My Religious Roller-coaster Part 1

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My religious experiences from birth to about—I’d have to say nine or ten—were virtually nonexistent. My parents had both been raised Catholic, but other than having me baptized at birth, I don’t recall setting foot in a church as a young child. I’m sure I did once or twice, for Christmas or Easter at least, and they would have held Mass for my grandmother when she passed. I do have a picture of myself as a small boy dressed for Easter in a suit matching my father’s, but I don’t remember attending Mass. I knew about He-Man and Optimus Prime and Lion-O, but not Christ or the Devil or angels.

After my dad left, we were able to stay in the home we were renting for a few months. When we got evicted, my mom and the pot-head she was seeing at the time went to stay at a friend’s place and I went to live with my aunt and her lesbian lover. After at least six months, but maybe as much as a year, I moved back with my mother when she and her new fiancee found an apartment. Shortly after that, Mom rediscovered her Catholic roots, for the most part, with an eclectic twist.

She started taking me to church with her—Saint Anthony of Padua on Lorimer Street, near Jones Park, for any Rochesterians reading this. It’s been gone for something like seven years now, but their sister church, Holy Apostles, is still up and running. At any rate, I was entranced by the Mass. The music, the chanting, the participation—the only thing I had participated in up until that point was school, and as a poor, scrawny, white kid in a New York public school, to say I tended toward introvertedness would be an understatement. The best part is that I came into religion for the first time already in a question-asking frame of mind. I wasn’t taught from birth that things happened ‘because the Bible said so’ or anything like that. I went to church from day one because I wanted to.

Our robes were brown rather than white, but you get the idea.

I volunteered to serve as an altar boy maybe a month after we started attending. For some reason, with regards to religious practices, I’m in all the way or not at all. You’ll see that thread in these recountings. In this instance, I wasn’t content to just sit in the pew. I wanted to help make the Mass happen. The parish deacon taught me what to do—Deacon Bill Hunt, his name was. We had a couple of other servers, but I became known in the church for being an altar boy before too long. On more than one occasion the little old Catholic grannies would pull me to the side and give me a hug for doing a good job—sometimes a buck to buy candy, too. I was Confirmed—I chose the name Patrick, for those interested—and took my first Eucharist as soon as possible. I even attended Confession on a fairly regular basis.

After a couple of years—not more than two, I don’t think—my mother stopped going to Mass regularly. It was within walking distance, so I still went. She’d begun to collect these books with strange symbols on the covers; some about rocks and herbs, others about fortune-telling and others I had no idea about. She still believed in God and encouraged me to go to church. She also forbid me to read the books. On occasion she’d still go to Mass with me. The last time I remember us ever attending was a week or two before our priest, Father David Mura, died. One of the last things he did on Earth was perform an off-the-record exorcism in our apartment building at my mother’s request.

More about that next week.

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