Monday, March 8, 2010

The Church & Me

I was raised Catholic. I had a strong, personal faith and, as a child, felt perfectly comfortable talking to God every night. He (as in God the Father) was a trusted confidante. I knew he was in my corner. As a young adult, I was a lector and a CCD teacher. Then I left the Church for many years. I did not leave or lose my faith. More than two decades later, I went back to the Church. The problem was that I was trying to reunite with the arms wide open, post Vatican II Church I had known and loved. The Church which had nurtured and guided me and steadied my moral compass. As the seasons of the liturgical calendar passed I came to realize that it was not the same Church I had left. It had narrowed, grown cold and no longer seemed focused on the needs of the parishioners - spiritual or practical, but was focused on its own survival. A desperate person or institution does not do its job well. The Church was not doing its job well. Certainly not as well as Blessed Pope John XXIII had done. And as Pope Benedict ascended it became clear that he would pull the Church even harder to the right, narrow its focus, close the doors and cast out anyone who would not adhere to the strictest interpretations of doctrine.

I will always love that Church of my childhood and my youth. I will always respect the liberal, fierce advocate of workers rights who served the poor and taught values I still hold dear. The evil of pedophile priests never cast a shadow over my experience. I had one mean nun and one cranky one out of dozens of good ones. There was no harsh treatment from any of them. Was I lucky? I know now I was. Am I grateful? Yes, for everything they gave me - nearly every bit of it good - with the notable exception of an overactive sense of guilt!

For a few years after my return I was active in my local Church. Then the bishops ordered the insertion of politics into the services. The priests were preaching from the pulpit against same-sex marriage. It wasn’t a passing reference in a well thought out homily. It was politicking, pure and simple. Unlike the moments from my childhood when a visiting priest with a background in Liberation Theology would speak out about the unjustness of the Vietnam War, these directives were aimed at limiting the rights of individuals. The Church was making the case that it had the right, nay the duty, to restrict the civil rights of individuals outside its congregation. None of the same-sex marriage laws in any way insisted religious organizations perform or even acknowledge civil marriages between same-sex couples. But the Church still claimed such civil marriages would undermine the family and devalue “traditional” marriage.

One quiet morning, with the sun streaming in through stained glass windows, I was the only parishioner who had shown up for a weekday mass. Father gave me communion and waited while I prayed. As I was leaving I thanked him, wished him a good day. We began to chat and I brought up the issue of same-sex marriage. All I said was that I could see no way that civil marriage of gay couples would ever have any negative impact on my own marriage. This priest and I had a pretty good relationship. He had dined with us in our home. So his response surprised and dismayed me. He got angry. He raised his voice as we stood talking in the center aisle. But all he had were the talking points of the bishops and the new pope. He could make no credible case, because there was and is none to make. I stood my ground. I finally shook my head and told him I just couldn’t see the problem.

At the time I felt very much alone in that physical church in my small Massachusetts town and within the larger world community of the Roman Catholic Church. I eventually left the Church again. It was far more conscious than the drift away in my twenties had been and it was deeply, wrenchingly painful. Today I learned that I was not really alone that day in my support of same-sex marriage. Today I learned that there is a group called Catholics for Marriage Equality. They describe themselves this way:

“Faithful Roman Catholics throughout the United States are raising their voices in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples. Become part of our united effort to create effective and respectful responses to our bishops' opposition to same-sex civil marriage.

As Roman Catholics, we differentiate between sacramental marriage and civil marriage. Therefore, we perceive that same-sex civil marriage poses no threat to our Church.”

Can I have a Hallelujah?


Anonymous said...

you got it, Hallelujah!!!!!


Pink Granite said...

Thanks Gail!

Wendy said...

so interesting. My mum was brought up catholic and is now not. I find it refreshing to find someone who is religious and not biggoted which I know sounds awful but in the past years I have found this to be the case with so many people I talk to. Its one of the reasons I cant get along with organised religion.
I love your take on it and your open minded kind nature.

Irene said...

Thanks for posting this. I grew up Catholic and was very active with youth groups when I was in high school. There were many reasons why I stopped going to church or feeling comfortable at church. Yes, most of it had to do with bringing politics into church and telling us who and what to vote for. At one mass they even told us NOT to listen to a particular local radio show. I tried going back to church, about the time of the elections and the well known prop 8 issue having to do with gay marriage. At that mass they passed out glossy color fliers denouncing prop 8 and who to vote for. I couldn't believe it. It was almost like a witch hunt attitude. I haven't been back to church since. It kind of makes me sad, in a way, because I feel the need to attend church, but not when politics are involved like that. I kind of thought church was supposed to be welcoming to all. It felt anything but welcoming.

Sue said...

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Things in churches have changed drastically over the years and they fail to keep up with the times. What happened to 'love thy brother'? Aren't we all equal? And who are "they" to judge and condem anyway? They (total generalization) seem to have lost sight over what's important...

I really enjoyed this post and well done for taking a stand!

Sue X