I had jotted down some thoughts in a general outline of what I am planning to write and then I get the brilliant idea that I will lift sort of jazzy quote as a title for this essay and I found this....
A Catholic is raised with the idea that he will die any minute now and if he doesn't live his life in a certain way, this death is an introduction to an eternity of pain.
As a young child I would lay in my bed sleepless and ponder the error of my ways, perhaps feeling guilty over some petty crime I had committed that day and how I was going to end up in hell, the fiery furnace pit of flames eternally damned until the end of time. And Eternal meant there was no end to time. It would just go on forever and forever. For infinity, a word I later learned. I would be thirsty and my flesh would be burning and I could not drink. It was just too horrible to contemplate especially a little innocent mind as my own way back then. I did not want to meet an end such as that, burning in hell with the other BIG LOSERS like Hitler.
I learned in my years of parochial school, you had to protect your soul from sin. I imagined my soul like the white sheets my Mom hung out to dry on the clothes line in the back yard, bleached and beautiful in the sparking sun. That was my soul. I envisioned sin as tiny little black marks on the soul. A mortal sin would make the soul entirely black! If you happened to die with a black soul - well, it was curtains for you. Eternal damnation with Hitler.
Mortal sins were hard to figure out. Sure there were the ten commandments, but us Catholics had a whole lot more sins than that. Honor your Mother and Father had a bunch of sub categories that included "talking back" and "not showing respect". And there was the tricky one that went Thou shall not kill. Was it OK to kill when there was a war going on? Was it OK to kill, like the cowboy television shows we adored because my Dad watched them, when you were in a gun fight? Did you get a pass for that?
How about the one "coveting your neighbors wife"? Heck we didn't even know what the hell covet meant let alone have some opinion about it or the opportunity to break it! And this was before woman's lib apparently. Was it okay to cover the husband?
Catholics have it good, I thought when I was a kid. We just go to confession, the washing machine for the soul, and admit to our sins.
Not mortal sins, mind you. But that sub category of sinfulness known to all Catholic as venial sins. Once a week all the classes would take turns being marched across Main Street and enter the church to have our confessions heard. We would all sit in the front of the church far away from the confessional booths in the back. You would try and be holy and quiet, reflecting on what sins you had committed since your last confession. After bearing your soul to the priest you would kneel like a good little repentant Catholic and say your penance. Usually three Hail Mary's and an Our Father. You better be a few minutes getting it over with or the rest of your class would know you had really had a doozy of a week.
As I would lay in bed and worry about dying with sin on my soul I would also think about eternity in Heaven! I imagined that I had not been that bad and if I did kick the bucket I would get an audience with God. I would have some time to look over my list of offenses and make my case for leniency. God, being an all kind and loving God, would grant me dispensation on some of the sins but I would be given some Purgatory time for others.
I would go do my purgatory time, probably with a lot of people I would know and then after a reasonable amount of time I would be admitted into heaven.
And everyone would be young and at the peak of their beauty and brilliance. I would look just like Sally Field and George Harrison would be my boyfriend. In my heaven scenario I was all grown up and not trapped in a nine year old body.
This is what I think about when I see the word Eternity!