Gin, The Passion, and Reclaiming Doubting Thomas

St. Augustine's, using large format, around 1992.

Jesus dying was a big event in my Catholic household growing up. Mostly, I was relieved that Lent was over and my mom could drink Gin again. I was always one for theatrical events and our Church was a busy little powerhouse of theatre during this time. First of all, the ‘Passion’ was read. Now, if you’ve ever been to a Catholic Easter service you’ll know what I’m talking about. It is the long version of the tale of the death and subsequent resurrection of Jesus. On two occasions I fainted during the reading of it. Likely due to tight-fitting polyester circa 1974 and the fact that the betrayal of Jesus was just too much for me. Why did Judas have to act like that?

In a family as big as mine, Easter egg hunts were not easy. First of all, it was aggressive because despite the fact we were celebrating the resurrection of Jesus, my brothers would scupper down my entire basket happily whilst I kept looking for hours on end, calling out, ‘has anyone seen MY basket?’. I remember once I was underneath the dining room table, squinting in the dark recesses a mile-long, when someone leaned under and said, ‘You will never find your basket’, with a mixture of glee and satanic edge that made me burst into tears. I did find it eventually but it was as I suspected, pillaged already.

Life at the bottom of a family of 13 prepares you for a lot of life’s dubious encounters down the road.

Always a sucker for drama, I think Easter is the ultimate performative pageant in religion and I loved the lines of candle holding altar boys (no girls when I was little, nope, too important a job for girls), that paraded down the aisle with the priests’ in their Easter costumes, the Archbishop sometimes bringing up the rear of the procession white hat and all. I always felt we should clap when they entered, I mean, wow, this was a serious troupe of performers, let’s show some respect!

Easter morning breakfast was similar to Christmas morning breakfast in the mayhem and smells that happened only a few times a year: orange juice with cheap sparkling wine, bacon, and scrambled eggs. For dinner we had a giant ham and I liked to wear full length dresses to these events for lack of a ‘real’ party to go to. My brothers cocked eyebrows at me and I’m sure often wondered, ‘where did this one come from?’.

The tale of Jesus’ resurrection likely predetermined some of my more puzzling attachments to boyfriends in my adult life. I was sure they would change their minds, get a job, finally divorce their wife, or even, tell me their real name. Sigh. Believing in the resurrection my mother would whisper to me during mass, requires faith. But, I would whisper back, there’s no proof. She would smile benignly and say, ‘Margaret, don’t be a doubting Thomas’. For those of you who might not know, Thomas was the apostle who had to stick his hand through Jesus’ side to see if he were really there or not after he ‘rose from the dead’. Being a doubting Thomas was akin to being an axe-murderer in my mom’s mind. So, I tucked away my rational misgivings and plunged deep into the story of miracles.

Nowadays, I keep one eye open for a Jesus to appear, the other firmly fixed on what is actually going on. It is highly likely, as my brother Alan will attest, that I’ll fall for the resurrection story again, but in the meantime, I’m going to celebrate the Doubting Thomas in me and ask for full miracle-making proof up front before I believe.

1 Comment

Filed under Memoir

One response to “Gin, The Passion, and Reclaiming Doubting Thomas

  1. I too grew up in a Catholic household were Easter meant a new dress, new hat, new shoes and quantities of See’s candy (I’m a California girl) that would nearly induce a diabetic coma.

    What great images you do draw, Ms. Mags. Thanks for the smiles and reminder that a little Doubting Thomas in all of us ain’t such a bad thing.

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