|Trapped Between Presumption & Despair|
How does a ten year old boy keep himself from falling into hell's eternal fires ?
I had learned the Ten Commandments and strove to obey them according to my spiritual light at age six or seven. The 'church' classified my confessed sins primarily as venial. I would have to add years to my age before I could comprehend and deliberately commit 'mortal' sins. Besides, there was always the confessional on Saturday nights.
I was going along thinking I could just squeak by and get into heaven in some far distant future when I would die, if that ever happened to me. Then one day in fourth or fifth grade catechism, I was hoisted onto the horns of a horrible dilemma named the "Sins of Presumption and Despair".
My teacher, who like the others in my school was a Sister of Saint Joseph (if he only knew), explained clearly and simply so we could understand.
"Presumption" was the belief that you would in fact go to heaven. Imagine.
"Despair", the evil twin, was the belief that you could not get into heaven.
I began to live in terror that I was presuming too much or despairing too much. But Sister had a solution. People get to heaven by doing what the priests, nuns, bishops, cardinals, and most especially the Pope said to do.
Die from a poisoned hot dog eaten at a Friday night high school football game and it was straight to hell with no stopovers in Purgatory to burn for ten thousand years until the indulgences you bought during life kicked in and released you. That is, unless you happened to utter a perfect act of contrition according to church rites just before you left your body.
Alternately, the mortal sin of eating meat was expiated in advance by the simple act of getting permission from the parish priest with appropriate excuse of illness or some hardship. Another out was "accidentally" eating meat on Friday if you a) forgot it was Friday when you began eating ( if you remembered while eating you'd best stop, spit out any in your mouth, and for the devout it would be appropriate to regurgitate if possible ).
Church law conveniently provided other escapes from damnation for Friday meat eating. One was, you could not be guilt if you did not know it was meat you were eating. It might have been meat prepared to appear to be fish or other seafood. The final escape mechanism was simply if there was nothing else to eat, you eat meat without guilt.
An example of this usage might occur if you were lost in the forest with only a knife and there were no streams or ponds, and you were able to kill some animal, you could eat it guilt free, unless there happened to be a goodly supply of nonpoisonous berries within sight in which case you would be obliged to eat berries to stay out of hell. In my adolescent years I had a chum who held to the view that eating meat on Friday was a more serious sin than masturbation or fornication because were natural and overwhelming desires whereas meat eating was optional as proven by the vegan community.
So, there was I, age ten or eleven, struggling to avoid being presuming or despairing. I had never read a Bible and it was not until I was in my forties and came across John 5:24 that I able to fully discard the erroneous lessons of childhood by presumably (there's that word again) well intentioned but woefully ignorant clerics and religious groups. What a thing to do to a child.
Two other verses seem apropos of this monograph.
"Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit."
[Matthew 15:14 NIV]
The other is the 17th chapter of the Revelation to Saint John the Divine. The chapter describes the end of Babylon, signified by a harlot dressed in scarlet and purple and gold, seated on seven hills. I instantly recognized the description of the place and abominations as Rome in our day. Read it and decide for yourself.
I now recognize that what the religious authorities did was corrupt the ideal of total unwavering faith in salvation through Jesus Christ by replacing it with the sin of presumption. They have called good evil and evil they called good.
"But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in."
[Matthew 23:13 King James Version]