Religious devotion of my youth was a fearful thing

Religious devotion of my youth was a fearful thing

I was asked an unexpected question recently. When had I last gone to confession?

Years have gone by since I last confessed my sins to a priest but I have a vague idea that I was forced to do so when I was 14 or so years old, when my parents held the station mass in their house.

Ever since I was asked this question, I’ve been thinking about how my religious practice has changed since I was a child. Because there’s no denying that I was very devout back then.

Both my parents are Catholic and my father has an especially strong faith. He would force us to say the rosary every evening as a family (just as his parents would say it as the Angelus bell struck six on the radio).

He’d force us to go to confession regularly too, particularly before Easter Sunday and before Christmas. He wanted us all to be able to celebrate these religious festivals without sins on our souls.

I took all of this very seriously. I’d spend several hours examining my conscience in order to remember everything I’d done wrong since my last confession and I’d always have a long list of sins ready for the priest.

I would do all I could to ensure my soul remained pure for as long as possible after these sins were absolved. But I didn’t succeed very well. I came to think there was no chance I’d ever go to heaven because I always had some sin on my soul.

I was so concerned about this that a chance comment my primary school teacher made one day had a strong impact on me. This man was one of those hell, fire and brimstone Catholics who loved telling tales of sinners suffering in hell. His stories would terrify me as a young child.

On this particular day, he said that children who died before reaching the age of 12 automatically went to heaven, whether they had sins on their souls or not. I immediately spotted my chance. I knew I’d never go to heaven if I died after the age of 12 as I always had sin on my soul. I’d just have to die before then.

So began the start of a prayer campaign that was to continue for a year or so. Every evening I’d ask God to take me before the age of 12 so that I could be sure of joining him in heaven.

I don’t know when I stopped saying this prayer. Nor do I know when I stopped going to confession or when my religious devotion came to an end. But I’m happy it did.

The holiness of my youth was a guilt-filled and fearful thing.