Christmas with my mother’s family has a certain rhythm: the BBQ the night before, getting up at oh-Gods’-AM to open ‘Santa’ presents, the big present opening at 11, with Eldest Aunt MCing, and everyone else bitching from the sidelines, lunch at 2:30, which is always a 25 odd people feeding frenzy with way too much food, the pudding contest my grandfather always wins because no one has the heart to tell him that Dad’s pudding tastes better…
And, of course, 8:30 AM mass.
I was raised Catholic. OK, that’s not strictly accurate. My parents were raised Catholic, though Mum’s family win the ‘most religious’ prize by a country mile, and I was baptised Catholic. My younger brother went through the whole kit and caboodle, but I never did. I don’t know when, exactly, I lost my faith – or even if I had faith to lose. I never minded going to Mass as a child, because the music was nice, and the Virgin Mary was pretty, in a serene sad kind of way, but by the time I was eleven, I was pretty sure it was a crock. How could God be all forgiving, yet vengeful? It didn’t make sense. I made a conscious decision to give up on the church thing a couple of years later, after reading that women were supposed to “come to God in fear” and after my religion teacher told our class that sexual desire in women was always evil.
I made my peace with leaving religion a while ago. If I have to articulate it, I would say that I believed in a divine something, but that I had no faith in organised religion, often the domain of Old White Men, and which seemed to cause more problems than it solved. And yet, every year I went to church with my family. Why? Because if I hadn’t, it would have hurt my grandfather beyond words.
Which brings me to the 25th of December 2008. Going to bed the night before I had heard that the Pope’s Christmas message equated homosexuality with global warming. I was furious. This wasn’t what I thought God was supposed to be. It wasn’t what I thought spirituality was supposed to be. It was petty, arrogant bigotry. It made me ashamed to be even peripherally associated with the Catholic Church. For the first time in my life, I decided to try and get out of Church. But at 8:30 the next morning, my nicely clad butt was on a pew.
Why? Even though I was furious, even though I felt hypocritical and yes, dirty, I couldn’t hurt my grandfather, particularly since he’d pulled me aside that morning, and told me that I would be taking the Eucharist, even though I’d never had my first Holy Communion. It meant too much to him.
I sat in Church on Christmas morning feeling like a liar and a hypocrite. I had to grit my teeth in an effort not to snort when the Father thanked God for “returning Bethlehem to its proper owners”. When I stood up to accept the Body of Christ – participating in a ritual I had no right to, I felt ashamed. I nearly choked on it. I felt like I was condoning the Pope’s homophobia, or in some way agreeing with it.
Maybe I should have taken a stand, stood up for my beliefs. I confessed my doubts to Second Eldest Aunt, and Youngest Aunt. For what it was worth, they absolved me of guilt. After all, I’d only gone because I loved my grandfather. It didn’t make everything right, but it was something, I suppose.