Hi, my name is Jennifer and I’m a Catholic. (Hi, Jennifer.) Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just never thought it was really relevant to my writing life. In fact, I considered not being one any longer. I began to think about my religious beliefs and found that I was wavering in them. I mean, I don’t condone running around killing other people obviously, and I ally myself with the vast majority of religious people who can guarantee we’re on our way to hell in a hand-basket. I feel like I should stop…you know, get off this crazy thing…but I can’t.
While I still go to church, it’s mainly because I have kids and I feel they deserve a certain amount of stability. Meanwhile, my real religion, literature, is a secret. It has to be, because people wouldn’t understand how it's possible. They wouldn't see how it has been a religion of sorts for me all along. Check it out: I enter a library and my knees quake at the sight of all those books. Then my spine gets in on the action. I might as well be in St. Peter’s Basilica for all the chills riding up and down it. Authors? They’re like hallowed saints to me (except for E.L. James.) Who better to model one's life after? That settles it. Writing is my new religion. Or so I thought, until they changed the words.
You heard correctly! They switched around the words of the Roman Catholic mass. The change-up was allegedly an attempt to bring it closer to the Latin original, but it leaves me—and many others seated near me every Sunday—faltering. See, my whole life when I heard a priest say, “The Lord be with you,” I would automatically respond, “And also with you.” Like a robot. (Try it. It’s kind of fun. Get a room full of Catholics, blurt out the following key phrases and watch them drop everything and answer all together. “This is the Word of the Lord” yields a “Thanks be to God. “Body of Christ” = “Amen” Blood of Christ = ditto.) Go ahead and laugh. We’ll thank you for it, because that would make us “persecuted for God,” which should garner us major Brownie points in the form of the kingdom of Heaven. (This according to the Beatitudes.)
Anyway, as I was saying, they made these changes, nothing major--just enough to drive everyone batty. Now when Father says, “The Lord be with you,” we say “And with your spirit.” (Which, you’ve got to admit, sounds nice in an Avatar-ish sort of way.) Oh, we still spew out peacebewithyou whenever someone shakes our hand in church (although hopefully we remember NOT to do this in, like, an interview.) We still say amen when offered the Host. At funerals we crumble into “As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be. A world without end.” But when we line up for communion, we are now supposed to say this befuddling phrase: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof (Old wording is: to receive you), but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Then, later we add a “holy” before church. One would think that would be no biggie.
But it is! It’s harder because the changes are so minimal. A total revamp would be better. A word or two, here and there, a coin of phrase, is almost like stumbling upon an old revision when you know you’ve updated the draft. Almost impossible to sort it out. Yet, these changes have made me pay attention to the words for the first time in a gazillion years. Before, I droned them from my trancelike state (not inspired by religious fervor, I regret to say), whereas now I have to actually think about the words to keep from messing them up. I think this shows surprising insight for an institution as old and set in its ways as the Church. It almost seems like…progress. Nah.
While I may not end up being Catholic in the end, I was raised so, and that is bound to show up in my writing. The only reason it hasn’t yet probably has to do with the fact that I write YA. Nothing makes the kids’ eyes glaze over faster than a foray into boring religion. Now that I am winding down my first adult novel, a murder-mystery/romance, I must deal with the inevitable. Catholicism will rear its thorn-encircled head, especially since the heroine was raised Catholic, just like me. She’s searching in the story, for a soul mate, for the solution to a violent crime at her workplace, for meaning in various familial relationships. As is the case with most searching, just when you think you’ve found what you were looking for, the rug gets pulled out from under you. They change the freaking words at church. Or the murderer tries to bump you off. In either case, you wind up taking stock of what you stand for. Which is a good thing, right?