†I haven't been here in years, except for the folk masses when I came to check out the guitarists, but I can't count that.
†Nothing physically has changed, and yet it is all different, the faces of the priests the Vatican plugs in and out like interchangeable circuit boards, each imprinted with the proper program. While many of the people are the same, old timers struggling to remember the details of Vatican II, they stand when they should sit, and search for the kneel pads long ago removed.
†The rituals are new to me partly because I did not pay them much attention when I came here more regularly, the shaking of the hands, the blessing of each other, the English language which takes all the mystery from the Mass.
†Most of the others recognize my discomfort, sensing from my bursts of Latin rather than English my long absence. Some watch me suspiciously, as if they believed I came as some kind of spy from Satan, seeking to steal the secrets of the mass for some evil purpose. Others simply look at me resentfully, as if I needed to suffer through years of these rituals before they could greet me as an equal. And some, the more righteous and those who come to this place because they actually want to, and like it, eye me with a slightly skewed version of the prodigal son's father, in this version, shaking their heads at me as to why I took so long to make my confession and return.
†"Are you sorry for what you have done?" those eyes ask.
†"Hell, no," I think, "I'm the same as ever."
†I am the same kid who used to hide in the cemetery on Sundays to avoid this trip to Mass, the same kid who counted grave stores while trying to picture the cold stare of the people buried beneath.
†I am the same terror who used to arrive daily in Catholic school, nuns cringing over my innocent questions about their faith. These same nuns kept my company after school as well, as punishment for what they perceived as ill humor. But I was not joking. Each question was honest in its presentation, all that a ten year old boy could expect to ask if he had a brain, counting each of their claims of faith and devotion with one word: "Why?"
†"Why what?" they always asked back, countering my question with a question.
†"Why is there a God?"
†"Sssh!" they'd say with frightened expressions, as if their God had no use for such questions, and that by simply hearing one, those nuns might suffer eternal damnation.
†"But why?" I insisted.
†"All right, All right," they'd say in their gruff manner, while pulling me by the eat to the church. "If you won't listen then you'll kneel here until you do."
†But I never did listen. I have bone growths on my knees today from not giving in. Why couldn't they tell me, those nuns with their gravestone faces, why couldn't they simply tell me I was God's son?