“In Latin America, even atheists are Catholics.”

— Carlos Fuentes

Are you going to church tomorrow? Did you go last Sunday? Did you notice that there were fewer of the faithful in the pews around you? No, it’s no bomb scare. It’s darker than that.

You do go? Good for you. But your son and daughter who used to sit right next to you, fumbling with the missal, poking at one another? Suddenly they grew up and disappeared. They went to college and became “their own person,” which means they came out as gay or changed political parties. Not that there is anything wrong with either of those.

So you took the grandkids to church. They fumbled with the missal, poked at each other, played with their smartphones, texting each other and God knows who else. And now they’re gone and you’re alone in the pew.

Pew Research Center (the other pew) statistics show that a third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. Catholics? One in 10 Americans have fled the church after having been raised Catholic. If you’re in elementary school now and reading this, stay in until you get to high school. You’ll miss getting days off on all those saints days. You’re the envy of the public school kids.


I’m an expatriate. The dictionary defines an expatriate as “a person who lives outside of their native country.” Yes, that’s me. Catholicism was my native country and I don’t live there anymore. It’s a long story. It’s complicated. You’d be bored.

I did marry a good Catholic girl who is still in the fold. I’m not above hedging my bets.

Some expatriates have become agnostics. Webster says that means they claim neither faith nor disbelief in God. That’s so boring. It’s the death of dinner party arguments.

Some have simply become “spiritual,” which means they have joined a Buddhist bowling team or yoga club, and sit in the lotus position until their meniscus acts up. I’m done with that. People of my age don’t do lotus unless it comes in an app.

Atheists. This is a growing faction. For the most part, statistics show that they’re a smart, well-educated, successful bunch not deserving of our disdain.

I don’t fit any of the above.


Yoga got painful, and Buddhists believe in abandoning earthly possessions. If they think I’m giving up my iPhone and Prius for a bowl and a saffron robe, fuggedaboutit. It can also mean eating lots of rice, which is not in my “Zero Belly Diet.”

The nuns got me early, and the Jesuits took it from there. They taught me right out of the box that if you don’t want to be a Catholic, fine. But you get no chocolate milk at recess.

And what would I do with my collection of medals? The St. Christopher medal I can toss. It came in a fund drive packet. It’s only tin, and besides, the church gave him up.

But St. Genesius, the patron saint of actors? It’s silver and pretty. Funny thing: Rachel Feldman, a Jewish girl, gave me that.

When I was in the sixth grade, a visiting priest gave Paddy Carr and me a deck of saints playing cards. True story.

I can only remember Christopher and Sebastian, he who was executed with arrows. For a while we played some kind of card game with them, until Mary Lister said we would go to hell if we kept doing it. I gave them to Paddy, and he traded them with Junior Erb for the first Captain Marvel comic book. Junior was Episcopalian. I’ll bet Paddy wishes he had that now … unless he’s in hell.

As for this lapsed altar boy, I go to church on the four days of obligation: Good Friday, Christmas, Easter and when She tells me to.

I fiddle and fuss, flip the pages of the missal and check my email until she takes the phone away from me. Almost always when I’m close to finding the app for lotus.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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