Lots and lots of conversations with the Lord have happened during my “can’t move off the couch except to use the bathroom” period at 53 years old.
I never thought I would have the downtime I do, the quiet days I do, the time to finally write that I do. But, as I now concretely believe, God halts you in your tracks, sometimes without warning. We live our lives with great anxiety, rushing from place to place, minus moments of meditation and quiet…never realizing this is all temporary, and life, as trite as it sounds, is a gift…every moment of health is to be worshiped. It is short. It is temporary. Scary, right?
As what I defined as being a faithful follower of Christ and a devout Catholic seemed in place, I was unaware of how much of it was routine until now. Taught. Ingrained. I loved God with my whole heart, as well as my Catholic upbringing, but I started reflecting on that upbringing and what has changed. From my first day at St. Margaret’s in Pearl River in September 1973, until now, and growing up with my Aunt Lucy who makes Mother Teresa look like Gloria Steinem.
Most of it has brought me closer to the Lord in a very human way, not looking to God as the ultimate punisher of all that is wrong. But rather, to Jesus, as man, as human being, as a reflection of those he created.
Do we stray as Catholics? Yes, we are human, but that is the point. If we look at Jesus as forgiving and human, we might have better luck being better Catholics. But, as I encountered a post Vatican 2 Catholic rearing, some of what we were told to believe may defy what we should be doing as Christians, trying only to stay within the margins of Catholic Doctrine.
Pope Francis has shed much light and love and made great inroads into some of this fire and brimstone portrait. Loosening the reigns, just a little, might invite more back to the church, more freely, without anxiety and fear of diabolic punishment.
So, here is what six-year-old Linda thought, and what she thinks now:
Six-year-old Linda on Sin:
Bad, bad, bad. Hell awaits you for lusting after the cute boys at school. You will go blind.
Hell awaits you for daydreaming in Mass and praying for it to be over.
Hell awaits if you have a cookie one hour before Mass.
Hell awaits if your dress is too short or you wear a bikini…anywhere.
Hell awaits if you cheat on a test or throw half your lunch away.
Hell awaits if you don’t go to Confession even if you make it up.
Hell awaits if from 12-3 on Good Friday you don’t shackle yourself in solitary.
Hell awaits if you don’t wash your hands coming out of the bathroom stall.
Hell awaits anything that isn’t perfect or kind, or exemplary of a cloistered Monk. Anything foible and human deserves hell.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda on Sin:
We sin every day. We are imperfect beings and God knows that. We are sinful. The only specimen of human flesh who did not sin was the Blessed Mother, and sister. Let me tell you, nobody comes close to that perfection. She was created without sin, in order to carry and deliver incarnate, perfect divinity. Aside from that, she lived among sinners. The best saints sinned constantly. St. Augustine was a drunk, Mary Magdalene, a lady of the evening, Mary of Egypt, a total trollop, St. Dismas who was crucified with Christ just to name a few. But the key to recognition of that sin, is asking for forgiveness. We want to be “Christ-like,” we don’t need to be God-like. There is a difference. Sometimes just saying “God, I’m sorry I thought that woman was ugly.” “I’m sorry I missed Mass today,” “I’m sorry I forgot today was Friday during Lent and I downed that Chick-Fil-A.”
On judgement day, I believe, that God will not say, “You had a good run for 90 years, but we really have to discuss that Friday in Lent, 1983 when you ate Chicken Matzah Ball soup before I let you in.” No. Christ welcomed sinners to follow him to let them know love was the key…not doctrine or regiment.
Six-year-old Linda on Mass:
Shoot me now, please. Like most six-year-olds, I didn’t relish going to Mass. I found it a burden, and major cut into my Sunday morning Partridge Family marathon. My mother used to tell me it was 45 minutes, and the only obligation I had for the week. But, OMG, if Aunt Lucy was around for the weekend, this added an entire 15 minutes onto the ordeal because she would never, ever be late for church.
I’m not sure if there are too many kids who love Mass. My kids have matured into being okay with it, but the moans and groans still exist. I think a young child who is that enamored by their religious obligation probably isn’t really enjoying youth. It takes cultivation, maturity, understanding and life experience to truly value Mass. I think it is unnatural to expect so much from a child, which is why we keep asking, like Gianmarco does, “How much longer?” And Holy Week... just send me to the guillotine…Veneration…Holy Thursday Mass and oh no, evil of all evils…Easter Vigil.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda On Mass:
My respite. My Zen. My journey into spirituality. My time to meditate on the life of Christ, what he went through, what he tried to teach us about love and forgiveness even when it was most difficult. He was human. Was he divine? Yes. Did he have emotion? Yes. But Jesus as Jesus came for us to understand that we are not perfect.
My takeaway every week is gratitude…my life is actually dreamy compared to the trials of others, and I have learned not to bitch. When I ask the Lord to guide me, that takes hold of my conscience. He is constantly tapping me on the shoulder…saying, “Um, you, with the healthy kids and gifted life…stop bitching about stupidity. You have it all…pay it forward.” This does not mean that I have never, ever looked down at my phone, answered a text or headed into the shopping zone in my mind, ever…it happens. I am human. I own it. St. Teresa of Lisieux admitted there was a nun she found incredibly distracting.
“Formerly one of our nuns managed to irritate me whatever she did or said. The devil was mixed up in it, for it was certainly he who made me see so many disagreeable traits in her.”
If the beautiful St. Teresa could have an issue with another human being, well, then, who was I to think I was better?
As mother Olga would say, “All God asks is 45 minutes a week…and the rest is on him.” If we look at it that way, how can we argue the sanctity and grace we receive in that 45 minutes. That’s if we truly give those 45 minutes to God and ask him to lock the dial…
Six-year-old Linda on prayer:
Believe it or not, I was always a good pray-er. My mom taught me early about its powerful attributes, but a kid uses it for stupid stuff like “Blessed Mother, I promise the Rosary, every day, four times a day if I can get %^&*&^ to like me and kiss me behind the Five and Ten.” (I was older, then, lol). “Or, Malibu Barbie has a new Beach House…I really need it.”
But, in the rudimentary beginnings of our Catholic schooling, it’s all about the scope, right? What else would I be praying for? I was well-versed in every prayer from the first grade on, knew every mystery of the Rosary, every ancillary prayer to the Rosary, and funerals. But I did learn that prayer was important, and it was powerful and useful. Did I really understand its spiritual value? Maybe a little, but not fully. It was a means to an end…always a good end, like something shiny and new. But shiny and new eventually meant a resurgence of faith, and soul.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda on prayer:
The most unbelievable tool we have to keep us in touch with Christ. We don’t need to pray formally. Sometimes I forget my novenas, and think, screw it. Just go with it…If I need to pray, I’ll pray. God gets me, hears me, no matter where I am, or how I say it. As a matter of fact, he knows what I am saying before I even get there. The saints I love were people before they were saints, most of them in desperate need of conversion. Worse shape than I am, and through prayer, through God’s trust that they could be redeemed, they were. All through prayer. Prayer is miraculous. Period. It is our connection with God and his intercessors, and we need it every day, for everything.
God does not care what you are asking for, how much or when. He asked us many times through his Gospels to pray, pray, pray. Sometimes, as I am finding out even now, answers are not uncovered for years, weeks, months, or even the way we intended sometimes. But, when you are aware of the answer, you understand.
How else do you connect if we don’t connect with God in a spiritual way? We cannot connect with him in a physical way because He is not tangible as Himself, yet we find him in others. We find Him in answers to problems that we did not expect. We find him when others speak to us and we are inspired to find solutions or better, bringing us down a notch when we complain about our baggage going over life’s weight limit and yeah, having to unpack some shit and throwing it in another bag. This is all prayer.
It is not limited to the formalities of Adoration, Mass, sitting in church, holiday Masses, novenas, chaplets. God asks us, as His beings, His sheep, to come to Him, call on Him, ask for Him. Remember, he gets us…when Mattel made Barbie and Ken, they created dolls in an image of what they thought were beautiful people. God did the same thing. He knows better, always.
Six-year-old Linda on the devil:
Yikes. Scary shit. The devil. Lucifer. Beelzebub. Saddam Hussein. Bill Clinton, David Berkowitz, Charles Manson, Jim Jones, Jeffrey Dahmer... yes, he is many forms. But the devil I was introduced to in my childhood was a being. He was MF-ing ugly as all get out, that face and that tail, those beady popping out of your head eyes, horns like huge zits and a pitchfork. And all I knew is if I didn’t return the nickel overpayment to the guy who owned the pizza place on Central Avenue in Pearl River, he was going to steal my soul.
He was the vat of temptation and iniquity in its most ever-present form, and the true nemesis of Christ. You did not want to go within ten thousand feet of his pitchfork, and if you sinned once, just once, or looked at Sr. Thomas Joseph the wrong way, you were a goner.
Jesus could not save you from hell if you sided with the Devil. According to our Bible, Jesus did have arguments with the Devil, Matthew 4:1-11 and places Jesus in the wilderness with Satan himself. But Jesus does win every time. I think that was the message to kids…always err on the side of caution.
When in doubt, whip out the Rosary, pray all the mysteries from the joyful ones to those ugly sorrowful ones… and then he might go away. But be careful if you have one dirty or disrespectful thought… you are fair game for that ugly soul stealer.
53-year-old Linda on the devil:
Ok, time to dumb this down. Does evil exist in the world? Oh yes it does. Hugh Hefner, Larry Flint, El Chapo, Pablo Escobar, Al Capone, Harvey Weinstein, Al Qaeda, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Eva Perón, Jeffrey Epstein, Snow White’s Stepmother, to name a few of the immoral and evil’s most personified. These creepers took what God gave them, be it creativity, power, trust, money and turned it into shiny gold, immorality while luring or destroying the innocent.
They certainly had diabolic plans, and the worst part is they knew it…they didn’t make mistakes, misunderstand, or “accidentally” act immoral. They preyed on the innocent for financial gain and fame, never thinking they would have to answer to a higher being. Yes, temptation at its best, right? They just said yes to “evil,” flat out, not caring about anyone but themselves, morphing into the devil incarnate among us.
But, the Catholic school devil temptation of good, everyday people is, in my opinion, a little overboard. Sometimes, as I have learned, what we might view as temptation, if we listen closely enough to God, is actually God repositioning us and making us think in real time. He’s urging us to listen to what he wants from us, sometimes taking us out of a place we thought was so right and binding.
In God’s world, there is no such thing as cement. We feel so contracted to the written law, like the Jews, that what is fire and brimstone, good and bad, black and white, basing it all on punishment, that we don’t allow Jesus to take the wheel and move us all over the board. We feel it might break a vow, destroy a relationship, promote immorality…(like my kids wanting to move in with their significant others).
But it’s the rigidity that promotes the schism. Not that we should bargain with God, but I think sometimes his message is, “not everything is a sin. Change is not a sin. Weighing things is not a sin. Not loving and fortifying understanding is the sin. Anything pulling you away from God into the lust of the netherworld and dragging others with you is the bigger sin.
Meeting someone, like your kids, where they are, is actually more promising of a relationship with you and them and Catholicism than dismissing them to stand your ground. This has been a difficult one for me. When I met my husband, I was divorced in my mid-thirties with two children, and I still wouldn’t move in with him. Now, I’m getting divorced.
So, keeping those morals 100% in check because I was supposed to, didn’t really make a difference. But God stopped me in my tracks to say, there are greater sins, those which are blatantly committed than allowing me to change your life. The marriage vows you took were with sincerity, but as a follower of mine, I need to pull you out of a situation that is not for you, for there is a greater, more fulfilling, abundant love which will bring you and your family closer to me. This marriage, when you look back, tore you away in small pieces, and trickled onto your children. You are not sinning. You are listening. Don’t push me away.
Six-year-old Linda on clergy:
Yeah, I was around a lot of clergy. Although nuns are not considered clergy, I am going to box them in because between Aunt Lucy and everyone who taught me from St. Margaret’s to AHA has this “special” place in my heart.
They were interesting, that’s for sure. I could not understand, how the nuns could “choose” this way of life. Why wouldn’t you want to put on make-up, do your hair, shop, wear different clothes every day? Why would you want to live with six-foot statues that look like their eyes are following you into the bathroom? Waaaay after six years old, I started thinking about the sex part, and was like, WTF.
I remember overnighting in Aunt Lucy’s convent, and even though the nuns fussed over me, offered all kinds of wrapped goodies, which I thought were a lure into the sisterhood, I could not understand this choice. No good food, old, simple living accommodations, no fluff. No pretty anything.
The nuns who taught me bore the same demeanor for the most part, wore heavier habits, and looked really old, even when they were probably 30. I think they all looked the same, every day, even after I graduated, and they finally passed away. It was like spiritual formaldehyde.
At Holy Angels, some nuns tried to integrate by porting a delicate piece of jewelry, no habit and maybe a change of polyester skirt. Nope. Still didn’t get it. I respected them, but I wasn’t having it. They never seemed to be aligned with real life issues. I mean how could you be when you’ve probably never kissed a boy, used a tampon, shopped for fun stuff, ate anything that wasn’t wrapped in tin foil or came out of a musty cabinet.
Priests, in my estimation at six, probably co-habituated with the Munsters on 1313 Mockingbird Lane, with the same “cuckoo” clock Herman and Lilly had that was a black raven cooing “Never More” at bewitching times of the day.
They reminded me of ghosts, or spirits that floated around, appearing only for Mass, were sermonizing zealots who were as perfect as Christ, and the more important, intimidatingly unapproachable.
I never understood their homilies, found them long, boring, painful and irrelevant to the life of a kid. I used to think unlike the nuns, they were born this way. They had no youth, or understanding of it, and akin to a groundhog defying death to cross a busy road to get back to their den, they skirted in a circuitous movement, serpentining from church to rectory to avoid the congregation.
They were impenetrable, and taboo, melting like the Wicked Witch of the West to the human touch. Aunt Lucy revered them as though she was their faithful subordinate. But looking back, it was the nurturing nuns who did more to cultivate my relationship with God and definitely the Blessed Mother than any priest.
Fifty-three-year-old Linda on clergy:
Nuns. I thank the nuns, and certainly my aunt, who was a teacher, earned her Master’s, and started the first Catholic Montessori nursery School in the state of New York, for allowing me to connect with my nurturing prowess.
Women nurture, and even the strictest of nuns I encountered had some particle of maternal instinct. In their hearts they are married to the Lord…he’s the husband they are dedicated and faithful to.
They are allowed to have jobs as nurses, teachers, and most have the innate desire to nurse, which served me well. I found the nun who slapped your ass with a ruler or who wickedly drooled and smiled like Annie Wilkes in Misery when your wrapped knuckles bled are either ficticious or few and far between. I never encountered these nuns. Ever. Ok, a scowl, yes, always.
Sister Norice, my principal at AHA probably wouldn’t smile even if Jesus himself wanted to reenact the Transfiguration in front of her eyes. Personality is personality, but I learned to respect their devotion to the Lord. I learned that, contrary to what I learned about priests, their devotion was pure. They would not participate in the Angels and Demons set up of power the priests were. They were never even given that opportunity to lead a parish, when actually, they probably would have done a good job leading a congregation and coming down to a lay person’s meeting point. Do I regret not being a nun? Um, no. But, as an adult, I have learned to understand and respect their choice to serve the Lord, and admire their simple lifestyle.
Priests. Still a little daunting, but we are getting better as time goes on. Unlike the nuns, I do think, a thought even fifteen years ago I would have choked on, that priests should marry. To be reverently idiomatic, men are hunters. They are not nurturers. They need….um, let’s say, flesh. Yes, they need sex, and celibacy is completely unnatural to ask of any man, no matter how they “roll.” How can you ask a man, (yes, a woman, too, but I think that’s easier), to “keep it in his pants,” and perform his job and duties naturally? It’s a complete contradiction and I am sure, an uncovered frustration to what God created man and woman for: procreation.
The Garden of Eden started out with Adam. Alone. Then, God, yes God, thought he needed a mate…so he gave Adam a…car? A chalice? NO! A woman! Why? To be his mate and make babies! Read between the lines… and this is God…for Pete’s sake!
Did I think this as a kid? No.
Priests were untouchable eunuchs, not even human enough to be looked at as attractive or let alone a sexual being. However, as priests have become more human, interacting more with the outside world, leading parishes and migrating among the congregation because they feel less separated than they did at the turn of Vatican 2, it’s becoming apparent, that by choice, they should marry if they want to. A friend of mine who is a bishop has always said to me, “we should have the option.”
My girlfriend from childhood and I used to laugh that “Father What a Waste” never existed during our time. But leave it to the Italians, at Vatican/Basilica central to come up with this: https://www.thetalko.com/12-hottest-priests-that-make-you-want-to-confess-your-sins/
Even Pope Francis admitted he fell in love during his teens but had to turn off what came naturally in order to enter the priesthood. When approached about priests and celibacy, he admitted the Apostles were probably all married:
“Certainly, the majority of the Apostles were married. In this modern age, the Church must observe these things. It has to advance with history.” Indeed, while Archbishop of Buenos Aires, the future Pope Francis acknowledged that “the celibacy rule is simply one of tradition and is flexible.”
If a priest falls in love, as nature intended a man to do, he is more likely to suck at priesthood if he is kept away, and if he leaves the priesthood for the more natural path of marriage, is he punished for his honesty?
He should be lauded for his honesty, allowed to preach as a deacon, and the church should say, “Psych! Look at this, a happy guy, with a faithful wife who will get more involved in the church on a layman’s level, more relatable to the congregation, and get this…bring more Catholics into the world…cha-ching!” My God, isn’t that a win-win?
From six-year-old Linda, to fifty-three-year-old Linda, I think this is a better move to open up the doors of the church not only for its leaders, but from the standpoint of a cradle Catholic who believes that priests need to come off the throne, and sit on one of those hard, cold, stick up your butt chairs used in every alary church gym or cafeteria around the world.
A priest can certainly argue they are “approachable” or “understanding,” of real-life issues, and are bound by the Catholic dogma or margins of the church, which is good. But to relate to genuine dilemmas of a layman, they must be able to relate, and I don’t think they can appropriately or authentically do that “if their kingdom is not of this world.”
Christ came incarnate to relate to us, to understand us, and in turn for us to relate to Him as a human being. If He did not suffer “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” as he did for us, we could not call him the true savior of mankind. We love Him because He was human. We love Him because we can relate to His pain, to His doubts, to His tears, to His joys, and understand His teachings because they were based on love and simplicity.
This fifty-three-year-old cradle Catholic believes with true and adoring faith in the Lord, that in order to truly love God, we cannot look at him, or the Church as dictators of the Church in the 1500s, but as is the entire point of Christ’s life in the New Testament, rather than what we were waiting for as descendants of the Jews in the Old Testament. The Messiah was not the pontificating, unapproachable priest on the altar, or the nun with the wrapped Twinkie and bloody ruler. He was a human being, and without moving towards that element, the Church, I believe will lose more and more of its congregation.
Am I advocating a free for all? Absolutely not. I am advocating for reasonability in a time when people have lost faith. Come down to the humble, more human level of those who want to love God in their way, whether they are divorced, gay, clergy who want to marry, fallen away Catholics who are afraid to return because of chastisement.
The Lord God made imperfection. We all sin, but as Catholics, we need to see Jesus as the Shepherd who will not turn us away, and if the Catholic church is what we believe to be the most powerful representation of Jesus Christ, they need to lower to those standards of judgement and call clergy, nuns, and layman to forgive, be forgiven, and most importantly, the greatest Commandment…To Love One Another.