Or how I returned to Catholicism on my own terms
TRAPPED! That's whats happened to me. Trapped by the devilish cunning of the world's oldest Catholic — Eamon n Andrews! He's been whining to that poor, over-worked wretch — the editor of the Catholic Herald, the only newspaper not owned by Rupert Murdoch!
He'll never get his hands on this paper with topless nuns on page 3!
How did Andrews know a) I was Irish and b) a Catholic? Can a man have no secrets — Because I have a crucifix above my bed and a publicity photo of St Patrick on my door — do people have to jump to conclusions (why can't people walk to conclusions — or take a bus?)?
After this article, I won't be able to walk the streets without people whispering behind my back, "that's Spike Milligan, he's a Catholic.
Well, I admit it — I well remember those distant days in Poona, India, my mother, Florence, my grandmother Mary, both trembling, fearful Irish Catholics, at the sight of a priest or nun coming up the drive, I was stripped of my messy clothes and clad in communion white. The best tea service appeared and the butter taken out of the safe.
My mother and grandmother's face lit up with a divine light as they served tea to Father Alborghette — a handsome young Italian priest who tied with Rudolph Valentino for looks. It was he who confirmed me in broken English. He pronounced my name Tay-rens-o Me-ye-garn (Terrence Milligan). I remember at the tender age of six the Church of Jesus and Mary in Poona, Mother Fabian, tall, permanently flustered, bursting with goodness, who when I got my sums right would say almost with emotional relief "God bless you Terry for getting them right."
At every turn in my young life I was confronted with religion — in every room was a picture of the Sacred Heart. with the message that comes back to me down the years: "I will bless the home in which this picture is shown".
To this day I still have a small porcelain angel that graced it. On my bed was a rosary, the beads made from imitation Connemara Marble. Every morning my mother placed a picture of St Theresa in my pocket to protect me.
So, when I grew up I realised I had been indoctrinated into catholicism. I felt I had been cheated of that gift of freedom — self choice — I was 18. The rebellion set in. It must have happened to millions of teenage Catholics. Atheism called and corn
munism, those harbours of dissatisfied youth. It divided the family entente cordial. Sunday morning rows between my mother who was the traditional blind believe Catholic, the religion could do no wrong, how could it — God was a Catholic and possibly Irish as well, a watertight argument.
I had to consider the rift twix me and my family. I considered winning over my brother Desmond aged nine, but then realised I would be doing what religion had done to me i.e. indoctrination before mature conciousness. So I remained in the wilderness right through World War II. Nevertheless in my Army Paybook I wrote — Reli gion R.C.
Yet I could not but admire my mother's devotion to her religious duties, ,Early Mass, Communion, feast days devoutly observed. the bedroom altar draped in purple at Easter, the fish on Fridays. The attempts at leading a good, clean Christian life, and I had to admit that my own principles, nonsmoking, tee totaller, nonpromiscuous life style had been handed to me by a Catholic environment, and I had to admit that my non-religious, atheist friends were the direct opposite. I discovered I was now swearing like a trooper. I didn't like it but there I was.
All through these years I wrestled with, and re-valuated the religion I had left. About the existence of God I could find no evidence nor, for that matter, can anyone. So where does one begin? Jesus. He was real — the physical evidence of a divine. Jesus had been fed to me by well meaning. simple-minded nuns, priests, brothers, and parents: Jesus was someone at whose mention. you fell to your knees. crossed yourself, bowed your head and emptied your mind. I had been brought up to think of him as a statue.
If I were to continue my story it would fill every page of this paper — so let's say — I chose to return to catholicism on my own terms. I found catholicism holier than other Christian religions (though often blindly so). Apart from its archaic (over-population) stand on birth-control. It seemed the one religion I wanted, tho' I'd preferred Jesus to have been a vegetarian. I made sure my children weren't fed religion, mindlessly.
I talked to them about Jesus as a real person, something I'd never had. I'm still not sure about God, but I'm not worried. Living a good, decent, Christian life is what's important, live that life and the rest will follow. This article is a plea to the Catholic religion not to go for numbers — go for quality.