By AMANDA BEAM
As a child, nuns and priests fascinated me. I loved their clothes and the fact they didn’t marry. And when you saw one on the street and grinned, they almost always smiled back.
Last month, all these thoughts came to mind after I read about a homily delivered by Pope Francis. In it he said, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, all of us, with the Blood of Christ: all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone!”
Later in the same lesson, he would continue to espouse the belief in a common goodness among people of all faiths, even those without religion. I loved this lesson and wanted to hear more.
In retrospect, I never really was exposed to the Pope or his teachings growing up. Southern Baptist girls rarely heard very much about Catholicism, at least not in my family. That was, unless a relative married someone of the Roman faith. Then, in low voices fit for a confessional, our lady kinfolk would gossip about the tragedy of the situation and the likelihood the union was headed toward destruction, or at the very least, a lifetime of hell.
Those people pray to Mary, you know.
But the thing was, I didn’t know. Ignorance breeds ignorance. Small towns at the time didn’t necessarily have the greatest record of interfaith dialogue. And my Catholic friends never really discussed the sacraments of their faith. Scratch-n-sniff stickers and new Michael Jackson albums clearly took precedence over saints during those early years.
If you had asked me, the Catholic faith couldn’t have been so bad. Heck, girls even got to wear those pretty white veils on special occasions. Photos like these began to appear on mantel tops of my elementary school friends. The kids resembled little brides, their patent leather shoes reflecting the smiles on their faces. Money and cake were their rewards for drinking some grape juice.
Considering my church dunked your head in a tub of water for the same communal opportunity, I was slightly jealous.
Still, whispers about the Catholic faith were heard. Stories emerged that sounded like something from a Grimm fairy tale. In the hands of the uneducated outsider, Catholic ritual was transformed into a nighttime campfire story. Turning bread into Jesus’s flesh sounded like cannibalism to a kid. Let’s not forget the whole transubstantiating wine into blood then drinking it. By third grade I was certain a coven of vampires existed in the community, mutant ones that actually manufactured crosses and holy water without getting hurt.
Of course, the closest I’d come to attending a Catholic ceremony was when my mother and I mistakenly wandered into Mass one Saturday evening while looking for a yard sale. Heat had been climbing that day, and so we wore shorts and tanks just right for the weather. Church, on the other hand, probably not. If any parishioners looked up that day, they would have likened us to a different kind of Madonna; the one who wore a white negligée wedding gown while rubbing her body across the MTV stage.
Mother began to ask greeters around the lobby about the obviously nonexistent yard sale so I decided to sneak a peek at what was lying beyond the double doors. Followers were kneeling on some small wooden benches in the sanctuary as a man in robes read something from a book and made strange gestures with his hands, like the type you might make if a bug was bothering you something fierce. At first inspection, no fangs or blood were visible, a welcome relief.
Breaking the spell, my lost mom touched my arm, a signal for us to go. As we left, I wanted more than anything to be able to see what other mysteries I could uncover in this unknown faith, albeit hopefully next time I’d be wearing some longer pants.
Ten years later I got my chance. A state drama conference in an unremarkable Indiana town emerged and my classmates and I decided to attend. For the last day of the festivities, the hotel had scheduled a Mass for anyone who wanted to go. This time around I decided to tag along.
Ok, I didn’t only attend, I fully participated. I even took communion. Wasn’t that interfaith cooperation at its finest? Not really. Problem is that I had never been baptized, not to mention I didn’t truly understand the Eucharist. Both are big no no’s I would come to find out. Who knew?
Yet in that transgression, I gained a greater understanding. God gave us different languages, but communication between cultures still exists. Fundamentally we all are the same. Religion, no matter which kind, doesn’t change that.
With the homily recently given by Pope Francis, somehow I think he might agree. Even when a subsequent Vatican press release would go on to say the “there” in his message wasn’t meant as heaven, but instead the common ground of goodness, progress has been made. Hopefully more and more religions and denominations will take this welcoming approach and continue the call for a peaceful coexistence.
Regardless, I’m once again in awe of a priest. This time around though, I understand why.
— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at email@example.com