I like to say that I grew up in the “Easy Listening” phase of American Roman Catholicism. We sang “On Eagle’s Wings” with a guitar accompanist and hung felt banners around the sanctuary. My cousins attended a church that had alter girls and interpretive dancers. An opera singer who attended our church was sometimes allowed to lead songs and children regularly got smacked in the back of the head for giggling when she stretched to hit really high, screechy notes. Which was better than when her nightclub singer daughter sang and made us all feel like we should go home and shower after watching her squirm around singing about God and love in breathy tones.
Some of my sisters feel strongly that they were damaged by being forced to attend mass each week at this retro-grade institution. But honestly, my memory is of sermons that could basically be summed up as, “kids, listen to your parents and don’t fight with your siblings. And every one needs to stop trying to run each other over in the parking lot after mass.” For me it was about as benign an introduction to Christianity as you could hope for.
Which isn’t to say that it was entirely content free. Like all good Catholic kiddies, I attended catechism classes every Wednesday night for an hour all through grade school. I have an amazing capacity to completely tune out anything that doesn’t catch my interest, so I don’t have any idea what we did each week. But what I do recall is having to memorize things. We memorized prayers like the Our Father, the Nicene Creed and the prayer for confession. We memorized the 10 commandments, the beatitudes and the various works of mercy. It is entirely possible that we actually talked about what these things we were memorizing meant, but again, I wasn’t really paying attention.
The end result was that I couldn’t have told you why Jesus lived and died, but I did know that he told us to love each other and serve those in need. And as much as I love me some good theology, I’d say I got a better religious education than other kids who could explain penal substitution and use “Roman’s Road” to explain (their version of) the gospel. Continue reading