Sunday, July 22, 2007


I was raised in one of the many 1970s-era Catholic homes in which Catholicism was fiercely clung to as a source of ethnic identity, but proudly dissented from in actual practice. My parents were not only white ethnics who’d emerged from the working class, but were professional liberal intellectuals as well. I had a very confused notion of what constituted a sin until rather recently in my adult life. As I suspect many young Catholics do, I lived a life that was in violation of many of the Ten Commandments, but I didn’t think that restricted me from receiving Communion. At one point, I was a cantor, and in spite of being in serious sin and by that time also having mostly rejected the Catholic faith, I still received in full sight of the public. Somehow I thought it would help me, would heal me, would bring me closer to God, but I didn’t grasp the simple fact that I needed to confess my sins first. In spite of his open dissent from the Church, my father had the good sense not to receive Communion during a time when he was, by his own admission, in a state of mortal sin; even though my catechesis was spotty, I might have learned in this case from his example.

The odd thing is that as a child I had a strong consciousness of the reality and the weight of my own sinfulness. This feeling persisted into adulthood, but by that time it had become annoying and, according to my friends and therapists, neurotic, so I tried to shake it by delving deeper into the temporal pleasure of sin. I was thinking homeopathically, that like cured like, so sin would be the antidote for sin. I thought I was special and specially gifted and privileged, that living life to the fullest meant claiming every experience that was gratifying to the senses and the ego. In spite of my current penitence, it’s still hard to lose the feeling of special privilege by which I became my own authority on what was sinful for me. It’s a miracle that God drew back such an incredibly disobedient soul to Himself. I am suffering now, but I have heard that a hundred years of suffering on earth are better than one hour in purgatory.


RA said...

In certain ways of course, I completely understand a post like this, having been raised Catholic and not by intellectuals (although wavering). And I to had those same feelings of guilt and sin as a child, and still do in many ways. However, we differ in that I feel that the paradigm of guilt and sin was something inflicted on me by a very specific (Irish) version of Catholicism, mainly by old, semi-senile, cruel hearted nuns. The more I read the Bible the more I feel that what those people inflicted on me had nothing, nothing at all, to do with Christ's teachings of love.

Pentimento said...

I understand, RA;; unfortunately Jansenism was an indelible part of Irish-American Catholicism. As you know, that's not how I grew up. I think I was born with an innate sense of guilt and penitence, and at this point I don't think it's a neurosis, but a temperament.

expat said...


You might try reading:

"Streams of Grace" and "Letters of Direction" by the Abbé de Tourville
as well as "Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus" by Robert Farrar Capon

They might open up a window for you.