Last night, I spent the evening in what was at first a darkened church, was soon lit up by hundreds of candles, and then was fully lit as bells chimed, an organ played, and a choir sang out Hallelujah. The smell of incense filled the air and at one point holy water was sprinkled upon the congregation. It was the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil at the Catholic Church where my son goes to school. He and my mother were with me.
I’m what you’d call a lapsed Catholic. That means although I was baptized in the Catholic Church and went so far as to make my communion, I don’t actively practice the faith. When my parents divorced when I was eight and the Church made my mother feel like a pariah because of it, we stopped having anything to do with it.
That didn’t stop me years later from having my first three sons baptized in the Church, mostly out of the superstitious belief that if they weren’t baptized they’d be doomed to hell. Ironically, my youngest son, the only one to attend a Catholic school, was never baptized. By the time he came along when I was 38, I no longer held such beliefs.
I put my son in Catholic school this year because the public schools in our town are horrible and getting worse by the minute. The school he attends is an award-winning, Blue Ribbon school. I’m beyond happy with the high quality education he’s receiving. He’s takes pride in his academics and in his school community.
My son has decided that he wants to get baptized and make his communion. As he prepares for these sacraments, it’s my job as his mother to support him in his journey in faith. Hence, the reason we were in church last night.
Part of me remains a skeptic. The same is true for my mother. Last night, when the priest was reading the story of Moses parting the Red Sea, and recited how the water covered the Egyptians and killed them, we glanced at each other with raised eyebrows.
Then my mother did the unthinkable. She leaned over and whispered to my son, “If God is so great why did He kill all those people?”
I couldn’t believe she said it. I shot her a murderous look, and mouthed to her, “Don’t say that to him.”
My son responded, “Because those people were bad.”
Oh my goodness. Talk about complicated.
Once I took a graduate course entitled, “The Bible as Literature”, in which we read the Old Testament from a literary perspective. It was the first time I’d ever really read and dissected The Bible. God seemed so angry and mean and vindictive to me, killing people, demanding animal sacrifices. Yet, during the Holy Saturday Easter Vigil, He was made out to be a hero.
Despite my skepticism, the Easter Vigil was a beautiful, peaceful experience. The youngest of the three priests overseeing it delivered the sermon, which included a funny story about the Easter Bunny being run over and revived with hair spray (get it, “Hare” spray?”). An overall feeling of goodwill permeated.
Thanks to my eight year old son, I am rediscovering the Catholic Church after a nearly 40 year hiatus. I’m not sure what the outcome will be for me, as a person who believes in a higher power yet remains skeptical about organized religion, but I am one-hundred percent committed to supporting my son on his journey.