Although my soul is no longer in her keeping, I owe my life to the Roman Catholic Church. I was born the second of five children into a traditional Catholic home in 1952. My Mom once told us, “If it weren’t for the Pope, four of you wouldn’t be here.”
We went to Mass every Sunday and I attended All Souls School through fifth grade. In the fourth grade I wanted to be a priest. I wrote to Father Foxhoven and I still have his reply telling me how to prepare for the priesthood. Then in seventh grade I discovered girls. They didn’t discover me until years later and then only one or two made the effort.
My sense of calling didn’t survive junior high but my Catholicism did. I faithfully attended Holy Trinity Church, regularly went to confession, occasionally wore a scapular (ask your Catholic friends what it is) and saw the world through Catholic eyes. I had never read a Bible; we didn’t have one in the house. I had never been inside a Protestant church. I was fairly serious for an Anglo youth. At one stage I remember saying 100 prayers every night before going to sleep. It isn’t as pious as it sounds; with practice you can whip out a string of Our Fathers and Hail Marys at a pretty fast clip.
My siblings remind me I had a bit of a temper. They say I hit my sleeping mother with a hammer but I believe I was a toddler and it may have been a toy hammer. At some point in elementary school my sister says I threw a knife at her but I don’t remember that. Domestic violence aside, I remember being an easygoing kid. I had to be since I only weighed 117 pounds in high school. I played JV football and basketball, scoring twelve points in all for the Mighty Rams. I acted in a few plays, joined the chess club and the National Honor Society, wound up as student body president of Sheridan High School and graduated along with ninety-eight other seniors in 1970.
Toward the end of my senior year, the only girlfriend I’d ever had dumped me. She married a twenty-six-year-old ex-marine just a few weeks after I took her to the prom. Devastated, I started looking for something else to give my life meaning. I attended a Sunday night catechism class for which I had to spend an hour in meditation each week and write down my thoughts. I have been journaling ever since.
That fall, a high school buddy named Rick invited me to a Bible study at his sister’s home. It startled me how these ordinary people could read the Bible and pray directly to God without a priest present. They were studying the Gospel of Mark and welcomed my questions. Several weeks passed until, on the evening of January 10, 1971, I prayed to receive Jesus Christ, not sure what all that decision would mean.
My life changed over the next few months as I got involved with these folks. They were part of a new house church and I was their first convert. I later learned the group belonged to the Plymouth Brethren. (If you’ve ever listened to Prairie Home Companion, the Sanctified Brethren to which Garrison Keillor belonged as a boy are part of the PBs.)
To my Catholic upbringing I owe my belief in God, my love of family, my knowledge of right and wrong and my well-developed sense of guilt. Jewish guilt is the only form more powerful than Catholic guilt, but they’ve had centuries longer to perfect it.
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“All religions are the same.
Religion is basically guilt with different holidays.”