Being a Catholic was the same as being- for a very long time I didn't know any non-Catholics. I'd heard about Jews and Protestants but I didn't really understand what that meant or what made them different (other than Jews don't believe in Jesus and Protestants don't believe in Mary, whatever that means.) There was one Protestant at school, and the only thing I ever knew about her religious convictions was that she didn't pray with us. Or- considering she was Protestant- maybe in her own way she was. Thinking something off the top of her head to God, like you said. I get that now. Vain prayer, after the manner of Pagans, I think that Protestants will call a rote prayer.
So, while I was a bad Catholic, I was pretty staunchly Catholic. I didn't like Church, so I didn't really go (except when school made me). Neither did my mom or my sister, or my dad even. Dad would occasionally make us go, and then not go himself. Mom would take us out to a restaurant instead. Dad was a hypocrite and a dick when I was a kid, but that's largely irrelevant. I didn't really like priests and nuns much. I thought it was unnatural to decide to not fuck for the rest of your life. But I was religious in my own fashion. Devout even. Said to myself that I might even go into the priesthood if that snag about fucking ever got lifted. I did pray on my own and read the Bible on my own. Told a bunch of Mormons to fuck off on my own (where the hell were my parents that day anyway?)
There was apparently an Uncle Chester at our parish. Hey, it's the archdiocese of Boston we're talking about here, it's almost like that was a requirement for Holy Orders, right? My mom thinks that I used to know something about that since I said very firmly that I didn't want to be an altar boy. I didn't want to be an altar boy because it was a dorky thing to do, and like I said, I hated going to church. Though, maybe I did know something. There was this one time back in the early 90s when one priest got caught in the news headlines, before everyone knew how rampant the whole thing was, and I remember thinking, "he's a fucking priest, aren't most of them like that? How is this news?" I didn't get abused though. I'm pretty sure I was the smelly kid.
I did like midnight Mass on Christmas. I always considered the 24th to be actual Christmas, and the 25th to be more, "Holy shit. Baby." I didn't particularly like Easter. Well, I didn't mind it, but it didn't have the same aesthetic as Christmas. Lent was pretty cool- I liked that. Matter of fact, I go vegetarian for a full lunar cycle prior to the spring equinox these days because I did really like Lent. I liked the Feast of St. Blasius (that's the one where the priest crosses two candles over your throat and blesses it. I thought it was a nifty tradition). St. Patrick's Day was the day dad cooked shitty food that stank up the house, and everyone else did the same, so I'd just go to McDonalds on my own when I was old enough to take the T. We always had it off of school- Boston celebrates that day secularly as Evacuation Day, when we tricked the Brits into thinking we had a shitload of cannons and they left the city to the rebels. Dad never explained to me what a St. Brigit's Cross was, even though that's a pretty big Irish custom. I have one over my door now, and made it myself in February (Pagans see little difference between Brigit the Saint and Brigit the Goddess. I do- one was a Christian- but I like that tradition too.) But when I was a kid and watched TMNT, I thought it was a cool toy shuriken, so I threw it around. Dad would catch me and get very angry, but never explain why. Aside from being a dick, dad was kinda useless at explaining shit. When he stopped drinking he would explain shit I already understood. He finally cut that shit out this year, presumably because I'm 30.
It's not just that Catholicism is very convoluted, it's also that Catholics are very strange people. Conviction of belief is not the same as devotion. You can be a staunch believer, and totally not practicing. You could be totally practicing and have strong doubts. I used to joke that Catholic school was good for making Pagans, atheists, anarchists and underage mothers. But Catholicism is also an aesthetic. I imagine that being a Catholic is a lot like being Jewish. It's not simply a faith, it's a culture, it's an identity that you're born into and die with, it's a borderline ethnicity to some Catholics "I'm Irish Catholic" rather than saying "I'm Irish."
Abandoning Catholicism took time, even after I said to myself, "I am no longer Catholic." It took me a long time to accept homosexuals. Even longer to accept marriage equality. It took me a while to become pro-choice (that's an interesting bit of cognitive dissonance here- there are a lot of Catholic Democrats, and they're not allowed to vote for pro-choice candidates on pain of excommunication. The state consistently goes blue though, doesn't it?). John Kerry's been excommunicated, I believe (which simply means that you are not allowed to take Communion, which means you're going to Hell). Took me a long time to renovate the afterlife. It wasn't easy to accept that the souls of evil people go unpunished.
Bits of it always remain. Shrapnel is an apt metaphor here, I believe.
There are of course occasions where I have to go to Mass even now. A baptism. My sister's Confirmation. A funeral. Gotta say though, not too many weddings- only my guitarist's since I was a kid. My own wedding will be Catholic, as per Villager's request when we mentioned future plans in passing. I'm not particularly pleased about that but she pointed out that such ceremonies are just as much for the families as for the couple.
There's a minor problem with that though. I'm going to have to go through the motions more than I'm comfortable with. When at Mass, I don't speak at all. I don't sing. I do not participate other than to stand and sit where appropriate. When others kneel, I sit then too (sometimes jokingly thinking to myself, "non serviam"). That's easier to get away with when you're not the center of attention. I'll probably let the Unitarian Universalists handle my disposal though. Regardless of what I believe at that time, Unitarian Universalist will probably cover it. The priests don't get to do my funeral. It would make my send off a lie.