The cursor is patiently blinking at me as I try to figure out how to write this post. But I WILL write it. Inspired by this post at Busted Halo, I’m going to do my best to fast from being private about faith today. But I am changing the date on this post so that it won’t show up on the front page, and I’ll change it back to the correct date later on.
I am Catholic, and I do go to church. I really enjoy the church I go to, which caters to the more progressive flavor of Catholics, and I’m trying to get more involved there. I read a lot of blogs that are mostly or partly about Christianity, but there are a multitude of reasons that mine isn’t one of them. For one thing, I’m from New England, where religion isn’t discussed openly as much as I’m told it is in other parts of the country, and for another, I’m Catholic, and Catholics are, in general, pretty reserved when it comes to expressions of faith. My beliefs are a work in progress, so I often feel like posting too much about them would be like posting the rough draft of a story or something. And also, since I do so rarely discuss religious issues here and I know I have readers who believe all kinds of different things, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable. But in this post, I’m going to have to take that risk.
Why am I still Catholic? I’ve often had a hard time finding the words to explain, and people who dislike the Catholic Church are often very vocal about it. And I am obviously not okay with the sexual abuse cover-ups, their positions on gay marriage and birth control, and the lack of female priests. But here’s what it boils down to for me:
-I believe everything that Catholics profess to believe in the Nicene Creed. And there is not a word in that creed about any of the more controversial doctrinal points—homosexuality, birth control, or even the pope and priests. I struggle a bit with the concept of the Trinity, but to simplify it, I came to believe in God through reason, Jesus through history, and the Holy Spirit through experience.
-The negative things people hear in the news about the church, like this recent issue with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, are terrible, but they do not reflect my personal experience. We all know someone who makes the rest of us look bad, but most of the religious Catholics I know are very warm, open-minded, welcoming people. There are many, many good priests in the Church as well as good laypeople serving the Church in their way—in a nutshell, there are more Stephen Colberts out there than Rick Santorums. I also went to a Jesuit college, and Jesuits are awesome—a liberal-leaning order of priests very focused on educating the whole person. While there were certainly a lot of religious disputes at my school, for the most part, it was very focused on social justice and on loving and caring for others. And the community at my church is wonderful, and I love that it exists. If Catholicism is going to grow and change, I think it will do so with the help of people who love the Church but want to see it evolve.
-I think, also, that people like me, who never knew pre-Vatican II Catholicism, find it easier to reconcile disagreeing with church leaders and remaining part of the Church because priests, to us, do not have the same power they once did. I’ve always viewed the people in the pews as more important than the men in the pulpit.
-Would I ever change denominations? As of right now, no. I’ve been working on a project (that’s taken me way longer than I intended it to) where I visit many churches of other denominations, and it’s been really interesting and eye-opening. At this point, I can tell you that Catholicism is still what I am most comfortable with, and I will post about the project when I finally finish it.
-I find a lot of beauty in the message behind Christianity- redemption through love. People get so caught up in particulars—often, bizarrely fixated on sex—that they forget that what Jesus calls the two greatest commandments are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” And regardless of what else in the Bible or in Christian tradition is right or wrong, I think we can all agree on love.
That’s what I believe at this moment in time. Maybe at some point in the future, I’ll look back at this post and marvel at how my beliefs have changed in some way. I certainly can’t guarantee that that won’t happen. And there is plenty I don’t know and may never know, like the true nature of God, how prayer works (if at all), how much of the Bible is true and if the books that weren’t included in it should have been, etc.
But the “love your neighbor” part will never change. You obviously don’t have to be religious to believe in that idea, but it does take on a new meaning when viewed through the life of Jesus. And currently, it’s something that I’m struggling with in my own life—it’s been dawning on me lately that there’s not nearly enough service to others in my life, and I’ve been trying to figure out how to change that. It’s the other, lesser-known, and probably more painful kind of Catholic guilt.
So, that’s me being open about faith. When I wrote this posta few years ago, I said that I wished people felt freer to speak openly about what they believe or don’t believe, but I haven’t been doing much to change that. I sincerely hope this post didn’t make anyone uncomfortable, as it’s different from my usual style, but I also hope that more people will take the time to speak thoughtfully and respectfully about their own beliefs or lack thereof.
Let’s end things on a lighter note- with David Sedaris’s brilliant and hilarious Easter story “Jesus Shaves.” “He nice, the Jesus.” Happy Easter!