A last deposit as I finish my tithing

A last deposit as I finish my tithing

Baseball and the Beatles made my formative years, and perhaps yours, indelibly better, and not for the reasons you might imagine.

Oh, sure, they offered hours and days and weeks and months and years of pure pleasure, marking the passage of time with distinct landmarks, the sort of memories that have literally lasted a lifetime.

But there was another layer to their importance.

Please allow me to introduce into evidence two famous quotes, the first from Ted Williams and the second from John Lennon.

“Jesus H. Christ himself couldn’t get me out.”


“We’re more popular than Jesus now.”

Williams, as you certainly know, is widely considered the best hitter in baseball history, the last man to hit .400, a player who retired with a .344 career batting average and is a Hall of Famer.

Lennon, of course, cofounded the most influential band in rock ‘n’ roll history, a group that has sold more than 600 million units. As a solo performer, he added 23 million more to his unreachable total.

So these two guys were giants in their respective worlds, artists in their particular fields, the sort of human beings of which it could be said, “God broke the mold” when they came into existence.

It might just be me, with my Roman Catholic upbringing and my college days at the University of Notre Dame, but I’ve always been reassured and somehow encouraged by their brazen declarations.

What some believed to be heresy, I considered the honest truth.

Which brings us to the second half of the top 10 memories of my little church, an edifice that has long since been razed, but one that has been much on my mind since I moved back home a month ago, having spent the last 23-plus years on the coast of North Carolina.

Let’s pick up the countdown where we left off last week:

5. Money changes everything

I understood, even at the tender age of 10, that some people were wealthy and others were poor. In the Bible we were told “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” and if Jesus said it in Luke 18:25, we took it to be Gospel. In my little church, ushers used to extend long-handled baskets into each pew in order to collect the contributions. Then they (and the money) disappeared, presumably to the priest’s sacristy where some solemn ceremony took place before he headed back to the rectory. This all changed, however, when someone decided to include the stacks of cash to be included in the Offertory procession, where greenbacks and checks joined the water and wine as deliveries to the altar before Communion. It always struck me as kind of obscene to witness that kind of pay-to-pray transaction to be displayed so nakedly, so publicly, so obviously.

4. Midnight Mass

It happened only once a year, so like most Christmas memories, it still holds a special spot in my heart. My family observed a time-honored series of Christmas Eve traditions. It started with Mom’s tuna-noodle casserole, followed by the Treasure Hunt (clues hidden throughout the house), the pass-around reading of “A Certain Small Shepherd,” closing with a recorded version of “A Christmas Carol,” to which we all listened.

Then it was time to get ready to go to church. We had to leave early, around 11:15 p.m., because the pews filled up fast with once-a-year Catholics, but that was just part of the ritual. What stays with me are the beautiful voices of the choir, the poinsettias that fronted the altar and the sacred sight of stained-glass windows in the dark.

3. Reading the Word of the Lord

This probably won’t surprise you, but I very much enjoyed getting the chance to stand at the lectern, in front of all those people, and perform on a Sunday morning. Call me arrogant, call me narcissistic, call me a whited sepulture, I don’t mind. What was extremely satisfying was doing my absolute finest to make the Old Testament words come alive as I read not one, but two Epistles, holding the attention of all who listened because I knew I was the best of all other commentators.

2. My first confession

I’ll make this short and sweet. The first time I unloaded my basketful of sins on the unsuspecting priest behind the curtain, I knew I’d stumbled onto a path to salvation.

In years to come, I also learned how to eliminate the middleman.

1. That no-good hippie commie pinko priest

If you remember summer 1969, you’ll instantly recall the moon landing and Woodstock, two seminal events of the late 20th century. You also might call to mind the Manson murders, Chappaquiddick and the unlikely resurgence of the New York Mets, a perennially downtrodden team that would go on to win the World Series. It was, in short, a time when the Earth’s axis seemed to be tilting more than a little bit off its once-reliable axis. No one knew what might happen next.

Onto that slippery stage stepped a long-haired, sideburn-sporting priest with movie-star good looks and a penchant for straying from the pulpit when delivering his homilies, walking up and down our center aisle as he talked with — and not to — those in faithful attendance. This, in my little town, had the equivalent impact of an atomic bomb, and the fallout was predictably negative. God-fearing parishioners wanted their sermons served lukewarm and forgettable, but this man of God was all about change and taking an active role in causes like the Vietnam Moratorium. It always makes me smile with pride when I remember my mother marching in the front ranks of that peaceful protest. Whew … 1969.

Why do I get the uneasy feeling I’ll be needing church in 2024?

Mike Dewey can be reached at Carolinamiked@aol.com or at 1317 Troy Road, Ashland, OH 44805. He invites you to find him on Facebook, where the Good Book is always in faithful circulation.

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