Monday, November 12, 2007

Being Catholic

I've found that people who are not Catholic look on those of us who are as being strange. Being one of only a couple of Catholic families in the whole school I discovered that the idea of confession was horrifying to my classmates, and our ridiculous rites, such as Confirmation, were no reason to miss baseball practice. Trying to explain these things got me dull stares from kids who thought it was ludicrous that we didn't eat meat on Fridays. Stranger still was the idea of the priest, who dressed funny and - did I hear that right - never had sex??? If they only knew how strange and different the priests could be.

Most of the priests I remember from when I was very young seemed cold and distant. Sometimes we would have them come to our house after mass on Sunday, and of course we kids had to be on our best behavior, which was easy because we were scared to death to misbehave. The first priest I can remember who was different from the rest was a tall balding man who came to the house one Sunday. When he lit a cigarette on the porch I'm sure my jaw dropped and I stared at him. Priests weren't supposed to smoke. Wasn't that a sin? No one in our family smoked. He reminded me of a used car salesman.
When I was in sixth grade we started going to another church because of staffing problems with our regular church. There were two priests at this church. One was the typical cold mannered type I was used to and the other was... different. He was fairly young and overly ambitious in trying to connect with the young people of the parish. At six foot four with a huge red afro which swayed noticeably from side to side as he went down the aisle he was someone who got your attention, to say the least. During our Catechism classes he would try to communicate with us on our level, dressing in regular clothes and always saying things like; "I hear you. I'm hip". I'm not sure if he left on his own or was helped along, but he didn't stay there very long.
Another one who was slightly different was a short, stern man who wouldn't marry my brother and his fiance in that church because he said my dad didn't contribute enough in the collection basket each week. He had only been there a little while and didn't last long either, possibly because he felt the wrath of my father. My dad was the strictest Catholic anyone knew and always gave his tithe no matter how poor we were.
Another of the priests had eyes that seemed to be staring at everyone in the church at the same time. He was not a great orator, and could be found too often at the bar in the bowling alley.

Possibly my favorite was Father Engle, who was the priest who married my wife and I. He was disliked by a lot of people for being so rigid in his thinking, but to me he seemed genuine and caring. His baptism of our first child was memorable in a humorous sort of way. He preferred all baptisms to be done during mass, so the that whole community could welcome the infant into the church. When I called to arrange it- about a week ahead- he said to just come and sit in the first pew on Sunday. This was back when I was terrified of being toward the front of a crowded church, let alone having to stand in front of everyone for the ceremony. So there we were that Sunday, in the front pew with a wiggling baby dressed in white. Father Engle did the opening ceremonies then looked our way, stopped everything and came over to us and whispered "I'm supposed to do a baptism today, aren't I?". At which point he disappeared into the back, leaving the mass, and emerged carrying the baptismal stand. All eyes of the church were on us at that point, and that was before Xanax helped me get through those kind of panicky situations. After it was all over we had a good laugh about it, but at the time I thought it might be a good time to crawl under the pew because the priest had forgotten all about the baptism. This same priest was the one who would perform the ceremony at my dad's funeral. I still remember standing in the church then, barely able to see through the tears, and Fr. Engle saying " That's not Ed in that box, that's just his body. He's in a much better place. This shouldn't be a sad affair, we should be rejoicing that Ed's in heaven." He was a lot like my dad and maybe that's why I liked him. The priest who took his place is still here, and does a good job. Like all the others, he has his own mannerisms, and some people like him and some don't.

I still have people who call me a fisheater, and even after the brilliant reign of Pope John Paul II, who brought Catholicism to the forefront of the news on a regular basis, people still think Catholics are an odd bunch. I'm able to deal with them better than I could when I was young, mostly laughing off the fisheater remarks and realizing that every religion probably has to put up with some amount of ignorance from people from time to time.


Blogger Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Tim,

Love your description of the priests! I've always been drawn to the Catholic church and when I converted, I got endless grief about it from people who didn't understand how I could reconcile my radical/liberal political beliefs with the religion. I find it very easy. Some of the most radical people around were/are priests and nuns. And there's nothing to compare to the beauty and ritual of the Church. I like the priests at my church -- they all have old-fashioned big hair and are very kind-hearted.

9:27 AM  

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