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May 7, 2021 · OPINION

Intolerance and mysteries, according to Sister Roselma

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By Don Bachmann
Stops Along the Way

We were not wealthy people, but my mother believed it essential that her children receive a Catholic education. Subsequently and in rapid succession, I, along with my sister and brother, were enrolled at St. Tarcissus Catholic School in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

My older sister fit right into the regimen; my little brother was too young to notice, and I preferred playing football to religious instruction. In any event, one would have thought this would have been enough to satisfy my mother, but it wasn’t. Her eventual goal was to have me and then my brother become church altar boys.

And so, to keep her happy, I entered the incense-laden corridors of theology. But, worse than the smell were attending special catechism classes and learning Mass responses in Latin. When a bit older, however, I didn’t mind having to watch the 1950s TV show Life is Worth Living, hosted by one of the first televangelists, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. The theology was beyond me, but I was game to learn about temptation and sinning. Oh my … the things they did in the Bible!

Even though I was an attentive student, I still got in trouble due to my tendency to question everything. Now, this takes me directly to Sister Roselma. In catechism class, she taught, “It was easier for a camel to pass though the eye of a needle, than for a non-Catholic to enter the kingdom of Heaven.” As most of the boys I played football with were non-Catholics, I found this troubling. They seemed alright to me.

When I questioned Sister Roselma about this, she looked at me sternly and instructed me to hold out my hand ... palm up. Then, quick as a rattler, she smacked my hand with the heavy pointer she always carried. She said her action was a lesson to symbolize the pain caused by my disbelief. I learned my lesson quickly.

The next time she told me to hold out my hand, I waited until she was in her downswing before abruptly pulling my hand away. She broke her pointer on the edge of my desk, and I earned a visit to the principal’s office and a note to my mother. Holy hell broke out!

Sister Roselma said I was “incorrigible” and failed me for the entire term. I didn’t know what incorrigible meant, but I did realize I would have to endure another year of her tutelage. My mother was so disappointed, and I always felt bad when I disappointed her. And so for her sake, I decided to go along; I hid my thoughts and, in time, became the altar boy my mother wanted.

Later in life, I regarded Sister Roselma merely as another crusader seeking to spread her religion. This is not new. Throughout history, many religions regarded their path to God to be proprietary and proselytizing as their mission ... a mission often frequented by much intolerance.

This seems counterintuitive. When a religion is exclusive by the non-acceptance of others’ beliefs, doesn’t it weaken the spiritual/moral communion that all religions seek? Conversely, when a religion is inclusive by mutual acceptance, doesn’t this strengthen the mission of all religions in building man’s relationship with his God? Surely, there has to be more than one path to God, and, what works for one man doesn’t necessarily work for all men. An understanding God knows this and must be pleased to answer to the many names given Him.

Also, I have developed a lot more faith in this understanding God … a God who can recognize the difference between an honest seeker searching for enlightenment and a self-satisfying skeptic. And, if God cannot perceive that, then we need not worry because he is not God.

And finally I would say, “Goodnight, Sister Roselma ... wherever you are.” I have my suspicions.

PS: My sister is a Catholic lay minister and my brother is a Lutheran … and, as for me, I guess I’m still just another seeker relying on an understanding God.

The columnist lives near Orlean.

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