Thursday, May 22, 2008


When I Grow Up (A Random Anecdote)

Readers who recall what a smart-ass I was in high school--especially around my religion teacher, the long-suffering Sister Agnes--will not be at all surprised to read this one. You can tell I was just a few weeks shy of graduating high school--the fuck-you attitude just rolls off this thing in waves. Usually I held myself in check--or at least restrained myself enough to avoid detention--but as you'll see, at the time I had a pretty good reason for being pissed off.

Sadly, I'll never know whether Sister Agnes agreed or not. I kept waiting for her to call me into her classroom and sentence me to detention for the rest of the year. But she never said one word about this essay after I handed it in. A few weeks later, at the end of the year, she handed back a little stapled pile of papers to each student in her class--most had grades or comments on them. This essay was in the short stack she handed back to me. But there wasn't a single comment on it.

Maybe she thought I was right after all, that I never would be priest material. It would have been the first time we ever agreed on something.

Theology 4-4-4

Vocation Week Essay

May 1985

We had Vocation Week finally. It was supposed to happen in January, but the teacher's strike postponed things, so now we're finally getting around to it.

Vocation Week--that time when parochial schools across the country invite priests and nuns from the many different orders of the Catholic Church to come and talk about their vocation--which is also known as a Calling. The hope is they'll inspire young men and women to hear the calling and become a priest or nun themselves.

For five years now--ever since 8th grade--I have gone through Vocation Week and listened to all kinds of priests, friars, sisters, deacons, and even His Eminence the Bishop. And every year, I've done an essay about how I will answer God's call to service.

Well, Sister Agnes, it's my senior year, and this is the last one of these that I'm ever going to write, so I think it's OK for me to come right out and say it.

There is no way in heck I am ever entering the priesthood.

Pretty sure I'm not going to be a nun either.

I know I'm only 16 (17 next week!) and it's hard for anyone to really know what he wants to do with his life at 16 (17 next week!), but I kind of do. And it's not going to involve the Catholic church. I'm taking a break from you guys for a while.

I don't know if you know this or not, Sister Agnes, but only my Mom is Catholic, not my Dad. He was born a Methodist. He doesn't really go to his own church and he sure won't go to the Catholic church, and I can't say I blame him. I found out that when he wanted to marry my mother, the priest at the local parish tried to talk him out of it, and when that didn't work, he refused to marry my parents. I think in the end he only did it as a favor to my grandfather (who's pretty pious as Catholics go). So if the Catholic Church had their way back in 1964, I wouldn't even be here. Boy, there's a pro-life attitude for you, huh?

And now, well, I guess it's all the gossip, so let's just put it out on the table: My Dad is in the hospital. He's in rehab, actually. He's an alcoholic and his drinking finally caught up with him this past year. I can't say we're getting along all that well these days (for reasons I'd rather not go into just now) because he's still having some problems. And I really have to say this, but I don't think the church has been much help. You could say, well, you're not my Dad's church, so he shouldn't expect much support, but the Catholic church is MY church, and my mom's and boy-o-boy, you've really let me down. I'll get to that in a minute.

Well, to be fair I guess my problems really aren't with the church, but the people who run it, yet another reason why I don't want to follow a vocation. I have to say, most of the priests I've known--especially here at school--haven't really inspired me. I mean, do I really want to be like Father Connolly, who made me bring my razor to school and shave in front of him? He didn't believe that my stubble grew so fast, so he made me shave for him one morning so he could check it in the afternoon. And guess what? I HAD STUBBLE. I'd think he had better things to do with his time. I'd think if he was truly answering a call from God, he wouldn't be wasting his vocation this way. You know?

And then there's Father Kenneth, who MADE me go to confession (you know all about that). Plus he censored the school paper, which as the editor of it I have a problem with. But I have a bigger bone to pick with him, as my mom would say.

Last week, I found a letter at my house. It had the school emblem on it, but it was hidden in the china cabinet in our dining room. I opened it and inside was an overdue bill for $500 to my mom and dad. That's what they owe on tuition for me. And Father Kenneth included a kind of nasty letter to my mom, telling her that the school had been waiting for months for their money, and how they really should have suspended me until they came up with the money. Father Kenneth went on to say that unless my parents paid up before the end of May, he was going to hold onto my diploma. He told my mom that without a copy of my diploma, I can't finish registering for classes at college. Then he called her "irresponsible" and kind of told her off for not being a good parent.

I think it's funny that he called her "irresponsible." If she's so irresponsible, how is it that she was able to help the school so much? For five years, she helped make all the costumes for the school play, donated all the fabric and doing all the sewing herself (and her own kids weren't even in the school play until this year). Before my Mom made the costumes, I found out from Mr. Mason [the school play director] that you used to have to pay a professional seamstress to do the work.

Plus every year at Homecoming, my mom has baked the big Homecoming cake that you have at the dinner-dance. Actually, it's two cakes my mom makes every year--the main cake and the centerpiece. Again, she donates her time and all the ingredients--that's at least $125 in ingredients alone. Every year, the school raffles off the centerpiece and puts the money into the activity fund--you're in charge of that, Sister, so you know all about it. In fact, you were the one who told me you make about $150 in raffle tickets each year off that centerpiece. Hmm.

Anyway, I kind of wish Father Kenneth would just give her a break and leave her alone. If she owes the school 500 dollars, it's because of me, so why not bill me instead? Maybe one day I'll have a job and can actually pay him.

I guess that's what my vocation is going to be for a while. I'm not counting on the church or anyone in it to do anything for me and my family--I mean, look what they've done so far--so I'm going to work on getting through college and finding a job where I can get paid for something I'm good at and something I love to do. Like writing.

Finally, while we have this little moment together here at the end of my paper, I just wanted to say "thanks" for putting up with me, Sister Agnes. I know I haven't been easy to teach, especially lately, but now you maybe know why.

I hope you understand why I feel the way I do about Vocation Week. It's probably a good thing. If I had wanted to become a priest, I might have ended up teaching here. Or even becoming principal. Can you imagine having to take orders from me? Ha ha ha.

Boy, would you hate that.

Yeah, I had that chip on my shoulder for quite a while. But eventually I figured out something Sister Agnes had never quite clued me in on during my four years with her, which is that following a Calling has nothing to do with which order you join or which vows you take, but everything to do with making the best use of God's gifts to you.

So I think it's fair to say I finally figured out what my vocation is.

And thank God, it didn't involve a vow of chastity.

From Somewhere on the Masthead

I'm so happy you saved what you wrote when you were a kid. I'm so enjoying your blog, that I was moved to come out of lurkdom and click on through from my reader.
Whew, you had some BALLS, didn't you? Awesome. Thank you for writing such a wonderful blog, you have made many a morning in my household!
Another great story -- most seniors have at least one of these moments. I'm sure Sister was praying for you.
Great writing for a 16 (almost 17!) year old. You sure had a lot on your little mind, didn't you.

I'm sure Sister Agnes understood where you were coming from. It probably would have been inappropriate for her to agree with you.
Hmmm...excellent writing for a teenager, but you know what? The reason Sister Agnes didn't write any derogatory comments is that she knew you were right, but she couldn't admit it. That's my theory, anyhow.

Very glad that you've chosen to share your calling with us through your blog!
I'm impressed with your level of mature civility at 16 (almost 17). I'm also curious if they insisted on your parents paying up that $500, after your mom had done so much to dedicate her time and money on the things that mattered.

Thank you for heeding your true calling - and also for leaving one of the two comments I've ever received on my blogspot. :-) I transferred all my stuff there after blogging on myspace for a year cause it's got a better archival system. Made my day to get a nice surprise, especially after the blog you commented on was roundly ignored by the readers I have at myspace.
i'm sure your offspring are happy you didn't do the chastity thing either. i never had the balls to do something like that, and there are definately a few teachers through the years that i would have liked to have given a piece of my mind.
Fantastic, MM. I can't believe how talented you were even at 16.

As an engaged woman with a non-Catholic fiance, I know exactly what it feels like to have your church refuse to marry you AND tell you they won't consider your marriage valid unless you marry in a church. But they won't marry you in a church... good times.
You've been featured on Five Star Friday:

Happy 40th Birthday, MM! I hope you're IN the story you WANT to be in today.

Thank you so much for your blog and your stories. You're a gifted writer. I'm glad you know it and I'm glad you share your gift. And I'm so happy you're no longer in a state of February :)
I recall getting a little impudent in some high school papers, but I didn't really let 'er rip until college, when I refused to buy the bullshit of one of my professors. The man was a great teacher, though--despite the fact that I used nearly every essay to completely disagree with his opinions, he still gave me an A ;>

I think for where you were in life, that essay was perfectly appropriate. Sister Agnes probably decided that you understood the subject and were able to write about it fluently, and that's all that mattered. Maybe she felt a little bad for you, and that's why she didn't make any notes on the writing itself (such as pointing out a little redundancy here and there, or that it was an essay and not a personal letter and therefore should not have had so many oblique asides). I think if I had been your teacher, I might have felt weird about marking up a paper like that. (But knowing me, I probably would have done it anyway...)
"made you go to Cenfession"-you posted the wrong link. I'd appreciate the right one.

little gator, who forgets to log in first
lil gator: Good catch, and I corrected the link, but this was a bit of a cheat: the link I meant to put in there is actually the same one as the very first link in this post, about Thomas's first confession, and my forced one. Anyway, it's there to read if you want. Thanks for pointing it out--i expect to make even more mistakes in my dotage...
It's really nice to see that even at a young age, you were standing up for what you believed in. Good for you, MM. I agree too that we're lucky that you saved your writing, to share with all of us. I love reading your stories, old and new. Thank you!
"Plus he censored the school paper, which as the editor of it I have a problem with."

That sounds like my sort of sentence construction. You've come a long way, MM.

As with Suzanne, I'd also be curious to find out if the bill was ever paid. Of course, I know nothing about Sister Agnes other than what I just read here, but might she have interceded on your (or your Mom's) behalf, and not commented out of humility? I'd like to think so. Of course, I'd like to believe in The Easter Bunny, too.

Your vocation is our joy. And God's, too, I'm sure.
Wow, that was really something. I don't know sister Agnes, but from reading this, I have a feeling that she was probably a heck of a lady. I am will sul dog, and think that perhaps she told that Father a thing or two about charity, and all that you and your mother had done.

If you'd written that for me, I'd have been impressed, and humbled.
This was a highly enjoyable post! thank you Five Star Friday for directing me here!! Thank you Masthead for excellent writing!!
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