Love and Sobriety
Love and Sobriety
The church was dark inside. For a very small boy, it had an aura of terrible mystery to it.
In the church, we never talked, except in whispers. The dark pews whispered back, huddled around the bases of the huge columns that soared up to the roof.
When I looked up to the ceiling, there was the devil getting his butt kicked straight into hell, an angel with his wings folded back, falling, falling, falling. And the Brothers, their long black robes whispering along the floor, would explain to us: "Do you see that? That's what will happen to you when you sin."
I was four. I didn't even know what sin was. But already, I was being pointed down, down, in terror.
I was the youngest of eight children in a Roman Catholic family in the province of Quebec. In that setting, one is not asked if he wishes to be baptized. It is simply done. Within days, I was baptized into the Roman Catholic religion, with two good Roman Catholics as godparents.
I learned to pray at home, both formal prayers and real ones. My parents believed in the saying, "The family that prays together stays together." After supper, we gathered in the living room on our knees to say the rosary. It was a serious business-no smiling, no laughing-saying the same words over and over.
We prayed for my oldest brother, who was in the Air Force during the war. First we prayed for him because he was in the war. Then we prayed for him because he was missing. Finally we prayed for him because he had been killed.
With my mouth I said the words of the rosary, while my mind tried to figure out how to tell Dad that I got my report card that day. Even while saying the beads, I recall that my strongest prayer was, "God, don't let him get mad."
I didn't like traipsing into the living room to concentrate on black beads and death. But it was a form of escape-it beat doing the dishes.
Sundays were somber days. In the darkness of a winter morning, we struggled out of bed, searched for pants without holes in the knees, searched for two socks that matched, stuffed cardboard in the soles of shoes that had holes in them, and trudged off to Mass at the church before breakfast.
We worried about remembering not to eat even a piece of bread before leaving, an act that would have prevented us from receiving communion.
I didn't understand why we went. It was a long walk from our home. Not even Mother and Father seemed happy about going. Those were hard times, and I'm sure my father would have welcomed a few more hours in which he could work, with so many mouths to feed.
But it was a duty one did. So we went, every Sunday, to be told we were sinful, and needed to be redeemed by the blood in the cup.
After Mass, we hurried home with our bellies touching our backbones, having fasted so that we could go and receive the Lord in our hearts. I found the idea confusing. "How did the Lord get into my heart from my belly?" I would ask my mother. Or, "Would God have been offended if I had eaten to get the strength to go to his house to see him?"
But when I could smell bacon and eggs frying in the kitchen, while I sat reading the funnies in the living room, that was when I knew there was a God.
After breakfast, the depression set in again. Everyone scurried off to keep out of everyone else's way, but especially out of the way of Mother and Dad. I guess they would start thinking about the week ahead, about trying to keep a large family on the straight and narrow, and about trying to keep them all fed, and it spoiled their temper.
Montreal had a large Jewish population, many of my playmates were Jews. I wondered why they could he happy on their day of worship, but we couldn't on ours.
Most of the religious thoughts I had came from my parents. Some came from my older brothers and sisters who were already in the Catholic school system. The first religious p