Living in The Shadows

I was raised in a strict Roman Catholic family. We attended weekly Saturday night confessions, Sunday morning mass and during lent we fasted, went to Friday Stations of the Cross and gave up something, specifically something we loved having in our lives (as opposed to giving up chores). I loved it. It brought stability to our lives. By the time I was thirteen I knew that all I wanted was to go to the convent so I could be a nun. I knew my dad would be happy about it because he had a sister who was a nun and had been sent to the seminary when he was fourteen (but ran away after two years – never his idea anyway – his father donated him to the church in exchange for a large amount of money donated to the church in his name). Anyway, that’s all I wanted and being a determined young lady and the apple of my father’s eye I knew my dad wouldn’t put up a fuss. His answer was a resounding NO! No explanation, no discussion. I was devastated. Catholicism was in my veins. My love for the Blessed Mother was intense. What else was I going to do with my life?

I soon found out that my father had different plans for me, nighttime raids into my bedroom where I slept with my rosary under my pillow. When I was eighteen I ran away from home after a beating at the hands of my father that almost killed me. In no time I was married and had one baby after another, four in three years. The doctor said if I had another child it would kill me as I had hemorrhaged badly with the last one. My husband was angry at me. He had been after me to use birth control pills but still heavily Catholic I knew I would go to hell if I did. I prayed a daily rosary, morning prayers, evening prayers, Confession on Saturday and Mass on Sunday. Whatever the church told me to do I did it. I went to my priest to ask if I could take birth control pills telling him what my doctor had said. He showed me to the door. My husband’s anger turned into rage. I gave in.

After that I lived in the shadows of Catholicism. Knowing I was going to hell anyway it seemed pointless to say my rosary and other prayers. Going to mass left me feeling hollow and guilty. I gave up going to Confession. Little by little I slipped away from the church. After a friend of my alcoholic husband raped me I knew I was not only going to hell I would be in the deepest, darkest part of it. After a divorce from my first husband, I married his boss, another alcoholic who not only beat me but cheated on me. Two nervous breakdowns after failed suicide attempts happened. The church moved further and further away.

As the years went by, despite raising my four children Catholic, I still lived in the shadows. The scars from the five years of violence and incest that I suffered from my father kept me always on the edge of suicide. Another divorce followed, then several years as a single mom where I traveled from man to man in a frenzy of sexual needs. I still lived on the outside of the Catholic Church, a child whose yearning face begged to be let back in. But I knew I never could. My sins were so many that God would never forgive me, nor could I forgive myself.

At the age of 45 I was living with the worst abuser I could ever imagine. Sadistic, violent, a sex addict who cheated on me, raped me continuously and controlled my every thought and deed. I was losing my mind. One Saturday night, I was driving home sobbing so hard I could hardly see where I was driving. I remembered a Catholic Church along this route and went in to talk to the Mother of God and beg for her help. A few minutes later as I was leaving, the priest in the back of the church asked if I would like to go to confession. I shuddered and said no. He said we could have a face to face confession and reluctantly I agreed. Many years of sexual promiscuity poured out of me as I shared the horror of what my life had become. Afterwards, he gave me my penance. As I was finishing it up I realized he was standing at the end of the pews and the church was empty except for the two of us. I felt bad realizing I had kept him here longer than he needed. As I tried to leave the pew he grabbed me saying he needed to spend the night with me. I tried to pull away and he held my arm tightly repeating what he wanted. Now I was terrified and tried to run hitting him as I dragged myself down the aisle. It took several minutes of tugging and hitting and begging before I shoved him hard and ran out the door to my car. It was my last chance to return to Catholicism. Now I lived so far in the shadows that I knew I’d never find my way back.

Years went by. I had gone through five years of recovery, working a 12 step program and one of my own I titled REPAIR. I had rid myself of my abuser and considered myself the happiest person I knew. I still talked to the Blessed Mother but had not been to mass for years. I vowed never to go to Confession again. I had had a talk many years before with a priest in Tucson who had told me I could have a private confession with God and did not need to confess my wrong doings to a priest. This periodic talk with God was the closest I came to returning to Catholicism and it obviously didn’t count. By the year 2000 I had married a man who was a good guy. We lived in Colorado for two years then moved to Arizona. One day, impulsively I decided to check out the local Catholic Church. I felt comfortable there sitting near the choir and unknowingly sitting behind the Choir Director’s wife. Hearing me sing the hymns she asked me every week to join the choir. I wasn’t a group person and did not want to get too heavily involved in the church. After about a year I changed my mind and joined the choir. I still did not go to confession except on my morning walks when I talked to God.

We built a new church, one that looked more like a Cathedral. It was beautiful and reminded me of St. John the Baptist church back in Nebraska where I had taken flowers to the Mother of God altar. After a couple years, realizing I couldn’t even see the altar from the loft, I quit the choir. If I was going to become involved with the mass again I would need to watch the priest raise the host, smell the incense, see the candles, all those things that had once bonded me with Catholicism. Thinking often of how my father raped me on Friday, then went to Confession on Saturday and Communion on Sunday, I still didn’t go to Confession. I didn’t go to The Friday Stations of the Cross during Lent either. I still lived in the shadows.

Finally, I realized that coming back to the church meant I had to do it on my terms. After 30 years I finally reported the priest who had tried to force me to spend the night with him. I knew that wouldn’t set well with the church but it set just fine with God. Today I spend an hour every morning on prayers and the rosary. I talk to the Blessed Mother and God intermittently throughout my day. I rarely miss mass and go to communion every Sunday. I still live in the shadows of the Catholic Church. It is the only church I know and that is the only way I can return.

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