Is the Pope a Catholic? She is now. My little girl became one earlier this month, just shy of her first half birthday. I can almost hear thousands of eyes being thrown to the heavens as they read that sentence. And I get it. I understand the antipathy and the anger many people – people I like and respect – rightly have for the Catholic Church.
I appreciate the absurdity of making my daughter join a club that won’t grant her full membership because of her gender and I know the church – in the form it has come in for centuries – is almost as far from a Christian ideal as it can be.
And, as a nonpractising Catholic, I am aware of my hypocrisy in swelling its ranks when perhaps the right thing to do would be to simply reject it and all its works.
So, yes, I had mental reservations – to borrow (and misuse) a phrase from one of the darker episodes of recent church history. But when I saw my little girl, full of smiles and swimming in the white gown her mother had once worn, instinct told me I was doing the right thing.
It felt right because, through this simple act of celebration – and compromise – I was honouring the memory of my parents, for whom organised religion was hugely important. Even though the church into which they were born was an even colder and more unforgiving place than it is today, they had found solace there. They’re long since gone, but they would have been heartbroken had their youngest child refused to christen their youngest grandchild.
Selfishly ephemeral reasons
But I wasn’t simply driven by a desire to do right by my parents. I was motivated by selfishly ephemeral reasons too. The christening gave us – her parents and her sisters – an excuse for a day out, a reason to dress up and celebrate her arrival and acknowledge, in a fashion more enduring than an Insta-story, the joy she has brought to our world.
Outside of a church, there aren’t many ways to mark a child’s arrival. Yes, there are naming ceremonies and welcome days but, from my admittedly less than exhaustive research, these appeared to lack the formality I wanted.
If I was going to pretend to be part of a religion or organised nonreligion, I may as well go with one I actually belonged to once
Humanists also work in the welcoming space and I’m assured Unitarians do a nice line in mildly religious christenings. But although I love the Unitarian idea and most of the humanists I’ve met have been lovely, in a slightly crumpled and eccentric fashion, I am neither. If I was going to pretend to be part of a religion or organised non-religion, I may as well as go with one I actually belonged to once.
It was the right decision for us, if only for the look on my little girl’s face as she gazed in wonder at the priest in his long white dress, with its shimmering gold trim, which looked as if it had come straight from the set of Priscilla Queen of the desert.
Everything about the event, from the weather to the food to the extended playground visit, was perfect. And the ceremony was built on love, hope and happiness, rather than threats of eternal damnation and talk of sin. And everyone agreed the priest who officiated was lovely.
Truth be told, I was vaguely disappointed by how progressive and inclusive the Lovely Priest was. I’d spent weeks reminding the (whisper it) Protestant godparents that their only job was to reject Satan and all his vices – including the fun ones like recreational sex, eating full tubs of Häagen-Dazs at midnight, and gossiping about Christmas party carry-on.
But there was none of that. All that was asked of them was that they try to do right by our little girl.
Then the Lovely Priest invited everyone on to the stage (as one of my slightly less little girls called it). It was at this point the depth of her and her older sister’s religious instruction thus far was revealed. The Lovely Priest asked us all to say an Our Father. The Catholics – lapsed and practising – the Protestants, the Jews and the atheists in the congregation knew all the words.
The only two people left completely stumped were the Pope’s children. Scarleh for their da.
The Lovely Priest didn’t mind. He acknowledged there were many people in the church who were nonbelievers or lapsed – and others who had clearly never been given any religious instruction despite promises made at Christenings past. He stressed that neither he nor his Church had all the answers.
His humble lack of dogmatic certainty was pleasing. Ultimately, he asked all of us to do just two things: to be kind to each other and to allow room for mystery in our lives. As rules to live by go, they’re not so bad