Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Stoicism is a philosophy of life. While it may or may not contain its own spirituality (depending how you practice it), it can make you assess what you really believe and align your beliefs and actions. My religious beliefs have waxed and waned over the years. I've decided that now, at the age of 40 I should make sense of things and see if I can figure out what I really believe.
My childhood church
If children ran the U.N., Catholic mass would be banned as a crime against humanity. Unlike many of their protestant cousins, the Catholics force their children to endure every minute of the service rather than provide escape to age appropriate religious studies or a delightfully secular playroom. The church is aware of this and has a contingency plan. Every church has a “cry room”, a somewhat sound-proof chamber for parents of babies and unruly children where their anguished cries may be kept from disturbing the masses. Oddly enough, most Catholic parents seem to have forgotten about the existence of this room, leaving the rest of the congregation unable to hear the service.
My earliest memories of being in church revolve around extreme boredom. As the adults, rose, sat, and knelt repeatedly during the service and the funnily dressed man in the front droned on, I would often be allowed to flip through a religiously themed picture book. One I recall rather vividly, contained a picture of a little boy and girl near the gates of hell, smoke bellowed from a rocky cave and they seemed rather frightened. I wondered if that cave was located somewhere nearby, I still haven't found it. If the books were not enough to keep me under control, I would often be hauled off to the cry-room where the voice of the priest came in via an old crackly speaker. Sometimes I would to pay attention, not to the service, but I would watch people instead. The whole time I wanted to run, to escape and play, mass was purgatory.
Near the end of each service the priest says “The Mass has ended, go in peace to love and serve the lord”. I recall on one occasion, I took the priest’s proclamation literally and headed for the door before the official end of services. I don't recall the spanking, but I'm sure there was one...
As I got older, I also attended Saturday morning religion class. I have never been an early riser and deeply resented the fact that 5 days of the week I had to get up for school, and on Saturday and Sunday for church. To be honest I do not recall much about my years of religious education. We colored pictures of Jesus and memorized the proper way to mumble our Catholic prayers and watched videos about Padre Pio. But I was always a good boy, a true believer and did my best to learn the ways of the faith.
At the age of seven the church considers you responsible for your sins. It just so happens that right about this time I had committed a mortal sin and my conscience would not leave me alone. We had been visiting one of my parent's former neighbors. While they talked about old times, I played near their landscaped flower beds. The flower bed was full of pretty, river-polished stones. I had always been a rock-hound and finding them quite interesting, I stuck one in my pocket. I was a thief. I was damned.
The first sacrament that a young Catholic receives is the most terrifying. Reconciliation. After a few weeks of training you wait in line for your chance to tell a priest about your sins, then if you have not been smighted, you recite a prayer that you’ve just learned for the occasion, leave the confessional and perform whatever penance the priest has prescribed.
I recall waiting in line, much like the line in gym class when we played kickball, only this time as my turn approached, I couldn't slink to the back of the line when the teacher wasn’t looking. My heart was racing, my palms sweaty as I entered the confessional. I knelt in the darkened room and practiced just as I had rehearsed, I told the priest that I had stolen and threw out a few other lesser sins as well. As I recall, I wasn’t very specific about the details. My penance, if I remember correctly, was 10 Hail Mary's, which I proceeded to do immediately. However, I lost count partway through and likely did a few too many just to be sure. I did it, I had survived! To my relief, the anguish of having stolen the rock melted away instantly.
We were reminded in religion class later that week that we needed to come to confession at least once a year, more if we gravely sinned. The next time that I would do a confession would be 24 years later.
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