On a cold, winter Sunday morning in 1978, I was sitting in a pew of my Irish Roman Catholic church after attending CCD class waiting for mass to start. I was seven years old at the time and can remember it so vividly as I looked around at the carvings, statues, stained glass windows while thinking to myself, “this is not real.” I wouldn’t dare utter those words out loud as we were so strictly taught by the church, never to question anything. So- I went through the motions, received my Sacraments, and continued on participating and attending church thoughout adulthood.
As my children became upon the age to start attending CCD classes, I was participating in church functions more than ever. I loved the sense of community, the parishioners, the kids, and I also signed on to teach a CCD class as well. We went to church so much that my then 4-year-old son, would take a clothes hamper, flip it over, throw a dishtowel on top of it, and hand out encyclopedias in the living room as if he was leading a mass. I still giggle when I think about it, because he was adorable, yet so serious. We were devout Catholics, but why did I still have the looming seven-year-old thought in the back of my mind? Why was I envious of those that had “blind faith?” Why was I still so fearful of death because I really didn’t know if I would go to a place called “heaven,” and if there really was such a place? I was trying so hard, praying to have a sign, a glimmer of something that would change my thoughts, but it never happened and the guilt was overwhelming.
In 2001, a member of the clergy, who was also a friend of the family-was convicted of child pornography. An immediate wave of nausea and anger came over me and within a blink of an eye, I pulled my children and myself out of organized religion completely. I felt completely betrayed, wholeheartedly disheartened, and swore I would never “fall for this ever again.” As my children became teenagers, I left the decision up to them to research and decide what they wanted to believe in – or not.
Now, before I get hate mail or think I’m anti organized religion, that is not the case. I missed my church community, my priest, the sense of comfort and especially the beautiful holiday celebration masses. It left a huge hole in my life, but it was a personal decision that I felt very strongly about and to put it in simpler terms, “why would I keep my children in an organization that was hiding pedophiles?” I compared it to any organization, let’s say for just an example, a soccer team. Just because it was a religious organization it was not above the law. If you were to read in the news, ” ABC Soccer Coach was Caught With Child Pornography,” and you kept your children in that organization, most people would think you were out of your mind and that is exactly the way I felt and was my thought process. The protection and safety of my children was and always will be first priority, as it should be.
Over the years my decision spawned many arguments with family, with debates over letting a few “bad apples” ruin my faith, to- I’m completely wrong in my thinking- but I stuck to my guns and still had my seven year old thought as back up.
In 2015, on Holy Thursday ironically, I had excrutiating pain in my stomach and ended up in the emergency room. I had a series of tests done and the doctor came in with a very concerned look on her face. They had found multiple masses in my uterus and were convinced it was cancer- explaining hysterectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment. I immediately wanted to run out of the room, and out of that hospital. I thought, this cannot be happening, not now- I have children in school, graduating and in college. Please “God,” please, not now. “God,” yes, I turned to God as my first source of help. I was discharged to go home and call a specialist the next day and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. I was in hysterics in the car and remembered it was Holy Thursday and said to my husband, “Take me to the church.” I sat in a pew and I sobbed, and I prayed, and I sobbed some more. I looked around and that seven-year old thought wasn’t in my head anymore. I saw people praying and I wasn’t envious of their faith, as I can see they were praying for their own trials and tribulations. I gathered up some strength and went home. Every night until I saw the specialist, I would pray myself to sleep. I found peace in it, my vibrating, severely anxiety-ridden body, would find some calm and I was getting stronger every day. In fact, by the time I had my specialist appointment, I walked in with an open mind and wasn’t nervous. I was ready to face it head-on and that I did.
The hospital was thankfully wrong about my diagnosis at that time. When my tests were reviewed, it turned out to be fibroids that had to be watched. I did, however, end up losing half of my blood volume the following summer which ended in a procedure and a full hysterectomy 10 months later. Another ironic piece of this story is the time between the procedure and the hysterectomy, I landed in the emergency department again- on Holy Thursday. But- for all I went through and my continued daily prayer, I felt prepared and calm, even though I was facing major surgery in my near future.
So at this point you might be thinking, ” how selfish she is, she turned to God and prayer only when she thought she was dying!” Yes and no. Absolutely I was selfish, hell, I was not ready to die and felt an overwhelming call out to a higher power to help me. But- by starting to pray again, and continuing it whether I’m having a bad day or a good day is faith. A faith I wished to have for such a long time. It’s gratitude, to whatever higher calling or power you believe in, whether it’s God, or the universe. It’s a positive affirmation to yourself in the worst of situations and in the best. Prayer is an energy, a light at the end of the tunnel, a calm before, during, and after the storm.
Presently, I still do not participate in organized religion, I joke to others that I “retired from the church,” but it certainly doesn’t mean I am against it or advise anyone to do the same. But- it’s something I always have an open mind to as well. I love to visit different denominations of all religions and maybe one day, I’ll find my niche. And- it’s also okay if I don’t. Prayer is in my soul, in my heart, and is powerful- whether it be done in your place of worship or sitting on your couch. Presently, the couch is more comfortable for me but subject to change at any time.