I’m a Catholic. An irreverent Catholic, full of contradictions spiritual and otherwise, but I am and have been a part of that religious community off and on for many years. I went to religious schools growing up. The public school in my neighborhood was an unacceptable alternative to my mother and like many parents raising children in tough urban environments she looked at Catholic schools as the best and most affordable recourse.
Still it wasn’t enough to make me adopt the Catholic faith.
I have always been a spiritual person. I love beautiful rituals, even the simple ones. I love hearing people sing their joy. I love hearing chants and prayers in many languages. I love looking up at the sky and knowing that I’m part of something beyond the foul, mad, and mundane. I believe in the universal tenets of most religions: love one another, do good, be kind, don’t hurt the world by hurting anything or anyone on it, because we are all connected.
I started shopping for a religion and religious community as a teen. I say shopped because it felt like an excursion at a department store. There were so many possibilities.
Eventually I married a lapsed Catholic. Our spiritualities meshed well. He, like me, was full of contradictions and faith in things outside himself. We also both believed religion could be a provocative and political minefield that historically, often did a lot less to heal than no religion at all. When we got pregnant, we discussed it at length and determined to teach our child what we knew about faith, love, and compassion. And yes, religion – even the things we did not like or accept about it. She would decide for herself in the end but we’d give her as many tools as we could to help. It was our conclusion that spirituality and religion is a journey like any other. You stop. You start. You take breaks. You learn. You throw away the maps. You enjoy the trip. Not all of it is wonderful but more often than not the journey is what you make of it.
When my daughter was born I converted to the Catholic faith as an adult. With help from some faithful friends I became a Catechist. For ten years I taught 8 to 13 year olds what little I knew about the faith. They enjoyed me, I think, mostly because I did not pretend to know more than they did about having a relationship with God. I didn’t. I still don’t. After the scandals, like many I considered leaving the community but I’m nothing if not tenacious. When people asked me why I stayed I always said the same thing. “I can’t fix a problem if I’m standing outside of it.” It’s just not my style to stand aside in crushing disappointment and howl at the moon. I’m a fixer. I trained and started teaching the same kids from a program called Child Lures that would hopefully help keep them safe anywhere.
In the last few years I’ve pulled away from the church. I only teach once or twice a year now. There were good reasons. People in my life needed me and I could help. Tragedy disabled me (more than once as is often the case) and I’m not good at asking for help even with a community designed to give it. Then I found my spirit again in something I am beginning to believe I should have done all my life. Life kept me busy. But I still kept looking up.
Last week I went to mass for the first time in a very long while. It was emotional seeing old friends. I think I’d been avoiding that, but I felt called there to make sure I remembered them and something else. The homily focused on children and mentioned something that I will always remember, the image of that three-year old Syrian boy drowned and face down in the sand. In the days that followed, my mind jumped from place to place but that image came back to me again and again with the same thought. The world can overwhelm us if we don’t actively heal it.
In all this time one of the many concepts I had trouble with as a Catholic was the Pope. The very idea of a man “elected” to that kind of position disturbed me and still does. There was too much of it that felt like hand-picked Jesus for my tastes. Pope Francis is on the brink of changing my feelings about that. For the first time I understand how much good can come from the existence of a Pope and I am so grateful.
I’m still looking up. Are you?