From Tuesday September 22 to today Sunday September 27 I have been glued, when possible to my Sony Trinitron. It is strange that amongst the turmoils of having bought a house and finally sold the one we have lived in for almost 30 years, my Rosemary, with a smile on her face has been my constant companion on the sofa in our den. She is not a Roman Catholic nor is she an Argentine. That’s me. But there she was protesting how loud the simultaneous translators were and how we could not listen in all clarity to what the pope was saying in his Argentine Spanish.
Perhaps to inject some humour I told her that we had made a mistake in not having added either Telemundo or Univisiónon our Telus package. But Rosemary took it seriously and perhaps even felt guilty about her lapse.
In my case my guilt was much more palpable even if I had to mostly keep it to myself.
I believe that if there is something that must be kept private in this confess-all age of social media it has to be what I do in bed our out of bed with my wife that has nothing to do with an act solely for the purpose of procreation. At my wife’s age of 70 and mine at 73 with my faulty plumbing there is no question of that ever being a reality. But there is another aspect of my life that I have always left in shadow to any that might ask. This is my personal view on religious belief.
I was baptized, confirmed and took part in the Roman Catholic sacraments of the Eucharist and Confession. I was born Roman Catholic because my mother was Roman Catholic. My father may have been a lapsed Anglican who waved his right to insist I be raised under the Church of England.
A few things happened during my growing up that made me question what had been drilled to me in Sunday School.
While my softly (if that can be said just like that) religiously racist Spanish Grandmother who often told me that the Jews had killed Jesus Christ seemed to be a “fact” there was the nagging suspicion that my best friend Mario Hertzberg who lived across the street from me could not be a murderer. That Mario showed me a picture of young man, that looked just like him, and explained that he had been killed by Germans during the war made it all more confusing in my mind. When Mario and I were stopped on the street by a Capuchin monk who asked us of our faith and when Mario explained that he was Jewish, the monk with a smile on his face said, “We all believe in the same God.”
By the time I was 10 my mother and grandmother would offer money to the patron saint of lost things St. Anthony of Padua. Their offerings were conditional — no found earing — no money. I thought this odd but strangely funny.
By that age of 10 I had inquired and found out that the minimum requirements for attending Holy Mass was to show up at the Offertory. As soon as the priest uttered “Ite missa est,” I would bolt out of church.
My so-so beliefs became challenged when my mother sent me to a Catholic boarding school, St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas in the mid-50s. there I experienced almost daily Masses, frequent confessions, plus being surrounded by men dressed in black who were Brothers of Holy Cross.
But here I had to question my faith, whatever it had been. It had been, at the very least a religion I had learned by rote. Suddenly not only did I find myself under the influence of great teachers (all but one or two, Brothers of Holy Cross) but I was hit hard intellectually by that five foot strong-man Brother Edwin Reggio, CSC. He taught me religion. He taught me religion that was laced with the philosophy of Aristotle, St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.
He allowed himself to be baited in our waste-time procedures of asking him at one point, in dollars and cents a sin of theft went from being venial to a mortal sin. From Brother Edwin I learned logic and dialogue all with a big dollop of kindness.
Brother Hubert Koeppen, Brother Francis Barrett, who taught me world history and American history gave me facts and liberal opinions on a way that I could judge history in a non-absolute way.
When my buddy John Straney (in the 11thand 12thgrade) loudly proclaimed his atheism, the brothers played it cool and ignored him. He graduated with no ancillary problems.
Best of all Brother Edwin insisted that perhaps the most important Sacrament was the Sacrament of Confirmation. He told me that once confirmed I was a soldier of Christ. He was careful to explain that this was not a soldier who wielded a sword but one who defended the faith in being able to explain one’s beliefs in detail and to divulge to anybody who might ask what Transubstantiation , Ex Cathedra and the concept of the Trinity of three persons who were all individually God.
Shortly after moving back to Mexico City after Austin I had the luck to be exposed to the philosophy classes of Ramón Xirau at Mexico City College. From him I found out about the pre-Socratics, the Socratics and all the rest that followed up (with a longish explanation on Baruch Spinoza) to an including Sartre and Camus. But it was Epicurus’s belief that we should not fear death as death was oblivion without pain that set me up for doubt. It was and has been a doubt that would never include Pascal’s (chickenshit, o my!) Wager.
My doubt was not toned down when my very Catholic mother, at age 50, suffering the terrible Meniere’s Disease, experiencing an almost constant vertigo and a loud ringing in her ears, confessed to me one day, “I am 50 and I am alone. I have not been with a man for years. I am still young. I do not believe in a God who cares for the affairs of men. I have lost my faith in prayer.” There was nothing that I could have possibly told her that would have ameliorated her grief. It wasn’t the existence of God that she doubted, after all.
And that is where my beliefs have been all these years.
Rosemary and I both regret that while our oldest daughter Ale had her First Communion, her younger sister Hilary did not. Hilary’s two daughters’ idea of spirituality is all Tolkien, special effects and Star Wars.
My Brother Edwin died a couple of years ago so I feel lost in not having his practical mind explain to me if watching the pope saying Holy Mass in Washington DC, New York City and in Philadelphia is in effect going to Mass. When the pope blesses the populace, am I included?
I may be proud of being an Argentine these days in spite of Christina. I like to shout or write, “¡Messi! ¡Messi! ¡Francisco! ¡Francisco!” But I am really more that proud in feeling a kinship with Jorge Bergoglio. After all since I am Jorge Alejandro he is my tocayo. I have photographed enough people (including dubious politicians, hoods and crooks) to know what a genuine smile is.
Best of all in spite of the idiot simultaneous translators, to listen to someone speak Argentine Spanish with verve in that quiet way of Pope Francis’s I cannot but think that while I am not about to take up Pascal’s Wager I just might contemplate an enhanced oblivion.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.