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.
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.