First, let me make one thing clear. I am not religious. I never have been religious. I would, however, call myself somewhat seriously spiritual. With that said, when I was a child, I went to Catholic schools – grammar school, as we called it then, and high school – all girls, no less. In grammar school, we quivered under the rule of the nuns who were allowed to swat our knuckles with a ruler or make us stand in a corner of the classroom if we were “bad.” Today, a teacher would be sent to prison for rapping a child’s knuckles, we don’t “punish,” we offer “choices,” and we never use the word “bad.” To me these were not negative things. They were “cultural.” They were intrinsic to what it meant to be Catholic, part of a parish, part of a village.
I LOVED my Catholic education. I loved the honesty, integrity and grittiness of it. I loved the rituals, the Christmas pageants and the one year where I actually got to be the Virgin Mary. (Other years I was an angel, and one year even a lamb – that was in first grade.) I loved how we all prepared together for first confession, first Holy Communion, and Confirmation. I loved learning catechism, I loved singing in the church choir. I have one memory of practicing for the Christmas Mass. It was as snowy day and I had walked to the practice by myself. We were all up in the choir balcony, and as we sang the carols, I looked out at the softly falling snow and had one of those rare moments of pure peace and contentment.
That’s what my Catholic years were – they were full of peace and contentment. They were a wonderful antidote to the “stuff” in my family, ugly stuff, but at school, there was good stuff. It was home. Indeed, it takes a village – that’s what my parish school and church experience was like.
Truthfully, I never believed any of what we were taught as truth. Nice stories, and symbolism, to be sure. A good spiritual base that carried me into adulthood. I got away from it all when I went to college and right on up until I had my own kids. I wanted them to have the same experiences, sans the schooling because by the time they were school age, the parish school was a thing of the past. But still, once again, we had that family, that village that surrounded us no matter what. And always there was the warmth and comfort of the rituals.
My kids grew older and so did I.I quit going to church, I quit being part of a parish village. I want it back.I want that feeling of family and home. I want the village, only it’s not there. I am in mourning.
Oh, there are Catholic churches around, and there’s even one two blocks away. But it’s not a simple neighborhood church anymore. It’s now part of a “conglomerate” of four other parishes, all tethered together now because of the falling numbers of priests. Every Saturday afternoon I think of going, but I shake my head in near despair as I ponder a shifting sand of people attending any one Mass at any one time.
This is not what I want. This is not what I need.
It takes a village. Who burned mine down?