My daughter is nine years old and we are preparing for her First Holy Communion. As a result, we have become more regular churchgoers than I have been for many years. We leave my husband and four-year-old son at home and go together. What started as a duty and a chore has become a great joy to me. It is a moment of the week that I feel belongs to us alone.
I am a conflicted mother. I work quite hard, and I am often away from home. I lack time and resent it. I am tired and grumpy. I lack gratitude for the many blessings that surround us as a family. I can be bad-tempered and lack patience, especially when it comes to my daughter’s homework on the weekend. I am quick to anger and unfairly demanding.
Every Sunday I ask for forgiveness from Christ for my many, many faults. Every week during Mass I ask for His help to become a better parent.
Most weeks I have to acknowledge my continued failures, but at least for a while I feel hopeful that the following week I will be the parent I would rather be. I feel as if the slate has been wiped clean and I have the opportunity to start afresh and better. The moment when I kiss my beautiful daughter to exchange the sign of peace is a moment of true peace for me. I think it is important for both of us to acknowledge my failures as a mother and my struggle to become a better one.
As an adolescent, I often resented the rhythm of our Sundays. Throughout my childhood I had taken for granted the lunch with my grandparents, the Fortes, and the extended family, followed by Mass at Farm Street, taking up two pews at least. It was so routine that I never thought to question it.
As I grew older there were many things I would have preferred to do with my precious time out of school, but any alternative was unthinkable.
When on holiday with my maternal grandparents in the summer, and wherever we were, Mass was as non-negotiable as breakfast with my grandfather at 8am. Teenagers were allowed no quarter. Week after week in a little Portuguese church my grandmother would lament the passing of the universal Latin Mass, and we grandchildren would roll our eyes at each other and long to be released from the stifling church into the sunshine to swim.
The nuns at St Mary’s, Ascot, were broad-minded when dealing with my doubts. I did not have to take Communion, but as head girl I did have to lead by example and attend Mass. The moment I lived on my own, first at university and then working, often abroad, I dropped any pretence at going through the motions. The moment I could escape from those rituals, I did. I did not participate at all, apart from my attendance on Christmas Day.
So I examined my conscience very carefully when I decided that I wanted to impose the rituals on my daughter.
I thought about how my father’s mother paid for a Mass every week for my father’s soul for years. He died when I was nine, and as an adult, when I was living in Rome, the greatest gift I gave her was to drive monthly to the cemetery so that she could water the plants she had placed all those years ago and polish the marble plaque. It was a time dedicated to remembering him.
I still worship at Farm Street when in London, and as I walk in my childhood returns to me. I think of us all in the pews: my aunts, my cousins; the reassurance the extended family gave me for so many years after the loss of my father. I think of all the love I felt. I think of the rituals that grounded me.
What I have realised, rather late in the day, is that I am a Catholic not only culturally and from tradition, but by choice and belief, and I want that for my daughter too. To have that freedom, she must be informed and educated in the faith.
She will chose for herself whether to follow the religion she is born into as she grows up; all I can give her is the form, the words, the example.
I hope with all my heart that in years ahead she will remember these years of attending Mass with me. I want her to understand the value in valiantly trying in every way to be a better person than she was the week before.
I have a wonderful mother and had wonderful grandmothers. I want to be a better mother. I am so grateful that Mass helps me with that.
Alex Polizzi is a television presenter and writer
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