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Fishing, catching nothing


nymag.com

"Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine," Patti Smith sang as the opening line to her song “Gloria.” The rest of the lyrics have me convinced the line expresses nihilism and is not a theological statement, although there’s this: Thick heart of stone/My sins my own/They belong to me, me, which could be read as a “mea maxima culpa” acknowledging that a litany of sin has led her to deny the possibility of salvation.

Although I was raised a Catholic, that line speaks to me in a shout. I attended Mass every Sunday until I realized the ceremony wasn’t speaking to me. The sacrament of Confirmation didn’t speak to me. Confirmation is supposed to strengthen a person’s faith, but in the moments after I was confirmed, I passed a friend, and our exchange went like this:

“Feel any different?”
“Nope. Do you?”
“Nope.”

Salvation? I never felt that after the sacrament of Confession, either. I’d walk into church on a Saturday afternoon, slide into a pew, slip into the confessional, recite my most recent sins to a priest, say an act of contrition and the other prayers the priest prescribed for absolution, and then leave the church, feeling no different than I had when I entered.

Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.

Being raised a Catholic is like being a long-distance runner, a journalist, an editor, or a fisherman. Once you run long distances, you understand how the race is simple: you vs. yourself. Once you’re a journalist, you see everything, especially interactions with others, as stories. Once you’re an editor, you live with the continuous thought that your life needs revising. Once you take up fishing, you can’t drive by a creek or lake without wondering what kinds of fish live there—and the metaphor of fishing for something unknown becomes the central metaphor of your life.

I fish for salvation because I know I am inherently flawed. My life is a story. It needs much editing, but life is a first draft that can’t be rewritten, and the things I’d like to rewrite are sins and shortcomings in one form or another. Although I’m sure I’ve done good deeds, I can’t remember them, or I consider them insignificant. After all, I was raised Catholic, and for me, that faith wasn’t about pats on the back. Instead, it was like a divine sledgehammer striking my soul to the rhythm of “Thou shalt not, thou shalt not, thou shalt not.” I found no joy in this faith, only constant reminders that I was a sinner.

But Jesus died for somebody’s sins, not mine. This is my first thought the moment after I start to pray. I pray because I have caught glimpses of the transcendent; I believe in something bigger. And I begin to pray with the hope that something bigger, whatever it is, might fire a lightning bolt of such great power into my soul that I’ll more fully understand the particular place in life that led me to pray in the first place. I’m still waiting for the lightning, the enlightening.

So I don’t stick with prayers. I don’t finish them, nor do I repeat them. Despite his unwavering faith in his god, Jah, Bob Marley sang, “What to be got to be.” I don’t believe prayer changes anything for me, and even if it did, I don’t think prayer is intended to get God to deliver on something specific. Countless people who know me would disagree vigorously. Some might call me a heathen; some would try to convince me I am misguided; some would pray for my salvation.

They would ask me to accept Christ as my personal savior, to accept the idea that he loves me unconditionally, to accept their faith that he paid for all of our sins when he was crucified. When I think of Christ, I think of the crucifixion and about how I can’t fully realize what a brutish, hellish death it must have been. I believe in Christ as a historical figure, and if millions of other people see him and have historically seen him as the risen Lord and the light of the world, I am happy it brings them comfort and purpose. I never have and never will deny them their faith.

But their Jesus died for somebody’s sins, not mine.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
May. 26th, 2016 01:57 am (UTC)
My own take -away from being raised Catholic is, "You're bad, you're going to hell. You're bad, you're going to hell. You're bad, you're going directly to hell." What a great religion!
t.c.
patrick_vecchio
May. 26th, 2016 02:48 am (UTC)
I'll save you a seat.
scuba_sham
May. 26th, 2016 12:36 pm (UTC)
Man, Pat. You need to write a book. What a fantastic writer you are.

I had a similar experience with my Confirmation. I fought my mother on it for the two years it took to go through the process. Years of religious education classes where teachers brought in plastic fetuses and droned on about how awful abortion and sex and choice and a litany of other things were lit a fire in my teenage soul, but not the kind of fire they intended. I felt contempt for a church that treats my gender like second-class citizens, a church that teaches selective love. So when my mother made me get Confirmed, it went exactly as I knew it would: I felt no connection, no divine enlightenment.

But you're right: Just because you stop attending church doesn't mean the guilt yoke that comes with Catholicism leaves you.

Just know that you have done more good for people than you know -- particularly for those of us who had you as a teacher and are lucky to call you a friend.
patrick_vecchio
May. 26th, 2016 10:59 pm (UTC)
Sam, you already are more professionally accomplished as a journalist than I was after 22 years in the biz, and I greatly respect the way you make the words and punctuation marks dance, so your compliment about my writing means a lot to me. Your friendship means still more. It was a pleasure and, more important, a privilege to work with you at St. Bonaventure, and if I somehow helped you along the way, then I did the work I was called to do.
everville340
May. 28th, 2016 11:45 pm (UTC)
There is no shame in questioning things, least of all something indoctrinated from such a very young age. Thank you for sharing this part of your spiritual journey. It is powerful, and inspiring.
patrick_vecchio
May. 29th, 2016 02:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading and commenting. I had been writing that one in my head for years.
everville340
May. 29th, 2016 06:08 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad you did.
nodressrehersal
May. 29th, 2016 10:08 pm (UTC)
I pray because I have caught glimpses of the transcendent; I believe in something bigger. And I begin to pray with the hope that something bigger, whatever it is, might fire a lightning bolt of such great power into my soul that I’ll more fully understand the particular place in life that led me to pray in the first place. I’m still waiting for the lightning, the enlightening.

So much to love... I've been carrying this post around in my head since I read it a handful of days ago.

I'm thankful I wasn't raised Catholic. I converted when we got married, so I missed that whole "guilt" hammering and have enjoyed - yeah, I'd say that's right - enjoyed a relationship with something bigger than I can imagine for most of my adult life. I can't say that I know Jesus, or have ever had any personal relationship with him. But. I know enough truly good people, both secular and religous by trade who claim Jesus as their savior, and I trust their relationships to be real.

For me, it's all about Spirit. I feel that God/the Universe speaks to me through words, music, nature, and interactions with others. Hearing, seeing, feeling the right thing at the right time has happened too often to be considered chance.

So my prayers are not petitions; I do not believe there's a being making arbitrary decisions regarding who lives and who dies, who finds a job, who wins the lottery... that doesn't make any sense to me. I pray for awareness, guidance, wisdom, acceptance... the things I need to call forth from within me in order to deal with whatever I'm facing or whatever.
patrick_vecchio
May. 29th, 2016 11:41 pm (UTC)
Tell Dick that I told him, "You cannot petition the Lord with prayer!"

But seriously: Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Jamie. I hope the things you pray for are delivered to you. Your comment "Hearing, seeing, feeling the right thing at the right time has happened too often to be considered chance" leads me to believe they are. As for me, I'm a 1 Corinthians kind of guy: “For now we see through a glass darkly … now I know in part."
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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