AN ATHEIST AT 16?

The much maligned  “Baltimore Catechism” was the legal Constitution that governed my life from an early age, Its ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts more significant than any civil law or ordinance.  Serious sin after all condemned one to the fires of  hell, and there were lots of serious sins   .around. Hence we went to Confession every week to have our personal account settled;, we pushed in our ledger and out came absolution.  Satan was the ever present snake waiting to deceive and pounce, and God was a combination of  Archivist/Recorder, Magistrate and  Parole Officer.  My faith was elitist and defensive, after all I had the gift, and a lot of others did not.. All of this was wrapped in wonderful and mysterious ceremony and ritual, and one stood in wonder and awe,and celebrated belonging to the one  true faith. What a hoot!

With the arrival of adolescence, the waters became exceptionally troubled.  The 6th and 9th commandments took over, and if every thought, word or deed was sinful, and one was 14 plus, it was impossible to avoid  living in sin and hence condemnation.  In my time [14 to 16] we did not celebrate the awesomeness of human development, we did not embrace psycho sexual maturation and discovery, it was all serious sin. Masturbation was a mortal sin, and one had to go to Confession before  one could receive the Eucharist.

Inevitably this still existing obsession with human sexuality brought other ancillary  issues to the forefront.  At 16 , tired of being so sinful, I opted out and decided I was an atheist.  What would one expect from an intellectually precocious youngster, and how sad it was that he had to keep so much locked up unsaid inside.  I am writing this today  to convey how two different priests handled my struggle.  I said to one I no longer believed in the real presence in the Eucharist and much of the other magic speak I had inherited. plus a lot else.I was not a cannibal i said.  i ranted for a very long time and over several meetings.   The first little fellow, for he was both a little fellow physically and intellectually, was beside himself  that I would dare to blaspheme, and it did not end well. A fundamental break occurred.  Six months later and in another place, I ranted again in front of  Fred Lynch, S.J.. He laughed at and with me, told me it was ok to be an atheist, and then took me on a journey over a year and a half that brought me in the end   to a more mature faith.    He made me read the writings of some declared atheists and agnostics, and he opened my mind and heart to a God who was not Archivist, Magistrate or Parole Officer.  He talked to me about sacramental  sybolism and he made me read Edith Hamilton on mythology.  More significantly he introduced me to one Teilhard De Chardin and to Joseph Campbell.

One day before heading off to University I told him I did not think I was an atheist any longer, and we laughed.   Keep seeking he said, keep searching.  Four years later I entered the  Jesuit novitiate.

About whispersfrombabylon

A father. A son. A priest. A scholar, a lawyer
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