by Pat Hart
Though I attended Catholic school and had been taken to Mass from my earliest days, I never had much religious feeling or natural belief except in my guardian angel. My reaction to religious teaching was to absorb the rules, like learning Monopoly, and then plot a winning strategy. Venial sins: disobedience, lying, stealing were erasable through a heartfelt confession. Mortal sins, murder, missing Mass on purpose, eating meat on Fridays (intentionally) were for really advanced players (adults). Wearing a scapular at the time of death was a wild card, guaranteed heaven.
My first grade teacher, Sister Donata, had used the tale of Machine Gun Kelly to impress us with the power of the scapular. Kelly, a murderous, 10 most-wanted criminal was gunned down in the street. With the machine gun still smoking in his hands, and at the very last moment of his life, Kelly called out for a scapular. A nearby priest rushed to his side, took the mini holy card from around his own neck and put it on the dying Kelly. Instant passage to heaven! Brilliantly played by Kelly! Eternity among the angels.
Sister distributed a “get-out-of-hell-free” card to each of us.
The scapulars are two mini holy cards, 1 by 2 inches, glued to a piece of felt and connected by a 1/8 inch brown ribbon. Mine was Mary with the sacred heart on one side and the scene of discovering Jesus’ empty tomb on the other. They were to be worn at all times --especially during night, but could be removed for bathing.
During my bath I hung my scapular on the closest towel rack and would watch it alertly, imaging scenes where I would be compelled to leap from the bath and whip the saving icon around my neck. Things like an atomic mushroom cloud in the distance, swirling black tornado, a vampire flinging open the warped metal casement window, the Blob’s killing ooze gushing out of the plumbing, would require quick action.
I would practice diving, wet and naked, for the scapular until the floor of the bathroom was flooded and my mother made me “knock it off.”
When it got hot that summer, I stopped wearing my scapular. An innovation of the 60’s, plastic lamination, had made the card incorruptible, but it also made it stick uncomfortable to my chest. When I pried the sweat-adhered card from between my breast there would be a red rectangle on my skin, cooling instantly when air hit it. But, it was not the discomfort of the scapular that prompted me to leave it hanging on my bedpost, it was the lighter clothes of summer. Skimpy tees and tank tops made the icon more apparent to my playmates and the non-Catholic kids thought it was very odd.
There was one boy who made such blasphemous comments about Mary and the bleeding sacred heart that I worried these remarks would go against me on judgment day. My plan was to get through summer on good behavior, frequent confessions and the hope that my guardian angel would intervene in any near death situations.
Summer ended, I went back to school but the scapular remained on my bedpost. I eventually moved it to my jewelry box where it still is today.