First Holy Communion
It is a matter of fact that for most of us as we grow up, are subjected to doses of both secular and religious education. Although our American system legally separates Church and State, our culture, in reality does not. There is Catechism for the Catholics, Sunday school for the Protestants, Hebrew school for the Jews and Bible Study for the Protestants or the Born Again Christians.
This is where we learn about, peace, love, God, and our religious heritage. Unfortunately, although these schools are also supposed to be where we learn ethics, morals and values, they also seem to be the first places where we learn bias along with where the propaganda seeds of cultural and religious hatred are sown. Therefore this is also where we learn that to whatever cult or religion we subscribe, ours is the One True Way, whereas any other nonbelievers should only be pitied, converted or persecuted.
The first thing a Catholic studies for in Catechetical instruction is the First Communion. Once again I struggled with the dogma so much that I could not even get past the first simple principals of the Catechism.
- Who is God? God is love.
- Who made me? God made me.
I should have stopped right there, quitting the church on the spot because if someone had explained it more simply and left God out of the equation, I could have easily related to the idea that love made me, even if it may have been casual, indifferent or accidental love, as opposed to some invisible spirit entity. However, as hard as I tried I simply could not intellectually grasp the concept of God. This was supposed to be a Supreme Being of goodness and light who had created, then ruled over the Universe, except for the fact that he had totally lost control of his First Lieutenant Lucifer, who was going around creating as much misery and chaos as he could possibly get away with.
As a result, God and the Devil are locked in an eternal battle for souls, both casually indifferent to the horrible consequences wreaked upon the playing field by this little game of thiers, all of which seemed no better than any other planetary war and the human cannon fodder used to fuel it.
This concept is rationalized by religious pundits who try to sell children the idea that God really does care, but that because he gave us all free will to decide for ourselves how we are going to behave in life, he then just casually sits back and like Santa Claus, makes up a naughty and nice list. God simply hands out the rulebook issuing the edict that one can either take it or leave it.
We then get to choose if we want to do God’s work or if we want to work for Lucifer; to wit after we eventually die, there is an eternal sentence to exist in one of three places. Nice gets to be in Heaven. Naughty gets to go to Hell. In-betweeners get to pound a few rocks in Purgatory for a finite period of time known only to Saint Peter who doles out the sentence at the Pearly Gates based on how much Naughty is in the equation. The: n/N ratio I suppose. One hundred percent Nice gets to be a Saint who eternally plays a harp in Heaven. But I never found out what all Naughty gets to be, besides roasting in an eternal fiery blaze.
Maybe instead of that the Naughty ones wind up being the accordion players in Polish Polka Bands condemned for all eternity to play the same tunes day after day in small dance halls. Or perhaps even worse, they are condemned to sit in the audience listening to those same endlessly repeated tunes until that promised day when time finally comes to a pirouette end and the universe stands still. Now that’s a real hell.
At some point later in life I did decide that no matter what, I did not really want to go to heaven, because every genuine saintly person I had ever come to know was also an incredibly colossal bore.
- Hey. Anybody up for a party?
- No, first we have harp practice. Then it’s on to Confession. After that we go to Mass. Then we go to Mother Theresa’s for tea and scones, and finally we all go to Grandma’s house for Christmas dinner. And up here you know, every day is Christmas.
How about putting up with that every day until Gabriel blows the big shofar?
None of this made a lot of sense to me. Intuitively, God could not be all that good or all that powerful if he allowed so much misery to take place by letting Lucifer run amuck. I simply could not believe that someone who was supposed to be so all-powerful could just sit back indifferently doing absolutely nothing to stop the evil in the world.
No. Instead he just lolls around reclining on a cloud with a cosmic channel changer in his hand, scrolling through scenes of life on Earth until he finds one that amuses whatever sentiment or mood he happens to be in that day: Sports. Pornography. War. Starvation. Murder. Misery. Reality TV. Cartoons. Terrorism. Possibly a few Saintly deeds here and there. Or maybe a missionary being boiled an eaten by a cannibal.
On a less celestial level I also could not believe that he was then partly responsible for the evil of me having to be subjected to the violent scrutiny of the Nun who was trying to pound this information into my head by whacking my knuckles with a ruler.
I tried to ask my father to help me with some of these issues, but when it came to anything mystical he just said: “Use your imagination.” This was a problem too, because I had no clue as to what an imagination was or how to go about getting one. In finally deciding that the better part of valor was to simply give it up, I stopped studying the Catechism, hid it under my bed and subsequently failed First Holy Communion.
However, I did finally begin to get an imagination during the second time around. After all I was a year older, and now the Nun in charge of my indoctrination was beginning to remind me of the Wicked Witch of the East. Her habit made me think she was a black Vampiress, her head cover made it look like white wings were growing out of her skull and I had already learned to keep my hands off the desk to avoid the karate blows arbitrarily and capriciously imparted by her terrible swift wooden ruler.
First Holy Communion was the only subject I ever failed in my entire subsequent education making the only positive thing about the experience the fact that the embarrassments of being held back in Religion 1 caused me to swear a personal oath, but not on a Bible, that it would never happen again.
After passing this second time I was finally ready to receive my God: and His body: and His blood. I had memorized all of it by rote and regurgitated all the answers that had absolutely no real tangible meaning to me. In doing so I had also learned the trick of taking the test or any other test for that matter: just give them the answer that they want.
The entire class had been rehearsed on how to behave, how to parade, and how to kneel at the Alter to accept the host. We were all especially warned that it was sacrilegious to chew the most holy wafer and that when the priest delivered it we should close our eyes, slowly let it disintegrate in our mouths while thinking only pure holy thoughts.
On the day I received my first host, dressed to the nines in a the snow white suit designed to represent holy communal virginity, the boy kneeling next to me got his host first then started smacking his lips and chewing on it. I was horrified. My turn came next so I closed my eyes, and then stuck out my tongue. The thing was completely tasteless, but worse than that nothing happened except for the fact that it didn’t melt.
There was no epiphany. No revelation. I felt just the same as always and was immediately disappointed to know then that my life would probably not change very much. All I could think was that some salt would go along way to help the flavor of a bland little starch pad that had not made me radiantly glow or at all feel the hand of God on my shoulders. Several years later a similar disappointment was felt when I received the sacrament of Confirmation, the preamble of which had been to “perpetually pray that God would send you an avocation.” Because God never did tell me what do with my life or what career I should follow, I capitulated by praying instead for a perpetual summer vacation.
The boy next to me must have agreed about the communion wafer too, because he then committed his second blasphemous act in as little time when he turned to me and said:
- Tastes like cornbread, don’t it?
At the photo shoot afterwards my mother took me aside, asked me what the little boy had said and became aghast at what she then heard.
I told her I would have asked him to be quiet, but my mouth was so dry from the anxiety of the day that the host had stuck on the roof of my palate and would not dissolve. Desperately trying to manufacture saliva, while at the same time trying not to sacrilegiously wiggle my mouth to dislodge the thing, I had silently left the Alter to return to my seat.
She said I was not supposed to speak anyway during the blessed event; then prattled on about “What kind of derelict family could that little boy possibly have come from?”
But she couldn’t help how she felt. She was the worst kind of Catholic when it came to her fanatical devotion to the faith. She was a convert.
Welcome to heaven. Here is your harp
Welcome to Hell. Here is your accordion
Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored
He has loosed the fateful lightning
Of his terrible swift sword.
His truth is marching on.
(The Battle hymn of the Republic)