The Wingèd Man’s Faith Journey, Part I.

11 January 2007

Answering a request by Nelson, I’ve decided to write a little bit about how I arrived at the current form and expression of my faith. This will be part 1 of . . . probably four or five.

A Catholic Childhood

I was brought up in a Cuban-American household of average devotion.  My mom would take me to Mass occasionally when I was a little boy. Right at Communion, she would usually scoop me up and lead me to the car.

After my brother was born and we moved to a bigger house, my mom became more devout.  I’m not sure what brought that about, but she was a little older then than I am now.  Maybe it has to do with the age:  late-20s and early-30s.  Maybe this is a time predisposed to religious awakenings and conversions.

Anyway, I attended Catholic schools, all the way through college.  In the second grade, I made my First Confession and First Communion.  My first confession was to Father Mericantante, who now works in a small immigrant parish in Pahokee, which is near Lake Okeechobee in Southern Florida.  My first regular confessor was Msgr. Reilly, the pastor emeritus.

I really liked Msgr. Reilly.  He’d listen to this little boy’s confession, and when my eyes would wander to the ceiling, so would his.  Sometimes I’d imagine that he was trying to see there whatever I was seeing there; it was never an apparition, unfortunately, just an attempt by an embarassed kid who was trying to be good.  At the end of confession, he’d usually pat my leg and say in his Irish brogue, “You’re a good boy,” and give me a pennance of three Our Fathers, three Haily Marys, and three Glory Be’s.  A light sentence.

Msgr. Reilly died when I was in fifth or sixth grade, and my Boy Scout Troop helped during the wake and the funeral.  I was sad when he died because he seemed like a genuinely good man who cared abou tothers.  After him, I did not have a regular confessor until fairly late in high school, when Father Munguia heard many of my confessions.  During my middle school years, I  went for confession with Father Francis or Father Whittaker.

An interesting study in confessors, these two: Father Francis was a Nigerian priest with a friendly affable demeanor.  In the classroom, however, he demanded silence and strict discipline.  And in the confessional, watch out: his unusually long index finger would wag at you after you finished confessing your sins, shaming you and otherwise making you feel bad.  Father Whittaker, on the other hand, was an unpopular pastor and a bit of an authoritarian.  Although he did renovate the church, many of his decisions and policies were very unpopular; he was often thought of as being a bit “holier-than-thou.”  His line for confession was always very short, so I was often encouraged to go to him, and I did, since I was fairly obedient kid.  Father Whittaker was really pleasant in the confessional. Reassuring, kind, understanding, he would listen, offer advice, correct, and encourage.  I didn’t leave the confessional with the feeling that I was a sinner who was doomed to fail.  Instead, I felt as if I had left my sins behind me.

As I recall, I always found it hard to finish my pennances.  We usually went up to the altar rail to pray them, and give thanks for absolution, and I remember fidgeting quite a lot up there, often skipping words or prayers.  I don’t know why I did that.

I was confirmed in the Eighth Grade; my confirmation name was “George,” which was foolish, since Saint George was already my patron.  I wish I could get confirmed again, and take a new name like “Benedict” or “Gregory,” but confirmation is not that kind of sacrament.  I missed out on a chance to get a new name, and I probably won’t get that chance again.  I wish I hadn’t been confirmed in the eighth grade, not because I didn’t believe —at that time, I did—, but because it really didn’t mean that much to me.  Besides, I think I committed a mortal sin the afternoon before I got confirmed, which I’m pretty sure means I committed a sacrilege and invalidated the sacrament.  Maybe I was never confirmed after all.

As I got older, I became more serious about my faith.  Although I was never an altar boy, in the sense of being on the regular roster of a parish’s mass servers, I had occasion, usually during retreats or at school, to assist a priest while he said Mass.  I have always been a pretty observant person, and as a kid I think I was even more so.  The basics of  serving a Mass within the current Catholic rubrics are pretty simple.  As a teenager, I became a lector and then a Eucharistic minister, first at my parish and then at my high school.

During high school, I wondered —honestly and never aloud— about whether or not homosexuality was wrong, and about Catholic teaching about sexuality in general.  Although I am not gay, I was a regular teenage boy, which meant I had hormones raging within me.  The mandatory celibacy of priests was also troubling to me; Peter was married after all, so why not today’s priests?  The fact that, even then, married Episcopal and Lutheran clergy converting to Catholicism were being allowed to become priests; why not Catholics?  I think this was the beginning of the end of my life in the Roman Catholic Church, but this process would take years.

By the end of senior year, I was very devout, and continued that way through my first year in college.  Then things get fuzzy, partly because I began drinking in earnest and partly because I began exploring the Baha’i Faith.


2 Responses to “The Wingèd Man’s Faith Journey, Part I.”

  1. Kievas Fargo Says:

    I used to get the “three Our Fathers, Hail Marys and Glory Bes” too…

    I went to a Catholic school (run by Jesuits) and discipline was a big thing, especially caning. I look forward to reading more of your story; we have traveled on parallel paths.

  2. I look forward to sharing more. I’ll probably put another installment up on Friday. Or at least, I’ll try to.

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