Sunday, September 25, 2011

Day 355: Sacred Sunday

Today I went to a hipster pop show that celebrated religious music. It was set in a community center theater that looked very much like a church. Only instead of an altar they had a stage. And instead of host or holy wine, they had beer and a merch table. As I sat there in a wooden pew, hot sun shining through stained windows, fanning myself with the festival program I tried to recall to memory that 'going-to-church' feeling. All that sitting and standing and kneeling and sitting and standing. Yawning uncontrollably. The unbearable urge to stick in the exposed shirt tag of the helmet-haired lady standing in front of me with the strong perfume...

You see, my dad was a devout Catholic so we had to go every Sunday. Our church wasn't anything to write home about. It was a small old army barracks that they converted into 'Our Lady Queen of The World'. There were no majestic high ceilings or stained glass, just some pews and an altar with a cross. It was plain. It was humble. My parents were particularly involved - mom was a Eucharistic Minister and dad was on the Board of Trustees and when I was about ten, they decided I should be an altar girl. I didn't have much choice in the matter, so one day after school I went to the church to be trained.

At first it felt like a party - the other kids and I met in the church kitchen where Father Andre gave us pizza. He seemed friendly enough. Until he said, “OK kids, if you want some soda pop, you need to give me a quick kiss on the lips to get a quarter for the machine.” I was the only kid who didn't want soda pop. What I wanted to do was punch him in the face. Instead, I took my revenge by going back the following week with my friend's Ouija Board. I coerced the rest of the crew to play with it on the altar. He found us there and got very upset, saying that this was a holy place and we should refrain from games that go against the Lord. In short - he told me that I wasn't the ideal 'altar girl' candidate and that I should maybe stick to singing. Amen to that.

Much later on in life, I met Father Jerry, the new priest assigned to our parish. He was a good man, a simple man - as close to a 'Man of God' as I've ever met. Straight away he seemed to be doing his job for, what felt like, all the right reasons. Mom would send over food, and we’d find him sitting in a non-heated bedroom with his winter coat on, eating boxed Mac n’ Cheese. He wouldn't think of eating off donation money, he wouldn't think of living on our dime- he just wanted to prepare good sermons with a youthful outlook. I liked him right away, he wasn't preachy - he was real. He asked me to help out with the church choir, so I did. How could I say no to such a nice guy? He’d come over for dinner with the family and just hang out. He even, to my dad’s horror, attended my college theater production, where I had the lead role and in one scene had to passionately kiss another girl. My dad almost had a heart attack, but Father Jerry gave me a standing ovation.

He believed in me as an artist, and is probably the only positive experience I have ever had with the church. When he got reassigned to a Vermont parish, I was sad to see him go. With him no longer around, I realized that I had no genuine motivation to further attend mass on Sundays. Dad eventually gave up trying to force me to go - weary of my constant debating of the bible with him. I moved on from it all but I think about Father Jerry often. Mostly because the thought of him reminds me that, for one space in time, there was a good man trying to build a good church based on good faith.

Today, listening to these talented musicians sing and play lovely hymns, I couldn't help but wish he’d have been there sitting beside me, cold beer in hand, just enjoying some really pretty music.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Inspirational!
    He/She who loses money loses much;
    he/she who loses friends loses much more;
    he/she who loses faith loses all.