When I was growing up, my Catholic mother insisted and that my siblings and I attend weekly catechism classes. These classes ranged from deadly boring to terrifying. And my mother, a big fear carrying person herself, would simply drop me off and drive away, then pick me up and never discuss what occurred there. I thought this was completely normal. And yet, so traumatizing were some of the experiences that I have literally blocked many of them from my conscious mind. I also had very few friends, true friends. But, in second grade, I made a friend. I told her about catechism and recited the Hail Mary prayer to her. She loved it and wanted to learn it too. One day in class, I began to write the prayer in my best emergent spelling. I was midway through “the Lord is with Thee” when our teacher, Mrs. Cloud (her real name) grabbed it with anger and ripped it up. She publicly reprimanded me and said prayers weren’t allowed in school. Hot tears of a 7 year old followed. I’ve never forgotten that.
There are some happy memories, of course, like receiving a book of Aesop’s Fables at a catechism Christmas party, but mostly not. I am an introvert by nature and lining up for example to practice “Confession” on the wooden kneeling block in front of a screen with Monsignor So and So behind there in his black clothing, near enough to smell his breath, invoked the shakes in me. On the other hand, when I was a bit older and able to graduate if you will, go through what’s called “Confirmation”, we were told to choose our own name. This “Confirmation” name would be our name before God. Being a typical adolescent I was very validated by this turn of events, control in a world that was constantly frightening to me. The day of my Confirmation I donned a long white robe, a white beanie, carried a little Bible, and posed for picture with my palms held together as if in prayer, but my face conveys the terror in me. It’s a pained look. Walking down the aisle with my Sister-God-Mother at Saint Monica’s Church my new name buoyed me to the alter where Monsignor So and So sealed me with the blessing of the Holy Spirit and declared me officially Grown-Up-Elizabeth.