Growing up, I lived the life of an ardent Roman Catholic. I was predestined. All the way back to Germany, my kin had prayed in their living rooms, bedrooms, and church pews for generations. I had Jesus in my genes.
I said morning and evening prayers and rosaries on my knees before a plastic statue of Jesus and a ceramic angel missing part of its wing, an icon brought from Bavaria by grandfather Anton Friedl. I prayed for my family and friends – not sure it did them any good but it made me feel good, and holy, too. For added devotional credit, I wore a small scapular with two one-inch-square images of saints connected by two long strips of cloth that I’d drape around my neck, like the monks wore in the monasteries, St. Christopher guarding my chest, St. Joseph my back.
Though I was barely tall enough to light the candles, a nun asked me to be an altar boy in second grade. On Sundays I attended mass with family and with classmates on weekdays, when Ashton St. Peter’s Catholic elementary school was in session. After homework in a bedroom under a single bare bulb, I read Bible History passages, then answered questions at the end of chapters. Published by Benziger Brothers in 1931, our copy had my sister Joyce’s name, written in my mother’s hand, at the top of the frontispiece. My brother Earl had signed it as well, the one time he opened the book, I swear. My eighth grade signature was there, too, with the date, May 19, 1960.
Two crosses hung in our house. Along the hallway joining our kitchen and living room hung a small container of holy water to dip fingers before making the sign of the cross, the fountain so tiny that the water dried up in a day. We seldom had refills in our house. I once thought of filling it with water from our well, unblessed, but I was sure that God would notice the difference.
(Click on images to enlarge.)
My parents also hung two religious pictures in their bedroom. The first, over their headboard, was a framed 16 x 20 inch “Christ Knocking at the Door,” illustrating Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.” Our Print No. 2258, a version of the 1853 painting by William Holman Hunt, shows Jesus as a bearded white guy, hair to his shoulders, barefoot, knocking with his right hand, and grasping his yellow tunic with his left. I felt sorry for Jesus, standing there, all alone. I would have gladly let him in if he had knocked at our door.
The second, next to their bedroom door, was a framed 13 x 16 ½ inch picture of St. Hubert, with mighty sword on his left hip, long arrow in his right hand, black dog at his left knee and yellow at his right, in the woods confronting a white stag with a glowing cross centered between its 10-point antlers. Hubert was not yet a saint, but there he was, with a halo – the illustrator sensed something big going on. Until his spiritual awakening, Hubert was a dashing nobleman, a pleasure seeker who lived for the thrill of the hunt. His legend reads, “On Good Friday morn, when the faithful were crowding the church, Hubert sallied forth to the chase. As he was pursuing a magnificent stag, the animal turned and . . . he heard a voice saying: ‘Hubert, unless thou turnest to the Lord, and leadest an holy life, thou shalt quickly go down into hell.’ Hubert dismounted, prostrated himself, and said, ‘Lord, what wouldst Thou have me do?’” He was instructed to consult a holy mentor and then he became a priest, a bishop, and a saint, patron of huntsmen and healer of hydrophobia (rabies). Why St. Hubert in our bedroom? My grandfather, my dad, my oldest brother, and one of his sons were all named Hubert, so we had the saint’s heavenly grace to the fourth power at our place.
In our family albums were photos of my five siblings and me dressed in white for our first holy communions, with sponsors at our sides. In antique frames were first communion certificates of my parents and my grandfather Hubert. My mom even hung a framed certificate of my recognition as a 1960 national Catholic honor graduate.
During the 40 days of Lent I would fast and sacrifice something I loved, usually buttered noodles, my favorite meal. It’s still my favorite. I confessed my sins – mostly impure thoughts, if I recall – to a priest once a week, which continued through my high school years at Queen of Apostles Seminary, Madison, where I had aims to be a priest.
My Catholic life proceeded predictably until the day I left that seminary after graduation in 1964 to attend UW-Madison, where I learned to doubt, to question, to challenge, and to think. Eventually, my beliefs about things heavenly landed right back down on earth.
I haven’t given up my Catholic past entirely. I’ve stored the pictures from my parent’s bedroom and their first communion certificates in an upstairs closet. I bring them out occasionally, but they always go back in.
The following poems represent my sentimental and somewhat satirical take on religion today. If you still believe with all your heart, as I once did, I understand. And if you still want to pray for me after reading these poems, that’s welcome, too.
Note: A limerick poem has five lines – lines one, two, and five have 7-10 syllables and rhyme; lines three and four have 5-7 syllables and also rhyme.
I Have Sinned
Bless me father for I have sinned,
That’s how confessions would begin.
Spilled my soul to the priest,
Said two prayers, at least,
Amen! I was good to sin again.
The Church says the Pope is infallible.
Well I’m sure not, that’s undeniable.
When I said, “I’m a saint!”
The priest said, “No, you ain’t!”
Then, my nose grew, was unmistakable.
We Ate Fish
During Lent on Fridays we ate fish,
Which was never my favorite dish.
When we sat down to eat,
I would crave only meat,
And prayed forty days to be Jewish
It’s unfair that Eve lost paradise,
Just for heeding a doctor’s advice –
An apple a day,
Is good, people say –
Unless he’s a snake, then think twice.
There is no such thing as a miracle.
I don’t mean to sound too satirical,
But I’d need to see it,
Before I believe it.
I need evidence that’s empirical.
The Red Sea
We’re told that Moses parted the Red Sea.
What great deed could I attribute to me?
I was in bed, dead tired,
Then arose, all inspired.
That's called a resurrection. You agree?
Author’s note: I upload posts as I complete them, so one written about a recent event may precede posts about earlier events. The introduction to each post shows where it fits into the history. For an introduction to my memoir, visit Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story.
This blog is a book in the making. If you're a new visitor, read Whole Hearted - A Farm Love Story. You can also find a copy in Prologue.