I was raised in the Catholic Church, and at a very young age, I became aware that there were many rules to follow. With God so elusive, and when we struggle to grasp what we can’t explain, someone has to lay down laws for comfort sake. Without standards to follow, who knows where the train could go off the track? The masses might all get the crazy idea that God cannot be put into a box.
So there were the incense-infused ceremonies, no meat on Friday during Lent, and a series of steps a young person had to go through to achieve the accolades of the institution.
The basic level was first communion. Barely six years old, I was expected to sit and listen to a really old guy speak. It was on a Saturday morning. How do I remember that? All of my weekend cartoons were on, I was finally out of school for the week, and I had to absorb a lecture that made no sense. I’m sure his intentions were great, but my thoughts were back at home. He didn’t seem to understand children.
To make it worse, we had homework, and I had to pray these long, boring paragraphs that were just words on a page. If anyone was trying to get me to have a connection with God, I wasn’t getting it. Somewhere in my little self, I knew that I had a spirit, but this was not helping me to uncover it.
One of the experiences that kept occurring was I would feel separated from my body. The only way I can describe it was like looking through my eyes from behind my eyes as if you were looking through a pair of binoculars.
These feelings were so strange; I decided to tell my mom. At this young age, it wasn’t easy to make her understand, so I said,
“I don’t feel like me.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t feel like I am myself.”
“Who do you feel like?”
“I feel like a floating feeling.”
“Outside of me.”
Our circular discussions amounted to nothing. This started to happen more frequently, even while other people would be speaking to me. I would become an observer, which she began to notice. When she would say something and expect a specific response from me, and I would reply, “I wasn’t feeling like myself,” she started to worry.
“Chris, you are scaring me.”
Well, who wants to frighten her mother? So I quit talking about it. But it continued.
Funerals and visitations were another thing. She took me along, and I was so freaked out at first to see an unmoving person displayed in a casket. Everyone was standing around casually talking, and there was a body in the room! Hello?! A dead person! Why was no one feeling alarmed about this? At first, I forced myself to adapt, and then I started to notice something once I got over my initial horror. Around certain dead people, I saw a very bright light. The first time I did, I tried rubbing my eyes to make it go away, and it only expanded farther out.
With this new feature added, I stopped fearing attending these and started looking for the shine. It made it more like a game. Instead of listening to an adult speak about topics that were way beyond my ability to comprehend, I would stare straight ahead, start to squint, and then look for it. I’m sure the people around me thought I was a little off, but then again, I kind of was.
I began to notice that most people had this heavenly glow to them while others did not. I also picked up on conversations around me. “I can feel her presence here listening to us,” or “He was such a good man.” Those were the brightest lights.
One night on the car ride home, I said,
“Isn’t that light around the dead person weird? And others don’t have it.”
I saw her glance up into the mirror to make eye contact with me in the backseat.
“What do you mean?”
“The dead people. Some have a bright light around them, and others don’t.”
The silence was loud. She looked back at the road.
“You see a light around some of them? And not others?”
“Yes. Don’t you?”
“No. Some people call that an aura or an energy type thing. When do you see it?”
“While I’m sitting there waiting for it to be over.”
“No. I don’t see it at all. I’m too busy listening.”
I felt like she was sending me a message to stop talking about it. We had already dealt with my other odd revelation, so I kept my thoughts to myself from then on.
In the spring, I had to go to confession, and I was petrified. To receive communion, this was an absolute necessity, or the world would end. My infant baptism had begun the process of keeping me from going to hell, but who knew what eternal damnation I could get myself into at the age of six?
There were a lot of question-and-answer sessions.
“What do I do? It looks like a closet.”
“You go in, sit down and tell the priest everything you have done wrong,” she said.
“Have you lied?”
“Do you do everything I ask you to do?”
“You can’t think of one thing?”
I didn’t like getting into trouble, and she had gone out of her way to enforce rules, so no, at that point, I had no infractions to account for that I could conjure up. I tried to avoid punishment and guilt at all costs.
Seeing that I didn’t have sin on demand, she said,
“Something will come to you. You will know what to say.”
The big day of my unleashing my burdens arrived. I was hoping to wake up sick—no such luck.
During the drive to the church, I was racking my brain trying to develop a stellar story that I could ask forgiveness for. My quiet demeanor got her attention.
“What are you going to say?”
“Nothing. I have nothing to say.”
Her mouth popped open.
“Chris, you have to say something. You can’t just go in there and not say a word.”
Yes, I could. But then I would feel like I let her and the entire Catholic Church down.
“Ask God to tell you. I thought by now you would know.”
I did know, and I had nothing to say. But that wasn’t going over so well. My mind was blank.
The church was incensed up when we walked in, and it stung the lungs to inhale. Again, on a Saturday, I was ripped away from my pleasant day of freedom. I stood in a line watching boys and girls enter and exit the tiny closed off rooms. No one looked worse the wear as they walked past me, and most looked happy to have it over with.
I was up to the plate. I opened the door and sat down.
In the dark, I could see an outline of a man, and I heard him clear his throat.
“Bless me, Father, for I sinned,” he whispered.
Oh! I was supposed to say that! I already had messed up my lines.
Quickly, I repeated it.
He then instructed me to tell him the biggest offense that was ruining my relationship with God.
On the fly, I said,
“I hit my brother.”
As soon as the words came out, and he went into some sort of incantations, it was like scalding water was rained down on me.
I had NOT hit my brother; he had hit me in the arm, hard. And I had just lied to a priest in confession!
I couldn’t wait to leave that stifling little box. I found my mom sitting with her eyes shut, probably begging God to help her youngest child. I was relieved it was over, but now I had a crushing weight on my chest. I was a liar! In a church of all places!
She looked down at me and said,
“Do you feel better?”
I started crying so hard she couldn’t believe it. Crying was deemed a weakness in our house and in public? Never! In her eyes, I was obviously having the ultimate spiritual experience.
“You must have had something that was bothering you. Didn’t it feel good to get rid of that? To free yourself of that burden?”
I sobbed harder, unable to speak. I was going to hell! I had just sealed my eternal fate while in elementary school!
“No. I lied.”
“What? Chris, what did you say?” She took her hand off my back. The comfort session was over.
Hunched over ready to throw up, I choked,
“I lied. I told him I hit Bob. But, Bob hit me.”
She shook her head, accompanied by a sigh. I just wasn’t an easy student. Miraculously, she didn’t make me go back in and undo the damage. She said God would forgive me in the car on the way home. What?! That was an option?
It is impossible to get through life without missing the mark. If we think we are perfect, we are delusional. But, we also don’t have to swing to the other extreme and live in self-condemnation and write ourselves off as unforgivable. If we do, we are as useless as the prideful and arrogant.
There’s a nice balance between the two.
In 1 John 1:8-10, it says:
If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. (Message)
Why do organizations complicate things?
Just recognize where there needs to be a minor fix, ask for assistance, and gratefully accept the second chance.