My introduction to the church came through drums beating near my neighborhood and kids my age were marching to the beat following the drums, like the Pied Piper, all the way to the church where we were served cookies and Kool aid. Later they started talking to us about Jesus and how we were sinners with a black heart (they showed us a heart shape cardboard, all pained black and another heart, all white) and they asked us if you wanted to go to heaven which will we choose? We were recruited. I chose the cookies and Kool aid also.
After that, there was no more instructions but I was told that I had to go to Mass every Sunday. My problem was that I didn’t like the Spanish speaking priest that hovered over me from the pulpit and told me I was going to hell if I didn’t repent. Fortunately, I also wanted to sing in the choir and that was high above in the choir loft. Now I could look down at the priest.
From then on we were indoctrinated until we were ready to receive Holy Communion. I was dressed in a white suit. The candle and a prayer book were provided by my godparents. I have no idea where the suit came from but I liked the feel of it. Later on it was loaned out to my uncle Lucio. After that, I didn’t know where it went.
Up to the time when I graduated from high school, I was always singing in the choir and when it was time to receive communion we had to go down a steep stairwell which creaked at every step going up or down. I use that as an excuse not receive communion but, so did everybody else in the choir. Besides, we were singing hymns all during that time.
When I joined the military, Sundays were reserved for resting and recreation. Now that I was away from the family, I wasn’t attending Mass. (That had been instilled in me by my grandmother who I believed never attended church but insisted that I go in her place) Now that I was free to do what I wanted. Mass was not my priority.
When I got married was the only time I had been back to church. My wife who is a staunch Catholic left me alone until I felt guilty enough to attend church service with her. However, my heart was not in it. (I still remember the sisters telling me about my black heart.)
All through the times in the military, I had questioned my faith and prayed a lot during times of crisis. However, it was on my last overseas tour in Germany that a group of people from Amarillo, Texas came and gave a retreat called “Cursillos” which was a movement in the Catholic church to teach the faith to those who do not understand it. I was moved to a point that I became more involved in the church. I started reading the bible.
When I was young the church suggested that we don’t read the bible because we might not understand it. That’s even if the readings during the Mass were taken from the bible. Rather we should continue praying the prayers in our prayer book. That’s one of the reasons we never had a bible at home.
The other thing is that we were not allowed to go to the other churches in the neighborhood. My parents and grandparents call them the “Alleluyahs” because that’s what they said during a sermon in their church. I visited one of them as a teenager because a friend of mine was attending church there and I was curious. It was completely different from our service. Made me want to go back but what threw me off was that they had services on Sunday all day and night. I just couldn’t be one of them because one hour was the best that I could do at that time. Besides they were Christians and I was Catholic.
Now as an older person, I have found that we are Christians too. That was a revelation brought on by my belief in Jesus Christ. At one time I had been attending a Christian evangelical meeting with my Catholic friends. One of my Hispanic friend asked me why I was going with those Christians, I thought you were Catholic? That’s when I realized that a lot of Catholic had the same attitude.
I am now able to say that I’m also a staunch Catholic following the rituals and traditions of my church, lighting my candles, praying the rosary. Now, I do read the bible and meditating on the Word. However, I am a christian