Many years after first communion, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation, when one is supposed to receive the Holy Spirit and become a recognized adult member of the faith. By this time, I was a teenager, almost ready to drive and was pretty confident in my Christian beliefs. Protestants were in danger of going hell, homosexuality was a sin, heaven and hell were real and the pope was infallible (this was the first belief to go as I matured). I was also very much interested in members of the opposite sex. However, living in the country, and being awkward and shy at school, I had no prospects. To top it off I also took to heart the Catholic teachings about lust and other mortal sins. When I would have lustful thoughts, shame would creep in to my mind and not let go. I even developed an odd ritual to gain forgiveness. I would stand on my mattress and kiss the feet of the crucifix that hung over my bed and beg for forgiveness and strength. I must have had quite a few of these thoughts; by the time I moved out of the house, my hand prints were clearly visible on the white wall on either side of the crucifix and Jesus’s metallic feet were of a different patina than the rest of him.
To get ready for confirmation, there were more classes, retreats, journaling and other activities to get us ready. We also had to choose a confirmation sponsor. I chose my Godfather, my Uncle Tim, one of the most genuinely good men I have ever known. I also was confirmed using his name. I don’t really understand why the church does this, maybe it is because Jesus liked to rename his apostles or because Saul became Paul. I was confirmed as Timothy. I had hoped that receiving the Holy Spirit would be a life changing event, like the feeling of guilt being erased at reconciliation or the ethanol induced high of communion. But there was no such feeling this time. Once again, there was a party, cards and cash.
My grandma and Grandpa and I after Confirmation
While I still went to mass with my parents most weeks, during my senior year of high school, I stopped going to religion class. By this point, classes were no longer on Saturday morning, they had been moved to Wednesday evenings. Meanwhile I had been promoted at Brodbeck’s grocery store from a bag-boy to having control over isle 7. This meant that I had to order all of the laundry soap, cleaners etc. and keep the shelves of Isle 7 well stocked and looking good. The truck containing my orders came in on Wednesday. So after school, I would work until 9 pm bagging groceries, carrying them out to shoppers' cars and stocking my isle, but I did miss the last year of religious instruction. Maybe I missed out on a big secret that would have made made me a good life-long Catholic. But at the time I was still a good Christian, I even had a “Christian American” bumper sticker on the back of my jeep. I was sure about everything, who was going to hell, what behaviors were evil etc.... I was one of those people.
Then I moved off to college. And I discovered something about myself… When separated from my family, I did not make it to church very often. In fact I think during all of my undergraduate education I think I went to mass about 4 times. While at school I studied biology, and worked in a lab studying paleobotany. Suddenly, I was confronted with evolution, and classmates and teachers that didn't think like me. I met really nice lesbians and atheists that were kinder than most of the Christians I knew back home. Cognitive dissonance became evident as I tried to reconcile what I had be told as a child and reality.
I had not learned much about evolution in high school, but it was the core theme of courses I was taking in college, not only that but a lot of the folks I was learning with and learning from did not take religion very seriously. This was disconcerting to say the least. While I didn't doubt the science I was learning, I began to doubt my religion. Technically, the Catholic church is fine with evolution, that does not mean that all American Catholics are OK with it, nor do they talk about it much. I decided that I would look into it myself, I began to read Bible cover to cover (something not many Catholics seem to do). The answers had to be within. To my surprise, my reading of the “Good Book” weakened my faith further. Little that I had assumed was in there actually was; the afterlife didn’t seem to exist until the new testament, and there were many horrible stories that seemed more the work of a devil than of a beneficent God. It also became clear how much of the stuff that I believed as truth was the work of the men in the church and not from bible.
The thing that bugged me most was Jesus's claimed that not everyone listening to him at the time would taste death before his return. Unless there are some 2000 year old people walking around, he was dead wrong. How could the all perfect son of God get something so wrong? But I didn’t give up, I knew that somehow all of this made sense and with further prayer and reflection I would one day understand.