“Church Therapy: Awakening” part 1of 3

Last Saturday I attended mass so that I could see my granddaughter receive her First Holy Communion, this Saturday I went because I wanted to. Yes that’s right I attended mass again. I haven’t gone to church two weeks in a row in years but part of me really wanted to go just to see if it felt as good the second time around, while another part of me kept insisting that I was just spinning my wheels and allowing myself to get sucked back in and I would only to be disillusioned yet again. Well, I went and just like last Saturday it felt very good.

It was just like old times. Father Rich who only recently returned to HNM after an assignment at another parish said the mass. He was at Holy Name back in its glory days when all was right with our parish, okay, well maybe not all, but back then HNM had a lot going for it. Father Rich is very personable and has a wonderful sense of humor. It was always apparent in his sermons and it was again on Saturday. Funny, as I sat there I kept thinking how right it felt being at mass. I felt a sense of calm and peace of mind, you know that feeling you get when you feel satisfied. I think, no check that, I know I’ve been needing to do something, I just didn’t know coming to mass was it. I have what I must say is a pretty wonderful life but for a long time now I’ve had a sense that something’s been missing , some important ingredient that would make it complete. Could this really be it?

I’ve had an on again off again relationship with the Catholic Church all my life. I was born and raised Catholic, attended Catholic Elementary School and two and a half years of Catholic High School. I was even an altar boy! I think the problem began when I left St. Frances of Rome and entered Bishop Amat High School. I left the doom and gloom, obey God’s rules or go to hell world the nuns provided us and entered the world of the Sacred Heart priests who painted an entirely different picture.

I remember my very first day in religion class when my world was turned upside down by a young Irish priest named Father O’Hagen, who began his introduction to the class with the following words, “I want you to forget everything the nuns taught you about religion.” he said, forget all of it, it has nothing to do with your true purpose, your personal relationship with God.”Huh? Had I heard right? How was I going to forget everything the nuns crammed into my head and heart about fearing God, going to hell and the nature of sin, when it had been pounded into me since first grade! For God’s sakes, I was indoctrinated with the Baltimore Catechism! You remember that handy dandy religious guide, every year the questions remained the same, but the answers got longer and longer! How could I forget, when I’d been brain- washed to believe that my very nature was sin? So began the confusion.

In the following days Father O’Hagen added more and more fuel to the fire. “If you’re going to church because you think it’s a sin or because you think you’ll go to hell if you don’t, he would say, “Then stop going! God doesn’t want you there under duress!” He would tell us that the God of the Old Testament had passed and the God of the New Testament is a God of love. We need to do things out of our love for God not fear of retribution. God is our friend.

Needless to say many of us took him at his word, I certainly did. I immediately stopped going to church on Sunday. Well that’s not exactly true. I still went to church at 10:15 and met my friends. Then we would go in, collected a bulletin, see what color vestment the priest was wearing, just in case our parents might ask, then make our way to the Foothill Drive-In swap meet up the street. For the next four years that was our routine. Father O’ didn’t know it, but he had set us free! The revolution had begun!

In 1970 at the ripe old age of 19 I was overcome by a bad case of guilty conscience and after much thought I bit the bullet and decided to go to confession to clear my soul, even though I had my doubts about the whole confession thing. Now your probably wondering what horrible sin I must have committed to move me to confession, but the truth is All my early religious indoctrination had made my conscience very sensitive. Suffice it to say that what I felt the need to confess, did not violate the Ten Commandments and was not a mortal sin. I didn’t murder anyone or steal anything, I didn’t covet anyone or anything, commit adultery nor did I bear false witness. It was something that troubled me and I needed to get it off my chest.

I drove up to St Frances one Saturday Afternoon and entered the chapel where Father Dugan was hearing confession. I got in line and awaited my turn. When at long last I was kneeling inside the darkened confessional waiting for the screen to slid open in front of me, I had the overwhelming urge to bolt! What was I doing? I felt so alone in the darkness and I just wanted to get out of there and quick! But before I could act the screen slid open and I began my confession…

To be continued tomorrow…

J S

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