When I look at myself in my First Communion photo, with my hands folded flat together with fingers pointing to the ceiling like a saint in a holy card, dressed in my cheap white veil and dress, holding my plastic rosary, I remember that I started out a pious little girl. I was so serious about the Catholic faith, that I often wonder how I could have diverged so far away from the beliefs of that little girl as I did.
One possible way that I can account for the loss of my early pious faith is to speculate that my religion back then, as is true for many other Catholics then and now, was mostly in my head.
I am tentative about this, because I have yet to explore this idea fully, but I sense that the pre-Vatican II priestly, religious, and social life of many Catholics, while externally staid and observant of all the rules, often hid a secret lack of love for Jesus and lack of heartfelt trust in the rightness and loving guidance of His teachings as handed down by the Catholic Church. Jesus said this, loosely quoting Isaiah, in Matthew 15;8: 'This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' He was talking about the scribes and the Pharisees. I think for most of us, our religion was that of the scribes and Pharisees.
Why do I sense this? I'm trying to recall some memories. One clue to my eventual apostasy might be in the difference between what the Church taught and what I (and everyone around me) practiced when I was old enough to date. For example, even though we believed in the teachings of the Church about the serious sin involved in occasions of sin, such as passionate kissing, when we were teenagers, we did what was societally tolerated.
Since our group of Boston Irish and Italian Catholic peers did not frown on necking (passionate kissing for hours on end), everyone did that on dates. But because it was still commonly understood that a girl would lose her respectability and chance at a good marraige if she "went all the way," only the wild or stupid girls or girls made drunk by their boyfriends would take that risk. Most of the good Catholic boys in the mean time, even though they wanted to marry a virgin, were trying as hard as they could to seduce any girl that would allow it. The double standard was in full force. The boys weren't anxious to preserve their own chastity, even though they were Catholic. They were anxious to experience intercourse, enough so that they didn't seem to care what damage they would be doing to any girl who would find herself seduced and despised at the same time. And the girls were anxious, I think, more to preserve their reputation and avoid the condemnation of society than to do what the Church taught. We went to Catholic schools and confession every week and Mass every Sunday, but our hearts were not converted.
During the times when strikes by long range nuclear missiles were being talked about in the news, I remember my sisters and close girl cousin and I talking about what we would do if we knew that a missile was on its way to destroy the East Coast. Somebody came up with a novel idea that we should rush out and have intercourse with our boyfriends if we could be sure that we would be able to get to confession before the bomb struck. Talk about nuclear brinkmanship! There was a lot of that kind of behavior going around those days. Do something sinful Friday night, confess it on Saturday night and be forgiven so you would not have to skip Communion on Sunday and face questions about why you stayed in your pew when everyone else went up to the altar rail.
You don't have to tell me that those confessions were probably not valid, because they lacked one of the vital conditions, a firm purpose of amendment.