This just in! Limbo On the Way Out!
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.