Catie Jo tried to get to mass early on Sundays. She would leave the house ahead of her parents and her two younger brothers. Her older brother, who was a sophomore at Helena High School, didn’t go to church. He wondered why should he listen to old men try to tell him things he didn’t understand and, as far as he could tell, had nothing to do with him. Catie Jo understood what he was saying. She often felt the same way, except that she loved praying in church. The minute she walked in the door of the Cathedral, the presence of Jesus hit her and she was drawn into prayer.
It wasn’t like talking to her friends the saints. That was just talking. Like running into friends at school or at the mall, Catie Jo would be aware that Joan and Catherine were there. They would start up where they left off chatting and discussing life, telling stories about what was happening to them. Although what was happening to the two saints seemed more important than what was happening to Cathie Jo, they were always very interested in what was going on in her life. Sometimes keeping up with them was hard work, and she often had to spend time thinking about what they told her.
Praying in church with Jesus was different. Nothing much was said. She would just be present to him and he to her; no thinking, no talking, just being together. By the time her family got to church and mass started, she was ready to listen to readings and hear more about Jesus, to walk through the journey of the mass up to receiving communion which was the “hug,” as she liked to call it, of her time with Jesus.
On this particular Sunday, mass didn’t go as peacefully as usual. The Bishop gave the homily. He talked about Mary and the moment when she said “yes” to the angel’s request that she become Jesus’ mother. The Bishop’ words shocked her. He said that Mary agreed to be the slave of God’s will. No one had ever called Mary a slave that Catie Jo remembered. She felt disturbed and she felt that Jesus was disturbed also. Mary was the handmaiden or the servant of God, but Catie Jo didn’t like the term slavery and she didn’t think Jesus did. The Bishop said that just like Mary, the people there were supposed to be slaves to the will of God as expressed through the magesterium of the church. Catie Jo had noticed that magesterium was one of the Bishop’s favorite words. She wasn’t exactly sure what it meant, but she knew if it had anything to do with slavery, she didn’t like it.
Later when she ran into Joan and Catherine, she told them what the Bishop said and the conversation that followed got very loud. Catherine said the Bishop ought to check his Greek, while Joan said that anyone who knew Mary knew she was in love with the will of God and not enslaved to it. Joan also added that things were looking bad when a man in a high position failed to capture the hearts of people and then turned to talking about slavery to authority.
The next Wednesday afternoon after school, Catie Jo was outside the Chancery reading her old paperback volume of the documents of Vatican II. She had asked to see the Bishop, but was told he was out and would be back later. When the Bishop’s car pulled up to the building, Catie Jo was there to greet him. She said she wanted to talk over the idea that Mary was a slave. He said he didn’t have time to talk to her. She said she had looked through the document on Mary and the Church and she couldn’t find the word slavery applied to Mary at all. The Bishop responded that she wasn’t smart enough to understand the subtlety of words.
“Anyway,” he added, “those documents would soon be revealed for what they were.” He mumbled something about questioning their orthodoxy and Catie Jo, without thinking, said, “That’s funny, St. Catherine was questioning the same thing about you.”
The Bishop turned red and stormed away into the Chancery. His anger made everyone around him nervous. He snapped orders and sat in his office fuming. By 7 o’clock that night when he was scheduled to give a talk to the junior high and high school religious ed students, he was filled with passion. He waved a box of jello at the students and told them that jello represented the Church since Vatican II: shakey, insubstantial, and very susceptible to losing its shape. He proclaimed that things were changing and the Church would soon be back on solid ground, unchanging and substantial. Most of the students didn’t know what he was saying, but Catie Jo knew that he was talking to her.
She smiled because she had a great idea, one that was all her own. She wanted to surprise her two patrons, so she never mentioned the idea to them. The only person she told was her mother, who laughed for a long time and agreed to help her by calling some of the other mothers.
Catie Jo’s mother was responsible for the parish luncheon the next Saturday. She called the Dessert Committee and got them to agree to make a variation on the same dessert. So when the Bishop came to the dessert table on Saturday, he found over 15 varieties of jello salad, each one with a different fruit inside it. Catie Jo was serving the desserts. She told the Bishop he had his choice of many beautiful fruits suspended in colorful jellos: cherry, banana, apple, oranges and others.
The Bishop told her that she was a bold little woman. In spite of himself and his decision to maintain a demeanor which reflected his office, he left the luncheon in a huff.