Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Oh, the people you meet...

The Sarabite has honored me with his own blog entry, On Statues..., based on my Lenten New Orleans post. Please read it.

Then read my comment to his post, reproduced here below (I decided my thesis writing could wait a few more minutes):

Sometimes I feel like singing “gimme that old-time religion,” ‘cause I love me some Roman Catholicism, with all the prayer cards and scapulars and plastic statues sitting out in the yard. Where you hold your breath to hear about saints who have had the stigmata or Mary’s consecrated life in the temple. As I wrote on my own blog, I left deeply rooted Catholic soil when I was in six. I’ve been living in Protestant America since that time. I first entered it when my family moved to Houston and we became parishioners at the local church that was pentagonal and had a flat, mosaic, empty cross above the stage/altar and I was a member of the children’s choir, singing only songs that were composed after 1960. That’s Novus Ordo to me.

I don’t know what my faith would be like had I not been raised in a devoutly Catholic family where we said Rosaries and litanies every day, in a constant cycle of novenas. I learned my faith in the family, for after the age of six, the local Catholic parishes were of little to no help other than as dispensers of sacraments; CCD classes were even detrimental.

My mom would sign us up for all manner of ‘traveling’ religious artwork, so the pilgrim statues of Our Lady of Carmel, Our Lady of Fatima, Our Lady of Lourdes, and a painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe would visit our house for a month at a time, and we’d keep a votive candle burning next to her and pray in front of these depictions of the Blessed Virgin every night. When we were in pain, the first response out of my mom’s mouth was, “offer it up for the poor souls in purgatory.” We blessed ourselves with holy water every time we left the house and Lourdes water was always on hand, as were palms from Passion Sunday to burn above a candle whenever bad weather approached. My mother also kept a picture of Christ’s face, in agony and covered in blood while wearing the Crown of Thorns, on our refrigerator door. The big pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus with their chests opened and fingers pointing towards their Immaculate Heart and Sacred Heart, respectively, were in the bedrooms. Even now, my mom calls me whenever she lights a candle at church for me – which is as soon as the last candle she lit for me has burnt out - to tell me to make sure I say a special prayer to St. Joseph or Mary.

I was once involved in Catholics apologetics – I left it not only because I got tired of the same old arguments, but because of the intellectual oddities of some of the Catholic converts I would encounter. A former Baptist who, when asked why people light candles in front of statues of saints, said “of course we pray to the saints, but the candle lighting is just some superstitious thing some people do.” A former Presbyterian who, after attempting to explain a few of the Marian teachings, said “as a Catholic, you actually pay very little attention to Mary. It’s no big deal – other than the only three times she’s mentioned in the mass, you don’t have to do any of the other Marian devotion stuff.” What kind of Roman Catholicism did these friends of mine convert to? What in the world did they see in the Church? Why in the world do they, newborn in the ancient faith as they are, think they know better than people who have lived it for generations?

I suspect they had a hankering for a connection to the apostles, but with the 2000 years between then and now somehow smoothed over and wiped out. I sometimes think they became HUGE defenders of every Catholic teaching because they want that apostolic succession to be true OH SO BAD, because otherwise, why even bother being Catholic? They seem to find only the certainty of it attractive, not the ‘get your arms in all the way up to your elbows’ ways it’s been lived out (prior to V2, of course). I think it’s a hollow religion they have, one where they love being part of the communion of saints but are completely embarrassed that anyone would have such an effusive love for Mary and the saints that they’d seek to have depictions of them around, even if it’s bad artwork. Somehow the assent (bad Newman!) to Catholicism is, so they think, more important than the experience. I have no idea what kind of Church people like my Catholic convert friends are trying to re-build. We believe that a crucified Jewish carpenter rose from the dead. Some Lourdes water won’t kill you.

Sorry if I’ve used your combox as the beginning of a love letter to that old time religion.

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