With a little bit of Treatment material thrown in. It’s all part of the whole at this point, dig?
I was raised a Roman Catholic by two parents who were sort of iffy about the whole deal for the longest time. My mother prayed the rosary a lot. My father didn’t. He’d take me to St. James Church in the old Polish neighborhood on the Saturday afternoon before Easter to get our basket of food blessed. That was some kind of traditional Slavic rite, I guess, although I’ve never really heard much of it outside those particular times he and I went.
A Polish Catholic Priest Blesses The Easter Baskets
M & D made a lot of hoopla for all the various sacramental passages I achieved: First Confession, First Holy Communion, Confirmation. There were parties and new sets of clothes.
My feeling is M had more of the old religion in her than the Old Man did. If she’d have said, “Joe, don’t set the alarm for Sunday morning — we don’t need to go to Mass anymore,” he’d have happily slept in.
I did enjoy Sunday breakfasts after Mass, though. The three of us would come home (my sisters, by this time, married and out of the house and my brother attaining the age wherein he could thumb his nose at god) and strip off our ties in the case of D and me and Ma would shimmy out of her girdle.
Then she’d lay the fresh bacon in on the hot skillet. The bacon done, she’d start in on the sunny side up eggs. D would pass the time by buttering up four big slices of her homemade bread, which he’d lay out in a neat grid next to his dish. One of them would be for me.
It seems every time I remember this tableau, it was a sunny morning. The smell of coffee and fried bacon were intoxicating, although I was restricted only to my glass of milk.
It all was so good that I figured it had been worth frittering away an hour of my precious life listening to the priest drone on in Latin and then tell us what a sinful bunch of bastards we were in English during his sermon.
And I’m not the only kid whose favorite moment of the entire procedure was, at the very end, with the organist powering up some glorious tune, the priest would say, “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”
We were to respond, “Thanks be to god.” My school chum Albert DiPrima and I, our families often parked within eye- and earshot of each other, would belt out our Thanks be to gods and smirk knowingly at each other.
Easter breakfast was different. The old Polish tradition was to serve cold smoked Polish sausage with fiery horseradish, cold ham, buttered rye bread, and the dyed eggs. In fact, those were the items D and I would have taken to St. James to be blessed the afternoon before.
The parade of girlfriends, wives, beaux, and husbands who passed through our family and would be invited for one or more Easter breakfasts never ceased to be amazed at this strange repast. Me? I thought it was the tastiest meal I’d ever eaten — that is until we’d get to Ma’s lasagna and beef roast with red potatoes and carrots later that afternoon.
See, my recollection of holidays has to do exclusively with food which, it’s a good bet, is the driving force behind pretty much every holiday ever conceived by every culture. The priests and nuns, though, weren’t too keen on that. There always had to be some bummer for us to contemplate at holiday time. How Jesus had to be laid in a manger in a barn when he was born or how horribly he suffered in the week leading up to Easter.
In fact, the suffering and resurrection of Jesus is the sine qua non for Catholic festivities. The Catholics see Easter as the top holiday, far outstripping Christmas in importance — although you couldn’t have guessed it by the Sicilian side of my family who did the whole Festa dei setti pesci thing, an all-night long Christmas eve orgy of card-playing, drinking wine, laughing, shouting, and eating the Seven Fishes among countless other foods. And I emphasize the word countless.
In any case, during Catechism class, the priest told us that although, of course, the baby Jesus was born on December 25th that wasn’t such a big deal because, hell, everybody’s born. It was his resurrection on Easter Sunday which signified him as the son of god. You and I, natch, don’t get resurrected, see. We’re civilians.
The resurrection could not come without the precursor suffering, the lashings, the persecution, the crown of thorns, the nailing to the cross. The idea being god loved us so much he sent his only begotten son to get the shit kicked out of him in such a way so as to redeem us for all the horse-shitty things we’d been doing from Adam and Eve’s time through the year Zero, inclusive.
Now why the old creator had to do it this way is beyond me, but I remind you, I’m only a civilian.
And at that, I quit the outfit when I was twelve years old. None of it made a lick of sense to me.
The purpose served by the persecution and suffering myth, I’d imagine, is to help the faithful get through their own tortures and agonies. If your husband’s having an affair, if your kid has rheumatic fever, if your sciatica is making you shriek — why, hell, you ought to be able to bear it considering the Roman son of a bitch soldiers jammed spears into Jesus’s side and then sponged his wound with vinegar. That’s how much god and Jesus love you and if they can put up with it then surely you can find in in your heart to suffer your no-good husband’s philandering.
I’ve been thinking about this because even though I completed both chemotherapy and radiation therapy for my cancer Monday, their side effects have crescendoed this week, as I’d been warned. “It’s gonna get worse before it gets better,” my medical oncology nurse Mike cautioned me before I left the infusion center. Yeah, sure, I thought. It’ll be miserable tomorrow — but the day after, baby…, just you wait and see!
I doesn’t work that way, kiddies. I’ve been driven to quitting several times in the last six days. Quitting what? I dunno. The therapies are finished. I can’t quit those. Quitting life itself? Maybe.
Actually, definitely. My own current persecution and agony includes battling with myself to stay positive, to want to get through this, to even see a hint of the other side when I — shining, dazzling, brilliant days to come! — will be able to talk again, to eat again, to not have to hork every hour or so.
That’s one of the things I lack — being an atheist — the ability to lean on faith to get me through the torment. I cannot say my existence is the better for this lack. It’s the price I pay for being a rationalist.