Saturday, March 13, 2010

Church daze

This is where I grew up. If you were to use google map and enter Center Line, MI, you could find the intersection of 10 Mile and Van Dyke. This is a picture of 10 Mile and Van Dyke. This picture was take about 100 years ago. I wasn't born yet (although sometimes it feels like it). When I was child, I attended the church you see in the background. It is the original St. Clemens Church which was torn down in the 1960's. Mass was all in Latin back then, so for one hour, every Sunday, I would sit next to my mother and go through the exercise of sitting, kneeling, standing, kneeling, sitting, kneeling, standing, kneeling, et cetera, and never know the reason for doing it. I do know that the amount of kneeling outnumbered standing and sitting.

In my kneeling position, with head bowed, I was able to go into a semi-dream state. Unlike the overnight dreams that controlled me, I was in control of the pew dreams. I could transform myself into a superhero, like the Green Lantern or the Flash, and fight villains to save the world. It was quite a remarkable ability that vanished with my childhood. I can daydream today, but it is not the same as those dreams I controlled as a 7 year old. The vividness, and almost real quality of those youthful daydreams was remarkable. I don't believe I appreciated that ability back then. When I recall those times, I know what I dreamt did not happen, but those dreams are as strong in my memory as any actual event of that time.

After the building of the replacement church, that is still in use today, my mother lost interest in attending weekly. She felt that holiday masses would suffice. For her, not me. I was instructed to continue attending every Sunday, that I was the family representative. My father never went to church for anything other than a wedding or a funeral. He had given his salvation proxy to my mother, who in turn gave his and hers to me. Their immortal souls were now in my hands. Quite a responsibility for an eight year old. This chore was inflicted upon me after the completion of my first communion. Every Saturday I would go to confession (big sinner I was, reading comic books in stores without buying them) and on Sunday the priest would complete the ritual of cleansing my sins by placing a wafer on my tongue.

Whoever created church wafers was an imp. Those little white cardboard bingo chips were designed to glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Unlike today, you did not get a snort of wine to wash it down. That is something else I still do not understand. The wafer supposedly represents the body of Christ, and the wine represents his blood. Does this mean that Catholicism endorses cannibalism?

I mentioned going to confession. Confession became a turning point in my religious beliefs. At the end of confession the priest issues your penance; ex.: recite four "Hail Marys" and six "Our Fathers." If the priest was feeling particularly mischievous, he could demand you recite two or three rosaries. That's one "Our Father" for every small bead, a "Hail Mary" for the larger beads, and a grand finale when you land on the cross by repeating "the Act of Contrition." You have to be kneeling at the altar while reciting the prayers in your head. When I did penance, it wasn't because I felt God was watching, but instead because I feared that the priest was peeking out of his confessional stall to make certain I was doing as instructed. When I finally put together that the only reason I was doing penance was to please my mother, and that the priest would not be calling her to rat me out if I skipped a few Hail Marys. ("Hello, is this John's mother? This is Father Murray. I hate to tell you this but your boy missed doing 3 of his Our Fathers. I hope you straighten him out. We don't want to see the boy end up in hell.") So I began pretending to pray. I would kneel at the altar and create a daydream for about 20 minutes or so, and then be on my way. Eventually I foregone the priest and was creating my own confessional at the local soda shop by issuing my own penance of two cheeseburgers and one chocolate malt.

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