Ashamed. Impure. Dirty.
All these feelings flashed through me as I slowly came out of what seemed like a trance, halfway between sleep and wakefulness, only to notice growth at a part of my body where there was none before.
I’m in the House of the Lord, kneeling, for Christ sake, as I mingle with other grade-schoolers in our daily before-class celebration of the Mass. I’m attending elementary school at St. Ludwig’s Roman Catholic Church in the Brewerytown section of Philadelphia. Why has the devil chosen this moment to enter my mind, I wonder? Or, to be more precise, to take control of my body?
How can I explain this involuntary act? Erectile Awakening? Using such a clinical term almost makes it seem acceptable. But how can it be, when you’re not even 13, and your body is responding to . . . an uncontrollable something . . . at the worse possible moment? In Church. Awaiting the moment of the Service to get off your knees, fold your hands, and walk that long distance from the pew to the front of the Sacristy knowing for sure everyone will be looking at that spot in the front of you that’ll reveal how “unholy, unclean” you really are, and what a sick, unworthy child of God you have become.
Why does it always happen at this moment in Life? I’d reach for a Mass book and an unwanted sense of pleasure would shoot through the reproductive parts. I don’t want anything to do with this, I’d cry out, hiding the pain inside. All I want is to be closer to Jesus, to Mother Mary and the rest of the Saints. How could they ever accept me, one who’s such a sinner?
How old am I? Ten? Eleven? Twelve? I don’t know. It seems like only yesterday I took St. Francis as a “Confirmation” name, when a Bishop made his way to North Philadelphia, and blessed this German neighborhood church. Chose St. Francis because of his love for all God’s creatures, every sentient being, no matter how great or small.
Took part in First Holy Communion in second grade, kneeling at the church railing as an altar boy held a metal plate beneath my chin and a priest placed a holy waiver (dipped in wine?) on my extended tongue. Always held my eyes closed for this reception, this connection between one with the “will to receive” and his bestower. Just like kissing. I always closed my eyes. Doesn’t everyone?
And in first grade, I was one of only a few students chosen to serve as an “Angel” for those in the class above us about to receive the “Eucharist” for the first time. Dressed all in white, I remember draping myself with a powder blue silky-like “half cape” that covered the top of my shoulders. I’d stand at attention at the entrance of the pew where the first student would rise, glance at me and then to the altar where they’d walk procession-like in worship of our God.
Girls were lucky. They never had to face the embarrassment a guy went through, struggling with a desire to be holy, but falling far short as something out of their control grew larger. Something that would rule our lives, if we didn’t learn there was a time and a place for it.
Being in church and awakening at that time of my life was hard. Finding an end for a tale such as this is even harder.