Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Growing up Catholic?

I'm surprised at how few stories I've found in the blogosphere detailing the workings of the Catholic child's mind. I hear a lot about people's kids—which is great, not complaining—but I don't see a lot of stories by bloggers about how their faith came out when they were kids.

Heck, my ex-wife wasn't even Catholic, and she made habits, wimples, and scapulars for her Barbies.

So I guess since I've opened my big virtual mouth, I get to go first.

Prior to moving to Fairchild AFB, Washington, my childhood memories are spotty. I recall a few events in Aurora, Colorado, but nothing more than some standout incidents (a garbage truck crunching my mom's VW bug, a neighbor kid riding a bike into the back of a truck, getting a swirley and a forced dryer ride from a friend's teenage sisters). Okay, maybe I actively blocked out the rest. The stuff I remember doesn't sound like all that much fun.

Anyway, my earliest memories of my faith come from Fairchild AFB. The base chapel was across the street from the elementary school, and we used the school for religious-ed classes, which we called Sunday School or CCD back then. I think the term "religious education" came in with all of the non-Catholic influences. Until I attended a Unitarian-Universalist church during my agnostic days, I had never heard the term "religious education."

So, in comes "religious education," out goes religious doctrine.

Anyway, the CCD teachers and priests were not soft-pedaling anything back then. I knew about Heaven, Hell, mortal sin, and much of what is surreptitiously jettisoned these days by the time I was ready for first communion. Women and girls still wore head coverings, we still went to the communion rail and knelt, and if there was any guitar playing, it was a children's Mass with no clowns involved, thank you very much. Priests wore their clericals every day. Sisters still mostly wore habits (although we saw very few sisters on base).

I loved the ritual of the Church. I loved the vestments, the chalices, the censers, the candles. There was something about all of the trappings that lent an aura of mystery to worship. And priests were not just ordinary Joes. They were people I feared and respected. I recall liking a few and being mortified by others. But they were men apart, no doubt about it.

So naturally I imitated them. What else would a Catholic boy aspire to? I lived on a military base, with a doctor for a father, and with bomber pilots and other military officers. So when I played with my LDS and Protestant neighbors, we imitated our human fathers. When I played on my own, I imitated our spiritual father.

I happened to have a great blanket that my grandmother made for me, an off-white quilted field with burgundy edges, and gold with burgundy Baroque designs—perfect for a chasuble. (It also served quite well as a royal cloak when I felt like being the King. It is good to be king.)

My parents had a sterling-silver candy dish from their wedding which served nicely as a platen (many of which were stemmed back then). I used a little flattened Wonder bread for my communion wafers. Now, before you get on my case about liturgical abuses (using silver for a platen and leavened bread), just remember that I was not as familiar with thr GIRM back then. I'm sure I would've followed the norms much more closely had I a copy of the Code of Canon Law and a decent pre-Vatican II sacramentary.

Besides, I was playing. Sheesh.

Anyway, usually the only communicants I had were my mom and my brother. I took care not to dispense the hosts to anyone who wasn't a professing Catholic, which wasn't difficult as none of my friends played this game with me.

There are many other stories and small memories from CCD and Mass—first reconciliation, the construction-paper renditions of Christ on the cross with a big smile on His face, the time I baptized two of my friends with a garden hose. (Given that their parents were nonbelievers and violently abusive, that just might've been a valid baptism.)

Oh yes, and the time I crucified myself on my grandma's front lawn.

More on that one later.
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