I was clueless about the Catholic faith up until that year. I never went to any religious education classes until my dad decided that 1996 was the year, whatever the reason, I do not know, that he himself wanted to learn and grow in his faith. And so, I tagged along and attended some classes at the local church where he usually attended back then. I do not remember if I actually went into a religion class for my age or not, but I am inclined to think that I did not, as I knew less than a first grader about anything. Most of what I remember learning was discussions I had with my dad as we were in the church basement where they held their religious education classes. I remember learning about the seven sacraments and walking around the empty classrooms after Mass looking at the art projects one of the classes had done to represent each sacrament. I am guessing it was the first grade; I imagine that is when they typically teach children about the sacraments.
I learned and said the rosary for the first time with my dad in the evening before we went to bed. As I learned more, my excitement grew. I finally had a clue what was going on around me as Mass and what it meant to be a Catholic! And at some point in reading through a guide to the Mass, I discovered the answer to the one thing that most aggravated me each Sunday I was at Mass; I knew that you pray when you first sit down in the pew when you get to church. For years, I assumed that there was a specific prayer I was supposed to say because Dad always knelt and prayed for a few minutes when we found our pew. Aaron and Janelle (and everyone else in church for that matter) did as well. I loved the missalette that I could follow exactly. I could read every prayer the priest said, every response I was to give, lyrics to every hymn that I sang. It was all written out beautifully so that I could follow along, and I loved that. It infuriated me that to start things off at Mass I was given no direction. I was sure I was missing something important. After browsing through some booklet on the mass that I found in a religious education classroom, I found instructions for readying your mind for and asking for help that you make-the-most-of the Mass that you are about to participate in. I was shocked! There wasn't an exact prayer that was prescribed - I was free to use my own words! I knew about free-style prayers, after all the majority of my religious experience up until that point consisted of independent protestant communities that never said that same prayer twice except for the Our Father. I just did not have a clue that Catholics were allowed to make up their own prayers because every experience I had had was with prayers pre-written in a missalette or instructional pamphlet. I was amazed at the overlap in what I had previously perceived as two completely different experiences.
All the learning that occurred that year culminated in a truck ride to talk to the pastor of St. Denis Catholic Church. Dad told me that I was going to talk to the priest who would ask me some questions about what I had learned, and I shouldn't be shy, but make sure I told him the answers in a voice loud enough that he could hear because the priest was heard of hearing. We reviewed the questions and answers that the priest was going to ask me. I was supposed to know what a sacrament is and what each of them are. I was also supposed to know that when you receive communion, you chew it and swallow without being obnoxious. I don't remember anything else I was supposed to know or was asked.
When we arrived and went into the priest's home, the rectory (which I remember finding as a funny term, but dared not say so with the stakes so high), Dad chatted with the priest for a few minutes and then excused himself while I was put to the question. I had to repeat myself a few times because I didn't speak loudly enough (I still have that problem) and I must have remembered what I needed to remember because I was approved to receive the Eucharist.
That brings us to Palm Sunday and my first communion. I finally felt like I knew something and was like all the other Catholics in my dad's family, until the sight of my 7-year-old cousin in her white, bride-like dress who was also receiving her first communion reminded me that I was four-years behind the game.
After a reception in the church basement that afternoon, I went home with my dad to his house and waited anxiously for my mom to arrive. You see, it was my spring break from school and according to the custody agreement, I was supposed to spend that week with my dad. But I did not want to be there with him for a week by myself. I was sure he had to go to work – and what was he going to do with me? I was old enough to stay myself, but I was not interested in that at all. All day and possibly the evening by myself in the middle of nowhere with few if any usable cooking skills? Five days in a row? No, thanks. And what if he just took me with him to work, to random job sites where my challenge was to be close enough to him to feel comfortable, but not so close as to breathe in the fumes of glue or lacquer, or damage my hearing from a power tool, or overhear what was being said by dirty construction workers.
I told my mom before Dad picked me up that Friday night that I wanted her to bring me home on Sunday night just like my typical weekend with Dad. I wanted to enjoy my spring break: with my room, my books, my toys and games, my little sister to play with, and my mother to feed me three meals a day. That sounded like a much better spring break to me.
I knew that Dad wanted me to stay the week, he would be angry if I left on Sunday night. And he was angry. I think there was yelling and a few nasty words. But I left my dad’s house and went home. I was sorry to disappoint him, but I didn’t see any other way to avoid what I was sure would have been an utterly miserable week.
to be continued...