There's Hope After All

April 21, 2007 by susan

This just in! Limbo On the Way Out!

by susan
Due my older sister's refusal to set foot in our local public school, for a stretch of my life we were sent to the neighboring Catholic school, Sacred Heart. For me it was an out-of- the-fying-pan- in-to-the-fire sort of experience. Even back then I wasn't terribly happy being told what to do, but the progressive curriculum of the public school allowed me to avoid the things I hated, like math, and speed ahead in the things I loved, like reading, and left me plenty of free time to lounge around with the boys in the woodwork shop. (We're talking 2nd grade here. Don't get the wrong idea.) With the nuns, it was a different story. For more blasphemy, read on.

Coming from non-believing parents, all of the talk of martyrs and saints was as gory and surreal as Grimm's fairy tales. The female saints tended to be "pure" girls who defied evil daddies and remained chaste for Christ, while the male saints tended to endure sadistic torture that the nuns seemed to relish coloring in with vivid detail.

The names of the Catholic schools lent themselves to interesting cheers. (Yes, by 8th grade I was a cheerleader.) "Goooo Sacred Heart; Beeeeat Our Lady." And while it may range from absurd to insulting to put large rodents or noble chiefs on pep club banners, plastering the gym with paintings of dripping hearts bordered on psycho-hilarity.

Catechism class put forth a lot of sketchy concepts, from virgin birth to walking on water. But for some reason, the one that really hooked me was limbo. If a baby dies before being baptized, he/she can never go to heaven, thanks to the original sinners who blew it all, Adam and Eve. (But let's face it, it's all about Eve.)

It never made sense to me that babies, or any of us, should suffer for something someone else did, especially if it was done in a previouis millenium. In fact, why did I have to suffer Catholic school and mean nuns when I was perfectly happy back in the woodwork shop? Besides, I wasn't baptized, so did I have one of those grey milk bottle souls like they showed in the catechism book? Was I going to bounce around on clouds with cute babies for eternity? Frankly, that didn't sound like such a bad option to me. I liked babies and wasn't all that interested in judgment day and meeting god, who seemed to me to be a fairly heavy-handed father, holy or no. Limbo was the perfect free pass, I thought, until I discovered that you loose that pass at the age of reason, which I had just reached, and my destiny was lilkely to be purgatory.

Well, the lord works in mysterious ways. My sister thought being at a Catholic school without getting the perks, like communion and confession, wasn't -- kosher, and though we baptized our cat and parakeet and held private communion services at home with Necco candies, it wasn't enough for her.

That next summer we were baptized and made our first communion. A ticket to eternal damnation was now all mine, just waiting for my confirmation. As in tickets, not the sacrament, which was pretty much a disaster for me because I forgot my name card in the pew, and the one-armed and unsmiling Cardinal Stritch was moving along the communion rail getting closer to me and so in panic I ran back to get the card and zipped back up to the rail in the nick of time to kiss his ring and become a soldier for Christ with the new name, Katherine -- after the chaste Indian saint, Katherine Tekewitha. Later the nuns told me I had ruined the service for everyone.

But I still longed for babyland and limbo, and couldn't get the picture out of my mind of Gerber babies bouncing on clouds. It seemed like such a nice option for those who are neither good nor bad, but a little above average. Purgatory has more losers, grown ups who can't decide about anything.

So it was with mixed emotions that I read today that the Pope is moving closer to shutting down limbo. After many years of study, a Vatican committee published a "much-anticipated" report, concluding that unbaptized babies who die may go to heaven after all.

Noting that this is not "sure knowledge", the commission said in its 41-page report that there are "serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and brought into eternal happiness." Gosh, does that mean all those unbaptized babies killed in Baghdad might get into heaven now?

Well, not so fast. Conservative Catholics are balking, saying such a move will lessen the church's teachings on baptism, and discourage parents from christening their infants. Nothing in this world, or the next, is certain.

But it seems there's hope after all, on both sides of the limbo coin. Thanks Perhansa, for your musings on hope, but you've been trumped by the Vatican.


Posted in


Barbara aka Babs (not verified) | April 21, 2007 - 3:34pm

Ah, Susan, you've done it all, had it all. I grew up a Catholic wannabe in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood in south Minneapolis. I was blown away by the concept of confession. Stories of stern nuns and holier-than-thou priests made me hunger for a chunk o'Rome in Minnesota. Truly. I used my mother's pearls as a rosary when it was recited every vacation day on the Brainerd radio station. I dutifully intoned its mysterious and, to me, compelling message, over and over again. I was simply amazed to learn that women and girls could put a Kleenex on their head, which sufficed as head-covering for attending Mass.

My friends used to sit outside on a blanket, positioned in the shade, and kept relative silence from noon to 3:00 on Good Fridays. I was enthralled with the whole thing. And yes, bingo, too.

Now you're telling me that the limbo that loomed large for this little protestant Swede may have been ill-considered, yea verily, bogus? That I sold my soul for the sin of envy for nothing, zip, nada?! That those poor babies over whom I anguished will one day flood the pearly gates all at one time, and be allowed entry?

Okay. I'm being blasphemous, too. But I'm not kidding when I say that Catholic ritual and its strict beliefs looked very appealing to this cynical old fart when I was a young 'un. Just sayin'.


Poet (not verified) | April 21, 2007 - 6:24pm


if there really is reincarnation you shall return as the next Dorothy Parker and give us the laugh and chuckle we all need to stay sane. You and Susan at your best are like Worcestershire and hot sauce on hamburgers--the most perfect and complimentary marinade imaginable. May you both keep on cookin'.


susan | April 22, 2007 - 10:01am

Thanks Poet -- but am I the Worcestershire or the hot sauce?

Back to that Catholic education I had for six years. Yes, there were real people behind those robes, and the meanest teacher of any, bar none, was Miss Keller, the "lay" teacher I had in the third grade. Mean to me anyway. Sister Regina Marie, in 4th grade, liked me and taught me how to swing a bat like Willie Mays, but she had a tendency to slug boys who were slow at their multiplication tables.

That said, I hung out with some incredible families when I was at Sacred Heart -- ones with 10-12 children that ran with cheerful efficiency. And then there was my best friend, whose parents drank in the extreme and fought with such brawling vehemence that on one sleepover -- my last -- we hid under the bed while her mother screamed for us to call the police. Next morning, we all went off to mass like nothing had happened.

But I didn't mean to knock the people who find religion helpful in their lives. And, as every one knows, many of the successful drives for social justice have been led by religious leaders.

It's just the rigid -- and ridiculous -- leaders -- whether imams who believe in a god who subjugates women, or popes who believe in a god who cares whether babies are spritzed with "holy" water -- who curdle my milk. And play a part in keeping me home on a Sunday morning while Jimfest goes off to his very socially responsible and open-minded church. But those of you who do believe, please pray for my soul. Just in case.


Poet (not verified) | April 22, 2007 - 10:21am

Susan inquires:

Thanks Poet -- but am I the Worcestershire or the hot sauce?


It really depends on the occasion--so far mostly worcestershire, but not always. In fact sometimes the both of you appear to go through polarity reversal and that is definately what makes this blog so interesting and enjoyable to me--your openess not only to influence but to be influenced by each other. Marinade on!


Barbara aka Babs (not verified) | April 22, 2007 - 10:29am

"Marinade on!"

This may be my favorite of all time. Thanks.


Poet (not verified) | April 21, 2007 - 6:15pm

Growing up in the East (Philadelphia PA) I was surrounded by many Irish, Polish, Italian,and even French Roman Catholics. When I first heard of some of the rituals and customs of that Church I thought (as an elementary school aged kid) "that's the craziest baloney I have ever heard" but most of the kids were friends and nice playmates.

It was a good initiation into the equally "crazy world" of the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, and all other heirarchially organized faiths AKA "organized religion" which I would subsequently encounter in my life.

Too often we forget the very human face of admittedly bizarre organizations. This and not their heirarchially inspired priesthoods and belief systems is the real heart and core of evangelization success. In reality, how we live our life every day and not some doctrinal mumbo-jumbo is our real connection to God and one another.

Your kid's eye view of some of the esoteric imaginings of Roman Catholic (or substitute any other faith here) doctrine as compared to the nasty, sour, and occasionally mean reflection of the initiators of that "faith" was a touching and poingnant reminder to me. Thank you for that.


perhansa (not verified) | April 22, 2007 - 10:55am

Cheers from sunny London town.

My mother was a devout catholic and it's from her I get my social justice genes. She spent many years serving the poor and mentally disabled in the community through her church. My father was an ex-marine sergeant (Korea) and a baptist turned presbyterian and that's the church my siblings and I were raised in--which meant, we didn't get baptized until we were older. My mother told me later in life that was an unending nightmare for her for she feared I would die and be sent to limbo. I was her first born and only son. She and my grandmother plotted on multiple occasions to have me secretly baptized for my eternal protection.

Over time she started eating meat on Fridays and when she died my father and mother were attending a compromise (Lutheran) church together. Religion was important to them both, not in an obsessive way, but as a part of their very strong sense of responsibility, fairness, commitment to family, and community. I thank them for those role models however it came about.

I marvel that it took a theological study and 41 page report to say there's hope that the wee ones won't be left lingering in the cosmic neverland. My children are all BA Christians and I know they fear for my eternal demise and pray regularly for my soul. Sorry I can't take Pascal up on his wager. It's the fear and mental/emotional anxiety that religion creates with its unfounded (and often ridiculous) beliefs that I find most offensive. Plus, the willingness to die or kill or persecute for them...Nice post Susan, I enjoyed reading this.


susan | April 22, 2007 - 11:08am

It was through our brief time in the Catholic church that my mother got involved in something called the Catholic Inter-racial Council, (not sure that's quite the right name, but close) and became deeply involved in the civil rights movement, including going to jail in Albany, GA, with Dr. King. So, as a result of my Catholic education, I break out in hives when I smell incense or hear too much god-the-father talk, but I also got a heckuva role model in my mom. A fair trade-off.
Perhansa -- we're not envious of you being in London, too much. But, it's sunny here too, and the Maple buds have popped to neon green.
Poet -- Those who know me would not consider me the Worcestershire in the marinade. Isn't it slightly sweet?


Poet (not verified) | April 22, 2007 - 7:12pm

Susan observes:

Poet -- Those who know me would not consider me the Worcestershire in the marinade. Isn't it slightly sweet?


Indeed it is but it is also slightly fishy (anchovies don't you know!) As for what others think--well maybe i get to introduce you to a part of you that neither they nor you know very well just yet. Marinade on!


Leftymn (not verified) | April 24, 2007 - 5:08pm

ahhh Catholicism, I was raised in the bosom of the HMC(Holy Mother Church) as a young boy in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan...the 10 member pack of young lads I ran with circa 1962 was made up of 9 Catholic boys(of Italian, Polish, French backgrounds) and one Lutheran ... I can vividly remember us candidly informing Kevin Borseth that he and his entire family were going to hell because they were not Catholics... he argued with his Reformationist best (Missouri Synod) but was reduced to going home in tears by we learned elders. This experience was somewhat unnerving to me (I was with my co-religionists) although being raised as a Catholic , I was in fact, the offspring of a mixed marriage, yes , mom was also a Missouri Synod Lutheran... and it certainly left me less than enthusiastic that my wonderful mother was also doomed to an eternity in hell (well I assumed Purgatory for her as she truly was wonderful and I guessed the Catholic God and the HMC would see that and allow her say a few hundred years of Purgatory before entering the heavenly domain) ... despite the best efforts of the good fathers of St Sebastian and the School Sisters of Notre Dame I am today an apostate .....

and what, may you ask, happened to Kevin Borseth? Last week he accepted the Head Coaching position of the Women's basketball team at the University of Michigan. (despite his grim future in the dark abysss....I think he might be able to turn that program around. )


susan | April 24, 2007 - 10:40pm

Welcome to the apostate thread. Perhaps turning around the women Wolverines (?) will keep him from the dark abyss. The lord works in mysterious . . . And where in the UP did you grow up?


leftymn (not verified) | April 25, 2007 - 8:49am

"women Wolverines" , indeed, I don't think I will comment on that one.

Bessemer, Michigan... a former iron mining area, much like the Iron Range of MN, last iron mine closed in 1964, schools now struggling to stay afloat as Michigan has the same school funding problems as does MN. Being a mining area it had the caucasian ethnic diversity of an industrial American city... my family was Italian/German, neighbors were:
Cornish(the father was the 7th son of a 7th son and thought to possess mystical powers, can you say Druidism lives? they were an interesting bunch), German(two unwed brothers and an unwed sister, the brothers were alcoholics, the sister left) Finnish/Polish(Taisto a Finn atheist and his Catholic wife Betty), Italian(older couple), Polish, Swedes, Italian, English/Cornish, and at the end of the block Slovenian (who married a war bride from Kentucky).....

and St Sebastian's was across the street at the end of the


susan | April 25, 2007 - 10:44pm

Bessemer must be near Iron Mountain and Norway. And your Cornish neighbors brought us the pasty, no? (Yes to rutabaga.) My son-in-law is a Yooper, from Marquette.
Funny, when you write about the mix -- atheist Finns and Druids and Slovenians, Italians and Poles -- well, makes you wonder how you all got along when Sunnis and Shiites and Christians and the rest of us aren't doing such a good job ot it. Shared dream?