I grew up Catholic. We were members of St. Paul’s parish in the Greenville section of Jersey City. The church was magnificent. Lots of spires, stained glass windows, row upon row of rock hard oak pews, the stations of the cross chiseled into the granite walls, the beautiful side altars, the ornate baptistery, and the magnificent main altar. It was huge and had gold leafing all over it.
Fond Childhood Memories
The church always seemed foggy inside and had the smell of incense. The incense must have always been burning and making the fog. That is where I made my first confession and first communion. It was my parish. My church. My home with God. It was safe, and it was holy.
My fondest childhood memories were when I was seven to ten years old. I was innocent. All I remember is running, laughing, playing ball, and singing in church. I loved to sing. I must have had a pretty good voice as I made it into the choir.
The Catholic church sure knows how to sing praises to God. Our church had a big pipe organ which would sometimes make my chest vibrate. We would sing at the top of our lungs “How Great Thou Art!”
Excitement for Jesus’ Birth
The most special time was Christmas Eve midnight mass. This is big in Catholic parishes. Back then it seemed like everyone went to midnight mass. I would see people attend who never set foot in the church during the whole year, including my father.
But Christmas midnight mass was different. That service would transform the most hardened heart against God. It would make the apathetic excited about Jesus. The lights, the incense, the music, all of us in our Christmas best, it was all there. You couldn’t help but feel the presence of God. You couldn’t help but be excited for the moment Jesus was born.
I always looked forward to the singing. With the organ cranked up, we all would sing. Everyone would stand so I couldn’t see anything except the back of the guy in front of me. But it didn’t matter. I was singing such beautiful songs.
This was Christmas. This was the celebration. I was so filled with joy. Life was so simple. And when we left the church, there was more good stuff to come. We would go home and eat some really special meats and desserts my mom had prepared. Then I would go to bed with great anticipation of the gifts which would appear under the tree by morning. Gifts for me!
Today, Christmas is much more complex. Now I am a husband. I am a dad. I am a grandfather. I am a brother. I am a son-in-law. I am a brother-in-law. I am a friend. I am a ministry leader. I am an early stage investor. I am a business adviser. I am a mentor. I am a church member. I am a leader in my community. I am a 64-year-old. The responsibilities of life weigh heavily. I’m no longer innocent. I’m way past that.
But one thing has not changed. Jesus is still Lord and Savior of the world. He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Kathy and I will go to church on Christmas Eve and sing those hymns I sang years ago. Instantly, I will be brought back. I will be innocent again. I will be free of worldly cares. It will be just Kathy, Jesus, and me.
We are loved!