to hanging out with lepers and whores and Asians,” but I decided on: “He liked everybody.’
The procession began and my kids were mesmerized. So was I —by their behavior. The Mass began and the priest’s homily was full of kindness, acceptance and love. His tone and Pope Francis’ recent comments on tolerance made me soften to the idea of having the Church in our lives.
My children remained still and silent. Was it the Holy Spirit?
Then it came time to pass the basket. I gave my kids two coins each. When the basket reached them each one put one coin in the basket and one coin in their pocket. I immediately borrowed my mother’s church look and intonation: “Put that money in the basket now!”
The younger one said, “Because Jesus loves money?”
The older one said, “Yeah, well so do I. And I need money for when we go back to Target.”
The Holy Spirit seemed to vanish, replaced by the spirit of capitalism and consumerism.
But we made it through Mass, through lunch, and I’d actually enjoyed my time in church. Maybe I’m a prodigal daughter in the making. Or maybe I’m just relieved.