Those of you of a secular disposition might wish to skip this blog entry as it contains some metaphysics.
About three years ago, after a lifetime of dithering, I took the RCIA course and was received into the Catholic church. Background: all my father's family are Catholic, but my father broke with the faith so I was raised as a devout atheist. It wasn't an issue for me until I went to work in Italy, and later in Spain, where I found myself sneaking into Mass, pretending to be a stonemason examining the walls for fissures, but secretly absorbing what Archbishop Laud called "the beauty of holiness". It was a sneaky time, especially the bit towards the end when I sneaked (snook?) out while everyone else went forward to receive holy communion.
And now, after a lifetime of being first a fiery atheist and later an unconvincing agnostic, I am now a bad Catholic. Well, not bad exactly, but shaky - it's a scary business in some ways. I won't bore the tits off you by telling you what a source of strength and joy it is to me. Equally, I won't irritate you by telling you that I don't have a problem with what are for some people the sticking points of Catholicism: things like mariolatry (erroneously so-called), confession, divorce, birth control, abusive priests and the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals.
But I can tell you that there are some scary bits to it as far as I am concerned. For one thing, I can't easily remember chunks of the Gloria, the Nicene and Apostolic Creeds and some other responses, which means I have to carry a written crib with me. It gives me new respect for actors who have to memorise acres of stuff. And following the liturgy in general is far from a walk in the park. Alternative antiphons, special days (memorials, solemnities, holydays of obligation, etc), masses where the Gloria is said, masses where the Gloria is omitted, and so on - all these variations can loosen a lad's grip on reality, but it's all part of the deal. It reminds me of the first time I was required to referee a rugby match, a game whose rules were as mysterious to me as the rules of Basque grammar. I solved the problem of my incompetence by sticking like glue to a boisterous boy who shouted out every requirement "Line out!", "Scrum down!" etc (often with a choice expletive epithet to underline his judgment. Don't ask me the difference between a "line out" and a "fucking line out". In fact, don't even ask me what a line out is). So, I try to sit not too far away from our most knowledgeable parishioner, D, who carries a Missal the size of Milton Keynes, and who always knows EXACTLY what comes next - or should have come next if the celebrant makes a mistake, not that D would ever mutter "wrong fucking antiphon", I am quite sure.
Another problem for me is singing. I have a lusty voice, but it's in the basso profundo range, and it seems that all hymns are written in a key selected for the Queen of the Night and men with tiny testicles. So I don't so much sing as slither between baritone and falsetto. My dear late friend, Alf C, used to describe the range of the human voice as "from creak to squeak", and that perfectly describes the agonised noises that pass for my singing on Sunday mornings. I can always duck out by going to the Saturday evening Sunday Mass (that sounds a bit Irish. Appropriately?), which is not a sung mass, but dammit, saving your presence, Lord, I LIKE to sing, even squeakily-creakily.
Scary too, in its way, are the consequence that flow from there being two kinds of Catholics: "cradle" catholics and converts. With my family antecedents, I think I should count as a cradle catholic who accidentally fell out of his crib, but, no, I am a convert, and that means a new boy, and that means you have to be careful what you say and what you do, because, after all, it's not really your club, you've been coopted. Everyone in my little parish church has been very welcoming - they even let me read sometimes - but, as with all clubs, there are unwritten rules that you discover the hard way when you commit some solecism or other. I'm getting there, though, largely by a combination of chutzpah and excessive flattery. I tried boyish charm for a while, but it doesn't really work when you are an old scrote, over six foot tall, with a big arse, a turkey-gizzard neck and no hair on top.
The scariest of all, though, is the realisation that being received into the church is not the end of the journey, but only the beginning. My lovely friend and fellow-parishioner, Julie S, talks about "the bumps in the road", and she is right. There are many moments when you wobble and could easily fall off your spiritual bike. I have a few bruises, but I regard them as honourable scars: putting the scar in scary as you might say.
By the way, if you ever want me to say a prayer for you, just ask - I can pray up a storm when the mood is on me. Mind you, no promises as to outcomes, I am not infallible - that's a quality we reserve for Mister Big.