|source: The Village Heretic|
The gatherings of the clan were crowded into the period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, and every one of them had a sea of pale white white faces, that white sea mottled with the black cassocks of priests and the equally black habits of nuns in the family,
The group looked like the Baltimore Cathechism's cartoon of a black-mottled milk bottle that represented the soul of a mere baptized mortal (the white milk) who had committed venial sins (the clusters of black). But mortal sins - like masturbation or God Help You actual sex outside of marriage - turned your soul black. "Impure thoughts" - thinking about girls, masturbation, or sex - were venial sins when taken one at a time, but could be trouble if there were a lot - and our parents seemed quite sure that they had raised four monsters and we were all going to Hell - so the four of us boys were pretty sure our milk-bottle souls were thoroughly mottled with black.
The liquor flowed like the Delaware - this is Philly we're talking about - and sooner or later (actually it came immediately after the initial pleasantries) the topic would shift to the church and religion. What were the nuns saying at Immaculata? Was the pope Catholic enough? Why were Catholics being slighted in the press? Would anyone in the family vote for Kennedy? - he was a Democrat after all. And then what did Monsignor McFuckADuck say? Bishop McFuckface? What about the cardinal? On and on. There was no escape.
|Verushka in Blowup. Source: IMDB Blowupt|
According to Wikipedia, films were rated by the Legion of Decency according to the following schema:
A: Morally unobjectionable
B: Morally objectionable in part
C: Condemned by the Legion of Decency
The A rating was subsequently divided:
A-I: Suitable for all audiences
A-II: Suitable for adults; later — after the introduction of A-III — suitable for adults and adolescents
A-III: Suitable for adults only
A-IV: For adults with reservations
Here are some of the movies that were CONDEMNED (and of course, of great interest to the four of us boys):
Some Like It HotWe were condemned ourselves - condemned to unending misery. A trip to a drive-in movie was just like going to church, were it not for the previews of coming attractions, which the 'rents could not control.
Never On Sunday
Psycho (of course!)
Jules and Jim
Viridiana (it would have been incomprehensible but it was CONDEMNED)
Blowup (Verushka was so tantalizing)
Valley of the Dolls
Barbarella (we had pictures of the scantily clad Jane Fonda hidden in our room - who did not?)
The Producers (Jewish humor was not allowed)
Rosemary’s Baby (because it distorted the Church)
The four of us boy would spend hours discussing the tantalizing bits of flesh we had seen, the hints of human behavior that might involve actual normal adult activities. A few minutes of coming attractions could serve as fodder for our intense speculation for weeks or months, since we might see a film only once or twice a year. That, coupled with the movie advertisements from the Sunday New York Times, could fuel our imaginations forever.
Here were some that we were allowed to see:
Darby O'Gill and the Little People (it gave my twin brother Joe nightmares),
Mary Poppins - to me, this was the equivalent of what "North" was to Roger Ebert - I hated, hated, hated, this movie)
That Darn Cat! (by then, my twin and I were in high school and we thought, 'Well fuck that cat.' but we had to go to keep our younger brothers company in the movie theater. We hated our younger brothers for that, since it turned us into unpaid baby-sitters.)
I still find the film and the book of "To Kill a Mockingbird" emotionally overwhelming. And I love the fact that Brock Peters ("Tom Robinson" in the film) and Mary Badham ("Scout") remained lifelong friends of Gregory Peck ("Atticus Finch", of course). The trivia page at IMDB says:
Mary Badham (Scout) and Gregory Peck (Atticus) became close during filming and kept in contact for the rest of his life. Peck always called her "Scout", her character role.Brock Peters read the eulogy at Gregory Peck's funeral. I feel like they have been my friends all my life, too.
The whole Legion of Decency discussion could last days - but not weeks, because another issue of the Catholic Standard And Times would be coming out, and the circle of dread would be renewed. There was no escape.
The First Friday of the month was a special treat. Here is an excerpt from the Wikipedia entry.
According to the words of Christ through His apparitions to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, there are several promises to those that practice the First Friday Devotions:
"In the excess of the mercy of my Heart, I promise you that my all powerful love will grant to all those who will receive Communion on the First Fridays, for nine consecutive months, the grace of final repentance: they will not die in my displeasure, nor without receiving the sacraments; and my Heart will be their secure refuge in that last hour."
"In many Catholic communities the practice of the Holy Hour of meditation during the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during the First Fridays is encouraged."
|Source: Get Out Of Hell Free|
The First Friday deal is one that just about every single Catholic agreed to. Here is how it worked. If you went to First Friday Mass in nine consecutive months, you were guaranteed - and this was a 100% 'no questions asked', rock-solid guarantee - that you would be able to atone for all of your unforgiven sins at your deathbed. It was like a Get Out Of Hell Free card. How could you NOT go for the deal? But it did mean the extra torture of Holy Hour and First Friday Mass. There was no escape.
More about Margaret Mary Alacoque later.
So these were all normal weeks - in Ordinary Time, as the Catholic Church describes it. But there was more. There were Ember Days, Rogation Days, and Feast Days, all with extra prayers and going to mass. On Feast Days, we had to read about how the saint was martyred, usually in gory detail. For a while, we had to do this at the dinner table, before eating. Mom didn't find it appetizing, so that practice was quietly dropped after a few years of torture. We had a Catholic Encyclopedia - who didn't? - to help us flesh out the details.
But there was an up side. Just as on our birthday, on our patron saint's feast day, we got to pick what we wanted for dinner (including dessert!). My twin and I had to share our birthday observation, and we always thought that was unjust. I was James, Junior to my dad's James, Senior, so I never got to choose the dinner for the Feast of St. James.
We said the rosary on our knees on the stairs - bare wood with no carpet, cushions, or paddings like those wimps at the Sancta Scala in the Vatican - no this was hard-as-a-baseball-bat wood, on your knees, climbing one step every decade, with an extra one with the final souls in hell business. Every Friday night. There was no escape.
Advent seemed interminable, but Lent seemed to stretch into eternity. We had to not only pray, but to practice "Mortification of the Flesh" - not whipping or self-flagellation but some form of corporal pain, so between Advent and Lent, those fun times added up to about ten weeks a year.
I have asked friends if they had had to endure this. No one had even heard of either the climbing the stairs saying the rosary or the "mortification of the flesh" business, although some had seen TV news clips of those strange hyper-Catholics in the Philippines crucifying themselves. That was too much for Mom and Dad, but each them did say that these people were exceptionally holy. The four of us had pretty much decided that 'pretty holy' was indistinguishable from 'bat-shit crazy'.
None of my friends had seen anything like this. Except for only one: a Math colleague who had grown up in an Irish Catholic family in Worcester, MA. For her, just as it was for us, there was no escape.
Summer vacations seemed to revolve around saints and martyrs.
|The Centennial History of Oregon|
It never stopped, and there was no escape.
|The Abbey at Solemnes|
I can't help but noting in the Wikipedia entry this peculiar passage: "Finally, she was admitted to profession on 6 November 1672. It is said that she was assigned to the infirmary and was not very skillful at her tasks". And of course this:
She stated that in her vision she was instructed to spend an hour every Thursday night to meditate on Jesus' Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. The Holy Hour practice later became widespread among Catholics.So that is how we came to be in Church four days a week. Thursday was Holy Hour, Friday was Confession and First Friday, Saturday was maybe morning mass and the relentless deconstruction of The Catholic Standard and Times, and Sunday was High Mass. And of course, all of the Ember Days, Rogation Days, Feast Days, Days of Fasting, and endless, endless, endless talk of the church. There was no escape.
My brothers and I calculated that, by the time we had finished high school, we had gone to church about as much as three normal Catholics would have done in an entire lifetime, so we could afford to never go to church again for the next three lifetimes and, with the Get Out Of Hell Free card, get out of Purgatory unscathed.
That pretty much explains our current interest in organized religion.
Our son told us this joke - and it is actually PG so you can tell it to your students or parents without blushing.
An Engineer dies and goes to hell. He's hot and miserable, so he decides to take action. The A/C has been busted for a long time, so he fixes it. Things cool down quickly.
The moving walkway motor jammed, so he unjams it. People can get from place to place more easily.
The TV was grainy and unclear, so he fixes the connection to the Satellite dish and now they get hundreds of high def channels.
One day, God decides to look down on Hell to see how his grand design is working out and notices that everyone is happy and enjoying umbrella drinks. He asks the Devil what's going on?
The Devil replies, "Things are great down here since you sent us that engineer."
"What?? An engineer? I didn't send you one of those, that must have been a mistake. Send him back up right this minute."
The Devil responds, "No way! We are going to keep our engineer. We like this guy."
God demands, "If you don't send him to me immediately, I'll sue!"
The Devil laughs. "Where are YOU going to get a lawyer?"
Thanks, Jim. You can blame Jim for all of this shyte.