Being raised Catholic means some shared childhood oddities.
If you were raised Catholic, you have probably genuflected before sliding into an aisle at the movie theater.
If you were raised Catholic, you watch Star Wars and inwardly reply to “May the Force Be With You.” (and also with you)
If you were raised Catholic, chances are you “played church” and distributed goldfish cracker communion a time or two.
And if you were raised a Morson Catholic, you crucified a monkey.
Allow me to elaborate.
My little brothers were big fans of monkeys. There were a good number of monkeys in the toy chest, all with their own names and backstories. The most favored pair, however, were these monkey puppets with long, floppy limbs that velcroed around you. Birthday parties were thrown for these monkeys, more elaborate than some actual children’s birthday parties in our house. They went everywhere with my brothers. At one point, the monkeys had their own Military IDs that the kindly MPs would check as we drove on base. The fur on those monkeys clumped together in matted pills from years of love and play, and their red felt tongues were worn off with only tiny nubs remaining.
Like most mothers, mine took her responsibilities as a Catholic parent very seriously. On Good Friday, she cued up the corresponding scenes on the “Jesus of Nazareth” VHS tape for us to watch.
Apparently, we paid attention. We created a new rainy day past time.
First, we set up the Last Supper scene. I am pretty sure we used the toy box lid to create a low table, and Monkey Jesus sat in the middle, surrounded by his stuffed apostles. The apostles were not all monkeys as I remember, I think we followed the Disney’s Robin Hood guide to interspecies relations.
Next up was the scourging at the pillar. The velcro paws on the monkey puppet wrapped around the corner of the top bunk made this an easy scene. In lieu of actual whips and chains, karate belts carried out the scourging of Monkey Jesus.
I think we skipped over the crowning of thorns.
The crucifixion scene was lacking in historical accuracy, most likely because my parents were smart enough to put hammers and nails out of reach. The karate belts previously used for whipping Monkey Jesus now attached him to the side of the top bunk. We had a sign marked I.N.R.I. above his head and Monkey Jesus wore a loincloth made out of whatever t-shirt was at the top of the laundry pile. There were stuffed animals on hand to play the part of those at the foot of the cross.
We played this out several times before my mom finally requested we move on from it. I’m not certain, but I think the glee with which we whipped Monkey Jesus may have scared her a little, which is fair. The compulsory viewing of Jesus of Nazareth may have backfired on her, and I believe a lesson on reverence may have followed.
I have heard a lot of Catholics talk about how their kids play Mass, but I still don’t know of anyone else who put on a Monkey Passion Play. I’m not sure whether to believe we were that original or if I should realize everyone else has the good sense to keep their trap shut.
My brothers are going to kill me for writing this.