Blogging in E minor
Usually just a bunch of silly crap.

Faith, Hope and Malcertainty

The thrilling conclusion to “Angels in the Rafters”

So, let us recap. Bernadette, our 14-year-old adopted daughter, said she saw about 50 angels in church during her Third Scrutiny. “Soon you will be with us,” they told her. Then the following day, she produced this ominous quatrain:

              The day the angel falls from the heavens,
                 one heart will stop beating.
              As nine days pass, look to the future fast;
                 don’t look back at the past.
              The second day of the week,
                 a peaceful evening it will be, up and early.
              Late and pale in a bed at home,
                 let the one who dies rest in peace.

            During Bernadette’s preparation for Christian initiation, she had been studying saints, many of whom had reported having visions. She had even mentioned that she wished to become one. Was this a fantasy of sorts? Attention-seeking behavior? The effect of reading too many vampire novels? Or did it all really happen exactly as she said?

            We told her that the church would want to do an investigation and all sorts of people would want to speak to her. Then we pretended that the priest had called and asked for her to take a polygraph before any official investigation would ensue. This made her visibly uneasy. We left her an out, an opportunity to modify her account, to no avail. In all honesty, we had hoped she would just admit she had made it all up to put our minds at ease. But nothing doing. Bernadette was sticking to her story.

            My wife and I were beginning to question our methods, and we needed to bring all this vision business to closure. So we told Bernie that we believed her, and if she didn’t want to speak to anybody about it, she didn’t have to.

            Imagine our panic when, “nine days” after writing the poem – a Tuesday, “the second day of the week” nonetheless – Bernadette reported an excruciating pain in her lower abdomen. As it became gradually worse, we took her to the emergency room.

            Phrases like “one heart will stop beating,” and “late and pale in a bed at home, let the one who dies rest in peace” came to mind. Yet, nobody dared to mention this. My wife, her sister and I all realized the coincidental timing of it all, yet we kept this to ourselves. Nobody wanted to alarm the others, and we certainly didn’t want to tempt fate.

            Bernadette was released from the hospital at 1 am Wednesday morning. Thus, she survived Tuesday, and the hospital staff had ruled out anything life threatening. Further tests led to the diagnosis of an infected lymph node in her abdomen, which is frequently confused for appendicitis. We were told it would go away on its own in a few days. Yet, it persisted.

            So what was up with this pain? I was beginning to wonder if it was some form of stigmata. Jesus was said to have been stabbed in the side with a sword. Were these some form of mystical sympathy pains? What would be next, bleeding from the hands?

            I found such thoughts alarming. And unsanitary. Afterall, Bernadette had enough trouble dealing with menstruation. In this day of diseases born of bodily fluids, you can’t just go around bleeding from your hands and feet, regardless of how divinely influenced such phenomena could be.

            So the question remained: would Bernadette be well enough to participate in the Holy Week rituals and her eventual baptism, confirmation and communion at Easter Vigil?

            At the invitation of Mr. Odo, the official church micromanager, Bernadette was to have her feet washed by the priest during the Maundy Thursday service, a re-enactment of Christ washing the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. This was to be the next in a long series of rituals that included an official “send off,” an exorcism, lots of hands on heads and a visit with the bishop. I joked about the stench of Bernie’s feet causing the poor priest to pass out.

            I raced to church following a Thursday evening school board meeting only to find my wife and Bernadette absent. Obviously, Bernadette’s pain had flared up again. This was disappointing.

            However, I found the service rather intriguing. The ordained were slinging incense all over the place – around the altar, through the seats and all over each other. Three vials of oil had been delivered from the archbishop and ceremoniously carried into the sanctuary and placed, one at a time, upon a pedestal onto little platforms. This resembled a department store display. As the events unfolded, Mr. Odo meticulously observed every detail and directed traffic from his remote location within the first rows of pews. The service ended with a’capella chanting as the priests left the church with singing children amidst a cloud of incense.

            Perhaps it was a good thing that my family had not attended. All that incense would have given Bernie a migraine and made my wife deathly ill for days!


            Finally, the Big Day had arrived. Bernadette looked radiant in her white dress, which was trimmed in black, teal and green leaves. Her hair had been recently straightened and done up, and her rare appearance in heels completed her grown up look.

            I had mixed feelings about all this. Though I identify culturally with Catholicism – it is a part of who I am – I have grown philosophically and spiritually distant from the faith. I have learned rather than to accept the volumes of doctrine, dogma and tradition taught by this age-old institution, that I should trust in a God of My Own Understanding. My faith is simplistic and rudimentary. I prefer the metaphysical uncertainty born of my own experiences to the questionably known dictates of others. This works for me.

            Furthermore, the revelations of the deeply ingrained culture of sexual abuse within the priesthood continues to be an additional source of anger and resentment to me.

            So, when my wife demanded that we finally, after all these years, get Bernadette baptised, I had great misgivings. It was, however, something Bernadette wanted, so I did not stand in the way. She was old enough to make some of her own decisions, and she seemed receptive to religious instruction. Now all of her preparation was about to come to fruition.

            Easter Vigil started in a darkened Church with a flaming cauldron blazing in the center. The pastor stated that they would be telling “our story,” which was lengthy, so the congregation should be patient and make itself comfortable. The ordained then lit the giant Easter candle, and from there, flames were passed person-to-person via small, hand-held candles. Then they proceeded to read the entire Bible with short bursts of song interspersed. Yes, there was a lot of singing; they sang things that do not lend themselves to song.

            Eventually came the baptism. As Bernadette and two adult catechumens made their way to the elaborate baptismal font in the back of the church, the choir led the congregation in a familiar chant:

            “St. Jude . . .”

            “Pray for us.”

            “St. Francis of Assisi . . .”

            “Pray for us.”

            “Sts. Peter, Paul and Mary . . .”

            “Pray for us.”

            My wife had been concerned about the manner Bernadette would be dunked. “You don’t mess with a black woman’s hair!” the old adage warned. We would discover during the morning’s rehearsal that Bernadette would have three scoops of water dumped over her head.

            “St. Bernard . . .”

            “Pray for us.”

            “St. David St. Hubbins . . .”

            “Pray for us.”

             Families joined the elect at the back of the church. Seemingly, half the congregation was now gathered there.The priest questioned the catechumens: “Do you reject Satan?”

            “I do.” They replied.

            “Do you reject the glamor of sin?”

            “I do.”

            One by one, each of the catechumens knelt beside the font and bowed his or her head over the water. They received a three pourings of holy water upon the back of the head in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Each would then be handed a towel by a deacon, then helped into a white gown by his or her sponsor.

            Finally it was Bernadette’s turn. To my wife’s elation, when the priest dumped water on her head, her chemically straightened, oil enriched, hairsprayed tresses repelled the water. It was a miracle!

            They were then marched to the altar where their heads were anointed with oil. The congregation then cheered as they were introduced as Christians. This almost never happens. Regardless of how inspirational a sermon or how beautiful a vocal performance, it is usually received with silence. There is no crying in baseball, and no cheering in church!

            After all was said and done, the entire service lasted 2 ½ hours! Parishioners were invited to join the newly initiated in the church basement for coffee and cookies.

            My wife and I were glad we had waited until Bernadette was older to go through with all this. Rather than having a religion forced upon her, it was something she had freely accepted. Furthermore, the whole thing functioned as a sort of Coming of Age ritual for her, much like a Bat Mitzvah for Jewish girls. We were so very proud of our young lady!

            Of course, during this whole process, Bernadette had made quite an impression on her newfound family. She took pictures with her religion teacher and Godparents while being congratulated by a few choir members, several deacons and Fr. Mushmouth. Even Mr. Odo had commented “That’s one neat kid! We’ve got a winner there!” Everybody loves Bernie!


            A few days later, while Bernadette and I were driving, a radio DJ was carrying on about the latest sexual abuse scandals in the church. It had dawned on me that probably nobody had told her that the whole institution of the priesthood had been compromised by widespread accounts of pedophilia and cover ups on the part of the church hierarchy .

            I was remiss in failing to disclosed this obscene reality to her sooner. She had not been fully informed of all the ugly details — details necessary to making a truly informed decision to join the church.  

            In all honesty, I have very little faith in Christianity; however, I love and adore my daughter and have every faith in her. She continues to bring out the best in me, and during this whole process, she has caused me to examine my own conscience and the way I go about my business.

            Perhaps the ills of the church will one day be cleansed under the leadership of Pope Bernadette I, allowing the faith of millions to be restored. Let us hope and pray for such.


Rest in peace, LWM.


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