Sarah O'Connor

Writer – Playwright – Cannot Save You From The Robot Apocalypse

So a few weeks ago I made a promise.

You probably remember my blog post about my sister getting sick, my fear, and rushing to the ER to be with her. The day after that blog post was published; I had to leave work early with her to go to the ER again because a similar episode of shortness of breath was happening. We had to be safe, but that was a week of immense stress and fear as we tried to figure out what was wrong with her. She was still coughing up blood, she was still sick, she was still losing her voice, and we still had no answers.

When my dad arrived to the ER he told me I had to go to my car because I had parked by a fire hydrant for two hours. He hadn’t seen a ticket, yet, so I rushed from the ER to my car, panicking as I did.

I wasn’t panicking over the parking ticket, though it would be one more thing I didn’t need at that time, I was panicking over my sister. I wanted to know why she couldn’t breathe, why she was so sick, when she would get her voice back and be able to sing again.

So when I got into my car I sat for a second and screamed. And because I was stressed, because I was worried, because I was desperate I screamed to God, and I asked Him why he was doing this to her, why he would keep torturing someone so good, and I promised Him that if she got better and if she got her voice back that I would go to back to church for a month (four Saturday’s/Sunday’s for any of you non-Church going folk). And after one last trip to the ER (another one after the one I’m talking about, it was a tough week), she started getting better. My sister’s voice is almost completely back to normal, she’s started singing again, and her doctors have a plan to get her fully healed, which of course means it’s time for me to go to church.

I don’t know what my relationship with God and the church is anymore. I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school until university, used to attend Church weekly, was an altar server, in the Youth Group, the whole shebang! But then my sister was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease at fourteen and I started questioning. Then my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time when I was eighteen, then she died when I was twenty-one, and I stopped going to church and praying.

I prayed for my mother, but I wasn’t listened to. That’s not to say I was listened to with my sister getting better, praying isn’t like asking for your wishes to come true, no matter how much we hope it is. We can ask for good health, a long life, and good fortune and maybe some of these things will come true, but more often than not they won’t.

It’s about faith, and I don’t know how much of that I have left anymore. My mother was born Protestant, though she was more of a spiritual person in life. She converted to Catholicism a few days before she died so we could all be together when we died. I still don’t know how much I believe in God, but I do believe in my mother, and I do want to see her again one day.

So maybe I’m superstitious, going to church because of some promise I made to an invisible being that may or may not be there. Maybe it’s fear, which the Catholic Church has always been good at teaching. In the end, it was a promise I made, and as someone who has always been taught to keep their promises, I have to keep mine.

And it wasn’t bad. I saw some people I recognized from when I used to go to church, but I don’t think all of them recognized me. I saw some of the differences, a lot of the sameness. Our parish had gotten a new priest, our old priest having left a few years before. He was a priest I really liked, my sister and I had altar served for him for a number of years and he was always kind and easy to talk to. He served my mother’s funeral mass, visited her at the hospital and converted her. After the mass, he told me he understood that it was hard to find God in times like this, having lost his parents near my age, and said taking time away was a good thing.

So I was curious about this priest, about what he’s be like. He was younger than I expected, probably around his mid-to-late forties. And the mass was the same as it always is. The Gospel reading was about Jesus telling the rich man to give up all his worldly possessions so he could live without sin.

And then the homily began.

The priest went on about venial (a small sin, like cutting someone off in traffic) and mortal (a big or “grave” sin, like murder) sin. He started talking about how it was people were going to get into heaven and how it had to do with how you lived, and how much you sinned. You won’t get into heaven if you commit a mortal sin, but you also won’t get into heaven if you commit a lot of venial sins. But what exactly is a sin?

Well let me make it easy, basically everything you do is a sin. Get angry because you’re walking behind a slow person? Sin. Swear because you got a paper cut? Sin. Get frustrated at someone at work? Sin.

And those are just the little ones!

So then the priest focused on mortal sin, promising that what he was going to say was going to be “heavy.” He talked about the current corruption of the church and how it has made him take his faith more seriously, made him consider God’s judgement on him. He talked about confession (if you don’t go to confession in a year or take the host after not going to confession that’s a sin, whoops) and what people usually tell him in confession. He said the most common are how we use our bodies, people being intimate with themselves (he used the words addiction and immaturity when talking about masturbation), with others, with someone who isn’t their partner (which, okay, I can kind of get that), and people who use “artificial contraception” (he said this was a sensitive subject, that it was bad advice for priests and bishops to say that they should take it).

He didn’t say any of these things were sins, he also didn’t say they weren’t. Overall it was heavily implied that they were in fact sins, mortal sins based on the homily. He promised to expand his thoughts on his blog post that week, which I searched. He included links to St. Paul XI (though why a man who told women that birth control was a sin should be canonized is beyond me) Humanae Vitae and Patrick Coffin’s The Contraception Deception, I had my answer.

And this was my reaction when the priest talked about these things together with sin:


Actual depiction of me through Stewie listening to the priest talk about “artificial contraception.”

I had to search what “artificial contraception” was because the term didn’t make sense to me. There’s either contraception, or their isn’t, and it turned out I was right because “artificial contraception” is a term used by religious folk that puts the pill, condoms, IUD’s, etc. and that “real contraception” is basically abstaining from sex unless you are going to have a child (yes, in some instances pulling out counts as “artificial contraception”).

So, like Stewie in the gif above, I was staring at the priest in disbelief and shock that he could so openly talk about this, and I looked to the people sitting around me shocked by their lack of reaction. Because women literally left mass when they heard Pope Paul XI talk this way about birth control, and I felt like doing the same. Paul XI Humanae Vitae was notable because it was the first time people stopped listening to what religious figures had to say and people started to make their own decisions.

So I’m just going to be very open and honest and I say I don’t agree with anything the new priest is saying. To lump masturbation, premarital sex, and contraception (because it isn’t artificial) in with sin is so incredibly harmful to children, teenagers, even adults in the Catholic Church. I am no stranger to Catholic guilt; it’s something the Catholic Church does very very well. I had a very Catholic based sex education from school, taught heavily about abstinence and chastity and nothing about contraception. We were taught that if you did have sex before marriage you would either get pregnant or get an STI. We even had a speaker talk to us in Grade Nine about how good abstinence was with metaphors of candles and tissues, all vaguely alluding to how unclean you would be if you had sex before marriage.

And just the fact that preaching this guilt and shame is so common, so expected and so ordinary just makes me so angry. To shame the parishioners for the innocent and natural urges of sexuality like masturbation or premarital sex, and shaming using contraception (because there is nothing “artificial” about IUD’s, condoms, or the pill) while completely ignoring the sexual violence that priests, nuns, bishops, and many figures in the Catholic church have and are still committing and letting their mortal sins (because it is one if I’ve ever seen one) be forgiven. The priest may have talked about the corruption of the church, but he didn’t label any of his “companions” as sinners.

I hate the hypocrisy of the church.

So needless to say, I don’t like this priest. Yes, he’s just toting the party line, and being a “good” priest by saying such, but these kinds of teachings are so incredibly harmful. Writing this and re-listening to the homily for this blog post (because the new priest may have some archaic ideas about sex, but he’s modern enough for a blog) made me so incredibly angry, and listening to him speak on Saturday evening mass (yes, Saturday evening mass is a thing because Catholics are lazy) made me want to leave like the women listening to Paul XI. But I made a promise, so I stayed.

And that doesn’t make me a martyr or special or some role model or anything like that, it just makes me someone who is keeping a promise. So I’ll go to mass, sing the songs (which is probably my favourite part of the mass), and listen to the homily that will probably tell me that everything I’m doing is a sin (deliberately not going to church AND eating the host when you do on top of not going to confession for many years, TRIPLE SIN) but I’ll do it.

Three more masses to go.

(Image of cross taken by the talented Jenna McGill at the Devil’s Punchbowl, yay irony!)

(Gif of Stewie and Brian from Family Guy found here.)

One thought on “So I Made A Promise

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