“Aren’t you watching the Pope?” Dirtman asked as I sat at the kitchen table eating a biscuit and watching Charlie Chaplin on TCM. He asked it almost as if he were testing me.
You see, being an ex-Catholic, upon hearing the Pope was on television I was supposed to mindlessly turn to that channel and, staring vacantly at the Pontiff, chant in a monotone, “Yes, Holy Father.”
Dirtman was brought up in the Protestant Church (Southern Baptist, to be specific) at a time when apparently they taught the congregants that the Roman Catholic Church brainwashed parishioners so that there would be no questioning of church dogma. Seeing as just about everyone I know from my generation now refers to themselves as “ex-Catholics” (or, when we’re pissed, “Catholics in Recovery”), if that was the Church’s intention, they apparently stink at it.
But myths die hard and Dirtman is determined to unearth a nugget of brainwashing left over from my “Dominus vobiscum” days. He tests to see if I’ll defend pedophile priests or refer to papal infallibility.
When we were first dating, I heard all the clichés about Catholics. At the time, the Roman Catholic Church in the Shenandoah Valley was considered “missionary parishes,” since Catholics were so outnumbered. To the Protestant community Catholics were exotic at best. At worst, it was referred to as a “cult;” Catholics worshiped the Pope; the nuns were actually the priests’ concubines (this was before all the priest and altar boy scandals. I knew the nun/priest thing was hogwash, but didn’t realize at the time how far off the mark it was. . .). By this time I had long left the church and didn’t take it too much to heart.
Well. . .except for the fact that the very things my “devout Protestant” acquaintances were accusing the Catholic Church of could be found in their own churchyard. But I was old enough to know not to discuss religion, especially among people whose only theological discussion involved congratulating themselves on how much better their version of Christianity was over everyone else’s version.
At first I observed Dirtman’s fascination with the papal visit with mild amusement.
“The Pope apologized to all the victims of the pedophile priests,” he announced, emerging from the Man Cave. “He said it in English.” The English scores major points with Dirtman.
“You’re not converting, are you?” I asked him. “I haven’t fulfilled my Easter duty in over 35 years. Do realize what kind of penance I’m going to have?”
My older brother Art visited Sunday for some linguini and to watch baseball in the Man Cave, only to find Dirtman mesmerized by the Pope saying mass at Yankee Stadium. Art has also left the church roughly at the same age I was.
“They’re cheering the mass?” he asked as the crowd voiced a wave of enthusiasm.
“Go figure,” I shrugged. “Sounds like the same old, same old to me.”
The Pope begins to hand out communion. Art wondered if the congregants were filing straight out to the parking lot to get a jump on the traffic, like we used to do.
Art and I were involved in the Roman Catholic Church during a period of change, when the Vatican II turned the liturgy upside down and my grandmother stopped attending mass. We remember masses said in Latin and the terror of the confessional.
Most of our elders followed doctrine without knowing why they were doing it, resulting in some pretty comical memories of blind devotion. For instance, there was a time when women had to have their heads covered inside the sanctuary and, if you chance to come unprepared (the truly pious always carried a round lace doily in their purse), you had to make do with whatever you might be able to conjure. While as a child I wouldn’t have dared to find humor is such a sight, but these days I have to chuckle at the memory of my Aunt Theresa marching up to communion with a tissue on her head. At the time, though, she was grateful for the tissue dug from the bottom of my mother’s purse. Her only other option was toilet paper. Hey, a Holy Day of Obligation can’t wait for you to run home from work and slap a cappellino on your head.
We remember how annoyed the old timers were when the liturgy began to include the “passing of the peace,” requiring congregants to turn to the person beside them, shake their hand and offer, “Peace be with you.” Prior to this you were left to your own devotional piety and could go an entire service without speaking to a single person. Now we were being required to act like Protestants. I might add, my brother was also perturbed by this particular addition to the mass since he was a curmudgeon at the age of eight.
I guess it was when we began reminiscing about the trauma of being taught by nuns that we decided we’d had enough of stirring up the mucky sediment of our Catholic childhood. We left Dirtman to finish out the service on his own while we went upstairs to indulge another long-standing Catholic tradition. I had whiskey and soda and he had it straight up.