The stained glass windows provided a prism for the sunshine to convert into different colors and stream inside the church. I peered into my ruby ring and tilted it from side to side to reflect the colors of the glass like a kaleidoscope. It was difficult for me to decipher the words of the priest due to his Polish accent and the echoes in the large stone building.
I did not feel the presence of God in this cold dead place. Surely he was with me while I lay in my bed alone and unloved, and sometimes I felt His presence with me there on the nights when I stayed in bed and shivered. But He was not in this place that was supposedly “His home.” If He was here, He was in some other form that only the priest seemed to know about.
The priest appeared robotic to me. Week after week, he recited the same prayers, some in Latin, and some in English. But the same prayers recited over and over again. He’s a good robot, I thought to myself. I watched him as his arm motions moved in time to the Mass choreography performed each week the same, perfectly the same. Part of me was jealous.
How could I ever be a good robot? How could I perform the same chores without making any mistakes? If I never made another mistake, Father wouldn’t yell at me or hit me. If I never made another mistake, I could teach my little brother and he wouldn’t get hit anymore either.
Maybe God was here, but He was not the same God that comforted me in the night. Is it a different God, or just a different personality—like how Father acts one way with the family and another way with outsiders? Maybe God is like that too?
On Sundays after mass, I went to Catholic catechism classes, also called church school. My teacher was Mrs. Wilson, a middle-aged lady with perfectly styled brown wavy hair. She explained, “Jesus died on the cross so that Heaven could be opened back up.”
A brave kid in the front row raised his hand. “Why was Heaven closed?”
Mrs. Wilson Smiled. “Good question, Matthew. It had been closed because Adam and Eve ate the apple after God told them not to.”
I was confused, but I didn’t ask questions. I often wondered about the crucifix that was displayed all over the church and school building. I knew Jesus died on the cross but I really didn’t understand what it was all about.
Mrs. Wilson continued, “Jesus died for us, but it didn’t hurt because He was God, and he opened Heaven. So when we die we go to Heaven, because we were baptized as babies to get rid of the original sin from Adam and Eve eating the apple.”
“There are various sins, and that is why we have to go to confession, and receive grace. “Grace” is goodness from God and you want to keep receiving grace. Murder of course is the worst sin, and that is really, really bad. Adultery, well don’t worry about that, it’s just for adults, you don’t need to know about that now.”
“Just go to confession, confess your sins, such as fighting with your brother and sister, disobeying your parents and you’ll be fine. You’re not going to murder anyone.”
I still couldn’t understand why the crucifixes were all over the place. And if it didn’t hurt, what was the meaning of doing it at all? It didn’t make any sense to me but I kept searching for answers.
The next week Mrs. Wilson read a story from the book of Matthew Chapter 4.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”
But Jesus answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”
Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:
‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and,
‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”
Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”
Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”
Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.”
Mrs. Wilson told us, “Jesus was tempted by the devil but he quoted the bible to the devil and the devil went away.”
So I understood that the devil was gone, and could not bother Jesus anymore. I also assumed that he did not bother people either. I thought that it meant that the devil went away, and that was the end of it.
I didn’t know that the devil was still roaming the earth, that he still tempts us.