I was born and bred a Catholic. Growing up in West Ireland to an Irish Mother whose own family stemmed from a deeply religious background it was inevitable I would follow the same path. Admiration, of course, to my parents for continuing not only this upbringing when we moved to England, but in also making the effort (because as I have since found out it IS an effort) for my sisters and I, to be schooled in Catholic schools.
Perhaps my first memory of my Catholic upbringing was attending Mass with my Grandparents each Sunday and relishing in the feeling of well being this gave me each week. Of course I didn’t really know what was going on. All I knew was that I was to sit with my Grandmother quietly as she knelt and said the rosary quickly. I would often gaze at my Grandfather across the way, desperate to catch his attention (and failing).
As I grew up, I came to witness these weekly Mass sessions as not only a spiritual necessity for my Grandparents, but also a social occasion. There would be lots of head nodding as we entered the Church, and gravely morbid gossip from the women and talk of the weather from the men on the way out.
Those early years also filled me with great anxiety: each night I would kneel on a chair in the living room as a picture of the Virgin Mary shone from our TV as I waited my turn to pray out loud, worried I might jumble my words and upset my Grandmother.
I digress, and it must seem rather institutionalised to the non-Catholic reader. This is not my aim, but to talk you through my spiritual journey.
I completed most of my sacraments. I was baptised, received first Holy communion and was Confirmed. The latter being perhaps the turning point in my religious upbringing. You see whilst my friends were all busy getting drunk at the park and kissing boys on a Sunday afternoon, I was on my bike back up to the Church to attend Confirmation classes. It was the first time in my Catholic journey that I felt like it was holding me back instead of fulfilling any innate spiritual need.
When my time came to be Confirmed, a sense of relief washed over me. For the first time in my life it was MY choice whether I would attend church, and continue. And at that time of my life, I didn’t want to.
Hence I completed what should have been my fifth sacrament, marriage, in front of an overweight Minister in Las Vegas where I felt a rumble of a certain Grandmother turning in her grave….!
Aside from the odd wedding and funeral, there was no need at that point of my life to even have my Catholicism discussed or utilised.
Then came the day I had my eldest son. Things changed.
Suddenly it wasn’t just about me, and my needs and preferences in life, I had this little one to think about and what stability and values I was going to lay down for him. It was then that we made the decision to raise him in the way I had become accustomed to, in my childhood, as a Catholic. So there began my son’s Catholic life, by completing his first sacrament at just 4 months old.My second son followed suit and fast forward a few years and I have no doubt that this is the best thing that I have done for them. They both attend good, Catholic schools.
We fought hard with weekly Priest visits, Mass attendance and a few carefully worded letters of our proclamation of faith to get the children into the schools. They have superb teachers, with the same values we are instilling at home, and they learn about religion as a way of school life, not solely as a subject.
We all try and attend Mass as regularly as possible. This time round I TRY and make it fun for the children. I will not force them to Liturgy. If they would like to attend then they can, but if not they are required to sit still and concentrate as I did all those years ago.
Occasionally I will glance down at them both looking quite serious and mouthing part of the prayers they are now coming to memorise and I’ll see one, or both catching their Dad’s eyes with a cheeky grin, as I did with my grandfather all those years ago…
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Photograph ©Colette Cooper.