I went inside a Catholic church today for the first time in 20 years. I expected to feel anger, but it didn’t happen. It’s a small, old sandstone church. Inside, the arched roof is probably triple-volume, and beautiful stained glass windows are set in the walls. There’s ornate carving, and an impressive altar. It was quiet, hushed. A priest sat up by the altar, reading. He didn’t hear me. I walked up the aisle and sat in the light of one of the windows.
I thought about how the Catholic church has very good, very seductive PR. Beautiful churches, mystical ceremonies, magical thinking, ordinary mortals elevated to superhumans, the accumulation of massive wealth and influence over princes, kings, queens and governments. And a mental domination over us ordinary mortals wrought by the chauvinistic manipulation of young minds using fear and exploitation of vulnerability, sexuality, and low self-esteem.
It’s become powerful through I’m okay you’re not okay. I’m allowed to commit massive crimes against you and against humanity but I’m immune to punishment because I’ve been ordained – chosen – by God. You, however, will go to hell for the same crimes. For even lesser ones.
Today I realized I’ve really debunked the myth, replaced it with something else, something that is promoting of life and individuality, that allows people to flourish and not give up their personal power to unjustifiable authority.
Then I saw the little girl I was, and how I was immersed in Catholic dogma as if it were a reality, when in fact it was just a warped perspective perpetuated for the purposes of retaining power. I saw how my young imagination was channeled into a conduit where the only thing it was fed was the story of sin, guilt and punishment, fleshed out in a thousand different ways but all with the same message – life is about duality; evil exists; you were born bad; and you probably won’t ever make it to heaven because you’re not enough.
I watched the priest, and saw that he was just a rather sad-looking man. He wasn’t at all powerful. He wasn’t any closer to god than anybody else. I wondered if he molested little girls or little boys.
I thought about how I’d like to work on exposing a Catholic priest who does those things. I thought about how Father O’Dwyer – the parish priest who I hated – is probably dead now, more’s the pity, because it would be satisfying to visit him, tell him what I think of him, make him say sorry. Yip, that’s rage. I remembered how when I was twelve he asked me if I would let myself be tortured for my faith. I wasn’t able to say yes. I was embarrassed about it and scared of what God would do to me when he found out; it tormented me. Fucking bastard. Who’s the guilty one? I hope you’re burning in your own hell.
But my anger passed. I thought about the nature of reality when you’re a child, how you don’t know that what’s presented to you may not be the truth. You don’t know about metaphysical things. You just live, and if your environment is hostile you suffer and adapt, become whatever is required of you. And you draw erroneous conclusions about yourself, the way life works and the nature of reality. Fortunately you get a chance to change things later.
As I was sitting in the pew – damned if I was going to kneel – letting memories and thoughts pass through me, I remembered how bored I always was in Mass! God, it was boring! I bought all the guilt and fear stuff, and it really screwed up my sexuality – or added to the mix that did – but I never enjoyed it. I’m proud of that now, just as I’m proud that I wouldn’t say yes they can torture me but I won’t give up my faith. I thought there was something wrong with me that I couldn’t do it. Well, as it happens, there was something very right with me.
I felt light-hearted, sitting in that church, loving the little girl that I was who couldn’t get herself to be pious, who hated kneeling, who was bored out of her tree during Mass. I may have had to hide my spiritedness from the world in order to survive in my family and my world, but I was spirited. Inside I was a fiery child, champing at the bit of the restrictive – and boring – reality I was subjected to. That fiery child didn’t die, she lives in me now, fiercely alive. Free to laugh and walk away from hypocrisy and neurotic power. Free to be who she always was. Free to choose what works for her and what doesn’t. Free to believe that she’s loveable.
I looked up at one of the windows. The sun was shining directly through it. The colours were gorgeous, the artistry exceptional, and the stillness was tranquil and soothing.
I got up and on the way out there was an enclave with a kneeling place – don’t they just love that, the Catholics. Why do you have to be physically uncomfortable to talk to god? Why would god want you to? In front of it was a candle-holding thing with some small white candles and a box of matches. Behind that were the eponymous statues of Christ and Mary and Joseph. Ucky expressions on their faces. Whoever Jesus Christ was, and whoever Mary and Joseph were – I’m sure they were just ordinary people like the rest of us, except that Christ was obviously a very smart, intuitive man – they must turn in their graves a million times a day.
I hesitated – am I allowed to do this? Am I supposed to pay for the candle? – then I laughed at myself. No, there’s no place for money, and I don’t have any. And if I break a rule in a Catholic church, what are they going to do to me. Strike one for late rebellion… I lit a candle for myself and placed it in the middle of the first row. Then I lit one for my father, and placed it next to mine. I thought about the flame of our spirits. Similar. I am my father’s daughter.