A question Catholics frequently ask:
I was a cradle Catholic and never was given an option as to whether to join that cult or to seek God elsewhere. Though my parents did not attend church regularly, they did conform to many of the requirements of the cult. We ate fish on Fridays, abstained from something or other during Lent, always attended Mass at Easter, etc. Both sets of grandparents were observant and involved Catholics. My paternal grandfather loved to don his sword, cape and feather hat and gather with other Knights of Columbus on festive occasions. My grandmothers were in ladies' sodalities and Rosary circles. For a time, my maternal grandfather was caretaker of a small seminary in Paintsville, Kentucky. My grandmother cooked and kept house for the handful of seminarians. My sisters and I spent parts of a few summers in Paintsville, completely immersed in Catholicism. It was there that I was taught the intricacies of altar service.
I loved being Catholic! I lived in a neighborhood largely populated by families of German origin that lay literally in the shadow of a huge RCC complex. Carved out of the middle of that working class urban neighborhood was a Roman Catholic island of tranquility dominated by the beautiful granite Neo-Gothic St. Peter and Paul church, with its lovely, manicured gardens and grounds. In 1947, I made my First Holy Communion with other kids from Sts. Peter And Paul elementary school. This is a 'class photo' of the communicants:
Here's a shot of me as a member of the communicant's procession into the church.
In both photos, I am the kid with the arrow pointing at his head.
These photos show the front and rear of the remembrance card Sister gave me that day:
To the side of the church was one of the biggest buildings I ever saw until I joined the Armed Forces. This was a monstrous great seminary. It was huge! Surrounded on three sides by wide, well-cared-for lawns, it was a natural place for kids to gather to play ball and other games. The seminarians never objected to our boisterous play. We were welcome there. There were magnificent formal gardens behind the building. The gardens were incredibly beautiful, so beautiful that I believe they may have contributed to my enduring enjoyment of formal plantings. There were graveled paths winding among the various plantings and copses of trees. Now and then, one would encounter a lovely marble statue or perhaps a bench in a shaded nook. We kids were welcome in the gardens also. Now and then, we would be wandering in them and encounter a seminarian studying his lessons. We might engage him in conversation and would end up receiving a gentle lesson in our faith.
On the block behind the church, there was an elementary school of the same name. Almost all my friends attended school there or, later, at one of the Catholic high schools in the city. I had to attend public school because my parents could not afford the cost of sending my sisters and I to parochial school. In order to keep the vows made by my parents and godparents at my baptism to ensure I was educated and raised to be a good Catholic, I attended Catechism and other classes faithfully as a child and adolescent. On occasion, I would transfer to the Catholic elementary school for a number of weeks prior to some special event in my religious life.
On the other half of the block, across from the entrance to the seminary, was Regina High School, a school for Catholic young ladies. When I was a kid, Regina provided targets for snowballs in winter and catcalls in the warmer months. Later in my life, my friends and I would go to dances held at Regina or one of the other Catholic high schools around the city.
Between the elementary and the high schools lay the St. Pete's bingo hall. Twice a week, the hall was filled with folks enjoying themselves and hoping to pick up a few bucks in the process. I worked the bingo nights as a kid, lugging buckets of soft drinks for sale. When the church held it's twice yearly 'festivals,' my friends and I worked as volunteers in one or another of the booths.
I loved being a Catholic! I loved attending Mass, though not with my friends. Gregory Miller, the pastor, was cast in the mold of a Prussian drill sergeant and required all kids not accompanied by their parents to sit in the first two rows of pews, where he could keep an eye on them. I soon developed the custom of attending High Mass on my own. Few of my friends were willing to sit through the hour and a half or so that this celebration lasted, so I was rarely tempted to misbehave as I sat almost alone in the front of the church. Besides, I had a great view of everything that was going on at the altar – at least as much of what was possible to see through the obstructing bodies of the priests and altar boys, all of whom did their main work with their backs to the church.
High Masses were wonderful. St. Pete's had a great pipe organ and a talented organist. The church choir, seated in the chancel, punctuated the Latin chanting of the celebrant with beautiful hymns. Worshipping at High Mass in St. Pete's certainly helped form the foundation of my love for classical music that endures to this day.
But I did not just go to church to participate in High Mass. Saturday evenings, I would make my confession and then return to my pew to kneel and pray my penance prayers. Sometimes, I would light a candle for some special 'intention,' though as a kid I had few. During the week, I might visit the church, which always was open in those days, to join a Rosary group or to pray the Stations of the Cross. And I always made Mass on special days like Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, etc. My very favorite worship events were the Tenebrae services in Holy Week. The ordered extinguishing of the candles and the final slamming shut of the missals was powerfully moving to me as I seemed to share in the experiences of those who stood on Golgotha that awesome Friday so many centuries ago.
I imagine the foregoing likely bored you to tears and you are wondering why in the world I wrote it. My purpose was to help readers understand that, for me, the Roman Catholic Church was everything. I was a fish swimming in a Roman Catholic sea as a kid. What I ate, where I played and with whom all were in some degree determined by the RCC. Though my parents did what they could to raise me to be a decent and honorable person, it was Gregory Miller and the nuns of St. Pete's who, using the Catechism, drove home to me a clear understanding of what was morally right and what was unacceptable. The Roman Church was the arbiter not only of my religious life, it also dominated my social life. It was like an amoeba, completely engulfing me.
As a Roman Catholic, I FELT a part of something. I FELT membership. I FELT that what I was told was the nurturing love of Mother Church. I FELT close to God in the rituals and sacraments. I TOUCHED God in the Eucharist.
And then I fell away.
Over time, as I grew older and began to socialize outside my immediate neighborhood, the enveloping tentacles of Mother Church seemed to tighten, to become more restrictive. When a friend invited me to attend a Baptist worship service with her family, I was shocked when the nun of whom I had inquired whether it would be acceptable for me to go responded that I could be excommunicated if I went. As I grew toward manhood, I discovered that more and more of the seemingly innocuous things I wanted to do would foul my relationship to Mother Church and, hence, to God Himself.
Over time, I just stopped being a Roman Catholic. Soon, I began to doubt the existence of God. Then I decided, quite positively, that there was no God at all and that all the religions of the world were but foolishness. After a time, I came to hate the concept of God and began to actively fight against it. I was as far from God as I believe it is possible to be.
Then, some 33 years after falling away from Rome, Christ entered my life. He came when I was not consciously seeking Him. He came without being asked. When He claimed me, I no more was looking for Him than was Paul on the Damascus Road. Now, I am not Paul, nor do I wish to compare myself with him other than to note the similarity of our conversion experiences.
I receive carping emails from Catholics who, empowered by their keyboards and the safety of distance, write brave words deriding what they read of my writings on Catholicism. Such people have no idea of what they are writing. The don't know me, and it is apparent they had not spent much time reading my work. Had they taken the time to read a bit, they would have discovered that just about everything I post is supported by material from Catholic sources such as ecumenical councils, various popes, Early Church Fathers, Doctors of the Church, etc. What they won't see a lot of is the fluffy garbage penned by Catholic mystics and apologists like Teresa of Avila, Keating, Hahn and their ilk.
Unless my Catholic critics live in a chancery, I suspect that my theological library is considerably larger than their own own libraries. The bulk of the books and other materials in my personal library deal with Roman Catholic history, theology, hagiology and law. I have copies of textbooks used in RCC seminaries, catechisms, stacks of papal bulls, encyclicals, motu proprios, etc. Hardly a day goes by I do not spend hours reading in these sources. How many hours a day do these fault-finders devote to studying the doctrines and practices of THEIR religion? What Catholics read on my site may offend them, but I do not believe the charge of ignorance will hold water.
Finally, may I suggest that those who do not like what they read in my work simply avoid reading it?
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