Pope Francis will be visiting the USA from today until Friday, so I'd like to extend a warm welcome to him.
It seems a fitting time to give readers a condensed timeline of my religious background, especially since it all started with Catholicism.
I was born in the early1960s to Roman Catholic parents and baptized into the Church, in which I had my first Communion and Confirmation.
Both G-d and Santa Claus were used as threats in order to temper my behavior. G-d would punish me while Santa would grant or deny presents. Actually, I never believed in Santa; I knew my parents and other relatives provided the presents. Rather than write a letter to Santa for presents, I would simply pray for them. And I'd write a list for my mom.
Being musically inclined, I was involved in the Folk Group as a teen. We played during the Saturday evening Mass. Then I turned 18 and graduated high school, and I left the group and stopped attending Mass altogether.
In my mid twenties, I went on a binge of reading about Christian Mysticism, as described here.
That changed after I proposed to my fiance and we became engaged. She was Roman Catholic, too. One of her first actions was to pin down a wedding date, select a Church and have us start attending Mass together. Since we both viewed Catholicism as more punitive than nurturing, we "shopped" all the local Christian congregations until we settled on a modest Lutheran church in our town. I joined their choir to sing bass, and we were married there several months later.
Our daughter was born a few years later. We continued to attend services weekly. Six months later, our daughter was baptized. We would keep our tiny daughter with us in the pew among the other choir members and walk out with her if she acted up, which she rarely did.
After our daughter became a toddler, we decided to leave her in the daycare that was provided. At this point she could become upset and quickly react with a meltdown under certain conditions, including being left alone in a room. We called that separation anxiety. So on that first day in the nursery we made sure she was comfortable and occupied, and we reassured her that we'd be back. She seemed fine. About twenty minutes later, the daycare provider was trying to comfort our screaming daughter, who was writhing and arching her back as if the woman was torturing her. The woman was aghast and asked if our daughter were sick (or abnormal, perhaps). We drove home right away -- we needed the entire 10 minute car ride to calm her down, and we kept our daughter with us in the pew among the other choir members for a few more years.
Eventually our daughter would be diagnosed with Mild Autism, and she was enrolled in the public school's preschool for children with developmental disorders. Sunday school was difficult -- the church had no professionals to provide therapy or support. The teachers were mostly parents or grandparents of "normal" children. So my wife and I would attend the earlier grades of Sunday school with our daughter until she settled down. But she never really "took" to it -- she formed no connections with the other children. This continued into her teenage years and the Youth Group.
What she did connect with was the choir. Unfortunately there was no children's choir at the time. It wasn't formed until after our daughter was a bit older and after the idea about singing in a choir was no longer fresh and interesting. Still, she gave it a go. But with her extremely well-tuned ear for pitch and her sensitivity to tonal quality, she was disappointed with the other children and lost interest.
In the Lutheran Church, children wait until they enter grade 5 to receive their First Holy Communion. And then they get confirmed even later. I sincerely thought she'd drop out before getting confirmed. The more she "learned" about Christianity, the less sense it made to her. Fortunately the assistant Pastor made some accommodation for her, and she squeaked by. And then she announced that she was Pagan and left.
I continued to attend the services as a choir member. But it bothered my wife. She didn't want to sit in the back with me and the other choir members, and she didn't want to sit alone in the regular seats. So I stopped wearing the choir robe and sat with her in the regular seats, joining the choir only when necessary.
After eight years was getting tired of the weekly rehearsals and the getting up early on Sunday. I had planned to announce my retirement from the group. But the choir director beat me to the punch -- one evening she announced her retirement. So I remained quiet about my own desire to leave. It took one full season for the church to find a replacement, so I stayed on in support of the interim choir director. I was the strongest bass we had. I wasn't necessarily the best singer, but I could sight-singing and learned the parts quickly, even the tenor and alto lines, too, to help folks with their parts.
When the cat died, the emotional impact of singing was nearly too great for me. Leaving my sad wife and daughter at home twice each week was an additional burden. Plus my wife had been hospitalized two years earlier for four weeks and left with chronic pain and fatigue. I stuck it out for another three months and then abruptly failed to show up for the first rehearsal of the next season. When they called, my wife said simply, "He quit." I stopped going to church for several weeks and didn't even speak with anyone until a couple of months later when I'd accidentally bump into a choir member.
We would attend some services, such as Good Friday (my wife's favorite) and Christmas Eve. These days, getting out of the house by 9:30am five day each week in time for work is challenging for me. It takes me four hours every morning to get myself ready, feed the four cats and dog, get my daughter ready for school, attend to my wife's needs. So I like having the weekend with no morning obligations, church included. And frankly, I've always considered prayer a solitary endeavor, so I never feel the need to be a part of a congregation.
Recently my wife became reacquainted with her Reiki instructor. It turned out that the instructor was a practicing Buddhist. We were invited to attend some meetings / sessions / whatevers. So my wife decided to join them. She and my daughter are now official Buddhists.
And me? I really don't know. I need to strip away all the brainwashing that I received and then figure out what make sense to me. Most followers of the major religions in our world could be considered psychotic. Do you think not? Then read this: "I believe if I say certain words at a certain time each week, that life will be easier for me and my loved ones, and it will bring about World Peace. And best of all, when I die, I won't actually die -- I'll go to a special, wonderful place." That's some really crazy sheet.
Sorry about all that content, Pope Francis. I do hope you enjoy your stay here.