Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Best Insight I Had As a Kid

First Communion White BlossomsImage by hyperboreal via Flickr

Did you miss me yesterday? I needed the time to recover from my MRI experience on Tuesday. For some reason, I felt way more exhausted Wednesday, perhaps from the combination of the stress of the procedure, the added pain in my left arm from the contrast material being injected into the wrong place and the mild sedative I took to calm myself down before the procedure. But I got good news today, so in the end everything worked out and I am glad the experience is over.

Now for today's post:

I'm not sure what got me thinking about this lately, but I admit this memory from my childhood brings both a smile to my face and a feeling in my heart akin to amazement mixed with appreciation.

As I kid I attended Catholic school. Using class time to study religion is part of going to a religion-affiliated school. My husband, who is a proud graduate from the public school system, initially was unaware of this fact. After informing him of this fact, he often comments when I don't know something he does that, "It is because you went to Catholic school and were studying religion when you should have been studying _____."

There might be some truth to that comment, but I am getting sidetracked here...

I remember when my class was preparing for First Communion back when we were in 2nd grade. We used a book called a catechism, a collection of all the prayers and other information we needed to learn before we could receive First Communion. After learning my three options for the afterlife, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory, I decided at age 7 that I wanted to to go to purgatory. To this day I am not sure why or how I came to this conclusion, but at age 7 I knew that the older I got, the more sins I would commit. I knew I could not be perfect in this life, so purgatory seemed like the reasonable goal for my afterlife.

Perhaps I should stop here an provide the official definition of purgatory (from The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

What is purgatory?
Purgatory is the state of those who die in God’s friendship, assured of their eternal salvation, but who still have need of purification to enter into the happiness of heaven.

How can we help the souls being purified in purgatory?
Because of the communion of saints, the faithful who are still pilgrims on earth are able to help the souls in purgatory by offering prayers in suffrage for them, especially the Eucharistic sacrifice. They also help them by almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance.

One of the things I also noticed in parentheses after each prayer in the catechism was how many years you would get off your stay in purgatory by saying each prayer. So guess what I did during my whole year in the second grade? I said as many prayers as I could so I could get out of purgatory early. I didn't just rattle them off in my head as fast I could. No, I remember distinctly concentrating and really meaning every word of each prayer I said.

Now I am not sure if modern catechisms still have the same format. In fact I am pretty sure they do not. After all, when I attended Catholic school purgatory still existed. According to Pope Benedict the XVI in a communique back in 2007, purgatory and limbo no longer exist.

I guess it's now Heaven or Hell for me, no in between. Which is too bad, because as an adult I learned that life can be very complicated. In this modern world it is not always so clear what is right and wrong, black and white, good or sinful like the catechism and Catholic school taught me. The older I get, the more and more I realize that purgatory really is the most practical goal for the afterlife.

I am grateful to my 7 year old self for establishing this fact early on in my life.

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