From early on, I remember feeling this “soft spot” for something called God, a very warm presence near my heart. I did feel a “call” to lead a celibate life, although it seems strange to admit it as we live in a world that judges such as odd and neurotic.
I remember one experience at age seven, at evening “fall supper” at schoolhouse, watching boys excitedly running after shrieking girls, having fun feeling them up in a game of chase. I was certainly curious as to what their fingers were feeling, and then a voice strong from behind me said right in my ear, “You are not like other boys dominated by your penis.” That voice marked me.
These men in black cassocks would visit us on the farm. Before I had words for such a thing, I desired to be one of them. My interest would seem strange to an observer of my childhood, given the negative feelings about the Church hierarchy within my Catholic family, still stinging from the betrayal by the Church in Ireland. My mother loved the Church’s rituals and sacraments; the Mass is special to her. She did not think well, though, of priests or bishops. Sort of a necessary annoyance. Even though my parents assigned me as “farmer,” they quietly resigned to give up first-born son to the Church.
The part of English Canada where I lived was seriously anti-Catholic in my youth. In 1926, the KKK bombed Barrie, Ontario’s St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church1. The family lore is the bomb would have killed my great grandparents if it had not gone off early. Maybe planned that way, but either way I was constantly chided for a religion in which men wore skirts. And some would pick a fight, egged on by their contemporaries. Repeatedly.
I know what it is like to be a minority. To avoid being bullied, fighting Protestants became a way of life in those early years. The physical conditioning of a farm life and a gift of very quick reflexes helped me win most of them. I also learned quickly that there is always somebody bigger, stronger, and quicker. You did not have to win; you just had to make him hurt enough to leave you alone. I grew up in a culture in which violence, and to be violent, was an expected part of manly life. That was what earned respect and the girls.
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