i’d slept over at julie’s and so when her family woke up for church on sunday morning, i did too. we piled into their station wagon and drove to st. peter and paul’s. i pulled at the sleeves of the dress i borrowed, the dress i’d never wear and i dreaded the building that i never entered.
at nine years old i was deeply cynical about faith. that was the religion i knew.
“the pope’s a dope.”
my dad would chant that around our house and i agreed, though i didn’t know why exactly. i wasn’t sure what opiates were or the masses , but i loved my father with a pure devotion so i knew what was true and what was false.
i sat in the wooden pew and looked at julie’s parents. her dad used grease on his hair and his face barely hid his contempt for most things save bowling. we put a vhs tape we’d found in his bedroom in the vcr once. naked bodies flashed and julie turned it off immediately. he yelled at his kids, but his wife yelled even more. when she needed someone to hand her the butter, she yelled it. she was always exasperated as if the catholic promise of having six kids didn’t quite turn out like she’d been told.
i thought about these things as i sat with this family under the vaulted ceiling so high.
the mass was indecipherable. i didn’t know when to kneel or how to respond. the collective murmur and simultaneous action did nothing but cement the mindlessness, the pointlessness of religious ceremony.
my dad was right.
then, near the end, the elements were laid out. the bread and the cup. the body and the blood. the mystical heart, it seemed to me, of this gathering was now unveiled. and as the people began to line up, i stood with the broken family that brought me.
julie turned around and whispered it.
“you can’t take communion.”
i sat back down and watched them shuffle towards the heart and i knew she was wrong. at nine years old i knew i had just as much of a right to the crucified body of jesus as those sinners did.
when they were far enough ahead i got in the line and as i got closer to the front i saw that some people opened their mouths wide and received the bread right from the priest’s hand. that didn’t really appeal to me, so i studied the way of those who held their hands out. when it was my turn, i still got it wrong, but he gave it to me and i knew i’d broken the rules. i’d walked right up to a priest as a child and in my own way said that i didn’t agree, but i still got to have god.
i put the wafer on my tongue and i walked back down the side aisle, meeting with a disapproving look from julie. the bread was a gummy glue that melted, that became.
i don’t know if any transubstantiation took place, but it was my first holy communion in the way that things are holy with jesus. in the way that those who are on the outside make it in. when the prostitutes and the beggars push past the pharisees. when the lesbians and the muslims push past the tea party republicans. the holy way of sin meeting its match in the person of jesus and him being willing and unafraid to take on all comers.
and it set the stage, i guess.
i’ve always known that i’ve just made it into the company of jesus. i was outside and told to stay outside by more voices than just julie’s, my own included. but my feet walked up anyway and i follow him anyway, made all the more holy for the breaking of the rules; for the great love of my father on earth as it is in heaven.
repost from the archives…