My Catholic roots are woven throughout the memories of my childhood. They give me peace. They give me security. They give me space to grow wild and free.
Friday evening Rosaries.
Listening to the clicking of the beads as they passed through my mother’s fingers, her whispered Hail Mary’s as she prayed the decades and began the cycle again and again as I impatiently waited for it to be over so my sister and I could go out and play.
Saturday afternoon flowers.
In the quiet of the church my middle sister and I helped her ‘do the flowers’ that graced the altar. They had to be fresh for Sunday mass.
My sister was allowed to carry the vases of week-old flowers to the sink in the back of the sacristy. I could help sort the flowers. For some reason, my mother didn’t trust me to carry breakable objects. Go figure.
To this day, I struggle with throwing out dead flower arrangements.
The smell of the rancid water. The look of the wilting flowers. It feels almost.. .sacrilegious. Like I’m somehow impinging on the prayers of a dead past to be left in peace.
Then there was Sunday morning mass.
The inevitable rush of getting four children all dressed up in Sunday best, out the door and in the car and down the road to church.
I loved Easter Sunday best. Not the mass. Oh no. That was way too long in my child’s mind.
I loved my bonnet and pretty dress. My patin leather shoes. My little white lace gloves.
I loved the gold trim on the priest’s liturgical robes. The pageantry. The statues adorning the walls. Watching my brother up front, beside the priest, where he served as an altar boy.
I still love the smell of incense. Candlelight. Ritual. Angels.
Though I never did come to peace with the notion that girls were somehow so inadequate (or sinful) that they could not serve at the altar as priests.
I still remember, sitting on the hard benches. Swinging my legs, looking around, being poked by my sister and poking her back followed by the inevitable admonition from my mother to sit still, be quiet, pay attention.
On Sundays, there was no breakfast until after the 10am Mass. The church didn’t allow food before communion. Fortunately, this edict gave me an easy to confess ‘sin’ to add to the litany of others I’d have to tell the priest at our weekly meeting in the confessional booth on Wednesday night. I had three:
I fought with my sister.
I disobeyed my mother.
I accidentally swallowed the water when I brushed my teeth before mass. (It’s also possible I stole a muffin or cookie from the kitchen before we left for mass but I wasn’t sure God would forgive me for that one so I never told.)
In church, I prayed the sermon would be short, the greetings afterwards of neighbours and friends even shorter. I was hungry!
Always, my father would meet someone and invite them back for breakfast. Always, they came. My father’s breakfasts were legendary.
As a child, I used to ask my parents where God lived during the week if he was only in church on Sundays. My father laughed at my question. He liked to encourage my curiosity, telling me to ‘go look it up’. In the encyclopedia or the dictionary if it was about the spelling of a word. My father was not as married to the Catholic faith as my mother.
For mom, my questions caused her great unease. Don’t be so impudent, she’d caution. God is watching. He knows everything. You cannot question Him.
I wasn’t particularly good at listening to my mother. And, once I discovered how uneasy my questions made her, I tended to keep asking them.
It was my way.
Yesterday, with an email from a cousin I haven’t seen in decades, the memory of those long-ago days came sweeping back into focus.
We spent time together in France during our youth and into our teens. I remember how much he and his sister loved the chocolates and other goodies my parents brought whenever we visited. How our excesses in food were so foreign to the austere selections their mother allowed that they almost made themselves sick savouring the sweet, gooey concoctions that came from my father’s kitchen.
In our exchange of emails, in the memories that came flooding back, I was reminded that no matter what path I carve, it is the deep security of my roots that gives me the freedom today to explore my spiritual path without fearing where it will lead me. Entangled as those memories are in the complex web of religious observance of Catholicism that was my childhood, they are also filled with a love of mysticism, of faith and of family.
I had a note from a cousin I haven’t seen in many years yesterday. His presence in my Inbox took me back to my roots.
It is there I find myself this morning, deeply rooted in my belief that even though I no longer practice the faith of my childhood, I am safe and secure in my belief that this is a world of divinely inspired glory. That this life I have been gifted is designed to be savoured and celebrated. It is a life immersed in joy and Love for I live in a universe of great mystery and wonder, awe and beauty.