Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Ignorance of Youth

I was a late Catholic convert. But as I grew up, I found out a few things about the Church, and had a few misconceptions, too.

Here are some things from my childhood:

- At age 5, I attended Mass at the New Cathedral with my parents. I thought that the Bishop was the King. Maybe I didn't know about the American Revolution?

- I was always scared of the crucifix, but was horrified when I realized that it was a depiction of an EXECUTION! I originally thought that the Romans were just being mean to Jesus, putting him up on a cross like that.

- While visiting Saint Ferdinand Shrine in Florissant, I became terrified when I saw that there was a DEAD BODY under the altar. I was even more scared when told that it was the body of Saint Valentine, of February 14th greeting card fame. It took a long time before I found out about relics and wax effigies. The thought of catacombs, however, was too much for me to take, since Catholics apparently had huge stacked piles of bones in them.

- I was confused about the "Our Lady of the...." shrines that are abundant in the Saint Louis area. Who were all of these women that Catholics liked so much?

There were some really cool things about the Catholic Church, that even a little kid could recognize.

- Most of the churches were really, really, beautiful. Protestant churches were boring.

- Catholic churches had candles that you could burn and pray over. My Mom would give me some coins, and would let me drop the money in the slot and light the candle.

- Gregorian Chant and Latin were way cool, even to a kid under ten years old.

- The vestments of the priests were great. Far better than the TV preachers (although the preachers were easier to understand). Nuns habits were also really cool, although a little weird.

- Catholic friends of mine were far holier than other kids. Jaded Cradle Catholics may laugh at this, but it was very obvious, even to a six year old child.

- Priests KNEW STUFF, really mysterious stuff, that no one else had a clue about.

- Catholic kids ate fish on Friday. My public school always offered fish on Fridays for them. I didn't like fish myself, but I liked that discipline.

- Catholic kids played soccer and were usually better athletes than most other kids.

- Monks and monasteries were the best thing about the Catholic Church. I was under the impression that monks had to chant all day long, which I thought was too difficult.

- The one thing that I really disliked about Catholicism was the handshaking during Mass. I thought it was just too weird.

For those who are too young to remember it, the Second Vatican Council was huge international news that everyone, not just Catholics, talked about for years afterwards. Here are some things that I, as a child, thought that I knew about the Council:

- Catholics didn't worship the Virgin Mary or the Saints anymore. That used to be a nice thing to do back in the Middle Ages, but they had to modernize. Back in the '60s the general attitude was that everything HAD to modernize.

- Christopher and Valentine were decanonized and weren't Saints anymore.

- Latin was outlawed.

- New Catholic churches had to look Protestant.

- Nuns didn't have to wear habits anymore.

- Guitar and folk music were now required. The use of the pipe organ was probably banned. As I grew a bit older, I thought that the old Church was stuck in the Middle Ages, but God Forbid that the new Church would be stuck in the 1960s for centuries!

- Most young Catholic Religious were Marxist. They didn't have missions, but worked for the United Nations instead.

- Catholics still didn't read the Bible.

- Vatican II was just the protestantization of the Catholic Church, so that it would be more modern.

- Many things that were sins in the past were now OK. Don't underestimate what this meant to the world at large. Even though most folks in the U.S. were not Catholic, they still had a great fear and respect for the Church, and if Catholics said something was a sin, it most surely was a sin. The Vatican talked and Protestants listened, even if they didn't like it. The great "DSR&R" revolution of the 1960s and 1970s was partially based on the mistaken notion that all of that was somehow OK now.

- My attitude as a teenager was that Vatican II was necessary, since the Church had to modernize (remember that in the 1960s EVERYTHING had to modernize), but that the Church sadly threw the baby out with the bathwater on many issues.

So even as a child, I missed some of the lost Catholic patrimony. In the 1970s, there was a popular television show called "Kung Fu" which featured a boy growing up in a non-Christian Chinese monastery, where he learned extreme discipline and ancient wisdom. I thought to myself, sadly, that Catholics used to be like that too, but that Vatican II got rid of the discipline and wisdom, as well as the monasteries.

Eventually, as I started attending Lutheran Sunday school, things Catholic still kept popping up. First of all, the Creed had the phrase "catholic church" and so was was a bit confusing to most of us kids: why were we here instead of at the Catholic church up the road? Also, you had to talk to the Catholics to get answers to the really difficult questions. And every teenager in the 1970s knew that only Catholics could do exorcisms.

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