God is Big Enough
I entered Catholic school in September of 1959. Ike was President, and Camelot was more than a year away. Some say it was an innocent time-I am not so sure. Sisters of Charity taught us. They wore a full-length black habit and a black bonnet. Some were stern and demanding, others sweet and demanding taskmasters all. The Baltimore Catechism was the text for our religious studies. It contained the fundamental concepts of The Catholic Faith.
Q. Who made us?
A. God made us.
Q. Why did God make us?
A. God made us, to know him and love him.
Q. What must we do to save our souls?
A. We must worship God by faith, hope, and charity; that is we must believe in Him, hope in Him, and love Him with all our hearts.
Q. How shall we know the things which we are to believe?
A. We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church, through which God speaks to us.
Drill, Drill, Drill!
That last answer is the hook “We shall know the things which we are to believe from the Catholic Church.” I have an inherent distrust for those who proclaim they are the final word on things spiritual.
We also learned about the variety of sins, venial, mortal, and original.
Venial sins are the least serious. An “impure thought” is an example. These lesser sins can be worked off by confessing to a Priest and saying a few Hail Marys. If one dies with venial sins on their soul, they can go to heaven, but not directly. An undetermined amount of time must be spent in Purgatory. That’s a boring place to sit and think about our sins.
Mortal sins are more serious. Their offenses range from disrespecting parents to murder. Like a venial sin, a Priest can forgive them. The catch is it has to get done. If heading to confess a mortal sin one gets hit by a bus and killed, no purgatory. The penalty is an eternity in the fires of hell. Mortal sins are no joke.
Original sin is inescapable. Everyone is born with it because of Adam and Eve. Absolution from original sin comes with baptism. If death sadly arrives before baptism, it is off to Limbo. Limbo is the outskirts of hell. Not the hottest part of hell, but hell. Such was the teaching of the Catholic Church in the 1960s. Newborn babies!!
Limbo is no longer Church Doctrine. Thank God.
It was expected, by First Communion we understand or at least were able to recite the above and more. At that point, we were eight-year-olds.
Starting to Think
As the years passed, I began to question. How can they be so sure? Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Limbo? Was there an ulterior motive to these threats and guilt- money? What about the billions of Non-Catholics around the world? Would they be deprived of the glory of Heaven promised to me, simply because of where and to whom they were born? The Baltimore Catechism says they are out of luck. It did not sit well.
I arrived at high school, a skeptic. I attended Mass only to please my mother. It was my nature to keep an eye on the spiritual. I began to look past Catholicism.
About that time I came across Maxwell Maltz’s classic tome Psycho-Cybernetics. It was my introduction to New Age thought. Think it, believe it, verbally affirm it, and it will come to pass- interesting. I was searching for anything that made sense. But, I also had other things on my mind, beer, fun, and girls.
During my twenties and thirties, I lived in a spiritual desert. I was drinking more, and drugs became an issue. I had little connection with the Spirit. I was a hedonist. I married and had two children, I got divorced and walked away.
I had been in and out of 12-step programs for years. I knew all the jargon. Keep coming back, first things first, meeting makers make it, bla- bla- bla. I was not ready.
I was alone.
Eventually at forty-one, I reached a physical, emotional, and spiritual condition that was no longer tenable. I was willing to try anything. I returned to the recovery community.
Finding My Way
Putting down the alcohol and drugs was just a start. Recovery is about the underlying condition. It is also about finding and relying on a Power greater than ourselves. I would need a Higher Power to remain clean.
God? Not necessarily, but something. I was willing to do anything. Early in recovery, the Universe was my Higher Power. A karmic force that sent back what I sent out. I tried to be good. My life was improving. I read Gary Zukav, James Hillman, Neale Donald Walsch, and others. I explored Buddhism and began meditating. I had a spiritual thirst. I took bits and pieces from many teachers. I hold on to many of their thoughts still.
I made amends with people I hurt. I got back with my wife and kids.
My reunited family found a church that fit. It was inclusive, compassionate, and loving. As a church, we reached out to the less fortunate. It was a “What would Jesus do?” kind of place. The Jesus/Higher Power I was coming to know, feeds the sick, welcomes the oppressed, and shelters the homeless. My spirituality became “service” based rather than “penalty” based. God was in my life.
He is Everywhere
The recovery community taught me that God is so much more than any religion. God can not be put in a box. Not only do Christians recover, but Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and even Agnostics. They simply turn to a God of their understanding or a Power greater than themselves, Allah, Mother Nature, God, or maybe just a “group of recovering drunks.” She hears all prayers. The God of my understanding is there whenever I humble myself and call. He is there for all of us. Yes, God is also present in the church of my youth for the faithful who seek Him there. She is everywhere. There is no problem or joy He can not handle. We are all His kids.