I’m not a religious person. Like, at all. I may joke about the current state of things in our country, but I’ll be the first person AMERICA, FUCK YEAH-ing because I’m grateful for the freedoms we have in the good ole U.S. Of A. We’re damn lucky that we can subscribe to any dogma we wish without the fear of being stoned or buried alive or thrown in a river to see if we float. I have always tried to respect the belief systems of others, and will consistently defend their right to practice their chosen religions. As long as they don’t pester me to join in.
I was reared in the Catholic church. We went to church every Sunday (“Giving hour a week to Jesus isn’t that much to ask, for Christsakes” – My Mom), attended Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and celebrated the miraculous rising of dead Jesus (and the end of the long New York winter) every Easter Sunday. I was a ruddy-cheeked child bride in winter white when I made my first holy communion, which was followed by a party where I was gifted with religious jewelry and a Virgin Mary nightlight, and posed with my family in front of a sheet cake emblazoned with a giant buttercream crucifix.
I did Catholic, like many of my middle class Long Island girlfriends, and never stopped to question any of it. In high school I wore a plaid skirt and sat in a classroom of like-minded young ladies, learning theology from a ‘hip’ nun who told us to think of Jesus as a ‘cool, older friend’. I went to confession and the priest told me that I would be forgiven for sassing my mom and stealing my sister’s clothes, as long as I said some Hail Marys and ‘took some time for myself; maybe take a bath or paint my nails’. And so I did.
Then I went to college. My friends were atheists and Women’s Studies majors and hippies. My viewpoints were suddenly being pulled out of shape like silly putty, my worldview widening all the time by new experiences and many different kinds of people.
I started learning things about the Catholicism that absolutely appalled me. By the time I graduated and got my first job, I was stridently Anti-Church. (Mind you, I still hadn’t given up on God. Even at this point, I’m still not sure how I feel about all of that. But that’s another blog post entirely.)
As a newly minted Gen-X working girl, I was totally fine with the absence of a religious ballast in my young, know-it-all life. My parents, on the other hand, well…that was a different story.
It first came up in a phone call home when I was about 23. I was living in upstate New York, and casually mentioned to my mother that I was not planning to attend mass with my family that Christmas Eve.
“But why?” Mom asked, bewildered.
“I…um…well, I just don’t think I’m Catholic anymore.”
“What do you MEAN you’re not Catholic anymore?”
Alarmed at my mother’s raised voice (an occurrence that rarely happened), my father grabbed the upstairs extension. My parents then proceeded to try and deprogram me, probably assuming that I’d joined a cult or started practicing black magic or smoking crack.
“Of course you’re Catholic,” my father said. “You were BORN Catholic.”
I considered this. I knew I was born Italian and Irish, those were undeniable qualities given my swarthy complexion, abundance of body hair and penchant for Pabst Blue Ribbon. But born ‘Catholic’? I didn’t think that was actually possible.
So began a series of pushes and pulls that lasted the better part of the following decade. My parents, having grown up in an era where dutiful children carry the traditions and values they were raised with into adulthood (instead of becoming therapy-going, doubting assholes like me), had always embraced Catholicism and I think felt as if my rejecting of religion was, in a way, a rejection of them, of my childhood, and everything they’d taught me. This wasn’t the case at all. In truth, the respect and gratitude I have for my parents and the things I was given in childhood – tangible and not – is enormous. I had just come to a point in my life where I couldn’t find a place to where religion fit.
When I was 30, I became pregnant with my daughter. Although I tried not to be a dick about it, I was pretty clear with my family that I had no intention of taking my kid to church. When Lily was born and was put on ventilator after accidentally inhaling some of her own poop in my uterus (story for another time), my mother snuck some holy water into the NICU sprinkled it on her sweet newborn head ‘just in case’.
A year later, in lieu of a baptism, and after I’d spent a shitload of time perusing boho parenting books and websites, we held a ‘naming ceremony’ in a park with family, friends, and potluck vegetarian food. I’d like to think that Lily’s life has been full of experiences like these: celebrations of life, family, and an abundance of love, despite the presence of that ‘cool, older friend’ in sandals reminding us that he died for our sins.
That’s why I almost had a heart attack when, at the age of 14, my daughter told me that she wanted to get baptized into the Catholic church.
Now, we live in the deep south. The DEEEEP south. You can’t turn a corner without almost hitting a church. Many of Lily’s friends are religious. And she’s utterly, right smack in the middle of pubescence, a time that I remember so desperately wanting to be normal and belong. So, sure. It’s understandable that she wants to feel connected to a community. A system of values of her own making, to try it out. I get that. Even though it’s something I NEVER expected.
So I called my parents. My mother, now retired, still stays very active in her church, giving out communion every week at the local hospital to people in ICU, and teaching religious instruction to a bunch of rowdy teenage infidels. Needless to say, when I broke the news, she was PSYCHED. “Oh, this is wonderful! I’m so glad she wants to be part of the church! I’m going to call Father Peter in the morning and set everything up!”
Then I heard the sound of the upstairs extension picking up.
“HA ha!” came my father (just like that kid on “The Simpsons”).
“What?” I asked. “What’s so funny?”
“I just think it’s SOOOO interesting that, despite all your efforts to avoid raising your daughter Catholic, she’s come back to it on her own anyway.”
And he’s right. It is very interesting. And weird, for me. But as a mother, I have to support it, even applaud her wanting to do something so different. After all, that’s how I raised her to be, right? Independent. Resolute, Self-possessed. So she’s trying out religion now. It’s my hope that she finds a solace in it. Despite my disillusion with Catholicism, it was certainly a large part of my young life. Maybe it even helped define who I was, who I became. Maybe this is the thing that will define her.
And hey, it’s definitely better than crack.