I have finished my new book and now I am sending it to agents and publishers to get it out to the world.
Meanwhile, I am sharing this chapter here on Wednesday’s Wit With Wisdom and more chapters for you to read on my membership site:
I hope you enjoy!
No Longer Catholic
“I am no longer Catholic.”
My mother stood over me, in my childhood bedroom yelling, “Get your arse out of bed right this minute and get to Mass.” Her eyes bore down on me like Gary Cooper’s in High Noon, trying to bully me into making my Sunday obligation. That was what it was – an obligation. No matter where you were in the world, you needed to hunt down Mass schedules and get to church sometime between Saturday and Sunday evening. I was twenty-one years old, living on my own in Belleville. I was in radio arts and had already given up going to church, except when I was home on the weekends.
Having been on a rip the night before, I proceeded to belch into the pillow, almost asphyxiating myself with sour bile. When I opened one eye to look at her, the morning sun bounced off her Vatican special-edition rosary beads.
I had been a faithful child who, at one time, had not minded going to church. I liked the smell of incense. And varnished wood of the pews. I loved seeing my grandparents there every Sunday. Grandpa would stand at the back with the men, like bouncers, ready to collect the money and catch any recalcitrant teenagers trying to escape before Communion. Grandma, who wore hot pants to church, would talk all through Mass and then invite me home for breakfast. When I hushed her, she’d snarl, “I’ve prayed enough for a hundred lifetimes.” Her laissez-faire attitude concerned me. Back then, I believed the prayers that the priest and congregation recited during Mass would transform the host into Christ’s body. I am not speaking metaphorically here. I thought the vessel was empty at the beginning of Mass, and if we stood, sat, and kneeled in the right order, the wafers would drop from the sky into the chalice.
The kind of magical thinker who believed in Santa until I was in my teens. The type of kid who, every year on my birthday, was convinced my family would jump out from behind furniture to give me a surprise party. There was never a party. It was the kind of blind faith that thought prayer alone would create communion wafers out of thin air. Or that if I prayed hard enough, I’d be cured of psoriasis that covered most of my body. We even went to the one up near Eganville, held in mid-August when it was hotter than the hub of Hell – apropos as a preview of what the temperature would feel like if you let up on your prayers for even a second. To prove how devoted I was, I’d walk around the open field and genuflect before many porcelain saints in the midday sun, moving my way around the beads as I did the Stations of the Cross. If I did enough prostrations, perhaps psoriatic plaques would be left behind on the altar as proof of my devotion. Even though all I got for my efforts was heatstroke and maybe a quick swim in a creek on the ride home, my faith never wavered.
To prove my commitment, I produced elaborate Christmas concerts as a tribute to the birth of our Lord. As the self-appointed director, writer, producer, and star of these productions, my directorial style mimicked Francis Ford Coppola in his Apocalypse Now phase. The rehearsals were fraught with a diva’s emotions. Many a night, my five brothers and sisters were downstairs in the rec room rehearsing with me screaming, “If you guys don’t get this right, Mom and Dad will walk out!” to which my sister Karen, aka the Virgin Mary, would smugly retort, “They live here. Where are they going to go? Upstairs?” She almost got recast as the Third Wiseman for that crack.
Neither she nor any of the family appreciated my unusual interpretation. I felt there had been too many productions where the Virgin just sat there looking beatific, so I rewrote the stable scene from a feminist perspective. As the plastic shower curtain opened, my sister acted out a homebirth, complete with labour pains, while Alice Cooper crooned “Only Women Bleed” on the cassette tape deck. When she was about 10 centimetres dilated, she pushed the baby Jesus out from between her legs.
My two-year-old brother crawled out from her skirt and said, “Me no like sandals.” Then he went and sat on my mother’s lap. My parents laughed so hard; Dad had to take off his glasses to wipe away the tears. And no, they didn’t walk out, but I almost did. I began crying and screaming that everybody was wrecking my creative vision. Then my mother, in her loving way, said, “For God’s sakes, stop your bleating and finish this up so we can have a snack.” (Many directors afterward would say the same thing to me).
After Mary retreated, spent from her long stable birth, I once again took centre stage with my bangs hanging in front of my eyes, sucking a piece of hair and strumming the guitar, singing, “Someone’s Dropped a Bomb Somewhere.” I sang in the key of off, and my mother took a moment to change Jesus’s diaper while Dad nodded off in his La-Z-Boy chair.
I realized I gave Catholicism a good run. I put two and two together on this Catholic charade. I found out that nuns baked the hosts. What was the point in praying if the nuns had already baked the hosts? Where is the magic there? The scales hadn’t fallen from my skin, but they had fallen from my eyes. Yes, I kept blessing myself when I drove by a Catholic church, pinning medals to my chest during exam time and dropping to my knees when I thought I was pregnant, but this was a superstitious habit. I was sick and tired of praying to dour saints with glassed-over eyes that followed you around the room; sick of all the kneeling, genuflecting; and most of all, I was sick of having Gwendolyn Josephine Brady force me back to church.
I came back into the room, and she was still there, shaking her head like a horse does when someone tries to force a bit into its mouth.
“What the hell did you say?”
God, was the woman deaf? “
I said , “I’m not a Catholic anymore!”
“Get your arse up out of that bed and get to Mass before I crucify you.”
To most people, the threat of crucifixion might be motivation to exit the bed. But not when nailing me to a cross in the afternoon sun had been her go-to threat since I was a young child. “Clean that bedroom of yours before I crucify you.” “Eat your peas before I crucify you.” Sometimes when she was furious, she’d even describe how she was going to do it. “If you don’t get up off that couch and help me do the dishes, I’m going to nail your hands and feet to the clothesline pole in the backyard for all the neighbours to see.” As scary as the image sounds, I knew it was a bogus threat. My mother wouldn’t even hang her undergarments on the clothesline in case people guessed her bra size. She was hardly going to hang me up in the backyard for all the neighbours to see.
From under the covers, I mumbled, “If you crucify me, how am I going to be able to go to church?” She closed her mouth, made her lips lie flat. Then a high-pitched sound escaped from them, making her sound like a balloon losing air. As one hand swatted at me, the other yanked the covers off me. I still had on my bra and my day before day-of-the-week underpants. Adding to this visual, imagine one knee-high pantyhose (no idea where the other one had gone) and one high-heeled shoe covered in mud.
“And another thing, take your damn shoes off when you go to bed.” She slammed the door. I poked my head out from under the covers when it swung open again, and she fired one more shot: “You can’t stop being Catholic. You are born Catholic. You will die Catholic.”
There it was – the curse. The curse I tried to outrun for the next 30 years. Because as all Catholics know, you don’t leave that religion. No, Catholicism is like the Hotel California – you can check out, but you can never leave.
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