Sometimes I feel like a bad Catholic. Sometimes I don’t. But either way, I always delight in both Almond Joy and Mounds. I feel pretty sure that God put chocolate on this earth for me to eat without discrimination.
I haven’t really blogged much about my religion, other than to talk about why we chose Catholic school for our children, my son’s ongoing battle with church etiquette, and the time I witnessed my kids taking liberties with the sacrament of First Communion. Even then, I didn’t delve into my own deep-seeded beliefs…because they are MY beliefs. I don’t feel a driving desire to always tell others how I live out my faith, and I find spiritual life to be an intensely personal thing. I guess you could say I subscribe to old “they will know we are Christians by our love” motto, and hope that more often than not, my actions speak louder than my words.
But therein lies the reason I often feel like a bad Catholic. My silence.
I often shy away from being a loud and proud representative of my faith. I think maybe that stems from a concern that I am not the best woman for the job. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter religion. I don’t see doctrine as necessarily hard and fast rules, but as guidelines. For me, my relationship with the Catholic Church is akin to that of a child and a parent: I love and respect the upbringing I was given, but I don’t always do what I’m told. And eventually, I must learn to think and make decisions for myself. Sometimes, I am in agreement. Sometimes I am not. But either way, we always remain family. I feel pretty sure that God put family on this earth to be loved without discrimination.
I feel fine about my relationship with the Church. Usually. Until I feel bad about it.
Recently, a small group of friends and I attended a presentation that was part of a speaker series aimed at Catholic mothers. The goal of the series is to help women discover ways in which they can live their faith more fully in the context of the modern world of parenting. The speaker was a local bishop who was witty, engaging, and delivered a message I was totally on board with: our daily, mundane lives are in fact a form of prayer if we are simply mindful and offer all we do to God. In that case, I can be hella prayerful. I mean, if doing laundry counts as prayer, I’m practically a cloistered nun.
So I was feeling pretty good about my spiritual life. And then he opened the floor to questions, the first of which reminded me why I sometimes feel uncomfortable in the very place I should feel at home. A woman, very impassioned, pleaded with the bishop about how WE (and WE were obviously all on the same page in her mind, since we had all voluntarily attended this presentation) could make others realize that living the Catholic faith according to doctrine should be a priority…and by “others,” she clarified that she meant specifically “failing Catholics” (my term, not hers). The ones who don’t go to mass every weekend. The ones who don’t pray the rosary. The ones who don’t take to heart each and every single teaching of the Church. At some point in her comment, she rationalized, “I know I’m preaching to the choir here.”
But what she didn’t know was that, while I chose to attend a presentation to help me build my faith, while I send my children to Catholic school, while I will be a faithful Catholic until the day I die, I was NOT the choir. In fact, I was the exact person she was lambasting. I was a bad Catholic. And I was listening to her ask what she could do about the problem of me. Me and my lack of unwavering faith and obedience.
I will admit I don’t have the most steadfast of faiths, but I can appreciate that some people, like this woman, do. I am in a constant state of flux concerning my beliefs. I don’t feel certain about anything, not even the existence of God, let alone doctrines created by fallible creatures. Yet I’m starting to believe there is nothing wrong with doubt. To be absolutely sure about anything dealing with God is almost in itself a lie, for we can never know God fully on this earth by the very nature that we are human. However, my heart and my mind seem to pretty consistently agree on one thing: God or no God, Catholic or not Catholic, religion or no religion, the basic ideas of love, forgiveness, and tolerance are what I should always be striving for, regardless of the means through which I show them.
So far be it from me to try to convince someone else there is a certain and right way to honor God. I can’t even feel confident in my owns ways of doing so. Yet this woman felt very sure she knew what would put me on the straight and narrow path, and she was legitimately confused about why I, and people like me, were so hesitant to listen to her. I thought to myself:
Maybe it is because we know what we are is already not good enough for you.
If I ever felt for one second that God, or Jesus, or my pastor, or my Church community was not willing to meet me where I am and accept the path of my own personal faith journey, I would be out the door without so much as a pinky finger in the holy water font. I am very thankful that is not the case. I appreciate that my experience has been filled with role models and spiritual leaders, from parish priests to the bishop I listened to that night to Pope Francis, who emphasize the greater love of Christianity over the more divisive gray areas.
But I am still a bad Catholic…because I stayed silent. Normally I feel that maybe I should be a better representative of my religion by evangelizing my faith more. But on that night, I think I could have been a better Catholic if I had stuck up for those of us who didn’t feel a part of that choir. I have a feeling there are a lot of us.
What I should have said in response to that woman was: We may not hold all the holy days of obligation sacred. We may not agree with the Church’s stance on gay marriage. We may still accidentally say “and also with you” instead of “and with your spirit” because we don’t go to church as often as we should (non-Catholics, it’s a long story). We may not know which saint to pray to when we take a chance on a new hairstyle (by the way, it’s St. Martin de Porres, patron of barbers. Thanks, Google!). And we may sometimes doubt there even is a God. But we try to live in a way that honors the fundamental teachings of Jesus, even if we stumble from time to time. And our praying may look a lot more like picking up dog poop in the backyard than genuflecting with folded hands. We aren’t bad people. We aren’t bad Catholics. And we’re still a part of your family.
And no, Dad doesn’t like you best.
I wanted to acknowledge a few fantastic posts on a similar subject that have led to or help reinforced many of the reflections in this piece: “Tell Me If You Think I’m Going to Hell” by The Boeskool and “Crisis of Faith” by My Ahas. I also want to give a shout-out to my former colleague and friend, John, who is a social justice teacher extraordinaire and often prompts me to have meaningful thoughts about God and stuff. John blogs about things religious, musical, and religiously musical at brokenfishblog.