Welcome Aboard

Posted on April 17, 2018 under Storytelling with 6 comments

 

I was born into a large Catholic family in rural Nova Scotia. It seems that just about every family was big and most in our community wore the Catholic label. In fact, such was the preponderance of Catholics in our community that we became affectionately known as “The Little Vatican”. This sobriquet remains to this day despite the fact that Antigonish has changed vastly over the years. Many faith communities exist and families are much smaller.

All Catholics have a start and finish line. We are born to die. This is not the most appetizing thing on the Catholic menu. But there are promises of greater things when our mortal remains are cast into the wind or set adrift on the ocean at Mahoney’s Beach.

I wake up from a long nap. I squint as the morning light streams through my bedroom window. I attempt to rub away sleep from my eyes. I catch something out of the corner of my eye. My eyesight is not as good as it will be. I see something above me going around in circles. I haven’t quite figured this out. I later learn that this is a mobile. Truthfully, everything is a giant mystery at this point in my life.

I recognize my mother as she gently lifts me out of my crib. She bathes me in warm water and scrubs me to within an inch of my life with bar of Sunlight soap. I sparkle like the sun. She finishes things off with a slathering of Johnson’s baby oil.

She takes me over to a change table. “Hey. What’s with the white dress?” I’m thinking as she places a well-traveled gown over my tiny frame. I distinctly remember dad doing cartwheels outside the delivery room when he heard that he had another son. So, if I am truly a future standard bearer for the MacDonald clan, then why the dress?

My mother cradles me in her arms as we get into dad’s car. It might have been a Studebaker. We drive a short distance to a large stone building with a cross on top. It is my first trip to St.Ninian’s Cathedral but it wouldn’t be my last. This cavernous building is quite scary to one so small. I remain placid amid the wails from several of my peers. I can’t quite figure out what is going on.

I soon discover the reason for the trauma as I am about to be subjected to similar treatment. Every newborn in the church will become part of an important fraternity on this day.

The priest blesses me with the sign of the cross. There are prayers and more prayers. A large candle is lit and I can smell the residue of the smoke from the extinguished match. I am lifted up and positioned over a large receptacle filled with water.

Drip. Drip. Drip. It starts with a trickle and then becomes a torrent. It sounds like a waterfall. Later in my life I will visit Niagara Falls, causing vivid flashbacks. A large man, wearing strange robes is looming over me speaking in a foreign tongue which I later learned to be Latin. He is pouring water on my head but it runs into my eyes causing extreme agitation. I am tempted to ask for a bathing cap and goggles. The situation worsens as I start to whimper and now the water enters my throat, prompting me to gag. I soon realize that being a Catholic involves pain and suffering and possibly suffocation.

Years later, I will come to understand that the events described in previous paragraphs were my baptism. I was born Roman Catholic and as such am expected to take part in several sacraments.

So, why is baptism the first step on the long journey of a Catholic? Good question and one that still puzzles me from time to time. Baptism is the sacrament that frees us from original sin. This is a bit of a head scratcher. How many times did I commit original sin (or worse) in the womb? And at the tender age of 7 days, one wouldn’t think that a wholesale cleansing would have been necessary.

And so, the first roots of guilt were planted in my subconscious.

I would learn that we are all born sinners and only a thorough dousing in a baptismal font would keep me in God’s good graces. It was explained to me that wearing something white (like a Stanfield T-shirt?) was a symbol of purity. I also discovered that christening dresses are handed down from generation to generation.

There’s a party at our home after the ceremony and I am handed around the room like the Stanley Cup. Everyone, it seems, needs to pinch my cheek which is quite annoying and also coo sweet nothings into my tiny ears. It must be an important occasion as mom is serving lobster sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

I am now a full blown member of the fraternity.

The train of life is leaving the station. Welcome aboard.

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Comments

6 Responses to Welcome Aboard

  1. Chistina says:

    Yet again I have enjoyed you blog. Great job. Christina

  2. Sheila redden says:

    Interesting!! However I feel I just want to snatch you out of that web that entangled at your beginning.There is much more freedom ahead but I can suggest only two things temporarily: one is to connect with the Franciscan Richard Rhor for his daily thoughts and borrow the book “The Wheel of Life ” by Elizabeth Kubler Ross MD which should blow your mind somewhat. Blessings.

  3. Rosemarie says:

    Great blog on this rainy morning !

  4. Rick Benson says:

    Thanks Len … continued blessings from all your many travels and experiences and people who come into your life!

  5. Carmen says:

    Len,
    Please tell me that, as a grown and intelligent man, you realize the absolute foolishness of all of this. 🙁

    I don’t know if you’ve watched the movie, ‘3 Billboards’ but Frances McDormand has a memorable scene with a Catholic priest that everyone needs to consider seriously.

  6. Helen Medeiros says:

    Very well written and having been raised a catholic in the same small town I can relate. However, I’m sure you were, like me, taught that the baptism is a symbol of the washing away of sin since we were taught and rightly so, that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can wash away our sin.
    Good job here though. Blessings to you.

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