The Fall From Grace
I was very religious as a child. Going to a Catholic school—I didn’t have much of a choice. The nuns told us that everyone in purgatory had to wait until enough people had prayed for them before they could be released and move on up to heaven. So, each night I said 15 Hail Mary’s and 15 Our Father’s for every relative that died. I even began to say extra prayers–for those souls I wasn’t related to—to help give them an early release. I just couldn’t bear the guilt of knowing that all those people were just sitting around waiting for someone to help them. By the time I was 11, I was up until after midnight fulfilling my prayer promises.
During Sunday mass, I would sometimes try and talk with God—testing to see if He was actually there. I’d sit quietly in my pew each Sunday and silently ask God to do miracles for me. (Nothing like antagonizing the Creator of the Universe) “I’ll believe in You if You blow out the third candle from the left on the altar,” I’d whisper and I’d wait. “Okay, if You’re busy, just make the candle flicker a little bit.” Nothing. “Alright, well, can You just make it rain? That’s not hard—-You do that all the time.” But, God never did anything I asked Him to.
I didn’t hold a grudge, though. I knew God was probably preoccupied whipping up pestilence and famine and droughts and other natural disasters. I really did love God and wanted to be in good with Him–whether He performed tricks for me or not. I secretly wished He would make me a prophet or a saint—like St. Bernadette or Joan of Arc (though I wasn’t too keen on being burned at the stake)and use me as His holy mouthpiece for the world. I tried to be good and saintly for a whole day. But then as I thought about that, I realized that I was sinning just by trying to be holy because I was being arrogant and that was a sin in itself. (I read once that no human being has ever gone a day without sinning at least seven times.) I began to lose my faith.
As fate would have it, my family moved during my spiritual crisis. We relocated to a town where a child could actually attend public school without being knifed or stuffed into an abandoned car. So, for the first time, I went to public school-—a Nun-Free Zone. I lost the voice of the church—-which was spoken through the voice of Sister Gertrude who whispered in my ear that if I wasn’t good, I was going to burn in hell for all eternity. Without that voice scaring the holy be-jesus out of me, I started cutting out early on mass–you know, getting up during communion and then instead of going up to the altar, making a beeline to the exit. Then, I started skipping mass altogether. Instead of sitting in Immaculate Mary’s Church on Sunday morning, I was sitting in Jimmy’s House of Carbs, playing pinball with my brother and spending my collection money on french fries with gravy. On Ash Wednesday, I went to Jimmy’s and put cigarette ashes on my forehead. Thus was the fall from grace.
My downward spiral continued and I began lying in confession. I couldn’t possibly recall all the times I’d lied, cursed, missed mass, had evil thoughts, made faces behind my mother’s back, and beaten the crap out of my brother. I had committed so many sins—venial AND mortal. But, it didn’t matter; none of the priests or nuns at this church knew me. They didn’t care about me or my pock-marked soul. And by this point the only commandment I hadn’t broken was “Thou shalt not kill” and with the Dominatrix Twins throwing their considerable weight around, I was about to snap. It became only a question of when that commandment would be broken and how bloody the crime scene would be.
The truth was, I missed Sacred Heart School. I even missed the nuns, even Sister Gertrude. She gave me rules and structure and even her threats made me feel like I could go to heaven. I missed being close to God. But, if He didn’t miss me, then I decided I couldn’t be bothered either. And at least I didn’t have to wear that dumb school uniform any more.