Years as a Catholic
I attended Catholic school until the fifth grade or
about the age of ten years old (I was born in 1950). I tried to be devout, attending mass,
doing prayers and following the commandments. I shied away from being an altar boy,
however, feeling nervous about appearing in public. The sense of Catholic guilt, however,
was enormous and came to block my piety. We were taught of venal and mortal sins. Venal
sins would land us in purgatory where we would be summarily tortured, but the suffering,
however bad, would eventually come to an end. Mortal sins would take us to an eternal hell
from which there was no possible redemption. Venal sins were generally simple things like
disobeying ones parents or teachers.
Mortal sins were another matter. Some mortal sins were obvious criminal
acts, like robbery or killing a person, which violate all sense of ethics and fellow
feeling. Other mortal sins, however, consisted of a merely ignoring of church injunctions
like missing church on Sunday, missing confession or the other sacraments. By the first
standard I shouldnt go to hell. By the second I had missed some church obligations
so I was definitely a candidate for the eternal fires.
Children take such punishment threats quite seriously,
particularly those who are more sensitive. In retrospect we can perhaps laugh at them as
strict ways of training children, like a strong stake for a young tree, but their effect
on a childs psyche should not be underestimated. Perhaps being sensitive I was more
inclined to believe such injunctions, but after all, didnt they come from God and
his holy church?