I was raised in a Catholic family, attended Catholic grade school and was an active member of my parish. At my age, I am not as active as I was in my younger days.
Over the years, there have been many jokes and stories about churches and religion, some of which were about church rules and customs that are no longer practiced. I will try to recall some of the above, and ask that you remember some are true, because I was there, while others may or may not be.
The first pastor of our parish was Father Joe Koudelka. Most of the time, Fr. Joe had a cigar in his mouth, and he more likely chewed rather than smoked it. He would visit the school's classrooms a couple of times a year. When he came to Sister Benedicta's room, he perched his cigar on the edge of her desk while he talked to the students. She really didn't like that smelly thing in her classroom, let alone on her desk, and the look on her face said so (Sister Benedicta died on my wedding day).
Father Joe was known for his big rose garden. He would sometimes pick a rose to give to people passing by, especially schoolgirls, to take home to their parents.
In those long ago days, many women believed that a girl who was not married was not pretty enough to attract a husband, so she entered a convent. Our Sister Celestine was very attractive, and some of those ladies would say that she was too pretty to be a nun.
I remember church parades. There are a few churches that still do them. Little kids in their First Communion clothes, The Knights in flashy red and black uniforms, sometimes with a marching band and sidewalks jammed with parents, family and friends.
Our church had the distinction of having been made from a dance hall converted to a church, not just once, but on two separate occasions. It was unique in having the first four pastors named Joseph, Raymond, Joseph and Raymond.
This story is about a wealthy man asking a pastor to conduct a funeral ceremony for his dog. The pastor said the church doesn't do that, but when the man mentioned the large donation he would make, the pastor reversed his decision. When asked if the money had anything to do with his change of mind, the pastor said no, it was when he learned the dog was Catholic.
Over the years, there have been different ways for a church to emphasize the moment of consecration during a Mass. For decades, one of the altar boys would ring a bell, a set of bells or maybe some chimes. One time, the little boy couldn't find the bells in the sacristy, and he used his wits in that situation by saying, "Ting-a-ling-a-ling, ting-a-ling-a-ling."
Joyce was one of my friends who loved to travel. On this particular occasion, she was part of a congregation in the church of a small village somewehere in South America. At consecration time, she heard what sounded like rifle fire, and wondered why no one was hiding under the pews. They were all accustomed to igniting fireworks instead of ringing bells.
When Laddie was a curious, active 2- or 3-year-old, his parents didn't take him to church, because he would not understand being quiet, and not free to run around. They waited until they thought he was ready, and he was all eyes and ears in the new environment. He didn't miss a thing. When the consecration bells rang, he blurted out, loud enough for the whole church to hear, "Jingle Bells!".
Confession has been the subject of many made-up jokes. This one is about a carpenter who confessed to stealing lots of valuable lumber. The priest said the penance for such a sin would have to more than a few Hail Marys, and asked if the carpenter knew how to make a novena. The carpenter answered by saying, "No, but if you have the plans, I know where to get the lumber."
Another case involved a priest hearing confessions in one ear and listening to a football game with the other. Instead of assigning Hail Marys, he gave a penance of 10 yards.
Andy, Barney and Charlie were all at the site of a big construction project. Andy was just a curious bystander, interested in the way the building was being put together. He asked Barney, "What is your job on this project? What are you doing?" Barney said he was "moving a pile of bricks from here to way over there." Then Charlie was asked the same question, "What are you doing?" He stood up straight, brushed himself off and proudly said, "I'm building a cathedral."
If you were part of such a cathedral, it would not matter whether you were a brick deep in the foundation or the gold cross on the tallest steeple. Both are important and needed. Think about that.
Next time I'll write about stained glass windows in churches.
Editor's note: Straka can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.