There’s nothing quite like it, especially when they’re raised in song. I had occasion to hear lots of singing children’s voices over the weekend at my 9-year-old son’s First Communion. The interesting thing is that it was also a first for me; to be precise, my first First Communion.
That’s because, even though I now live in an overwhelmingly Catholic country, I do not share that faith. In fact, I was born Jewish. And, though I have never been particularly observant, I have always identified with Jewish culture, values and beliefs. So, you can imagine the strangeness that sometimes envelopes me at the dinner table when my son crosses himself and gives thanks to Jesus.
I wasn’t always open-minded regarding Catholicism. Though one of my best friends growing up was Catholic, I still cringe at the memory of his painful accusation that it was the Jews who killed Christ; a slander used to justify persecution through the centuries, including the European Holocaust that claimed the lives of my grandparents. Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion, in fact, was Church doctrine until the mid-1960s when the Second Vatican Council under Pope Paul VI declared that the real culprit was “collective human sin,” not just the Jews. And the truth is that most Filipinos I know – including my wife when I first met her – have, at best, only a vague notion of what a Jew is.
Still, it was with some apprehension that I approached the subject in my marriage, especially the issue of how to raise our children. In the end, I made peace with having Catholic kids for several reasons; that my wife is more observant in her religion than I am in mine, that we live in a Catholic country where rabbis are in short supply and, most importantly, that the underlying values of Catholicism and Judaism are essentially one and the same.
I mean, let’s face it, Jesus was a Jew. And, aside from a few minor theological differences regarding the identity of the true Messiah, well, both religions teach charity, kindness, gratitude and love; values that any father would be happy to imbue.
And so, it happened last Saturday that I found myself at Surigao City’s San Nicolas De Tolentino Cathedral watching my son, Isaac, accepting Jesus into his heart. The service was truly beautiful with lots of processions, prayers and, as I said, children’s voices raised up in song.
Isaac looked stunningly handsome in his black slacks, white shirt and tiny bowtie.
My only moment of discomfort came when the kids read aloud from the Gospel of John recounting how the Jews “murmured among themselves” when told that Jesus was the son of God. “Is not this Jesus, the Son of Joseph whose father and mother we know?” the skeptics asked. But even after Jesus corrected them, saying that he was indeed the “bread of life” and “he who comes to me shall not hunger,” those troublesome Jews just kept on arguing.
Then Isaac brought us a little green card written in his childish scrawl and all was immediately forgiven. “Dear Mom and Dad,” it said, “I love you so much; I will never stop loving you.”
I guess my feelings about religion are the same as some people’s regarding gender; it’s fluid. However my son identifies is fine with me, on one condition; that he have a good heart.
To which I believe that God Himself – whatever you call him – would have but one thing to add; Amen.
David Haldane, a former Los Angeles Times staff writer, is an award-winning American journalist, author and radio broadcaster who recently moved to Surigao City with his Filipino wife and their eight-year-old son. This column tells the unfolding story of that adventure.