When you have four generations of Polish-Catholics on any given Sunday together in the same house, you are quickly made aware of the stark differences in how your grandmother, your mother, you, and your own children have been raised and reared in the Catholic religion.
And you begin to notice, how with each generation, your faith has been consistently diluted.
My grandmother, now 84, spent ¾ of her life living in small villages in Poland. A mother of three, she was a widow in her thirties, and chose never to remarry. Since I can remember, the woman has had a rosary permanently adhered to her palm, the simple beads a source of great comfort during sorrow, a way to show gratitude during times of joy. I still wonder why they don’t make holsters for those things, because I would totally buy her one for Christmas. Her prayer books are worn and she still reads them, though by now she has the contents fully memorized. She knows all of the saints by heart and will steer you to the right one, depending on your circumstances. She has seen the ugliest parts of humanity, a teen during WWII, stepping over the bodies of fellow countrymen slain on the cobblestone streets of her beloved occupied country. She really did walk barefoot, in the snow, to attend weekly mass with her family as a young girl. She sought God always, and still does, and I believe that when she prays, he listens. He’s probably scared not to. She takes her Catholicism seriously and has little to no tolerance for anyone that doesn’t. But if you are in need and want to get God’s attention, she’s the liaison you’re looking for. If she were a man, she would probably be a priest, or a bishop, or even the Pope. She is a supersaturated Catholic.
My mother, daughter of the aforementioned grandmother, also has a strong faith. Her crucifixes are strategically hung throughout the house, each one a symbol of protection and resurrection. She has never been to church in jeans and without lipstick, and she genuflects like a pro. Her rosary is tucked in her nightstand, in a box, at the ready, and she has dreams about Pope John II telling her that Monchichi will talk one day. She has been to Lourdes and sprinkles the house with Holy water. She will skip mass if she’s camping or in Palm Springs, but keeps a vigilant and judgmental eye on those in the family who come tardy or don’t come at all. Her faith has seen her through her own share of pain and disappointments but she enjoys the occasional debate about what it all means and how “can God let all this bad stuff happen?” She watches biographical movies on the Polish channel about Sister Faustina and Bernadette, but she also uses swear words when appropriate and misses chocolate during lent. She is devote, but slightly diluted.
Ah. Me. Where do I even begin? Well, I was obviously raised Catholic and still follow my faith. I have a love/hate relationship with it all, especially the stuff that scares the &O*!# out of me, like the going to hell part, and the whole “God is watching you” thing. I don’t take comfort in a rosary and I have skipped more Sunday masses than I care to admit. But I have the whole Catholic Guilt thing down to a science. I feel guilty for everything. And my family and friends know it and dare I say, have taken advantage of that fact more than they care to admit. Crucifixes scare me, but I hang them up anyway because, well, Hell……..it just doesn’t sound like a nice place to live. I was baptized, had First Communion, been to confession enough times to save YOUR soul too, did confirmation, and…….. got pregnant before I was married. WHOOPS!! Have I mentioned that our church frowns on this? Not smirks, not shrugs, but Frowns. I remember when the husband and I had a civil wedding ceremony and I finally felt legit. I went to confession at my local parish and spilled my guts to the priest. I was finally going to go to communion during Sunday mass and get my mom and grandmother off of my back (which was already sore due to the growing evidence of my uncatholic ways). Know what he said? “You are living in sin in the eyes of God and in order to serve penance must live with the father of your child in a platonic way until you are married in the church.” Um. Not. So, hanging my head in shame, I walked out and stewed in guilt and shame for another few months until my son was born and I realized that there was No Way God was mad at me for him. We did the big ceremony later that year and when I took communion I felt a little bit better, but not free. Because by then I had sinned in other ways and needed to go back to confession. Cyclical. Like a big carousel of sin and guilt. I am a functional Catholic. Like watered down juice. Still good but not as sweet and obedient.
Now, my children are at an age where I think it is important to instill in them faith in God. I want church and prayer to be a common thing in our household. Given that Monchichi is non-verbal and cannot at this point in his life understand certain intangible concepts, we do our best as a family to incorporate God in our lives and sort of cross our fingers and hope for the best. We attend Sunday mass (but sometimes not), and pray everyday. Ian knows “Our Father” by heart and begins each morning and family meal reciting the prayer. But I skip the terror and hell part. Maybe this makes me an incomplete Catholic but I don’t care. I feel guilty about it, but that’s par for the course. My husband and I (who is also Catholic) sort of take from the faith buffet and give him the version that won’t make him scared of God. Because I know what that feels like. I teach him that it’s okay to have a conversation with his creator, because it took me years to get there. He in turn, corners me with questions like “why is Jesus hanging on that cross,” or “can I bring my toys to heaven?” Having children makes you re-evaluate your own faith and how you choose to wear it. I know that without God I would not be where I am today, surrounded by an amazing family and an abundance of friends. But I have shaken my fist in the air and screamed at the stars, for my son’s autism, for my grandmother’s stroke, for a close friend’s untimely death. I have wept for the unfairness of the world and for the suffering of children, and when Monchichi was at the local children’s hospital for his seizures and we passed by rooms filled with children dying of cancer, I felt a hole grow inside of me that threatened to swallow my faith and belief in God. I sat broken and defeated until I was reminded by others that faith withstands all. Even autism. Even cancer. Even death.
Now the trick is to look like I know what the freak I’m talking about when Superman corners me with his deep and inquisitive questions.
Looks like someone is off to bible study.