A Catholic Childhood of Confusion

By Jackie Alnor

Singer/Songwriter Billy Joel didn't know what he was talking about when he sang the lyrics "Catholic girls start much too late." That certainly wasn't the case with me or with most of the girls I hung out with in the late '60s at St. Emydius School in Southern California. We viewed virginity as a state only the few Catholic saints and nuns could maintain and we could never be in their spiritual class. So we were conditioned to expect that "mortal sins" such as fornication were inevitable and we had recourse - the confessional.

Penance was our safety net if things went too far. One of my best friend's had a love affair with our parish priest when she was 16 and he was 45. When they were discovered he was simply transferred to another parish. His final sermon was a tirade against the women in the church who dressed too seductively and after all, priests were men too.

Years later one of my older sisters was going through a divorce and went to confession and told the priest about the struggle she was having with sexual sin. He ended up ministering to her sexual needs for a two-year period of time. He had a regular confessor he could go to late at night after one of their encounters who would give him absolution so he would be worthy to say Mass the next morning.

I became pregnant out of wedlock by the time I was seventeen. My first impulse after discovering my dilemma was a run to the confessional box in a parish away from my parents' church. I told the priest of my situation in hopes of some counsel or suggestions of how to break the bad news to my parents. I got no such thing. I was told to do an entire rosary - the biggest penance I had ever received! I never bothered to do the punishment prayers.

My parents sent me to a Catholic Home for Unwed Mothers where I gave birth to a beautiful little girl who was immediately whisked away from me and given to her new "Catholic" parents. My roommate at the Home was a quiet lady. She would not speak to me even when I spoke to her. For a while I thought she was deaf, until I found out that she was a pregnant nun flown in from the East Coast to bear her child. She took a vow of silence for the duration of her humility.

It all comes down to this: The Roman Catholic Church was not very good to me. But I survived it thanks to the grace of God. I know looking back that He had His hand on me the whole time. I didn't find out about the love of Jesus from my Catholic upbringing. I found that out in His Word, the Bible, that was for centuries kept from the people by the Catholic hierarchy. Its translation into the common language of the people is what led to the Reformation and the power of the Word set me free from the spiritual bondage of "mother" church.

Mindless Mysteries

Let me digress a little. My Catholic upbringing seemed to really dwell on the so-called mysteries of the "Church." I was taught to believe Catholic dogma whether it made sense or not because the pope had the keys to the kingdom and what he said goes. Catholic mysticism had a superstitious tone in my upbringing. My mother was half-Mexican and her spirituality was a hodgepodge of Catholicism and superstition - the sort of thing that the Catholic Church winks at but does not hold as doctrine. My mother would never miss mass on Sundays and holy days for fear of staining her soul and yet saw nothing wrong with following her horoscope and buying Ouija Boards for her children as presents.

I was the fifth of her nine children. We had a Mary shrine in a grotto in the back yard and a crucifix hanging on the wall in our living room filled with emergency holy candles, holy water and oil. I never did figure out what they were used for.

One of my mother's friends outdid her. I remember as a small child walking through this lady's front door to be greeted by a life-sized bloody "Christ" hanging on a cross amid lit candles. I always got the heebie-jeebies being over there and could not tolerate it for long. This was one of my earliest childhood memories.

Another flashback from my early childhood was attending a strange Catholic celebration at Dodger's Stadium in Los Angeles, called the May Crowning. I remember being afraid of all the crowds - the stadium was full though I'm not sure how many thousands it seats. There was a bigger than life-sized statue of the "Virgin Mary" being carried in procession while people all waved palm branches towards "her." The grand finale of the procession was crowning this idol with a wreath of beautiful roses. The people all seemed to be hushed with a sense of awe - some with tears in their eyes during the recitation of the rosary after she was crowned. Me? I just wanted to get out of there. This held no attraction to a hot and tired four-year-old.

One day my dad took me to a church in Los Angeles where he used to attend mass on his way to work. It was called St. Viviana's Cathedral. It looked like something right out of the Middle Ages. The place was empty and while my dad knelt at the altar to pray I stared up at the strangest site about the altar. There was a glass case with the body of a beautiful dead lady. He told me that was the actual body of St. Viviana and that her body never saw corruption - it wouldn't decay. Dad said it was a miracle but they had to encase the body in wax to help preserve it better. That was the biggest relic I had ever seen and I was awestruck being in its presence.

When I was in the first or second grade the nuns showed us a film in our school auditorium. It was a so-called true story of a young boy, Saint Marcelius, I believe was his name. This boy was an orphan raised by monks somewhere in Europe. He was always in trouble mostly because of being misunderstood. I really related to him. He used to sneak into the attic library where he was not allowed to go so he could look at a life-sized crucifix. One day he was stung by a scorpion and then got into some other trouble and ran up to that attic where he felt comforted by the statue. That day while he cried at the foot of the cross, the statue came to life and Jesus himself came off the cross and held and comforted the boy.

I was profoundly affected by this story, wondering why Jesus would do that for him and not for me. I too was a victim of being misunderstood. So I would go to the altar of our church where a bigger-than-lifesize crucifix hung above the altar. This "Jesus" of mine was made out of gold. And I would pray to it and ask him to please come to life and talk to me. All to no avail!

Then again in the fourth grade my mother was directing a school celebration of the Feast of the Assumption or Immaculate Conception - I'm not sure which one. And she casted me in a little skit that depicted the Fatima Marian apparition appearing to the three children. I got to play one of them. A statue of Mary was put high on a podium and the other children and I knelt on kneelers and were to pretend to be in a trance state with our hands folded in prayer staring up at the lady while the choir sang the Ave Maria. Again, I was struck with the story of Fatima and kept looking for an apparition to appear to me.

I used to wear a scapular around my neck because one of the Marian apparitions had promised that if you die wearing one (with her image on it) she would get you out of the fiery purgatory the following Saturday after your death. I also had a "miraculous medal" of Mary and I think that one promised to spring me out of Purgatory after only three days. But just to be sure, I still prayed all the little novena prayers that promised me some indulgences - time off from my purgatorial sentence.

In addition to all these religious fables I was also taught every sort of superstition imaginable. I would knock on wood, refrain from stepping on cracks, hide out on Friday the 13th's, take care not to break a mirror and avoid walking under ladders.

The Light Dawns

My first memory of questioning what I was being taught by the adults in my life was when I was around ten. I was walking home from school in my uniform and some kids from the public school were teasing us for being Catholics. I walked up to one of the kids and asked him what was wrong with being Catholic. He said that we worship statues and it was against one of God's commandments. I told him it was not one of the commandments that I was taught and he said that the Catholic Church took that commandment out of the list. I was horrified and hurried home to ask my mother if any of this were true. She tried to smooth things over by telling me that they misunderstand Catholics and that we do not worship statues, only the heavenly beings that the statues represent. And she said that the commandment not to make idols was included in the commandment to worship the Lord God only and that no idols could be made of false gods. Her answers didn't fully satisfy me.

It was around that time that the Vatican II changes began to be implemented in our parish. Our parents sat us down and told us that certain things that were sins were no longer sins and were now okay. We no longer had to fast for three hours before communion and we could eat meat on Fridays except during Lent. Mass no longer had to be done in Latin, but they were going to start speaking English. I had prided myself with the fact that I could recite all the liturgy in Latin without understanding a word of what I could flawlessly repeat. After that the mass seemed to lose some of its mysticism.

As I was preparing to make my confirmation at the age of 12, I was filled with doubts and suspicions. I asked myself how can truth change and how can something send you to hell one week and not the next. What about those who were already in hell for committing the sins that are no longer sinful? I just couldn't reconcile these things in my mind. I began to mistrust all adults in authority in my life and became a rebellious adolescent.

During the Confirmation our class was asked to stand up and make a vow to never drink alcoholic beverages their whole life. I had no desire to drink (I never did acquire a taste for alcohol in any form) but I stayed seated while most of my class stood up and repeated the vow.

During my teens I only attended Mass under protest. I ended up giving up totally on God, though I still believed in Jesus, and pursued fun and games and everything the world had to offer. I suppose I had to backslide from Catholicism before the Lord could reach me with the Truth. When I gave my life to Jesus at the age of 28, I had no inclination whatsoever to return to "Mother" Church. I hadn't found the Truth there and it offered me nothing.

I remember soon after I was saved, someone gave me a book called "The Two Babylons." This book showed how the Roman Catholic Church out and out disobeys the Lord Jesus Christ directly by her practices. The Two Babylons demonstrated the pagan origins of many of Rome's rituals and beliefs. When I saw her for what she was I was shocked and astounded. The scales were removed from my eyes and I feared for the eternal destiny of my Catholic family. Even though I had already left that institution, the revelation that Catholicism is a pagan false religious system was too hard to accept. Even looking at all the evidence I tried so hard to convince myself that it couldn't be the Harlot church. But now after decades of analyzing and looking at the scriptures I can see the big picture more clearly. It's still just as shocking, but I'm no longer in denial.

Jesus opened my eyes and showed me the Truth and the Truth has set me free! I was truly in spiritual bondage as a Catholic and now pray that God would open the eyes of those in my family who are still held captive by the great deceiver in a false system that is feeding them lies.