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WTH- What the Hell?

While on my road trip I had lots of time to catch up on my podcasts. One of my favorites is a show that is on PBS in the USA called This American Life.

Each week they pick a topic and then explore it with 1-4 short segments about everyday people and their lives. I was way behind in listening to the shows and wanted something light so I chose their Christmas podcast which they called: Comedians of Christmas Comedy Special. One story really caught my attention it was titled:

Act Three. Little Altar Boy:

Despite our nation’s attempts to make Christmas all about toys and shopping, it is still a religious holiday. Mike Birbiglia tells this story about Catholicism and his mother. Mike is author of the memoir Sleepwalk With Me.

In a nutshell, Mike tells the story of growing up Catholic and what it was like to be an alter boy. He has some funny things to say about his experiences and what it was like being the little brother who went to church in contrast to his older brother who went only at Christmas and even then he was less than a perfect congregant. (He made up his own words, for example.)

The part of the story that really caught me was was when he started to talk about his mother getting sick. He decided to come home and care for her as she tried to recover from painful surgery. It wasn’t long thereafter that the drugs his Mom was talking started to cause her to become disoriented and confused.

Mike shares with us the moment his mother took him aside, and in a quiet and matter of fact way said to him:

“Mike I am dying- and I am going to go to hell.”

You can imagine Mike’s reaction- first there was the dismay of thinking his mother might be actually be dying and then the shock of hearing this life long faithful Catholic woman, who never missed mass and did all the right “Catholic” things concluding that she was going to hell.

I share Mike’s reaction to this turn of events, which is- WTH- What the Hell?

This week I want to explore why so many good Christians think they are going to go to hell. Where does this warped understanding of sin and damnation come from and is there any merit to this type of belief?

I want to ask- Why are we so worried about it?

Mike the comedian shared that this rattled him and his faith so completely because of all the people he knew his mother was the a sure ” first round draft pick for heaven” .

He closes the story by sharing with the audience that he stopped being Catholic that day and has not been back to mass since- except for maybe on Christmas Day.

2 Responses to “WTH- What the Hell?”

  1. Matthew says:

    What made her think she was going to hell?

    Catholic dogma was recently changed to remove purgatory? Maybe hell is next.

  2. deaconmike says:


    Thanks for the comment. I have the same question- What was it or perhaps who was it that made her think she would be destined to go to hell? Confuses the heck out me. More on that as we look at this week’s readings.

    By the way you might be interested in an earlier post: “More than you ever wanted to know about purgatory” – http://www.itinerantpreacher.org/more-than-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-purgatory/

    I think you will see the Church has not done away with purgatory. You may be thinking of “limbo” which as it turns out was never an official teaching of the Church as far as I can determine.

    Thanks again for the note.