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The one thing I learned from my parents about being Catholic

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Cerith Gardiner - published on 02/13/23

It's surprising the positive effects that turning up late for Mass can have decades later ...

[Note: An Aleteia editor came across this article about learning to parent from our parents, and started to muse about how we learn to believe, often, from our parents. The Pope likes to talk about how his grandmother was instrumental in his faith. So, the Aleteia staff decided to share an anecdote about our believing and our parents’ role in it. We hope you enjoy them! Click for the reflections from John Burger; Fr. Peter John Cameron; J-P Mauro; and today we hear from Cerith Gardiner.]

Before I start it’s important to appreciate the cultural and religious backgrounds of my parents.

My mom is Welsh and grew up in a family that wasn’t overly practicing. Her own mother was a Baptist, who died when my mother was just 16, so she had to grow up fast. Her father was a Catholic who ensured my mom received an education from French nuns.

Then there’s my dad. He’s Irish and from a very large, very practicing Catholic family, where religion is often linked to superstition, with God watching his every single move with suspicion. I wouldn’t say my father was particularly religious. He would go to Mass because it was something he was taught to do; something that was the right thing to do.

So, how did my parents bring their 9 children to the Catholic Church?

Quite literally, usually late! We were the family that arrived at Mass a good few minutes after the priest was settling into his prayers. My father would refuse to let us sidle in. No, we’d walk straight down the aisle to find our regular pew at the front, with the weekly dose of mortification spreading among the siblings.

It’s not that my parents didn’t respect the Mass times. It was just unbelievably tough to get us all out the door on time in a reasonable state — and I was apparently the one who was always filthy, dragging myself on the floor.

My harangued parents knew there was nothing to be ashamed of by arriving with their gang of kids five minutes late. We were present, and our Catholic community was grateful we were there.

Looking back, I think this is the lesson they taught me about Catholicism that I took into adulthood: Being a Catholic means being tolerant — tolerant of others, and tolerant of ourselves. As long as we are truly doing our best, that is all God wants from us.

This is a message that I try to pass on to my own kids all the time. We have a Heavenly Father who is easy to please — we just need to make the effort to show Him that we really do want to please Him.

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