Growing up Catholic in a small town in Texas | by Kathleen Kaska | November 2022

Three strikes, I’m out

Texas style

I have left the fair three times in my life. Once when I decided to attend a small Catholic Church (more of a mission) near where I live. Unfortunately the priest could not come that morning so a prayer service was held instead. After the Gospel reading, a guy leading the service opened up the Word for anyone who wanted to comment on the reading or anything else that was on their mind. Immediately, I thought, big mistake! To make matters worse, there was a microphone. Never ask people what they think and then give them a microphone.

Photo of Bill Stefan on Unsplash

So I had to listen to a bunch of nonsense. Some people asked for seconds on the microphone. Everyone wanted to comment on what everyone was saying. A woman talked about her vegetable garden for twenty minutes. I kept waiting for her to point out something important, but it didn’t happen. Two people must have just come off a 12-step program and still have a burning desire to “share” their stories. They were good stories too. I wanted to hear more but couldn’t concentrate because the vegetable garden story was getting in the way. timing is everything.

I feared this “prayer service” would continue until the Second Coming. But getting out was not easy as everyone was seated on a tribune-like structure and the only exit was through the crowd and squeaky steps to the front where the speaker stood. After two hours, I stuffed the guilt in, slung my purse over my shoulder, and left.

Another time I was at church in a strange city. It was full. Standing only. The priest must have felt that with such a large audience he had to get his money’s worth with the sermon. I don’t remember his sermon except that it was long. He then announced a special community program that was being prepared. He handed everyone a pamphlet—a long one. Twelve pages – fine print. Then he proceeded to read the whole thing to the congregation. He stopped several times to explain the information in more detail. Sneaking out was easy this time because I was in the back and the floor didn’t squeak.

I saved my best walk-out story for last. I was in my early twenties, living in Waco, and decided to attend Mass there instead of going to St. Mary’s Church in West, my hometown. It was the early 1970s and the feminist movement was in full swing. I had just attended my first Willie Nelson outdoor concert, held in Abbott, and saw (and smelled) things I had never seen or smelled before. I was horrified but everyone seemed happy and okay – who am I to judge? God wants us to be happy, right? I had also started visiting Austin as often as possible in anticipation of moving to UT. So you get what was going on in my head: women’s rights, Willie Nelson and Austin, Texas. I questioned everything, especially the teachings of the Catholic Church. I wanted to sleep in Sunday morning and miss Mass, but the mere thought of it sent a tidal wave of guilt.

This priest did not know that I was in a vulnerable state. He didn’t know the religious fence I’d ridden bucked like Gilly’s bull. He didn’t know I had stopped wearing a bra (or maybe he did, because according to the gospel he went in front of the altar to be closer to the congregation). I swear he looked straight at me. The theme of his sermon: A woman’s place is in the home.

I almost choked. For real? Did I hear that right?

I looked around and no one seemed impressed. I was hoping to hear a message that would encourage me to keep going to church and not something that would make me run for my life.

I slept in the following Sunday. I wasn’t struck by lightning. The earth didn’t swallow me. The proverbial bus didn’t hit me. I felt pretty good.

Aside from family weddings, baptisms, and funerals, it had been ten years since I attended mass again. Fortunately, things have changed since those days: Saint John Paul II preached that women should speak up and raise their voices. Pope Francis believes that love is love no matter who you are in love with. Now when I’m in church and I hear something I don’t agree with, instead of walking out, I start daydreaming. Sometimes about my next mystery; sometimes about what I’m going to have for lunch. Once I wrote a whole short story in my head. It was about Jesus and his dog Buddy, who was small enough to fit in his ear. The priest was probably wondering why I was giggling.

Even though my break lasted a decade, I didn’t feel guilty about it. But once a Catholic, always a Catholic, whether you go to church or not. I knew I would come back one day. I will be thinking of you all next Sunday.

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