When I was a young boy, I wanted to join the seminary and become a priest. That desire itself was part of the religious conditioning in a conservative Catholic family that had already produced four priests and three nuns who were role models and guiding lights in my early years. I looked up to them for inspiration and guidance which predictably led me to the doors of the local minor seminary. Straight out of high school, at the tender age of 16, I was untouched and uncontaminated by the so-called snares and snarls of the world.
I had no idea about how to write an application letter for admission to the seminary. A friend of mine who had already joined told me that I had to write a letter to the archbishop, expressing my desire to become a priest. He told me to use the following phrase in my application letter:
For the glory of God and salvation of souls, I like to become a priest.
So, the two-fold purpose of becoming a priest was to glorify God — God as understood as a Supernatural Being who resides in a heaven above the clouds, whom we must praise, worship, and thank every day, thereby glorifying Him. Second, I must live a holy life so that I can save my soul and help save the souls of others in my priestly role.
There was very little attention paid to life on Earth. Earthly life was viewed as a vale of tears, with suffering, pain, and tribulations. Earthly things like food and sex were thought of as necessary evils, not nice realities of life.
In Christian thinking, there were three things that were enemies of spiritual life: the World, Satan, and the Body. The world was the source of temptations, the body was the cause of temptations, and Satan was the instigator. Joining a seminary was an easy way to escape from the temptations of the world, fight Satan, restrain bodily inclinations, and engage in a life of holiness with the goal attaining salvation.
Life on Earth was thought of as something to be endured rather than celebrated.
Life on Earth was not an end, but only a preparation for the next world.
We future priests were told to keep our gaze focused on heaven above, not on Earth below. Our job was to teach the faithful to fight against earthly tendencies which are sinful and to ponder about heavenly realities with the ultimate hope of going to heaven after death.
The role of the Church was to prepare believers for an evacuation plan from this evil world, and priests and nuns were the field workers. In that religious world view, Earth and earthly matters didn’t matter. In my priestly mind, Earth Day was a secular day which was never mentioned during Sunday worship services. Earthly concerns were prayed about for relief rather than realization and celebration.
As spiritual writer Diarmuid O’Murchu rightly observes:
“Our relationship with God’s creation has been riddled with ambiguity. While consistently asserting the fundamental goodness of everything God has created, Christians were encouraged to flee the world, abandon the world, turn their back on the world, and look forward to the day when they could escape from this vale of tears to obtain everlasting peace in their heavenly home — outside and beyond this flawed creation.”
So, for the first five decades of my life, I walked on Earth feeling alienated and unaligned, engaging in religious infantilism, without paying any attention to the ground beneath my feet or experiencing the miracle of a vibrant Earth and the magnificent Universe around me.
(from Cosmic Kindergarten: Earthly Lessons for a Heavenly Life)