Grandmother’s communion: Lessons on the one true church

My paternal grandmother, blessed be her memory, lived at the north end of our little village, in a neighborhood called Tiny Town for the minuscule cabins and cottages there, arranged in concentric circles. The neighborhood, once the site of a midden of clam and oyster shells left by the first people in the area, had then been for many years a summer campground for religious revivalists from the city, who initially erected tents during their summer revels, and then built tiny cabins and cottages; the revivalists in their turn gave way to settlers, who updated their elvish housing but did not, for various reasons, expand or enlarge them, a habit that persisted deep into the last century.

These revivalists had been Methodists, a fact that delighted my grandmother no end, for you never met a woman with a sharper and more amused tongue about other religions than our own, which would be, of course, the One True Church, Holy and Roman, the Church Eternal, Our Mother the Church, built on the rocky shoulders of St. Peter, watched over by His Holiness the Pontiff, steward of the bridge between God and man. The pope was always Italian, explained my grandmother, because St. Augustine said we should do as the Romans do. I pondered this remark for a while in silence and then confessed to grandmother that I had no idea what she meant by that. She said she didn’t either, which was yet another one of the sacred mysteries.

Your Methodists, said my grandmother, pursue a method, but not one of the poor creatures can explain what that means, which tells you all you need to know about the Methodists. The same thing is true with Presbyterians; bless their souls, when you ask them what is a presbyter they stammer and mumble in the most abashed fashion, and then return to making shoes or chipping tombstones or whatever it is they do. Similarly your Episcopalians, who could not identify episcopality if you gave them money and whiskey, and your Congregationalists, whose religion is named for the way people sit in rows. You might as well name yourselves the Gatheralists or the Pew People. And then consider the Lutherans, who are named for a Catholic monk, and the Baptists, who are named for taking baths, and the Calvinists, who are named, God help us all, for a Frenchman. At least the Jews are named for a place they came from, and of course Our Lord Jesus Christ started out Jewish, until the wedding at Cana, where by the virtue of his first public miracle he created the True Faith. He may have done miracles before that time, but of those performed privately we know not. Of the Christian traditions only Catholicism, the One True Faith, is properly named, as you see, because catholic means for everybody, which it is.