My Catholic conscience

I feel too tall when we all stand up. I wish I hadn’t worn low-heeled boots. There’s a sea of white and balding heads, and then me — looming over everyone, awkwardly clasping my hands and murmuring along when I can.

We’re back at church, and it doesn’t feel natural. Not for me, at least.

The kids are loving it. They regularly go to my mom’s church with her, and our son supposedly wants to be an altar server someday.

They happily follow the crowd of littles downstairs to colour during the gospel and homily, and come back in time for communion (which they desperately can’t wait to be old enough to receive).

We’re back at church because our son is seven.

Seven is the new age for the sacrament of penance and reconciliation — which was called “first confession” when I was a kid, and you did it when you were 10 — as well as first holy communion.

We have, admittedly, been slack Catholics over the years. But both kids are baptized, and I felt compelled to see our son through these next few milestones.

Catholic baptism

I can’t even explain the compulsion, other than it’s been instilled in me that THIS IS WHAT YOU DO WHEN YOU’RE SEVEN …

Is it Catholic guilt, maybe? That my husband and I both went through all of these same Catholic milestones, up to and including Confirmation in Grade 9? The fact that if you don’t do it when you’re seven, it’s trickier to do later on? I have no idea. 

I registered, I bought the workbook, and I dutifully take him to Catechism — even that has a different name, now it’s “Family Formation” and there is homework. We practice the “Our Father” every night, and now even our daughter can recite the whole thing. I’m checking all of the boxes on the outside, but on the inside I’m uneasy.

I pray every night, and always have — first with the kids, and then later in the evening when I go sleep.

Me, at seven years old, on my First Communion day (pictured with spritely Little Sis)

It’s not God that troubles me. It’s the church.

Nothing about our church attendance feels comfortable for me. It might look traditional, but a lot has changed since I was a teenager — the last time I attended mass regularly, every Saturday at 4 p.m. 

Me at 14 years old, the year I made my Confirmation in the Catholic Church

The words are different here and there — enough to keep messing me up. I used to feel triumphant that I could recite the Apostles’ Creed, and now it’s like trying to sing along to a well-known song where they added a bunch of words. Somewhere along the way, the response to “Peace be with you” changed from “And also with you” to “And with your spirit.” I keep forgetting it, and my cheeks flush. 

I can’t pretend to believe everything I’m supposed to believe. I narrow my eyes at the pro-life display as I walk in. I sit in the pew and kneel on the padded bench, but my body is tensed to leave — prepared to be outraged — if I hear anything about “marriage is between one man and one woman.”

Am I a bad Catholic because I’m walking through those doors with a heaviness that shouldn’t be there? Am I a good Catholic for making sure my child is “up to date” on his Sacraments, and never misses a Catechism class? 

I’m certainly a lapsed Catholic — or am I no longer a Catholic at all? Maybe I really was excommunicated years ago, for sleeping in on Easter Sunday instead of receiving Communion in pantyhose and a knee-length dress.

The point is that I’m showing up, I suppose. I may be going through the motions, but at least my butt is in a pew — not home in bed, or under a blanket watching Netflix with the kids.

Maybe, over time, I will lose the discomfort and feel like I belong. Maybe our new church will feel as comfortable as the one I grew up attending, and I’ll get that sense of peace I used to feel in mass. Maybe it will start feeling “right.”

Or maybe we’ll get through the First Communion and stop going. Again.

Either way, we’re here now.

And that’s obviously part of a bigger plan.

One Comment on “My Catholic conscience

  1. I really enjoyed your column in the Bedford paper. It made me smile as you reflected on your Catholic upbringing. I must admit I was hoping for more but perhaps you are interested in simply having us reflect. I too am a lapsed if not closed the book on Catholicism. Having been brought up in the church and also my children I now find it impossible to reconcile that despite all the positives there are bigger issues. The stance on birth control, especially in underdeveloped countries; the believe that love between two same people is wrong; the excuses made for corruption and abuse of power by clergy; and the wilful control of the followers thinking is just too much. This is in addition to being taught at an early that we ate the body and blood of Christ ( my first mortal sin, perhaps my only, was chewing the host)! And of course the magic of having all sin removed by a priest ( he turned out to be a sex abuser).
    There are good people and goodness in the Catholic Church. I wonder how they reconcile their association with the church? Perhaps like those who resolutely stand by President Trump they believe the alternatives are worse and power is critical.


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