Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Our next book club selection is “Wait till next year; a memoir” by Doris Kearns Goodwin the story of a young girl growing up in the 1950s and loving baseball. I’m not very far into the book, and although I think I know where this religious memory will go as she ages out of innocence and trust, I thought this passage very charming, and so different from my own “believer’s baptism” on Palm Sunday 1950 and 6 weeks of instruction on Sunday afternoon for an hour or so with Rev. Statler.

“Sister Marian introduced us to the text familiar to generations of Catholic schoolchildren: the blue-covered Baltimore Catechism with a silver Mary embossed on a constellation of silver stars. The catechism was organized around a series of questions and answers we had to memorize word for word to help us understand the meaning of what Christ had taught and, ultimately, to understand Christ Himself. “Who made us? God made us.” “Who is God? God is the Supreme Being who made all things.” “Why did God make us? God made us to show happiness in Heaven.” Although it was learned by rote, there was something uniquely satisfying about reciting questions we had to memorize, both the questions and the answers. No matter how many questions we had to memorize, each question had a proper answer. The Catholic world was a stable place with an unambiguous line of authority and an absolute knowledge of right and wrong.

We learned to distinguish venial sins, which displeased our Lord, from the far more serious mortal sins, which took away the life of the soul. We memorized the three things that made a sin mortal: the thought or deed had to be grievously wrong; the sinner had to know it was grievously wrong; and the sinner had to consent fully to it. Clearly, King Herod had committed a mortal sin when, intending to kill the Messiah, he killed all the boys in Judea who were two years old or less. Lest we feel too far removed from such a horrendous deed, we were told that those who committed venial sins without remorse when they were young would grow up to commit much larger sins, losing their souls in the same way that Herod did.” pp. 90-91, hardcover edition

My goodness! That’s more than I know today about the Baltimore Catechism, or even Luther’s Small Catechism. I’ve never understood the difference between mortal and venial sins before. But ratcheting up venial to mortal because of lack of remorse does sound serious to me today--although in 1950 I’m not so sure I would have understood as well as she did. It sounds a lot like our own criminal justice system, doesn’t it? Awareness and remorse. But then, I only had a few hours of instruction, and I’m not sure we even covered sin! As well written as this is, and as intense as she was (she goes on to write about baptizing her dolls in case the need ever came up, having been instructed that Catholics could do this for an unbaptized, dying person), there’s no indication in this charming story of what she believes today--only what she was taught then. At least not by page 91.

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