(True story – 100% true)
I didn’t grow up with religion. My parents were atheists. My maternal grandparents were practicing Catholics. My father’s parents were fairly relaxed Protestants. When I was three years old, my parents got divorced and my mother, brother and I moved in with my mom’s parents. My grandmother (who I terrified of) would occasionally drag me to church. She tried to make it sound appealing. I got to dress up and she let me put the dollar into the collection basket. That was the highlight for me. The mass was excrutiatingly boring. I tried to enjoy it but honestly, even at one dollar, the experience was overvalued.
Flash forward half a dozen years. Junior High School. This was a very difficult time for me. We had moved from Cambridge Mass to a small redneck town in the Poconos. I was the weird kid. I had no friends. I desperately wanted to have friends.
There was a group of Catholic girls who went to something called CCC every Wednesday after school. I knew about this because my house was on the way to the parish hall and I used to walk part way with the girls. I was intrigued. Not only could this be a chance to make friends, belong to a group, I had also found out that there were refreshments – hot chocolate and donuts.
One Wednesday, I bypassed my house and continued on to St. Josephs. The girls introduced me to the priest and I was in. The hot chocolate and donuts were great but CCC was a bit of a reality check for me. It was Bible class. Every week we read passages and discussed them. I sat in the back of the room and played a game with a type of candy called Tart ‘n Tinies. They were like itty bitty wheels that I could roll down the sloping desk, paring them off in races. I ate the losers.
Eventually the priest called on me to read. I mispronounced Job as job – as in Steve Jobs. This led to my first experience with wrath. The priest called me out in front of the entire class. “You know better than that,” he yelled. I didn’t. I thought it was job. This may have been the moment when the priest realized that there was an infidel in their midst. I was asked to stay after class and it was explained to me that the kids in CCC were preparing for Confirmation. “Are you planning on getting confirmed?” “Uh. Sure” “Have you been baptized?”
I got baptized. In preparation I had to take private instruction with the priest. I questioned a lot of the teachings but only attempted to argue with Father Frank once. Guess what? You can’t argue with a Catholic priest on matters of religion. I think if he had had a choice Father Frank would have barred me from membership in the Catholic church. But he couldn’t really. My godparents – the parents of one of my new friends and upstanding congregants – had been selected and they were beaming with pride. Their daughter had already scored a convert.
I read the Bible. This wasn’t requried but I thought I should check out the handbook. I got through the entire Old Testament before I gave up. The Bible is incredibly boring. I later found out that the New Testament is the way to go, but I didn’t know that then. As I recall, the Old Testament is just a series of laundry lists. But I soldiered through, all the time thinking “How the hell did this book make the bestseller list?”
Baptism is kind of a big deal. I had to buy a white dress. Fahter Frank dressed up in his special baptising vestments. The atmosphere was very solemn. I was fairly intimidated.
Hardly anyone showed up for the big occasion. My godparents, the Woods, were there, along with little Regina Wood. There may have been one or two of those old women who hang around Catholic churches. Church groupies. But that was it. I know my mother didn’t come. I’m sure she was horrified. My father lived in California, but he most definitely wouldn’t have attended, even if he could have. He, no doubt, was thoroughly disgusted with me. Thinking back, this may have been the time when my father gave up on me. He didn’t like me for a bunch of years, but we eventually became very close during my adultood.
Anyway, the deed was done but my faith had already started to waver and the whole baptism thing was actually a bit embarrassing. If this was what sacraments were like, I wasn’t about to go through with confirmation. Plus, CCC had grown old. I had gotten into basketball.
I did continue to attend mass with Regina and my godparents. Dutifully – every Sunday. Standing, sitting, kneeling, praying, reciting, singing (sort of). I put my dollar in the basket every week – still the highlight. The Woods smiled at me all the time. But I just wasn’t feeling it.
St. Josephs was one of those really impressive trophy churches with spires and giant doors and a really high ceiling. There was a fair amount of not-too-poorly-executed artwork to distract me, but the services were just the same old monotonous marathons that I remembered from my early childhood. I did like communion but that alone just wasn’t making it all worth while. My faith was gone.
One Sunday, while standing up in church, Bible in hand, for one of the vertical ordeals of the mass, I was struck on the top of the head by something really hard. It was very sudden and very disconcerting. I rubbed the top of my head, looking around to see if anyone had noticed, or if any other member of the congregation had been similarly pelted. Nope. It was just me. A small pebble had become dislodged from somewhere way, way up in that stratospheric roof. By the time it hit me square in the middle of my skull the pebble had gained considerable velocity and the impact hurt – a lot. I had even been knocked loopy for a moment.
If this wasn’t a sign…
God was literally stoning me. That was all I needed.
I am now a lapsed Catholic. I still have a bump on my head.