By T. Gregory Foote.
I’m a former altar boy whose fondest memory was of Father McCarthy proclaiming to me one early morning before mass with his stale, altar-wine breath, “I should have been a bricklayer.” I was educated (whacked around) in Catholic institutions. I never drank the Kool-Aid.
Original sin – what a concept. You’re doomed even before you begin having fun sinning. To the Greeks, where the word “sin” originated from, it merely meant, “to miss the mark.” There was no moral connotation attached to the word. I can buy “missing the mark” and even sometimes really “being off target.” Then off to kneel in the box, bare your soul, receive your penance and prepare to “miss the mark” some more, only to be absolved of all wrongdoing next time in the confessional.
I’m a product of a “mixed marriage” – father Catholic and mother Protestant. Nagging questions troubled my little mind. Why did my mother have to sign a document stating she would bring her kids up Catholic? Why did parishioners act holy on Sunday and unholy the rest of the week? Why did it matter so much how much was placed in the envelope in the basket and why was this tidy sum published in the church bulletin? Why did we have to eat Mrs. Paul’s Fish Sticks every Friday night during Lent? Why weren’t priests and nuns allowed to be human? Why was this church called THE CHURCH? Why couldn’t you just believe in what you wanted to believe in? Why couldn’t you just be undecided, still thinking the whole thing over a little bit?
I can remember listening as a kid to animated conversations my father had with others on the phone. The topics were usually sports, theology and poetry. I always wondered what was being said on the other end of the phone. I especially remember listening to one-way conversations with my dad and his brother Greg, who was a Jesuit priest at that time. The discussion would ultimately turn to the topic of the “Uncaused Cause.” In other words, how the hell did we get here? He would invoke Aristotle and Aquinas in the dialogue. And after awhile, I’d retire to more mundane matters, like shuffling baseball cards in my shoe box.
We usually attended the last service on Sunday. This was the mass for those souls who had hangovers and for the least holy of the congregation. The holy-rollers made attending mass a priority, so they went earlier. We as a family always put off the inevitable. The last mass in the summer was always the shortest because the priest didn’t want to miss the opening pitch of the ball game. My old man forced my brothers and me to go to church. But when the priest began to turn around, face his flock and not speak Latin anymore, my dad lost interest in this ritual. It had become too modern, the aura of mystery had vanished. The curtain had been pulled from the Wizard.
The last nail in the cross for me was the book, The Religions of Man, by Huston Smith. I’m looking at that old tattered paperback right now. This was our textbook for the Comparative Religions class. The nuns saved the best class I ever had to be the last class I took as a senior in high school. The penguin even kicked me out of this class for awhile so I couldn’t get the full benefit. Sister Whatever didn’t appreciate my attempt at student teaching. As always, I was just trying to enrich the classroom experience with humorous commentary when the subject matter became a little too tedious.
Something special occurred in that class. The genie was out of the bottle. A whole new world was revealed to me. I had an epiphany. I sobered up. I was now a recovering Catholic. I knew there had to be other paths to the same destination. Free at last…What rule book do I follow now?
From this strange brew, I find myself on the religious spectrum somewhere between atheism and agnosticism. When St. Patrick came to the land of my forefathers, he encountered the Celts, who found divinity all around them. According to Catholic scholar John O’Donohue, the Celts never separated the visible from the invisible, the human from the divine. They engaged wildness and found spirituality through the world around them.
My church has no walls, no fake stained-glass windows, no odor of incense, no exchange of money, no proselytizing. Its parishioners are all two-legged, four-legged, multi-legged or no-legged. There is a choir. I don’t kneel in a pew but amble about, admiring the beauty and wisdom of the forest by my home. That’s my Higher Power. I have no problem believing in powers greater than myself. I experience them every day. Like trying to tell my cat what to do.
A hospice chaplain once told me that religion is involved with rituals of worship and spirituality is involved with the search for meaning and purpose in life. I like that. I also like this quote from Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
TERRY FOOTE’s poetry has been published by Long Story Short and other journals. He has just completed a trilogy of books that include a book of poems and two photo books of the forest he “ambles about” in. This is Terry’s first submission of prose. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org