Pondering The Big Questions

It was almost 4 o’clock on a summer afternoon in 1971. I was 11 years old and my buddies were over at my house playing kickball in the back yard. I heard the cranking noise that the window off the kitchen made when it was being opened. Mom usually hollered from that window to tell us it was time for dinner or to get in before the rain started or to stop kicking the ball against the house.

What do you lean on in good times and bad?

But it was Saturday. It was afternoon and I knew what that meant.

“Time to get ready for church unless you want to come with me tomorrow,” she sang out the window.

My shoulders slumped, as did the shoulders of two or three of my Catholic friends. They jumped on their bikes and headed home for a quick shower. They, like I, pulled on some “school clothes” and then we all congregated at my house on bikes in the driveway.

The bike brigade pedaled down the street and around the corner about a mile to the church. We went as slowly as possible, locked our bikes together out front, and slipped into the back of the church.

It was hot. We were sweaty and bored, and up front the priest was droning on and on. We kneeled, we sat, we stood, we kneeled again — all the gymnastics of church tradition.

When it was over, we burst through the doors, totally re-energized by that obligation being over again for another week. We unbuttoned our shirts and untucked them so they flew like capes behind us as we raced our bikes back home.

Once in the door, Mom said, “How was church?”

I shrugged.

“What was the homily about?”

My eyes looked sideways like I was thinking, but I hadn’t any idea.

“Ronald!” she snapped. “You were there, right?”

I froze mid-step and looked her square in the eye. “Mom — I hate going, but I go because you make me.”

She was undaunted. “You are supposed to be learning!”

I shrugged and went out the door again; there was plenty of daylight left and we wanted to get the game back on. That church stuff was just the great interrupter of fun.

The following Monday I dressed for school and came down to breakfast. Mom was cool, so whatever heat had been between us over the weekend had obviously faded; at least she didn’t seem mad.

At the stove with her back to me, she said, “Now don’t forget tonight is religion class at the church school.”

I sighed, not wanting to start a row again. “OK, Mom, but … I don’t get anything out of that, either.”

She was ready for me. “Whether you get it now or not, while you live in this house you will keep going and eventually maybe something will sink in.”

And I did. I was there every weekend and in class every Monday night until I finished high school.

In college, however, I expressed my adult liberties and rarely saw the inside of a church except for weddings, funerals, and holidays. It wasn’t as much of a relief as I thought it would be, though. In fact, I sort of missed that time every Sunday to sit and reflect – to gather my thoughts and say a word or two of thanks for all of my blessings.

I reflect now on the memories I had of religion class, or CCD, as they called it. We sat cramped in those Catholic elementary school seat/desk combos and listened to someone’s mom try to explain why a bunch of Christians needed to follow the story and actions of a Jewish guy.

I just never got it. What was really going on here? All these masses, all these prayers, all these evenings of instruction, and I really didn’t know anything about the religion that was supposed to be the foundation of my life.

I just followed a sort of “Golden Rule” philosophy and treated my neighbor as I would want to be treated. But I was hungry for answers that were not forthcoming.

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