When I was a very young child, my father stood me up on the back of the pew in front of ours so that I could see the priest. I went to Sunday school starting in kindergarten. At Christmas, Sister Henrietta gave us a little wooden manger, a tiny plastic statue of baby Jesus, and a bag of straw. Every time we did a good deed, we were supposed to place a piece of straw in the manger to prepare a bed for Jesus. I was a good girl and loaded up the manger with straw.
When I was old enough, I prepared for receiving the sacraments.
All I really knew about confession was that I was terrified of it and that I had to go into a dark, tiny room and kneel on a kneeler, which would cause a little red light to appear above the door. That light meant that there was someone in the room, and it was me.
I had memorized my sins. I had three: talked back to Dad, ate brother’s pizza, and watched a scary movie I wasn’t supposed to watch.
The priest forgave my sins and gave me my penance — three Hail Marys and one Our Father.
I was glad to get out of the little dark box.
“Nothing to it,” I told my waiting mother.
On the day of my First Communion, my mom dressed me in a yellow dress, and instead of a veil, I wore a yellow ribbon. I looked like a plump daffodil. According to Mom, in the early 70s, pastel colors were allowed.
I remember Father Joe putting the pure white host on my tongue.
“Body of Christ.”
And then, a big family dinner with a ham and scalloped potatoes.
Several years later, when I was 13, I was confirmed. My mother was my sponsor. Another lovely celebration dinner after church. Banana cream pie and Jesus.
Soon after my confirmation, I was attending a youth Bible study in the basement of our church. The study was led by Father Russ, and I loved it. We sang beautiful songs, and we prayed out loud.
I was sitting next to a guy who was about 20-years-old. He’d been in a near-fatal car accident, and he couldn’t talk clearly. His brain had been severely damaged. Nevertheless, he was publicly praising God in a mumbled manner, trying to get the words out the best way he could.
“I adore you, Jesus,” he said, his eyes closed. “Thank you, Jesus.”
I studied the huge scars on his face. He must have gone through the windshield, I thought.
How could this terribly injured man be thankful for anything? (What I didn’t realize at 13 was that he was merely happy to be alive.)
“Lord Jesus, you are so great. You are the savior of my soul,” the man said.
How could I be still? Suddenly, praises sprang from my mouth. “Praise you, Lord. Thank you, Jesus.”
In that moment, the Holy Spirit came upon me (better late than never), and I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.
Father Russ believed in this rite of initiation and had been urging us to give ourselves over to God, to accept Jesus in our hearts. And I had done it.
Little did I know, I would never be the same.
Now weekly mass seems a little too quiet for me. I long to throw up my hands and sing. That’s why I sit in the last pew where I can pray with my arms outstretched. I can clap quietly to the more upbeat hymns.
I’m glad I had such a memorable initiation into my faith and the reminder that God delivers each of us in his own way and in his own time. God is a master planner. And I am his born again child.