If there was another reason why he[Merton's grandfather] feared the Church of Rome, it was because of the accident that some of the most corrupt politicians that ever passed a bribe in a New York election were known to be Catholics. To Pop, the word "Catholic" and "Tammany" meant just about the same thing. And since this fitted in very well with what every Protestant child is told about the duplicity and hypocrisy of Catholics, Catholicism had become associated, in his mind, with everything dishonest and crooked and immoral.
This was an impression that probably remained with him to the end of his days, but it ceased to be explicit when a Catholic lady came to live with us as a sort of companion to Bonnemaman, and a general nurse and housekeeper to the whole family. This was no temporary addition to the household. I think we were all very fond of Elsie from the beginning, and Bonnemaman got to depending on her so much that she stayed around and became more and more a part of the family, until she finally entered it altogether by marrying my uncle. With her arrival, Pop no longer let loose any of his tirades against Rome unless some bitter word happened to slip out without deliberation.
This was one of the few things I got from Pop that really took root in my mind, and became part of my mental attitude: this hatred and suspicion of Catholics. There was nothing overt about it. It was simply the deep, almost subconscious aversion from the vague and evil thing, which I called Catholicism, which lived back in the dark corners of my mentality with the other spooks, like death and so on. I did not know precisely what the word meant. It only conveyed a kind of a cold and unpleasant feeling.
The devil is no fool. He can get people feeling about heaven the way they ought to feel about hell. He can make them fear the means of grace the way they do not fear sin. And he does so, not by light but by obscurity, not by realities but by shadows, not by clarity and substance but by dreams and the creatures of psychosis. And men are so poor in intellect that a few cold chills down their spine will be enough to keep them from ever finding out the truth about anything.
As a matter of fact, by this time I was becoming more and more positively averse to the thought of any religion, although I was only nine. The reason was that once or twice I had to go to Sunday School, and found it such a bore that from then on I went to play in the woods instead. I don't think the family was very grieved.
Merton is right. The devil isn't a fool. (If you don't believe in the devil, substitute whatever word you want--"mental illness" or "climate deniers" or "addiction" or "Donald Trump.") The biggest enemy to compassion, love, rational thought, science, religion is obscurity and shadow. By dragging something into the light, examining it fully, we are able to confront truth. And truth is what dispels all kinds of devils.
In this blog, I often write about the devils in my life. Those things that seek to control my actions every day. Some of those devils are a little too personal to discuss frankly. So, I tend to resort to metaphor and image. These last couple days, I've been struggling with one of my biggest demons. It's something I lose sleep over. Something that makes me tired every day. I wake up thinking about it, go to sleep and dream about it.
I wrote about it in my journal tonight:
I had so many fears as a child--fears of clowns, of small spaces, of the dark, of being lost. There were so many monsters under my bed, I had to get a bigger bed.
As you get older, monsters start to leave, one-by-one. You outgrow them, like old pajamas. They dry up into dust bunnies. (I'm still not a fan of clowns or small spaces. Stepping into a dark room can still make my pulse quicken until I find the light switch.)
Recently, I've discovered a new monster under my bed, drooling and hungry. It's part me, part my wife, part my daughter and son. And it has the face of my sister.
My sister died almost five years ago. Lymphoma of the brain. In the space of a little over 365 days, I watched her change from a hospital manager to a person fighting the monster of the air for oxygen. I saw how she was forced to say goodbye to everything she held close--her father, mother, siblings, nieces, nephews. Her monster, at the end, was a million goodbyes.
The night before she died, I visited her. I put my lips to her ear, and whispered, "You don't have to be afraid of the dark." And I saw a tear form at the corner of her eye and slide down her cheek.
She died the next morning, just as the sun was climbing into the sky.
That's my monster now. Saying goodbye. Letting go. Realizing that something that I cherish is gone. Forever.That is my attempt tonight to drag the monster out from under my bed into the light. Isn't that what we do as kids when we have bad dreams? We reach out and flick the switch on the wall, watch all those little devils scramble for the closet.
Saint Marty just turned on the lights.
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