Give Me That Old-Time Religion

In my 1950’s childhood, boys and men, hair slicked down with tonic, girls and ladies in mantillas and hats primly veiled with mesh worshiped at small country churches against which lapped the green and white fields of late-summer tobacco.  On Easter Sundays, prissy and full of ourselves on such a special occasion, my sister and I wore brand-new gloves and pastel dresses ballooned and swishy with crinoline and too proudly showed off our ribbon- and artificial-fruit-festooned bonnets.  Descended from Maryland’s earliest settlers, we were those rare birds—Catholics of English extraction.  After four long decades, I was finally brought to a tearful reconciliation with my ancestral faith in spite of misgivings about the Marxist leanings of modern churchmen.  And there is still for me sometimes on the Sabbath a temptation to drive over to the Southern Baptist services, because I am much more comfortable with the Baptists than with the wan contemporary Catholics I find at Mass these days (although the Baptist Church, according to Flannery O’Connor, is maybe a little too respectable for the real Catholic, who was, she insisted, not as far from her lunatic fundamentalist prophets as some of us might think).

I know that my criticisms of the present-day Church will be viewed by some as the crabbed grousings of just another rosary-praying Jansenist longing for the good old days.  I have no illusions, however, about human...

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