A Pagan on Sunday

A Pagan on Sunday January 23, 2023

breakfast in bed
image via pixabay


We couldn’t go to Mass on Sunday, not in the rain and snow.

Serendipity is back in this neighborhood with her electrical problems fixed, for now– the Lost Girl’s uncle says she’ll need a wiring harness before long, but she can be driven for the time being, as soon as we get her some new brakes and patch that exhaust leak. It will take a bit to pay for that. So we stayed in.

This is the second week that I haven’t been able to go to Mass.

I remember longing to go to Mass in 2020 when the churches were closed, and I don’t recognize that person. The events of 2020, 2021 and 2022 did me in. I am not the same. I am far more like I was as a child in the 90s when my religious OCD started, than I the person I was four years ago.

I remember, as a very little girl, asking my mother why Sunday mornings looked so quiet and relaxed on television.  Sunday mornings in our house were frantic: five children and two adults rolling out of bed, packing ourselves into uncomfortable clothes, dashing to the car so as not to be late. Then we’d go to the loud building with the echoes where I tended to melt down and my siblings tended to act up for an hour. Sometimes there were CCD classes afterwards, which were nerve wracking. By the time we got home it was lunch time. But when I watched cartoons, I saw people sitting in bed, reading the paper and eating doughnuts on Sunday. Sunday was not a frantic sensory nightmare but a day of rest. It looked nice.

“Maybe you’ll be a pagan when you grow up,” my mother replied. “Pagans sit in bed and eat doughnuts on Sunday.”

My mother often said “pagan” when she meant “a person who isn’t Catholic.” I still don’t understand where that jargon came from; I heard other people her age in the Charismatic Renewal use it in the same way. The secular culture was “pagan culture.” People who enjoyed themselves too much were pagans. People without the right number of children were pagans. A pagan was someone who wasn’t us.

I thought about that as I sat in bed yesterday– not eating doughnuts because of the poly-cystic ovary syndrome, but eating two broiled hamburgers without a bun. Not reading the paper, but scrolling on my phone. Not relaxing like “pagans” on television, but panicking. Maybe I wasn’t under enough hardship to justify not going to Mass. Maybe I’d better get my shoes on and start walking.

“Save your spoons for when Christ comes to your door,” said Holly the Witch, an actual pagan. “You don’t have to go see Him in a church.”

Holly often gives the best advice on Christianity, despite not being a Christian.

When I got to be Adrienne’s age and the OCD was terrible, I was scared to death of Mass. My intrusive thoughts would get much worse at Mass, and I was afraid God was mad at me. I would panic about a thousand sins or imagined sins and whether they were bad enough to be mortal. If they were mortal, I couldn’t receive Holy Communion without adding another mortal sin to my tab. That would make my eternal punishment that much worse when my life was over. I didn’t want to do that. But I wasn’t allowed to not receive Holy Communion. So I would panic, and eventually I would run out of church crying and hide in a bathroom. Once in awhile I’d go limp and refuse to go to church in the first place, and my mother would admonish. “It’s a mortal sin to miss Mass.”

There didn’t seem to be any avoiding mortal sin.

That was before coming to Steubenville, and losing everything. That was before finding out what is now public knowledge about the Charismatic Renewal and the Franciscan Third Order Regulars. Things are much worse now. I don’t know if I’ll ever, ever go in a confessional again. I don’t know if I’ll ever like Mass again. I don’t know where I’ll end up, after I deconstruct the things I was bullied into believing and allow myself to discover what I really think is true.

I still believe in Christ, and love Him. I still stand by all my experiences that point me toward a being called Christ who is worth knowing and loving and serving.

I am not very keen on the people who taught me to know, love and serve Christ. And now I am suspicious of their teachings that don’t seem Christlike. I used to think the mistake was mine. I quietly submitted myself to my teachers. I’m not going to do that anymore.

I sound confident when I write this, but I’m not. I don’t think I’m capable of being confident.

When you have religious OCD, you often go through whole days absolutely certain that you’re going to hell. You learn to almost dissociate from the feeling, going about your business, acting as if you don’t feel the terror. That is how I  sitting in bed eating hamburgers like an imaginary pagan, as the rain turned to snow and covered the ground outside.

Meanwhile, Adrienne had no fear at all. I eventually came down to the sofa, where she and I played video games together and listened to her favorite Youtubers– me nervous and she laughing. She is not afraid of mortal sin. She thinks that God is the one who wants us to love one another and take care of the homeless and bring canned goods to the Friendship Room. Church, to her, is not terrifying; it’s a nuisance but the place you’re supposed to go every week to receive Communion and listen to the Bible. Sometimes you can’t go, due to an emergency or a pandemic or not having a car. You should if you can. God isn’t the type to get upset with things you can’t help.

That’s how I taught her to think about it.

That’s what I’m trying to teach myself.

And we’ll see where we go from there.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.




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