The priest is at the door.

I always found this alarming. We were regular churchgoers, attending Saturday morning Catechism and mass with Dad on Sunday, but Mom never went along. She wasn’t Catholic, and it made me uncomfortable whenever she and Father 0’Malley had a conversation – which was rare. But occasionally there was no way to get around it. There he’d be, with his head bobbing, at the front door. Mom would be in the kitchen and I’d answer the door and invite him in.  Usually he just wanted to remind us about the bake sale coming up at the church on Saturday, and ask Mom if she would send up a cake or come cookies.

Having acted impatient and annoyed upon hearing that he was there at the door, she would come out of the kitchen all smiles and promise that she’d certainly make something for the sale. After a few uneasy pleasantries he’d leave.

“Remind me to send you up to the church on Saturday morning with some money,” she’d say.  With five kids there was constant activity at our house, and she’d given up on actually fulfilling her obligation to bake something for these sales. Instead she’d send us up with a $5 contribution (I imagine that would be like $20 in today’s dollars) and another $5 to buy something to bring home.

That was Mom’s general approach to Catholicism, and all churches as far as I could tell. An arm’s length and a $5 bill distance.  Later, in my teens, we all started to attend the Christmas Eve midnight mass and I was surprised that she seemed to enjoy it.  But, like me, she loved the carols, and at midnight mass you could count on getting the chance to sing several of them.

When asked about religion I say I was raised Catholic with a healthy degree of skepticism.  That would be thanks to Mom who didn’t actually speak out against the church, but her actions and her silence spoke for her.  Her religion was something less rigid and more lenient than the dogma that the nuns tried to hammer into me in the basement of St. Joseph’s Church between 9 and 10am each Saturday.

She’d explain, her defense for never coming with us to church on Sunday, “God is here with me in the kitchen while I’m making Sunday lunch for you.” That sounded good enough to me.

When we came home from church we would line up and each give her a kiss. This was “giving her some grace” and it seemed perfectly “right and just.”

I never actually saw my mother pray, but I think she did. I believe she had her own personal religion. One that kept her going, and made her hum as she worked at the kitchen sink, and laugh easily and often. Her religion was one of devotion and service to her family, gratitude everyday, and a contagious, zestful enthusiasm for living a full, meaningful life.  Idleness and selfishness were in her sin column.

She occasionally wrote bits of poetry. This was on the refrigerator in her handwriting, though I never thought to ask if she had written it or copied it from somewhere. I think, in fact, it’s from Norman Vincent Peale.

I have tried several other churches since St. Joseph’s, but it’s Mom’s religion, as well as I can manage it,  that makes the best sense for me.