Speaking of Poetry and Catholicism

When I was a Protestant and dissillusioned with religion in general, this poem that I’d read as far back as High School really helped me to keep focus. It was by no means why I became a Catholic. Yet, somewhere in my mind it helped me to understand that as an adult, perhaps I had grown up and matured enough to understand more of what the Gospels were trying to convey - what Christ was teaching us.

All of the readings I had done in academic study of the Scholastic authors became more than just an intellectual movement - but instead something much more important.

Anyway, here is the poem:

The Day Zimmer Lost Religion

                                 by Paul Zimmer (b. 1934)

The first Sunday I missed Mass on purpose
I waited all day for Christ to come down
Like a wiry flyweight from the cross and
Club me on my irreverent teeth, to wade into
My blasphemous gut and drop me like a
Red hot thurible, the devil roaring in
Reserved seats until he got the hiccups.

It was a long cold way from the old days
When cassocked and surpliced I mumbled Latin
At the old priest and rang his obscure bell.
A long way from the dirty wind that blew
The soot like venial sins across the school yard
Where God reigned as a threatening,
One-eyed triangle high in the fleecy sky.

The first Sunday I missed Mass on purpose
I waited all day for Christ to climb down
Like the playground bully, the cuts and mice 1
Upon his face agleam, and pound me
Till my irreligious tongue hung out.
But of course He never came, knowing that
I was grown up and ready for him now.

1 - mice–cuts and scratches

I don’t think I read the last line the way you do. The point seems to be that Christ is a bully and so isn’t going to mess with you if you are old enough and brave enough to challenge Him–He only picks on poor kids who can’t fight back.

Or am I reading this poem too negatively? I like your reading and wish I could adopt it. . . .


That’s how I read it also. The author is boasting that he’s not afraid of God any more, he’s ready for him, and therefore God doesn’t want to tangle with him (the author). From God-as-bully to God-as-pathetic. A very common view among atheists, I think.

Exactly – there is no other way to read this poem, I’m afraid. How very, very sad…


Meh, you all may be right.

It could also be read that he wasn’t able to understand what missing mass was if he wasn’t able to choose not to go. Kinda like free will.

So I searched for Paul Zimmer and found this:

It is a virulent combination — the lack of power to change our present, and the lack of willingness with which to try. It is no wonder that so many of the aged become spiritual fanatics, spending whole days in prayer or meditation. What else is there to do besides seek the divine — or else begin the slow process of collecting pills?


I guess y’all were right.

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