Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Leaving Church-Part 1

I turned 51 in September.
Was born and raised Catholic.
As a teenager my mother gave me and my siblings the choice
to continue going to mass or dropping out of church altogether
after we had made our confirmation in 8th grade.
All 5 of us chose to leave the church.
Never to the Catholic way of life...ever.
Out of the 5 of us, only 2 of us are regular church goers.
My sister and I are now Lutherans through marriage.
One sister goes to church with us on occasion and one sister passed away,
And our brother has defected from the entire family.
We've seen him twice in 30 years.
But I digress.....

What I remember most about going to church
was the Priests sermons about the church needing more money
or they were about us being guilty and sinful and unworthy.
The rest is a blank.
13 years of going to church   Every. Single. Sunday.
And all I ever felt was bad and sinful. And bored.

What I remember most about church was people watching.

There was the lady that wore the big hats. She sat in the front row.
We called her the Easter Bonnet Lady.
And she was always late for services.
She had a retarded adult son who acted up on occasion...
Church was a little more interesting when he would show up.

There was the lady whose son died in Vietnam.
She lit candles for him every Sunday.
They were situated on a small table up front, in the corner
in front of the Statue of the Virgin Mary.

I always wanted to light one for my Aunt who passed away when I was six,
but  mom never let me.
Found out later you had to pay to light one of those candles.
Go figure....the Catholic church even wanted your money to light remembrance candles.

I do remember some of the women's names probably because they rhymed:
Merle Berle and Shirley Hurley and Connie Ronney

I remember Mrs. McWilliams always looking so perfect.
Coiffed platinum blond beehive, fur coat, black pointy toe high heels
Her husband dark and swarthy with his hair slicked down and oily.
Their 4 young girls all quiet and somber; carbon copies of the mom
Except the oldest, who unfortunately looked just like the dad.

My Mama singing Let there be peace on Earth along with the congregation
and me embarrassed cuz she sang it too loud!

I didn't learn to love Jesus in the Catholic church.
And the Catholic church never told me that Jesus loved me.
Church for me as a child was all about guilt and sin and money.
Nobody ever looked happy leaving church.
The entire congregation was as somber leaving as they were upon arriving.
Reverent, hushed voices, heads bowed, no talking or laughing.
We got a baleful glare from our mom for fidgeting too much
after sitting on the hard wooden pew for what felt like hours.

We were not allowed to eat an hour before Mass.
One Sunday I found a mint in my pocket and ate it in the car
on the way to church. My mom had a fit.
"You better hope that an hour goes by before you take communion"
she yelled at me. I watched the clock that whole church service.
If I didn't take communion I knew that I would be damned.
I squeaked by with no minutes to spare!
Exactly one hour had passed since I had eaten the dreaded mint.
I was tied up in knots watching that clock.
What if I couldn't go up for holy communion??
My family would walk up the aisle to receive holy communion without me!
The whole congregation was going to be aware of my sin!
What was gonna happen to me?
Oh the shame of it!!
It scared the crap outta me.

I remember going to confession on Saturday nights.
You had to go to confession once a month if you wanted to
take communion on Sundays.

It felt like a dark broom closet.
Only with burgundy velvet curtains and a folding chair.
The Priest on the other side of the screen sounded to me like he was bored.
I would say "Bless me Father for I have sinned"
And the priest would say- "Go on...."
What's a sin to a child of 8, 9, even 10 years old??
I never felt like I had sinned. I felt like I had to make something up.
I used to tell the priest that I had fought with my brother and sisters,
That I had disobeyed my mother, and I had, probably.
But even at the young age of 8 or 9...I would wonder why that was a sin.
I mean a SIN!!
C'mon....We're talking sin here....What was so bad about what I had done?
I hadn't stolen anything, or killed anyone. I didn't even know what coveting meant.
What child needs to go to confession??

The priest would tell me to pray 3 Hail Mary's while holding my rosary.
"Go and sin no more, my child". Sin no more? Huh?
I'd kneel and look around at the other people kneeling in the dark church
on a Saturday night and I'd wonder how many Hail Mary's they'd have to pray.
Some people knelt there longer than others...They must've really sinned.

I remember going to Midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
It sort of felt holy because the sky was dark and I'd look for the star of wonder
in the night sky. The air was frosty and I remember being cold.
I also remember the year my little sister threw up in the pew.
Tissues started coming at us from all directions.
We were whisked away from the church before the service even started.
And I remember being happy cuz I was was midnight after all.

I remember going to Sunday school with the nuns.
I don't remember learning anything from them.
I was scared of them. When my mom dropped me off I cried.
Mom had told me stories of how the nuns had smacked a ruler
across her hands when she had misbehaved in school as a young girl.
The nuns that taught Sunday school were old,  and I'd sit there
and wonder if this was the nun who had hit my mom with a ruler.
I kept my hands hidden, just in case.

I left the church at the age of 14.
Because it meant nothing to me.
I was relieved that I didn't have to go back.
And I didn't... until 35 years had passed.

Not until the day I burst into flame....
When the Lord Himself called out to me.
Said He wanted to talk to me.
Said He wanted to save me.
That I could rest in His arms
That He knew I was tired
And He knew that I didn't want to cry anymore.
But I still did.

I cried for days.
I mean Jesus Christ had just spoken to me....
Who wouldn't be scared and crying???
I thought I was losing my mind.
Normal people don't go around hearing the voice of God.
Do they?

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