April 04, 2005

Dona Nobis Pacem

Growing up Protestant, there was a lot of misinformation fed me about Catholics. We were told that they weren't really Christians; that they were really a cult and proven to be so by their weird Mass practices. I remember wondering what a mass was. There was never an explanation that came with the word, at least, never an accurate explanation. The few Catholics that I was familiar with were high school kids who would go to Mass and confession on Saturday afternoon, and then proceed with the typical entertainment of an adolescent with a group of friends on a Saturday night. I was taught that this wasn't real faith.

The little information that I had gathered about the faith was from movies, some fiction, and the Saturday Night Live episodes that I would lay in my bedroom doorway and listen to while my parents watched. If the particular scene seemed especially funny, I would risk wrath for a slow trip to the bathroom just to get a look at Father Guido Sarducci.

My first real introduction to the Catholic faith came from R's family. His grandfather, a first generation American whose parents were German, had reared his family of five girls and one boy in the Catholic faith. They attended Catholic schools their entire life. Not all of them remained in the faith, some opted for Protestantism and some for a more eclectic version of Catholicism that better fitted whom they had become. R's grandfather wasn't an educated man, but he loved his family, loved his God, and loved his church. When he retired from his blue-collar employment proud that he had risen through the ranks to foreman, he attended mass daily at the parish at the end of his block.

What I saw was nothing like the propaganda I had been fed in the basements of buildings where emotion was employed to garner the commitments of the sweaty youths that sat on the floor. I saw a man who believed exactly what I did, albeit a different method, a more organized and systematic style of worshiping the exact same God, through exactly the same Jesus Christ.

Once, when his wife was out for the evening, R and I took a meal over to eat with him and to pass his time. I had taken careful note of the way she had served certain things to him, things that the eccentricities of his age required for his comfort and the organization of his mind. He talked about that for years afterwards. Where he came from, what you did mattered far more than what you said.

His death seven years into our marriage, brought on by the terrible, emotionally depleting and physically exhausting disease of Alzheimer's, brought the typical dichotomy of feelings this disease extracts from the relatives of its victims: relief and grief. The funeral was, however, magical. I had never attended a Catholic funeral or wedding, though I had heard that they were a lot more fun than the fundamentalist ceremonies that I had previously attended.

At the burial sight, after the prayers were said, and the crowd of friends began to break away from the family, R's aunt, knowing us to be unfamiliar with the practices of Catholicism, asked if we would like to sprinkle holy water over the coffin. I awkwardly acquiesced more out of politeness than belief of the power of water blessed by a priest. Afterward, I stood holding one of our three daughters and watched as each family member participated in one of the last rituals of his faith for their father. Through this mix of personal notes and observation, I discarded the unfounded notion that these people weren't "real" Christians; that mine was correct and theirs lacking or purposefully misleading.

Years later, while visiting my mother in her newly purchased condo, I saw a small statue of the Virgin Mary, complete with a place for a candle and some rosary beads placed over the top next to her bed. Completely surprised at my heathen mother's choice of decoration, which I presumed it to be, I asked her about it. She told me that she placed it there on purpose. I asked her why. She told me that if she ever again chose "organized religion" she would become Catholic. In response to my question of her preference, she replied, "Because I love ritual and find peace in it." It was a strange thing to hear coming out of that woman I thought I knew. I am sure my surprise and bewilderment was evident on my face. My confusion was mistaken for judgment as I saw her move the small icon away from her bedside and onto an out-of-the-way bookshelf against the wall, protected from my misperceived doubt.

The older I get, the more I understand her desire for comfort the ceremonial brings, though I have grown-up outside the traditional Protestant faiths that utilize liturgy, and once secretly wagged my tongue at it. The past three years, I have used The Westminster Shorter Catechism in teaching my girls the theology of our faith. I have seen so many adults who have belief but have no way to bring words, or accurately define, nor astutely and logically defend or present their beliefs. I must say that while it doesn't ensure a continuing faith (and I don't think there is a system of teaching that does so), that the rigor of the religious Catholic catechism does secure a very specific knowledge of the faith. I have found that in times of questioning the existence of God, His power, or the actuality of my own faith, it is the erudition to which I cling.

I feel that Patrick, more than anyone, has been able to accurately explain Catholic theology to me. Because of his compelling thoughts, I began to examine things from a different perspective. While discussing with a Catholic aquaintance the history curricula I use, I realized that it is distinctly from a Protestant perspective. I had never thought of the reign of Queen Mary Tudor from a Catholic perspective, and really only recalled it being taught to me from a Protestant one in my world history studies in high school. Perhaps this is part of growing up; being cognizant of the fact that maybe the history you believe is only one vista and maybe the other side should at least be examined.

Patrick has posted some interesting and unique thoughts, as well as a distinctive photo (shown below), of Karol Józef Wojtyla, universally known as Pope John Paul II since the beginning of his papacy in October of 1978. I appreciate more than any other Patrick's thoughts because I believe them to be lacking the trite, though well-intentioned, expression of other writers.


Posted by Rae at April 4, 2005 08:03 AM

Good post. I grew up Prot, too, but since I have Catholic relatives on my mom's side was more sensitive and exposed to the Catholic ways of practicing faith. Protestants have many misconcieved notions of Catholicism, like that they believe you have to "work your way to heaven". That is what was taught me about Catholics in my Prot. tradition and it is just plain untrue. I have found (from attending many masses, Cathedrals, the Pope's museum in D.C. and talking with priests, and such) that the title Catholic has a broad scope as does Christian. There are many who claim the name "Christian" without really knowing what that means. There are many Catholics who are true believers and many "Christians" who are not. My two cents.

Posted by: joyella at April 4, 2005 12:56 PM

What an excellent post. I think you may have a better understanding of our faith than some theologians do.

Many called Pope John Paul II a religious conservative and couldn't get past that label to see what a simple and holy man he truly was and by being such he lived the Gospel as Jesus wanted us to.


Posted by: Randy at April 4, 2005 02:29 PM

I grew up Catholic and attended Catholic schools and I was taught to be suspicious of a religion in which people could sin and then talk to God on their own for repentance, loudly and boisterously worship on a Sunday morning and run around converting people.

Sadly, that was my view of Protestanism.

I belong to a Spirit-filled Protestant church that has changed not only my views of Protestants but my life as well.

I regret that I waited 10 years to join because of my prejudices.

Interesting your comments about history curricula. I am also a homeschool mom and early on was interested in joining a Catholic homeschool group. I was shocked at the diatribe on some of their websites against popular homeschool curricula such as Abeka because of its "Protestant bias".

Maybe there is some truth there that I could not see.

Posted by: Victoria at April 5, 2005 03:14 PM

It's amazing on one hand we were taught that christians were to love their fellow man ... but on the other - just as long as they think exactly like we do. Some people never get past it.

Posted by: Robert at April 5, 2005 07:42 PM

Robert-I am surprised that you are amazed. Even in scripture we see people misunderstanding what the Lord is teaching us. Such is our sin nature. That is why when we look at the individual people in any church body we see imperfection. Sinners we are and we will misunderstand. While I saw first hand my Grandpa's faith, and believe in my heart that the Lord saved him, I also believe that the teachings of his church have some basics that are shaped more by tradition rather than the word of the Lord.

Posted by: R at April 5, 2005 09:07 PM

What a wonderful post! I grew up Southern Baptist, learning in ways both literal and implied that we had to pray for the poor Jews and Catholics, because both were going to Hell in a handbasket.

In 1972 I accompanied a school friend to a Catholic mass, and that was it for me. I felt Christ's presence there like nowhere else, and converted immediately. The sense of peace was overwhelming, and shocking. :)

My friends and family were very surprised, but my heart was set and I've never regretted the decision.

Rae, you always eke more of me out than I'd thought I was willing to give. What a gift you have! LOL!

Posted by: pam at April 6, 2005 07:50 AM

Joyella, your two cents are so valuable to me :D

Thanks, Randy.

Victoria, your comment prompted me to adjust my grammar :D Also, Abeka is specifically Protestant, but I have no problem using it because I am a Protestant. I do ask my girls to think about things from every angle, though, as I think this prompts true analytical thinking, and better conclusions.

Robert, I visited your site last night and saw that I am on your blogroll. Thank you for the link. I understand what you are saying. I think it alright to maintain that your belief is the correct way to believe (what would be the point in believing if not ;) ), but to do so with a haughty and smug attitude is rather repelling and not what I would call exemplary. However, as my wonderful R points out, we are all human, all fallible and more likely than not to make mistakes. There simply isn't a perfect person. There are less than perfect people striving toward bettering themselves, their families, their communities through their faith.

Awww, Pam :D Thank you.

Posted by: Rae at April 6, 2005 05:13 PM

Rae, as you know, I was raised Protestant and converted to Catholism in my 20's. Luckily I was never taught anything negative about Catholicism, we just didn't know any in the deep south.
Studying the history of the Church is what brought about my interest. I wanted to see how it all began and how we became so divided.
I too love the ritual, the incense, the prayers, and the authority of the Church.
I will always be grateful for my Protestant upbringing though, for it was there that I first met Christ.

Posted by: Rightwingsparkle at April 7, 2005 04:56 PM
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