The death of the pope has prompted me to turn the Sundial’s Opinion section into a confessional booth, asking for forgiveness as I say farewell to Catholicism.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. I’m not a Catholic, but I’ve played one in Church. I was raised Mormon, so we were very strictly informed about how important it is to follow rules, but after I left that church, I got a decidedly radical idea about rules — particularly religious rules — as being a lot of clap-trap and brainwashing.
I don’t want to suggest, Father, that I don’t appreciate the letter of the law, because I do, maybe more so than most, because I’m a writer, and I absolutely love letters.
But even more than the letter of the law, I’m enough of a sucker to believe in the spirit of the law, and that when MC-JC said the laws were made for men and not the other way around, that’s “word to your mother” true. So, I’m not a Catholic, but I love cathedrals. I love stained glass windows. I love nuns, I love priests, I love the pope, I love the idea that in Communion you are eating the actual body of Christ and drinking his blood. Transubstantiation! Only religion could get people to swallow that stuff. And Father, I really wanted to be one of the swallowers.
So, when I went on a six week cross-country “Sabbatical” in 1999 to get in touch with the divine within, I frequented a fair number of cathedrals. I ate sacred dirt at Chimayo. I pondered the mystery of the spiral staircase at Loretto. I crossed myself, dipped my finger in holy water, knelt and prayed. When I ended up at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC the day after Columbine, a gorgeous Mass was happening, and I participated, following along and weeping openly. Feeling the spirit, I followed the others of the faith to accept the body of Christ.
It was my first communion. Having been raised and baptized Mormon, I had partaken in Wonder Bread as representational of the body of Christ, but never the Wonder Wafer of Christian cannibalism. I opened my mouth and the nun put the wafer on my tongue, and Lo! That was good Jesus.
My second time taking Catholic communion was in Puerto Vallarta, three years later. It was my birthday, and I walked the length of the city, by myself, to attend a Spanish Mass. Again, I was moved by the spirit and felt of the faith. Again, I opened my mouth and received the literal body of Christ represented in the wafer. For these two communions, Father, I feel neither remorse nor regret.
At these points, the pope was still traveling about, a living manifestation of the symbolic and the representational.
But as he ailed these past two weeks, I took my third and final communion. It is for this communion that I confess, for I did eat of the symbolic without the spirit.
I awoke from a troubled sleep and began to walk, finding myself at a church I sometimes frequent to pray. There was a mass on the morning of Saint Patrick’s Day. I tried to feel the spirit in the priest’s words, but they were falling flat. Still, it had been two years and I felt like it was time to take communion again, and not only did they have wafers, but a golden chalice. Finally, I would get to drink the blood of Christ.
So I walked up in the line and I made the biggest mistake. Instead of having the priest put the wafer directly in my mouth, I take it into my hands, like the guy before me did. So, I’m holding the wafer in-between my hands in line for the wine, and a lady sitting on the front row pew yells at me, “You must consume the host!”
I pop in the wafer as fast as I can.
I have a sudden fear for my life, but I make it up to the Holy Chalice where the blood of Christ will redeem me, and get this:
Air is representing the blood of Christ. Not water, not wine. Just air. Now maybe there was once wine in this chalice, but the bloodthirsty Catholics ahead of me drained it. But I, a communion-faker in the flock, interpreted it as “Emperor’s New Clothes” wine. There was never any wine, nor blood of Christ, in that chalice, and I was sorely depressed.
I sit back at my pew, trying to process the empty chalice, and then I get up and run out the back door. I’m not a Catholic, and I can’t play one in Church anymore.
And thus, on Saint Patrick’s Day, as the pope lay knocking on heaven’s door, my love affair with Catholic communion bit the dust.
And by means of confession, to the literal man who lived as Pope, I offer up my own dilettante’s dirge: a man naked in death clothed in the ideological, fanciful, traditional beliefs of a billion wears a resplendent robe indeed. Godspeed.
Laura Bahr is a graduate student studying mass communication.