Kindergarten Catholic


I went to a Catholic school. Everyone I knew went to a Catholic school. My family was Catholic and so was every family in our neighborhood. We went to Mass every weekday morning and I went again on Sundays. The Mass was in Latin and I didn’t understand a word but that only made me respect it more.

The words were exotic and beautiful to me. We all knelt and sat and stood at the same time during Mass. We all recited the same words in unison. It was written down in our missals. We received communion at Mass which meant we were fed a small white wafer which was supposed to represent the body of Christ. Only I didn’t quite understand the represent part and I believed that the wafer was somehow transformed into a piece of a 2000 year old body. You had Christ inside you six times a week. How cool was that?

I went through a religious phase when I was 5. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a saint or a nun. I had great romantic ideas about nuns. On the other hand, saints appealed to my imagination. The Christian martyrs were killed by the Romans because they wouldn’t renounce their faith. Some of them were eaten by lions and some of them were roasted alive and some were crucified. Except for the pain part, this also appealed to me mightily. Once you were a saint, you sat at the right hand of God and people prayed to you and you could perform miracles. I thought that it would probably hurt to be roasted alive or eaten by lions; I wasn’t sure it was a good trade off. But I wanted to be able to perform miracles. But how much would it hurt to be eaten by a lion?

I wasn’t sure. There was always being a nun. No horrific death required. I would be cloistered (shut away from the world) and I would pray all the time and I would be very holy. I practiced being holy. I went to church and prayed for long stretches of time. The longer you prayed the better. I asked God for silly things and told him all my troubles and made all kinds of promises to him. I said the rosary. Saying the rosary was basically repeating the Hail Mary sixty times and the Our Father six times. The Catholics are big on repetition.

You were supposed to contemplate the stations of the cross in those days and I spent a lot of time doing that. The stations of the cross, for the uninitiated, are depictions of Christ’s journey up the hill as he carried the cross on his way to be crucified. They are especially gory and sadomasochistic. The blood running down his face from the crown of thorns, his bloody back from the lashes. The nails pounded through his hands and feet. How does a five year old meditate on torture? Well I felt very, very sorry for him. “Poor Jesus,” I thought. We must have done something very bad if he had to do all that to make up for it. I wanted to be the lady who gave him a drink of water. I wanted to be the lady who wiped his brow or the lady who cried at his feet.

One day I was praying all by myself in the church and I looked at that little gold container on the altar where we were told Christ was. It seemed to me Jesus must be very lonely in that little gold box even if it was very pretty. I climbed over the railing (which you weren’t supposed to do) and I climbed up on the altar (which you weren’t supposed to do) and I sat next to the little gold box and I swung my legs and talked to Jesus. I told him everything that was on my five year old mind. I told him I loved him and I would always be his friend. I told him I wanted to be holy. I told him I was either going to be a nun or a saint and either way I’d be a virgin because nuns and saints are always virgins. I wasn’t sure what a virgin was but if that’s what Jesus wanted me to be then I was going to be it.

My homeroom teacher Miss Staid came in and saw me up on the altar and she nearly had a heart attack!

(photo by Sura Nualpradid/