“Our idea of God tells us more about ourselves than about Him.”
So, raised a Catholic. A Latin Mass-serving altar boy. Old school Catholicism, to be sure. Meatless Fridays, fasting after midnight to get communion on Sunday, going to confession.
Scary Catholic school principal. A big nun who gave licks over her desk with a spatula. You had a choice with licks. Coach Hart, with his holed paddle, or Sister Mary Ernest, and the spatula. Easy fifth grade decision. Coach Hart every time.
Catholic confession – a dark process for a kid.
The dark confessional booth. Trouble, for a kid. Finally, the window behind the cloth curtain slides open. I’ll never forget the sound. Then the unseen priest breathing. A Jesuit. I think that’s a hint of scotch on his breath. Smells like my Dad most mornings.
“Bless me Father, for I have sinned. I had bad thoughts three times. I said a bad word about my sister two times. I called her a bad name twice.” The crushing, “venial,” sins of a grade school kid. Two Our Fathers and three Hail Marys for a penance. Gruff words from behind the curtain. “Go forth my son and sin no more,” I promise. Don’t ask how often that promise has been broken.
We all wanted to be Jesuits – John Wayne in a cassock.
The Jesuits were our heroes. Big manly guys, who brooked no nonsense. Tough guys, but fair. And demanding, as hell. I think most young Catholic guys, at least at some point in grade school, felt the need, nay the urge, to become a Jesuit priest. They were John Wayne in a cassock. Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan in the movie, Boys Town. I wanted to be a priest. Wasn’t even sure what that meant.
I did know it guaranteed heaven, when I died. It was a lock, if I went to seminary. I soon learned I actually had an easier free ticket to heaven.
For the first time, I had the, “right,” God.
For the first time, in my Baltimore Catechism, I was told that the only, one, true, faith, and path to eternal life and glory, was the Catholic church. The only road to God. My first God was the Catholic God. A bloody Christ, hanging on a huge cross, over the altar. A thoroughly frightening image for a young boy.
And the shame we felt for all non-Catholics, who we knew, were damned to hell. So for the first time, I embraced the exclusive me-centered God. For the first time I knew I had the best God.
For the first time I knew, my God was the only God.
It would not be the last.
Then… failure, maybe.
Long before I met Thomas Merton or Henri Nouwen on paper, I lost the Catholic Church. I was a failed Catholic. It would be years before I realized it’s not that easy. And the powerful, reverent, holiness, of the Mass, would not ever completely leak from my spirit. It lurked, sleeping, resting, perhaps waiting.
Stay tuned for the next part of the journey.