I arrived March 20th, 1979, in the second most common way. A few weeks later, I was baptized Catholic, which is my parents religion of choice. My mother is so Catholic, she still follows Papal edicts that have been repealed - namely, the one that forbids eating meat on Christmas Eve. My father is a bit of an enigma, since he doesn’t say very much about anything. He goes to church, whether out of belief or obligation I can’t say.
First Penance followed baptism. First Communion followed First Penance. Confirmation followed First Communion. In between was Mass. Every week, unless I was sick. And, let us not forget the Holy Days of Obligation, which are extra days that Catholics are required to go to Mass. Christmas, Easter, etc. The only variety in this schedule was when we went to Mass while on vacation. Then, I could wear shorts to church. Scandalous!
And on top of that, catechism class, in which we learned about the joys of being Catholic, and how God loved us so much, that he would condemn us to an eternity of fiery torture if we missed church once, engaged in any form of sex outside of marriage, or committed any one of a host of infractions known as “mortal sins”. Lesser sins, or “venial sins”... well to be honest, I’m not sure how they fit into the picture. There was no conversion ratio - 10 venials to a mortal, for example. To be fair, I may not have been paying attention.
“But wait!” I hear the non-Catholics cry. “If missing church once condemns you to hell, how could ANYONE get to heaven? What if you’re sick? What if you sleep in? What if you just really, really don’t want to go?”
Fear not, gentle reader. For God gave us the gift of...Confession. Simply shut yourself in a small box with a priest and tell him what grievous offence or offences you may or may not have committed. He’ll say a prayer. You’ll say a prayer. He’ll tell you some more prayers to say after. And, hey presto! Forgiveness! Salvation is once again yours!
Now, if Sunday morning dawns, and you’re sick - well, mortal sin requires full consent of the will, friend. So no hellfire for you! If you slept in - well if it wasn’t on purpose, you’re probably in the clear, but perhaps you should nip over to the confessional just to be sure.
But... (with Catholicism there is always room for one more “but”) what if you commit a mortal sin and get in a fatal car wreck on the way to church?
My catechism teacher didn’t have an answer for this one. To be fair, she didn’t have a theology degree.
I could go on. Catholicism is rules on top of rules. Now, what most Catholics do is this: they pick a few rules that they are really good at following, and hope that’s enough. And I don’t fault them for that. It’s really the only sane choice. For instance, my parents are good at going to church regularly, not eating meat, and dropping an envelope in the collection plate. On top of that, they’re generally decent folks. They’ve been married 30+ years, and, to my knowledge, have never murdered, committed adultery, or stolen anything more than the occasional supermarket grape (strictly to see if the whole bunch was worth buying, mind you).
Now, for some reason, this perfectly reasonable, sane choice never occurred to me. If there were rules, then I was going to follow them all, dagnabit. The only problem is, no one seemed to have the official list...