“You have to be a nun when you grow up,”
said Debbie Someone on the tarmacadamed
playground, “because your middle name is Mary.”
She should know, I thought, with her family full of
nuns and priests posing like saints in photos all over
their living room. I was reading a book about a girl
or a doll named Jane. “I will be Sister Mary Jane,” I said.
“You can’t. That’s a shoe,” said Debbie. The First Mystery.
The nuns wore a rosary of wood around their waists,
the beads as big as marble shooters. It took two decades of the
rosary to belt the bulk of Sister Mary Albertine, but one or less for
tiny Sister Mary Joy. I imagined them wearing the rosaries to bed.
They could clasp the mighty crucifix and manage the opening prayers,
but what happened when they reached the decades wrapped around
their waists? Maybe they rolled on each bead, recited the prayer,
and kept rolling, pausing, and praying till dawn. The Second Mystery.
The nuns had wooden clackers like stork beaks they’d extract from
the folds of their habits. Clack! We’d walk two-by-two. Clack! We’d
genuflect. Clack! We’d march into the pew. Clack! We’d sit. If I was
going to be a nun, I needed a clacker. I borrowed Sr. Mary Theophona’s.
(I wasn’t a thief, just a novice seeking improvement.) I took it home and
practiced with my younger brother. Clack. Walk. Clack. Stop. Clack. Sit.
Clack. Fold your hands to pray. He stood up and left the room. “You can’t
leave when I’m clacking!” I shouted, disbelieving. He said, “Shut up.”
To a clacking nun in training. And nothing happened. The Third Mystery.
We went to Mass every day during Lent. I didn’t understand the Latin,
but I recited it perfectly. I thought Et cum spiritu tuo was the Holy Ghost’s
phone number. I wanted to be an altar boy and use the candlelighter,
reaching high, touching wicks with fire, setting the stage for Mass.
I wanted to shake the bells at the consecration, and then hold
the communion plate to catch Jesus if he fell from someone’s
mouth. I thought, if he’d been crucified and resurrected, he could
probably handle a fall to the altar if I missed catching him. I wanted
to wear the red and white vestments and go up and down the aisles,
waving incense at the people in the pews. I wanted to answer the priest,
to kneel and bow and parade around doing things while all the people
watched. I asked Sister Mary Eulogia if I could be trained. “You can’t be
an altar boy, Catherine, because you’re a girl.” Stern eyes flashed through
rimless glass circles. My heart doubted her theology. The Fourth Mystery.
We received a monthly magazine, Catholic Highlights for Boys and Girls.
Every issue featured a child martyr who told the Roman soldiers, “I love
Jesus, and won’t stop,” so the child met a gruesome end and became a saint.
There were also articles about catechism and tips for being pious, but I turned
to the martyr tales first. One night, I read how one of the child martyrs proved
his love for God by sleeping on sticks and stones. I went outside and found
some stones, added my jacks and balls and dried peas and the peashooter,
scattered them in my bed, settled myself gently, and waited to feel holier. “JMJ,”
I said. I did not enjoy it. I hoped God noticed and I was proving my love.
My mother came in to say goodnight. She sat and felt a stone. Or two. I had
to confess my plan, and asked if she could see my halo beginning to glow. She
dissuaded me from being a child martyr. We cleared my bed of stones and jacks.
My mother tucked me in and kissed me. She told me I was precious; she loved me.
I heard her whispering to my father in the hallway. They were laughing. I inhaled
the music of their laughter and was blessed. I knew God would make that music.
Why would someone expect you to suffer to prove your love? The Fifth Mystery.
© Copyright of all visual and written materials on The Daily Round belongs solely to Catherine M. O’Meara, 2011-Present. Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited, without the author’s written approval. No one is authorized to use Catherine O’Meara’s copyrighted material for material gain without the author’s engagement and written permission. All other visual, written, and linked materials are credited to their authors. Thank you, and gentle peace.