This is my response to the lovely note from Gray. Just a heads up, we each wrote a long explanation for her. I don’t think we’ll be doing this for every question. But I felt that this way we could each kind of explain ourselves and our faith. I thought that each letter acted as a really good faith based bio for each Catholic Girl. Now, here is my response.
That’s how I’ve taken to explaining my faith to people. It depends on what day of the week it is. Some days I wake up and love being Catholic, other days I wake up a fervent Atheist. But on the days in between I try something like this.
I realize that the Church is fallible. I know, they say it’s not, but we all know it is. The Church is a 2,000 year old institution that has lots of baggage and has made plenty of mistakes. Mistakes that it has acknowledged. God (Or Allah or YHWH or Kali-Ma or freakin’ Thor) is an infinite being. He/She is all of time and space rolled up into a powerful ball. I don’t presume to know what He’s got in store, I don’t think any human can understand God. I think that the Church is a human reflection of divinity, I think it exists more for people than it does for God. I think the official church teachings on contraception, abortion, women’s rights, priest’s marrying, gay marriage and women priests are bullshit. I think the sex abuse scandal is a blight on our faith, and will be for centuries. It’s despicable and shameful how that was handled and gives ALL Catholics a bad name. (I don’t think they could be more embarrassed by a feminist in their flock than I am in knowing that my 7 year old cousin’s church has a donation fund to help an accused priest’s legal fees) I recognize that the church is a big group of human grown-ups, and they are not perfect. Because of this I don’t feel that I need to fall in line with all of it’s concepts. I believe that faith and spirituality are intensely personal things and that a person takes what they need from them. I don’t think religion is an encyclopedia of answers, I believe that you have to find the answers in yourself. I believe that you have to find what resonates for you. I don’t believe that everyone should have to wear the same ugly outfit, so why would we all have to worship the same way?
If I believe all that then why do I even stick with the Catholic church? Why not find a better religion? Once I was talking to a very good friend of mine and I asked her how she reconciled her faith with her convictions. She told me that she believed that the church was “in a dark period.” At first I thought she was idiotic for trying to make sense of this 2000 year old disaster. I was angry and the offenses of the church were piling on to me. I believed that we should do away with it entirely. That nothing was salvageable; it was rotten to the core. That was probably about 3-4 years ago. I still make it to mass once in a while, but I took a long break from the Church. You know what? I still cross myself when I’m nervous or scared. I hang a rosary in my car and sometimes I recite the Hail Mary over and over again to calm myself. I might have been done with Catholicism, but I guess it wasn’t done with me. There is something inside of me that still wants to be part of the church.
So what parts of Catholicism do I still cling to? A very important part of my faith is the Virgin Mary and the Saints. I lost my mother when I was young and the idea of a beautiful woman with my name really struck me. I love hearing the Saint’s stories. If you check the right places there are totally badass interesting women. I love the ritual and prayers. I like going to Christmas and Easter mass because they are full “smells and bells” masses. It’s comforting to know that billions of people for 2,000 years have listened to those words and been comforted. Also I’m a religious scholar so I think the rituals are just cool. When I was in high school my church was across the street and I used to get my community service hours by making sandwiches for the poor. That is the church I love. Those are the things I want them spending time on and the things I want to do.
I guess if I’m still Catholic (and I think I am) what it’s come to, for me, is that they don’t get to talk for me. With all of the contraception scandal in the news, with this guy, with all of it I don’t like where the Church is headed. I don’t like my tithed dollars to go sex abuse lawyers or for my sister’s High School to be debt collateral, or to have to hear “right to life” nonsense in the pews on Sunday. You know what else? I also don’t think it’s fair that the Church is determined to scare away strong, smart men and women with their outdated notions. I don’t want to be disenfranchised. Just like you gotta vote to make sure your voice is heard. I feel like I gotta take back my faith, and part of that is exercising it my way.
When I was in college I wrote a very long paper on the subject of women priests. I actually went to a mass officiated by a real life female catholic priest! You know what? It was the best sermon I’ve ever heard. Thinking back on those ladies, I was really inspired. Even though they’ve all been excommunicated they say nope, we don’t want to be part of different church. We don’t want to form our own separate entity, we want to be Catholic and we want to be part of the tradition. The Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community says as part of it’s mission “Making Catholicism relevant.” I think that goes for the vast majority of Catholic Americans. I think the church in the US has lost touch with us and needs to come back in line with what the community needs, not the hierarchy.
Evolution is a natural part of life, and it’s part of religion. Nothing is set in stone. Every religion, across the board, has different sects, beliefs, practices. They disagree about something, then agree again 200 years later. New ones rise up, and old ones die out. I think anything is possible, I don’t think being a Catholic has to preclude me from being pro-choice or a feminist or from supporting gays, I think there is a way to make it all work; to make the Church relevant to me. The only way to make it work is to do it. So here I am a pro-choice, feminist Catholic conundrum. I like doing yoga, I read the Quran sometimes, I have a rosary in my car and a Buddha statue on my desk. Yeah, it’s confusing, but what would we do with our time if life was easy?
But does any of this make it easier on Sunday mornings? No it doesn’t. On a practical note, I’ve been looking for a good open, liberal congregation in LA for years, and I haven’t found one. I’ll go months without going to church. I haven’t been to confession in about 10 years. It’d be a lot easier if I could just toe the line. But that’s just not me. In the holy words of Tim Gunn I’m just trying “to make it work.”