The story of my return to the church

return to the church

The age of 8 is too young to become an atheist. I had no choice.

It was the summer of 1958 in Clyde, Kansas. Having finished third grade, I had been preparing for what I was sure would be the highlight of my life: serving Mass for the priest at our church.

Like other boys my age in the parish, I wanted to become a priest. Serving Mass would be my first step.

Already I’d become proficient in Latin: “Et cum spiritu tuo.” I had renounced Satan at every opportunity.

I’d built my own altar in my bedroom: a cardboard box draped with a towel, plastic statues of Jesus, Mary and Joseph rewarded for saying my prayers, my mother’s crucifix draped with my grandmother’s crystalline rosary, and stars of many colors, each for being able to name one saint.

I’d memorized all the movements that would be made by the priest, and the eighth-grade altar boy, and the novice who this time would be me.

My big day finally arrived.

I put on the cassock that dusted the floor and the white overblouse starched by the nuns.

I looked down at my shoes, freshly polished by Mom.

I took a deep breath, confident I at least looked the part.

To my horror, the eighth-grade altar boy did not show up. I would be serving alone.

I went blank for the first time in my life. Sister Gertrude, my teacher from the school next door, was summoned. She hid behind the flag prompting me with instructions.

“Get the cruets, the cruets, the cruets!” she directed in a loud whisper, trying to walk me through the steps of the Mass.

I made it to the first highlight, picking up the big heavy missal and carrying it high to the other side of the altar.

I lifted it, stepping backward down three steps, careful always to face the candle representing Jesus. Next would come the tricky part.

As I approached the midway point in my journey, still balancing the book, with the priests back in front of me, I was to genuflect while, on one knee, making the sign of the cross. Continue reading

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