At my writing desk in Ottawa, I sensed the presence of a sniffing 40-foot T-Rex threatening the finish of my faith memoir, Father Rick, Roamin' Catholic (Friesen Press, January 2022)
As a writer, I nod to the paleontologists as I imagine the dinosaur dragon, mixing non-fiction and fiction, real dinosaurs and Game of Thrones dragons; I was happy though recently to read reports on the discovery of fossils of flying dinosaurs in Australia.
I was struggling mightily with the worst type of writer's block. No, my pages were full, 90,000 words on my 70-year "crooked, straight" journey to heaven's door. Writing wasn't my problem. I was stuck instead on nagging doubts on why I wrote this memoir in the first place, and, good God, who im 2021 would read it. I had this distinct dinosaur feeling writing about a time, a church, and a religion that, going back to the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and into my priesthood days in the 1980s, felt like a trip back to Jurassic Park. There was this profound sense of dis-connect with today's generation where, gradually, "nones", no religious affiliation, has become the fastest growing group in Canada and the United States.
Ironically, Covid-19 helped slay that dinosaur. In April 2020, while isolating at my niece's home in Toronto, I began telling those faith stories to Claire Prashaw as we munched Easter eggs on Good Friday. On a dog walk later, it hit me. I could bridge two generations and 50 years by writing the telling of my story to Claire and Cruz into the book itself. Here is where it happens in my memoir
"....Now, half a century later, the wicked years 2020 and 2021 snared my diaspora
family. No longer able to meet closely, we’re surrounded by social bubbles,
flattening the curve, social distancing, masks, and Zoom.
After a madcap car ride home from a shortened writing sabbatical in Mexico,
the COVID-19 pandemic had me in isolation with a niece, Claire, who is
my goddaughter, and her twelve-year-old son, Cruz, in their Toronto home
across from High Park. I had first done a solo isolation in Picton, ON.
because I had sub-let my apartment in Ottawa for several months. No other
doors of siblings opened either as they each faced their own specific COVID-
19 isolation conundrums.
How could it be that, in less than two generations, this niece from Marty’s
good Catholic family can sit on the couch beside me, listen to those family
faith stories, and not remember?
“When is it Catholics put that black mark on the forehead?” Claire asks.
“What’s so special about the time right now, 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday?”
Growing up, Claire had gone to Sunday Mass and Catholic schools. My
gorgeous great-nephew Cruz though, is not baptized. He attends a public
school. Indeed, among my extraordinary two dozen nephews, nieces, and
their partners, I do not know of one who is in church regularly. Most of their
kids are not baptized. Only a few go to Catholic schools. There are a few peers
who tell of similar habits in their families. Of course, not going to church,
not being into a religion, is not the same as not believing. My nephews and
nieces can thrive on their good works in communities. good conversation,
and searching what it means to be a good human and live an ethical life.
Still, listening to Claire’s questions, what a different world it is between my
priest years and now with my niece. Uncle Rick, the priest who had married
in 1992, beats down ancient, haunting voices.
No, you are not going to hell if you don’t go to church.
Yes, the children are alright.
I have changed too!"
Now I was in the present moment. I could write about the pandemic, its heroes and goats, President Joe Biden's "uncivil war" that divides families and nations. I could nod at former President Trump's idolatry when he held a Bible outside a Georgetown cathedral, and muse on Jesus wearing a mask. I could finally unpack what had happened in those two generations from my childhood and ministry on to Claire and Cruz, to this significant drop in religious affiliation and worship.
I would write to all Catholics—the practising, devout, lapsed, recovering, retired, wistful, cradle, cultural, and cafeteria Catholics. I would write to people of faith in other denominations and to those curious or clueless on what it is like to be a Catholic priest. Writing, I kept in mind good friends who are agnostic or athiests, and others who might do their annual holy day "insurance runs" to the nearest church, temple, and synagogue.
I harnessed my mischief, humour and irreverence to tell my story in the backdrop of a world and church navigating troubled times. Was not my childhood and adolescence supposedly "times of innocence" and "the good old days?" Well, yes and no, as my dad also had called them " the good old bad days". My childhood hero, the Lone Ranger, had a half breed, "Native American" Tonto as his sidekick. Oh my God, Tonto means stupid in Spanish. In locker rooms, I had listened long ago to homophobic slurs and a litany of misogny. Now, determined to seperate the wheat from the chaff, the memoir celebrates the good people and many good deeds in faith communities alongside sobering commentary on the scandal of clergy abuse and the horrors of the residential schools in Canada.
The decision to tell the faith story to Claire and Cruz breathed life into the memoir as much as the day when it dawned on me I was more a Roamin' Catholic than Roman Catholic, believing in a big God no catechism could contain, a big enough God calling us to be who we are, and love who we love. I now knew the book's title. I circled back to old creeds, changed, but astonishingly still a believer, still standing, an idealism bruised but intact.
It is a story many people have lived and will recognize. If not you, family, and ancestors. Protestants with Catholic friends know the story.
Friesen Press tells me the book will be ready for release in January. Ingram Press will distribute the book to bookstores and online in all the familiar places like Amazon etc. Sign up on my website to receive the book's first three chapters for free, www.rickprashaw.com.
The dinosaur behind me vanished, even though Cruz between pillow fights teases Uncle Rick that dinosaurs were indeed alive in my childhood.