WARNING: If you are a devout Catholic, this story will probably piss you off. And by devout, I mean you believe the Pope is "infallible" and you don't practice birth control (except for the rhythm method). If you are Southern Baptist, it will piss you off because you are Southern Baptist and just about everything pisses off Southern Baptists.
"The Lord be with you and with your spirit"...that's the title of this piece in case you don't read Latin. Most people can read Latin, but there a few in Rockingham County who probably skipped the Latin course in college and instead took some goofy spoken foreign language like French, Spanish, Italian or German.
Of course, if you had attended Catholic church at the right time, you would already know your Latin very well and so much more about the "cult" that is the Catholic church.
Your view of what is a cult is influenced by where you live. If you live in Rockingham County, you probably believe the world's population of 15 million Southern Baptists means you are the center of the universe. However, that would overlook the fact that there are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, which kinda means Southern Baptists are the real cult and to suggest the Catholic church is a cult is actually very nearsighted.
I can count the Catholics I know in Rockingham County on my two hands and probably have a couple of fingers left over. But, I am not in a position to know many Catholics. I do know you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a Southern Baptist in Rockingham County.
During my youth, I was dragged into the Southern Baptist faith, kicking and screaming. The experience left me empty. It does something to you when you are a 21-year-old college graduate and you are mistaken for a fourth grader and placed in a Sunday school class that was not quite appropriate for my age.
I do have fond memories of attending the annual homecoming at my Grandmother's church...the food served on picnic tables under the oak trees was awesome. Imagine eating three or four different kinds of fried chicken, WOW!
I went to the Billy Graham Crusade every night for a week when it came to Reidsville. Billy Graham never appeared at the Billy Graham Crusade. I took my Grandmother to the Big Show at the old Reidsville High football stadium.
I've attended maybe three funerals in a Southern Baptist church. They were quite sad. I remember breaking into tears when a trio of women sang Amazing Grace at the funeral of a man who was probably the meanest son-of-a-bitch I've ever known. He was so mean I refused to be one of his poll bearers. He shot himself in the head. He was my uncle.
I will never forget the Southern Baptist minister who refused to marry my wife and me. He thought it was sinful and against the Lord's wishes because my intended bribe was divorced from a man who enjoyed getting liquored up and beat, burned, and raped his wife and, worse yet, I was from a Catholic "cult". According to the minister, she should have stayed with or gone back to liquor boy.
I must report liquor boy killed himself about a year ago. He overdosed on his favorite drug which was apparently no longer liquor. He was much older than my wife. I expected to be overjoyed at the news, but I really felt nothing. He is gone, but the memory of him still haunts me. It is difficult to write about him. The thought of him is like a hot poker sticking me in the eye every day.
My fiance was in a tizzy while I was in a kick-back and relaxed mood. After much searching and struggling, she eventually found a Southern Baptist minister who would do the dirty deed. Of course, no Priest would marry us - there was no point in even asking.
I am happy to report I am not a wife beater, nor a rapist, and I don't burn my wife with lit cigarettes. I rarely drink anything stronger than water. I do happen to be part of a Catholic cult. Despite my shortcomings, we have been married for 42 years this month.
I am getting off the point of my story...for 18-1/2 years I was a member of the Catholic church. Yes, the same Catholic church that famously burned Giordana Bruno at the stake. First I attended Leaksville's St. Joseph of the Hills and then later Burlington's Blessed Sacrament. It was a strange and troubling 18-1/2 years. It probably left me without a religion.
I walked away from the Catholic faith when I started college and I never returned. It was kinda hard for my Father to force me to attend Mass when I was 300 miles away and then 1,000 miles away.
That's me standing in front of Blessed Sacrament. Judging from my size and how neatly dressed I am, I am guessing the photo was made on the occasion of my "confirmation". I was almost certainly 12-years-old.
I'm not quite sure what a "confirmation" is, but I remember going to "confirmation" classes for about a week. I re-learned all my "catechism" lessons during the classes. Catechism lessons are about all the rules of being a Catholic. I studied the catechism every Sunday for years. I should know everything about catechism, but sadly I don't.
In confirmation classes, I learned the Bishop would be coming all the way from Raleigh to confirm the class. We had to learn how to address the Bishop and how to kneel and kiss his ring properly. I believe his name was Waters. Bishop Waters gave me a middle name. Until that point, I never had a middle name until Bishop Waters came along. It is Joseph in case you're curious.
Mostly catechism is about the types of sin - original, venial, cardinal, mortal. Hell, I don't remember all the kinds of sin. It's been a long time. I know if it felt good, it was probably a sin.
Nuns taught catechism class every week until I reached high school age. In high school, the Priest took over the classes. Let me clear up any possible confusion. I attended public school, not Catholic school. Catechism classes were generally taught before or after Mass to all the children who didn't go to Catholic school.
I remember if you sinned, you had to confess your sins to the priest on Saturday evening before taking communion on Sunday morning. Communion meant having a white wafer that was supposedly the actual body of Christ placed on your tongue. The wafer was not to be chewed, but allowed to dissolve on your tongue.
We were never allowed to have the wine which was supposedly the blood of Christ. Only the Priest drank the wine. I never understood that.
Anyway, I must have sinned a lot because I went to confession every Saturday. I don't remember my sins, so I must have been thoroughly cleansed by the Priest. I remember making up a lot of sins so I would have something to tell the Priest.
It would have been bad form to go into the confessional booth and say "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been seven days since my last confession. These are my sins: I didn't do anything in the last seven days that felt good. I don't guess I sinned."
I always sinned, even if didn't, and Father Francis K. O'Brien would give me some string of prayers to say as my indulgence. I would go to the front of the church and kneel and say ten "Hail, Marys" and be done with the ritual for another week.
I should be grateful - at one time in history, you were required to pay the Priest for your indulgences.
Note each "Hail, Mary" was good for "x" number of years parole from Purgatory. I don't remember how much time a "Hail, Mary" got you out of Purgatory, but it was a pretty good lick. There was a book where you could look up how much time a "Hail, Mary" was for good for. I made up enough sin to have been easily paroled from Purgatory for 10,000 years or more.
As you can tell, Purgatory was pretty big to Catholics. Heaven was a grand place which was never really defined in our Catechism lessons. Hell was a hot and burning place - very bad, lots of demons. Purgatory was something in between the two places where just about everybody spent some time before entering Heaven. I don't recall any burning in Purgatory, but you wanted to get out of Purgatory as quickly as possible to get to Heaven.
A mortal sin sent you to hell. A venial sin sent you to Purgatory. Baptism (shortly after birth) erased your original sin.
Here is a list of mortal sins with Latin and English names:
I guess venial sin was everything else not on the above list. You know what original sin is - damn Adam and Eve.
Looking over the above list tells me I may be in trouble. I think I can mark off Avaritia and Invidia, but everything else is in my ballpark.
I still have Luxuria for Ilene Sulecki who went to Blessed Sacrament and was a couple of years older than me and attended my high school. And there was Elizabeth (I forget her last name) who also attended Blessed Sacrament and she turned up at my first college. Sweet, sweet Catholic girls. Such Luxuria!
I'm sure I sinned by Luxuriaing after Ilene and Elizabeth, but I often wonder if I sinned by making up sins to tell Father O'Brien. I still don't know the answer. I also wonder what the Priest would have done if I had confessed to murdering someone. It would have blown his mind after hearing my trivial crap for years.
By the way, click here to get another look at a very young Father O'Brien. In this photo, he is just moving into the priesthood.
The nuns who taught catechism class were strict. They meant business. They taught us to stand and say "Good morning, Father O'Brien" whenever he entered our class. We had to practice the ritual to make sure we were all in synch. At some point, we were taught to call him "Monsignor O'Brien". We were never told why his name or title changed or what it meant
Father O'Brien was in another world. I can never erase from my memory the time I dared ask a question in his Sunday evening catechism class. The question was about birth control or abortion. I don't remember which it was, but it was SEX related.
Whatever the question, it threw Father Francis K. O'Brien into a foaming-at-the-mouth rage. He was holding a Bible in his hand and he threw it across the room to land with a loud thud against the wall. He must have publicly lectured me for more than five minutes. Father O'Brien did not appreciate the questioning of the Pope's teachings. If Father O'Brien was teaching it, then you'd better believe it was coming straight from the Pope's mouth in Rome.
Catholics were never really big on the Bible, even though they had their own version. Catechism, the Pope, and sin yes, but the Bible, not so much. We were taught only the most basic Bible stories.
We learned to make the sign of the cross on our chest, head, and shoulders. I know what Rosary beads are, but that's about it. I was never taught how to say the Rosary prayers, but the nuns are all about the Rosary. They all packed Rosary beads on their hips.
In my day, Mass was given in Latin. Stand, kneel, sit, chant in Latin, repeat many times. We never sang. I guess singing was forbidden.
We had kneelers in church. Kneelers were long benches in front of your pew seat you kneeled on at the appropriate time.
I would say about 45 minutes of the hour service was in Latin. This time includes communion which was offered every day of the week and multiple times on Sunday. Maybe 15 minutes was devoted to what I much later learned was called the "homily".
The homily was in English. You knew what Father Francis K. O'Brien was saying. It was the sermon for the day.
I only remember one homily - Father O'Brien stared down from his lectern at me and castigated me for making paper airplanes out of the church bulletin. I would amuse myself by making paper airplanes during his homilies. Evidently, one time I had made the mistake of leaving the evidence behind. He did not appreciate it. I don't think my biological father ever realized Father O'Brien was talking about me because he never said a word to me about the paper airplanes.
My older brother says there was incense every Sunday, but I don't think so. At this point, I should mention my older brother was an altar boy. He wore the skirt and the blouse, carried a cross, the whole nine yards. Brother had no idea what he was doing or saying during Mass. He just went through the motions at the appropriate time. Brother probably sniffed too much incense.
Unlike my brother, I think incense was only for special occasions - like Holy Days of Obligation. To begin services, Father O'Brien would march down the center aisle with three altar boys in tow. He would swing a lantern that was burning and smoking some sort of incense. I never knew the purpose of the incense show, but it seemed important.
A Holy Day of Obligation was a special day when you were required to attend Mass, no matter what day of the week it was. Christmas, Easter, Ash Wednesday, The Day After Halloween, Ground Hog Day. Hell, who knows. We always were there on Holy Days of Obligation.
I believe the sign in the photo I am standing beside was a relatively new addition at the time. Just behind the sign is the entrance to Blessed Sacrament. Inside the front door is a vestibule where you shook the Priest's hand on the way out the door. I certainly remember shaking Father O'Brien's hand. The handshake meant the weekly ordeal was over.
Posted on the right-hand wall of the vestibule was a lengthy notice of all the movies you were forbidden to see. The list came down from on-high. It was not a locally produced list. It was updated weekly. It would have been a much shorter list if it had been a list of movies we were allowed to see. If it was produced in Hollywood, it was probably verboten. No one ever said, but I'm guessing seeing a movie on the forbidden list was a mortal sin which would send you hell-bound for sure.
The back half of Blessed Sacrament was classrooms where students attended school during the week. There may have been ten classrooms. This is where we heathen kids learned our catechism lessons on Sunday.
The Blessed Sacrament I have described has now been replaced by a shiny new cathedral on the same lot. The old church is still there but is probably used for storage or a nunnery.
I attended two funerals in the new church for my father and my younger brother. Both were cremated which was strictly forbidden in my time in the Catholic church.
We were told God would return to earth one day and raise up the dead and one's body needed to be in good working order. Cremation would spoil the raising of the dead. It was never explained what would happen to people who rotted away, were mutilated or burned to death or vaporized in a nuclear explosion or why a God who created the universe couldn't put a body back together if it was necessary.
We also cremated our Mother. We held a home service for her in her den. There was no church, no priest, only a few friends attended.
We buried all three little boxes with no markers in a special place in the woods on property which at the time was owned by my nephew. The property has since been sold to a stranger who now has a cemetery in his backyard. Surprise!
My Father and younger brother remained faithful Catholics throughout their lives. I'm not sure what my Mother was. She was reared a Southern Baptist, but attended Catholic church, but never took communion during my time in the church nor was she baptized in the Catholic church nor did she attend catechism classes. Other than what I have described here, I can't say why Catholicism didn't stick with my older brother and me.
My Father was a serious Catholic to the point of being psychotic about it I remember a time when he flew into a violent rage because my older brother was in love with a Protestant girl. He actually ordered my brother to permanently leave our home. No son of his was going to marry a Protestant. It was a scary time. I refer you to the previous paragraph where my Father married a Southern Baptist. Some things cannot be explained.
This is a photo of my confirmation class. I am the kid on the upper left-hand side. I have placed a cross (how appropriate) on my shoulder. That's Father Francis K. O'Brien at the top in the center. We are standing on the front porch of the Rectory which is where the kindly Father O'Brien lived. I don't know for sure, but I suppose the nuns (3-4) lived in the same house.
That's all I care to tell you about my Catholic upbringing. It was a painful experience. I still must live with it.