Sunday, October 27, 2013

on the confusion of being a catholic

Every Sunday, I wrestle with being Catholic.

I roll my eyes at the church on a regular basis... and even find myself cringing from time to time.

I was recently asked by an acquaintance about my religion, and while I said that I was Catholic, I reflected later about why I felt uncomfortable after answering that way.  I am a baptized Christian and confirmed Catholic, I thought, so why does it fit so poorly?

For the past decade or so, I've struggled with the disconnect between my religion, and my personal faith.  My belief in God has increased; my connection to the Catholic church has decreased.  The gap between those things seems unusual, and makes me feel uneasy.  Shouldn't my religion encourage my faith, rather than my faith discouraging my religion? If my religion isn't helping my faith, is it really my religion?

When your conscience and your priest are saying different things, who do you believe? What do you believe?

As I contemplate motherhood, the answers to these questions become increasingly important.  The stakes are high.

Contributing to the confusion is that I come from a lineage of really dedicated (and vocal) Catholics - opinions I value.  I willingly (and wanting-ly, if that was a word) married in the Catholic church.  I attended a Catholic middle and high school, and if I live in that community when I have school-age children, will most surely send my children there as well.


I also have major, un-solveable objections to many of the teachings that the church seems to focus on (though perhaps that’s changing subtly with our new Pope).  What I believe Jesus cared most about - things like giving to the poor and caring for the sick - those things seem to be mostly lost in Catholicism 2013.  

The problem with these issues, of course, is that the answers aren't black and white.  Will I ever find an organized religion that fits me snugly, but doesn't suffocate? A place that practices what I want preached?  Will I ever find a church that promotes the tradition... while encouraging critical thinking?  Seems unlikely… but I certainly won’t if I don’t look.  So why can’t I bring myself to look?

I was in New York last month, and found myself on the steps of St. Patricks Cathedral, one of my normal pitstops when I'm in town.  Its been under construction for the past few times I've been to the city, and yet I found myself drawn inside, past the scaffolding, again sitting in the darkness with others.  Some Catholic, many probably not.   Whenever I'm in an older church in a different city, I light two candles for two of my loved ones who are now gone.  I put my dollars in the slot, pick my candles, and say a prayer as I light them.  I sit down in a pew, and think my thoughts.

And a feeling comes over me, sometimes.  A feeling of power and powerlessness.  That I’m part of something bigger than myself.  And it feels good.

I don't know why I'm Catholic.  It doesn't fit me very well at all. 

I can't put in to words why I've chosen - why I am choosing - to stay Catholic even when other religions would probably fit me better.  God?  Tradition?  Comfort in the uncomfortable?

I know that being a Catholic isn't for everyone, and sometimes I don't even know if it's for me.  I think the Catholic church is shamefully wrong on many things – obvious things like female ordination, treatment of gay people, birth control – but also deeper things.  When walking around the Vatican last September I felt such disgust at the level of opulence – what a terrible response to Jesus’ message.  

Despite all of the things I don't like, I sometimes get that feeling when I'm sitting in my church.  Not every time, but once in a while and it keeps me walking in the doors.  I wish there was a more profound reason, but I don't have one.  And for now - for me - that's enough.

You might not feel God in the Catholic church.  You might feel it when you stick your feet in the ocean.  You might feel it when walking through the ancient ruins of Rome.  Or  you might find God in a mosque or a Lutheran church or a temple.  Maybe you feel God, or maybe you feel other emotions.  Strength?  Weakness?  Power?  Humility?

I don't know much, but wherever you feel God - or good - I think that's where you should go.  

With an open heart, and an open mind.

I think that's what Jesus would do.

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