Weekend With Zealots

The Family Lee traveled south to witness the First Holy Communion of the most pious 8-year-old boy on the planet. Sweet Alex is a rare child who hugs without reservation or restraint, adorably recites all words to all prayers, and answers every “I love you” with “I love you… MORE!” Who hath wrought Pious Boy? Why, the Zealots, of course! My darling (Zealot) sister and her lovely husband (Uncle Kabobs) put on an impressive, Catholic show down there in Suwanee, GA. Pious Alex and his Saintly Sister, Kensley will yes ma’am you silly and can put all of the Commandments into the proper order. And on Saturday, the Family Lee, along with Teeny Twin Grandmas, Pop Pop, and Atheist Uncle Patrick filed into pews to resurrect our Catholic faith.

All of us, save my husband who was raised in the Taiwanese-Christian tradition of obey-your-self-sacrificing-parents, were baptized and catechized in the beat-my-breast-and-call-me-sinner style. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to a proper Catholic mass, but all of the prayers and responsorial phrases were as easy to finish as The Pledge of Allegiance. Their repetition through the entirety of my youth has kept them tucked away in brain junk drawers that hold childhood phone numbers and all of lyrics to Babe. (There might even be some Calculus under the piles of old boyfriend peccadillos, too.) But there I was, sit-stand-kneeling with the Faithful, and listening with my Episcopalian-prejudiced ears to the Message: if you are not Holy, you cannot be Happy.

Go ahead, try to get this song out of your head now.

Go ahead, try to get this song out of your head now.

Little girls in teeny wedding dresses and little boys suited up like miniature bankers were reminded that they would be wearing similar outfits when they returned to the altar for the grown up sacrament of marriage. And they were instructed to arrive as unsullied as they are now, at the tender age of eight. The priest generously offered another path: the convent and priesthood are also delightful options should these tiny treasures heed The Call. But I kept thinking that the Message of the Day was that Uncle Patrick, still single, and gleefully sullying up his life, certainly is not, cannot, be Happy.

It’s also possible that I got it all wrong. Maybe the Catholic Church doesn’t trouble itself with the sinning shenanigans of Atheist Uncle Patricks. Maybe the sermon was merely a wagging finger at the miserable wretches who would find happiness if only they’d jump on the Holy Train (neither helpful nor kind, in my opinion). In any case, I got the same queasy feeling similar sermons elicited in my youth. Even if I did my homework and emptied the dishwasher without provocation, I was still inherently bad. Catholics really take this original sin stuff to their self-flagellating hearts.

However, what I really admired about the whole, heavy-handed production was its refusal to be politically correct or to dilute its message for a modern audience. Telling 8-year-olds to remain pure and virginal to their wedding day, or (gasp) forever, may be naïve and old-fashioned (or weird)… but it’s not a bad message. And in a crazy, sexed-up world, Catholics have the parental easy button on this issue. Are they wrong? Any tipsy reprisal of first-times amongst trusted girlfriends would tilt the argument slightly to their favor. And though it won’t hold much weight in the back seat of the Jeep a decade from now, at least hearing an unwavering message during the formative years might prevent a few judgment slips, or at the very least, delay the inevitable, gleeful defilement of the family car.

I’ve got to hand it to Zealot Family. They’re no grocery store Catholics, picking and choosing which rules to follow, and which to ignore. They’re fulfilling obligations and sending up prayers and tithing and do-gooding more often than the Stockton Family makes trips to the package store. And when Pious Alex took the Sacrament, we were all a bit teary. Because Paige and Bob are raising him entirely within the Faith, it was a proud moment for him, one he took seriously with prayer hands and no fidgeting. We were honored to witness it, and possibly a little inspired to reclaim a bit of that innocence and purity the white robed guy was on and on about. And as I looked down the pew at the row of Sinning Stocktons in a collective countdown to cocktail hour, we were all beaming at this beatific boy. We might not be Holy. But are we happy? You bet.

Sweet faced pious boy, who loves everyone MORE...

Sweet faced pious boy, who loves everyone MORE…

18 responses

  1. Sweet. A brand new generation of Stockpeople get to run with the torch for a while. Don’t think it hurt any of us certainly. And let’s face it — we need reference points to rail against — and “to good to be human” isn’t a bad starting point for the inevitable equivocation that follows. Love the whole crazy assed herd of you guys. J

    • The inevitable equivocation is going to be fun to watch as Saint Kensley approaches the teen years. But they’ve set the bar high, and have surrounded her with as much Light and Truth they can muster. Love you back.

  2. Oh Britt-
    This one had me giggling! My husband and I attended a traditional Catholic mass while on vacation this last weekend and saw the First Communions of a half-dozen little brides and grooms. As a more progressive adult member of the church, I smiled and cringed through the whole thing. Smiled as I saw the excitement and pride of their families (and remembered my own) and cringed as the priest reminded them REPEATEDLY to NEVER receive Jesus if they were not absolutely pure. Get to confession kids! Who could ever receive communion without confessing 30 seconds before walking down the aisle every week? That might not even be close enough. I am pretty sure I judge people’s shoes as I walk on by – and that is not a Christian thing to do. A Feast and a Terror, which isn’t how I read the last supper.
    I don’t have an easy answer and I appreciate your ambivalence about the whole thing. I respect the Zealots’ passion and certitude, but most especially their ability to love and laugh along with you. I think J would have done the same.

    • I think it was my hilarious brother in law, Bob (Uncle Kabobs) who jokingly referred to their family as Zealots. They’ve happily adopted the moniker and endure quite gracefully my brand of teasing with Love. And like many Godly people, they just enjoy the conversation. Bob always says, “you gotta go where you get fed” and for their family, that’s in the confessional and at the altar rail.

      (I am also terribly judge-y about shoes. But that’s because they are very, very important.)

  3. It’s a whole lot easier to control your kids if they feel guilty and/or afraid of everlasting torment. I was raised fundamentalist christian. It didn’t do me one bit of good.

  4. Whenever I get weary
    And I’ve had enough
    Feel like giving up
    You know it’s you priest
    Givin’ me the courage
    And the strength I need
    Please believe that it’s true

  5. I actually find the whole thing hilarious. It is like a bad science fiction movie plot. It just feels strange because so many people have complete faith in the matters and consider it the most important part of their world after family (no one I know would take God’s bait like Abraham). If you had no clue that people believed the bible was “real”, then read the book, it would be a pretty interesting read I think. But to take all of this straight up “magic” as the [only] truth of the world is as bizarre to me as thinking there was a rebellion “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”.

    But I suppose they would find my complete lack of faith is equally incomprehensible.

    I think I can sum this whole conversation up with the chronological list of Devo albums which is quite ironic given the name is derived from “de-evolution”, i.e. humankind is regressing due to commercialism of trends, lack of creativity, mob mentality etc. You know, basically everything Nietzsche was writing about.

    Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (1978)
    Duty Now for the Future (1979)
    Freedom of Choice (1980)
    New Traditionalists (1981)
    Oh, No! It’s Devo (1982)
    Shout (1984)
    Total Devo (1988)
    Smooth Noodle Maps (1990)
    Something for Everybody (2010)

    Something For Everybody indeed!! A great place to end up.


  6. For what it’s worth, I spend much time in prayer/mediation wondering if it is all really hogwash… I suppose that is why my actions don’t always jibe with my intentions. Faith is not an absence of doubt…

  7. A great piece, Britt. Like your posts about the Boston Marathon, it’s important that someone write about the actual human goings on before we start putting events into analytical matrixes and arguing about their meaning. I attended my niece’s first communion over the weekend (almost dis-obligated myself, then I remembered that I am in fact her god-father). Despite my personal misgivings about religion, my actual experience was that the kids were adorable and proud, the families supportive and happy, and the ceremony uplifting (new age priest explaining that Jesus wants to be your friend, and that if you want to be his friend it would be helpful to visit him at least once a week). Are faith and religious practice going to hurt or help your nephew and my niece? Impossible to say. Without religion would we humans still strive to be our best selves, but also hurt each other too often for any number of reasons? It’s rather likely. But the whole, direct experience of life is pretty awesome if you’re paying attention. Thank you for helping us to do just that.

    • Oh, Tony. Thank you. And I like their priest. And it’s hilarious that you’re a Godfather. And just this morning Brodie and Teddy asked why you aren’t our lawyer. Can’t wait to see you.

  8. You know me: I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints. But I love and respect Paige and anyone who feels their faith so deeply. Theirs is not “greeting card spirituality.” That I have an opposing view does not for a minute take away from others’ beliefs. I hope it was a wonderful weekend. The Bar Mitzvah I attended had a fine bagel bar afterwards.

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