I Must Be Going to Hell

The other day I was talking to a fellow parent and she was lamenting about her daughter’s confirmation and everything that it entails. She was also complaining because her son just made communion last year and had a huge party and it cost her a lot of money. I just shrugged my shoulders at her when she asked what I was going to be doing for my son’s confirmation.

“Nothing,” I said. “He’s not making his confirmation. We don’t do CCD.” She looked at me as if I told her he eats the urinal cakes in the boys’ bathroom.

“Oh,” she said with a look of distain. I knew exactly what she was thinking…Bad mommy. Apparently, my bad parenting skills spill over into their religious education. OR rather, their lack of. They don’t go to Sunday school or CCD. In fact, we don’t even go to church anymore. According to the powers that be, my children are apparently heathens and nothing short of an exorcism will redeem them.

Let me explain. I went to Catholic school. So much CHURCH. And God. And HELL. Always talking about what will send you to hell. I grew up thinking if you weren’t a nun or a priest and if anything every felt/ tasted/ looked good…it would send you straight to hell. After two years of Catholic school, I got pulled out because it was too expensive (hmmm…was it all about the money?) and I was sent to public school with the rest of the riff raff. But I wasn’t off the hook. I still had to go to the dreaded CCD. And it was continually drilled into my head the nine hundred and fifty two ways I could get myself sent to hell.

I grew up scared of church. It was boring and nothing resonated with me. But if you didn’t go, you were going to hell. If you didn’t go to confession, you were going to hell. Anything you confessed? Sending you straight to hell. Every thought I had or thing I did made me feel guilty. And what’s more, I found it ironic that the people who talked the most about God and went to church the most, were the biggest hypocrites. They tended to be the most unkind and unforgiving people of all. Not saying they knocked little old ladies down and stole their purses, but they were unyielding to anyone who didn’t share their beliefs, unaccepting of anyone who didn’t follow the letter of the “law” to a T. Needless to say, I got kind of jaded and as soon as I made my own confirmation, I avoided the place like the plague.

Until I got married…

My husband is not Catholic. He’s Presbyterian and his parents are pretty regular church goers. They’re not pushy or fire and brimstone; they’re kind and thoughtful people and raised a good man. So I figured, let’s get married in his church, right? Wrong.

My holy roller father would not hear of that. IF I didn’t get married in the Catholic church, I was going to hell. And he wouldn’t come to witness my fall from grace. So off to church I went with a fake smile plastered on my face, putting my envelopes in, making sure the priest saw me every week so that when I begged for him to perform my marriage ceremony, he would not give me a problem. That should have been enough, right?

Nope. He wanted to know, where was my husband to be? When I explained that he was not Catholic, I swear you would have thought I told the man that his Lexus had been vandalized. Seriously. To him, NOT CATHOLIC was akin to a mass murdering pedophile. And my husband was treated as such when we met with the priest who sent him out of the room (due to the fact that he was beyond saving) and had me sign a form that stated I would raise our children Catholic if we were to have any. Reluctantly, I did. Because if I didn’t, not only was I going to hell, they were too.

And when said children arrived, of course I had to baptize them (and jump through massive hoops to do so…)

So when my son was 6, of course I was compelled to send him off to CCD. Reluctantly. I shoved him out the door and into the gates of the school each and every week. He cried, he begged, he pleaded. He hated it. And I hated sending him. And I also hated having to sit in church every week with them (so much fun with a rambunctious two year old who talked VERY loudly) so that he could get his paper signed to prove that he was in church. What little good it did him… he would spend the entire hour helping me peel his sister off the walls or reading a book. He learned nothing and was miserable in the process.

So when they started talking about confirmation and what it was going to entail, he came to me and said, “I want to tap out here…I’m not interested in making my confirmation.” So I sat down and thought about this (without input from my heathen husband…he’s going to hell anyway). The kid had a point. Making your confirmation means you’re prepared to be an adult in the Catholic church and he did not want that. So he was deciding to not go any further in his religious education and I had to respect that.

Which was fine until I tried to enroll my daughter in CCD. I got a phone call directly from the priest who informed me that she could not attend unless her brother was also enrolled. They absolutely refused to accept her. I was confused how they would turn down a child who WANTED to go and learn about her religion just because they had “lost” her brother (for the time being). That didn’t make sense to me at all.

When I explained the situation, the priest told me that my child was too young to make this choice. “But Father,” I said, “If he’s too young to choose NOT to become an adult in the Catholic church, isn’t he too young to decide TO become an adult in the church?” He ignored my question and spent a half hour berating me and telling me how my poor parenting would lead to my child becoming a delinquent without any religion. He actually said to me, “Come back in three years and let me know how he’s doing. I guarantee you that you will be having more than just the normal teenager problems with him.” Oh and of course, that he’s going to hell.

I dealt with many nights of tossing and turning, the guilt eating me up. Should I enroll her somewhere else? Should I make him go? I didn’t want my precious babies sent to hell. That Catholic upbringing was giving me an ulcer. Finally, I came to the realization, if the Catholic church didn’t want me, then I didn’t want them. It was difficult and gut-wrenching, but I think it was the best decision I’ve ever made. One day, I’ll find a church that that makes me feel comfortable and like I belong. It’ll be non-judgmental and care about its parishioners, not making them feel badly about themselves. Until then, we worship the idea of being kind to one another and just trying to be good people.

It’s three years later…aside from his obsession with shoes, fighting with his sister and his tendency to procrastinate until I have a stroke from screaming at him to do something, I really can’t ask for a better kid. He’s smart and well liked by his peers and respected. Just last week my husband snooped through his phone (as he tends to do) and found he had stuck up for some girl that his friends were bullying. And his friends? CCD attendees and altar boys. But MY kid is going to hell? Over my dead body.

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