I am shouldered off my usual whimsical path this week by the sheer power and truth of Jean Farrell's recent article about the fact that Irish Catholics like myself and herself grew up under the severe gaze of a God of fear rather than a gentle God of love. Every line Jean wrote hit me between the two eyes like a sledgehammer.
Yes, indeed, that was the sad reality for the overwhelming majority of those of us whom that God has allowed to reside on this earth for more than 60 years.
We Irish of those generations, as Jean pointed out so powerfully and concisely, were raised to fear rather than to love the God whose powerful bearded figure glared down upon us from tens of thousands of huge stained glass windows in the chapels of Ireland.
I have been a God-fearing poor little sinner since the time I went into the confessional boxes in my short boyhood trousers to confess my sins to the great dome of God's priest on the other side of the prison bars of the old confessionals that reeked of old wood and new layers of guilt. I was God-fearing then, like all my people of that parish, and I am just as God-fearing today.
A powerful almost superstitious fear it is too. There are cells of me, this minute, which would not be surprised at all if I am stricken down dead before I conclude this piece.
When I was at primary school, for example, we were visited annually in the classrooms by two large men in black. We feared both equally back then in Fermanagh.
One was the huge RUC police sergeant who came in, allegedly, to inform us about road safety. He had a huge revolver with a shiny butt in a black leather holster on one hip and a baton on the other hip. You feared the sight of him for sure.
Equally, you feared the other big man in black who came. He was the priest who examined the classes for their religious knowledge, especially the children making their First Communion that spring.
The examinations were strict. The examiner projected fear rather than any kind of love at all.
The Sunday sermons from the pulpits in front of those stained glass windows were not much different in tone or context, especially those dealing with sexual behavior.
The paint on the silenced benches was especially blistered when the annual missionaries came, crucifixes jammed into their leather belts like swords, spouting even hotter fire and brimstone than your own parish priest.
Strangely, even as a little altar boy in those years, I can recall being puzzled about why new mothers among our people had to wait after Mass was over to be "churched" at the altar rails. And they always looked a bit ashamed of themselves, those poor ladies.
It was years later before I learned that they had to be somehow cleansed for any sexual satisfaction they might have experienced in bringing another little Catholic into God-fearing Ireland. The mind boggles.
It was fact in that God-fearing Irish society that, if you were lucky enough to get to secondary education after primary level, you were constantly beaten in the classrooms of alleged learning by teaching priests and brothers. It was part of your day and you knew no better.
Furthermore, so total was the church's control, you would not get much sympathy from even caring parents like mine if you complained about the constant canings when you went home.
"I'm sure you earned it," would have been the most likely response from parents who had been through the mill themselves.
I was never brutalized or kicked or punched, in all fairness, but there were days when I would have been caned (six on each hand often) three or four times a day. The punishments were not for major offenses either, often for matters such as not having homework done properly or not paying attention in class.
It was a reality too that some priests and religious brothers seemed to get a certain kind of satisfaction out of handing out the beatings. That was not true of all of them so you came to know the difference. It was quite shocking.
Equally shocking in more recent years have been the revelations in relation to the sexual misbehavior on both sides of the border by admittedly a tiny minority of the clergy we had mounted on high pedestals of fear. Though still totally God-fearing, those stories eventually caused me to no longer go to Mass regularly even though I still feel guilty about that.
I drop into quiet chapels nowadays about weekly, drop down on my knees in front of the stained glass God of fear high above, adopt the mode of a supplicant, and beg for a little peace and happiness if at all possible for all those that I love and cherish.
Then I normally light a small, hopeful candle in front of the altar, genuflect, and go back out into the world again. It seems to be a little bit less threatening out there if you know what I mean.
I thank Jean Farrell for her splendidly rendered piece. I will light a candle just for her next time I enter a chapel.
She says she has now found a God of love in her life. She is well ahead of this poor God-fearing sinner.