It seems rather strange to think back on it now, but there was a time when I wanted to be a nun. Inspired by The Sound of Music and with absolutely no experience of nuns at all, I wasn’t even Catholic, and indeed the only Catholics I knew were a family who lived down the street from us. It’s strange to think back now about how the world was so firmly divided into Catholic and Protestant. That division just seems to have dissolved, and Monica Dux’s memoir Lapsed goes some way to explaining why.
Dux was brought up in a Catholic household, with a Protestant father who had promised as a condition of marriage, to bring up his children as Catholics. She went to church each Sunday with her mother and brother; she played Jesus in an Easter play; she made her first communion; she attended Catholic schools. She thought that she had emerged intact from her Catholicism after long years of disengagement until her daughter, (rather like me all those years back) declared that she wanted to be Catholic. Dux herself didn’t want to go back to Catholicism, but did she have the right to deny her daughter the free selection of a faith? This forced her to revisit her childhood Catholicism, to observe as an adult the pressures and influences of Catholicism, and to belatedly question the effect that the sectarian divide had had on her extended family and thus, indirectly, a whole other life that she could have lived.
Some of the chapters are personal, revolving around her own suburban experience of 1960s Catholicism; others are more exploratory – unpacking, for example Jesus’ relationship with women in the bible and the role of Mary in Catholicism. Other chapters are angry, especially when revisiting the sexual abuse of children, something that causes Catholic families- including hers- to rethink some of the tragic trajectories of lives of siblings, cousins, and grandchildren, cruelled by such corrupt abuse of power. Her rejection of her Catholicism drifted from nonchalance and inertia to an active rejection, both personally and politically, fuelled by the Catholic churches’ own intervention into Capital P Politics, with the temperature turned up even higher by the Catholic Church’s own moral and legal failings. In many ways her uneasiness about her daughter’s sudden profession of faith caused her to peel back the layers of her own identity, highlighting that her Catholicism was (and to a certain extent, is) cultural rather than confessional. In rejecting her Catholicism, how could she disentangle it from memories, emotions, urges?
I enjoyed this book. As one might expect from a journalist who has a regular column in the Saturday Age, it is engagingly written with humour and insight. Despite its light touch, it has useful footnotes for specifically Catholic terminology and doctrine, and the endnotes reveal the research that lies behind the book, including journal articles interviews, newspaper articles and Vatican documents and Bible references. It is at its core a memoir of suburban Catholicism in an Australian 1960s society separated by the ravine of sectarianism. Even if it was not part of your own upbringing, there is much to recognize here.
I am drawn to books about searching for spiritual meaning but rather perversely, when an author proclaims that they have found it, I tend to reject them and their ‘solution’. I think that I am more attracted to the search than the destination, and I acknowledge that much of my spirituality (such as it is) revolves around capturing the cultural aspects of my former Anglicanism-but not my childhood flirtation with taking the veil!) , while standing on the firm ground of humanism, science, fact, beauty and optimism.
My rating: 8/10
Sourced from: purchased e-book