In retrospect, it was naive of me to think I’d ever fully escape fundamentalism. The truth is, I’ve found it wherever I go. And now, I’ve stumbled across fundamentalists in the Catholic Church. Yay, me.
At first, I didn’t recognize them because their parlance and peculiarities were different than my native fundamentalism. But eventually I discovered that the I Love the Latin Mass bumper sticker is to Catholic fundamentalism what the In Case of Rapture, This Vehicle Will Be Unmanned bumper sticker is to evangelical fundamentalism.
And then I wore my veil to Mass. All of a sudden, I was being approached by eager little cadres of Catholic traditionalists who hoped that my wearing the veil would spread to others. To my dismay, I realized they saw me as a harbinger of new wave traditionalism. I gotta admit: after that, I stopped wearing the veil regularly. I felt like it was a distraction to others and the last thing I wanted to become was a poster-child for ANY agenda within the Church.
For me, true freedom is the option of wearing or NOT wearing the veil. My conscience is not bound by the veil and I refuse to get all dogmatic about it. Wearing a veil is precisely one of those things which can easily derail and divide people. That’s not why I entered the Church. I came to the Church because of the Eucharist.
I also began to realize that the one common identifier between all fundamentalists is their propensity for sending unkind emails and/or cussing you out if they believe you are “threatening The Fullness of Truth!” Fundamentalists–regardless of affiliation–believe it is their holy duty to correct, rebuke and exhort everyone; even complete strangers. And that is how I eventually realized I’ve landed smack-dab on the Not Catholic Enough watch-list.
Like their Protestant fundamentalist counterparts, fundamentalist Catholics seem to pine for the golden days of yore. I actually have no idea what the Golden Era of Catholicism looked like–I entered the Church during the ongoing sex scandals.
To me, the Church has always been plagued with sinful priests, corrupt officials, egregious nepotism. And I fully expect it will only get worse. None of this bothers me. It does seem to bother some of my old acquaintances who wonder how the hell I could leave the frying pan of evangelical fundamentalism for the fire of Catholicism.
I dunno. I guess nothing really surprises me anymore. To err is human. Being human means screwing-up a lot. What’s so shocking about that? Which is to say, when a priest cussed at me a couple weeks ago, I just figured he was having a bad day and decided to pray for him (although I cried for awhile before I got around to praying). Every single church I’ve ever attended has been shot through with all kinds of human problems, failings and corruptions.
Again, I came to the Catholic Church for the Eucharist and if the Eucharist stays, I stay.
Besides, cultish behavior is everywhere. I mean, fundamentalism is even in baseball! Our family quit Little League because we couldn’t handle the cult of fanatical coaches/parents. Which is to say, every institution managed by human beings will have their resident fundamentalists, traditionalists, purists.
So, where do I fit?
The short answer: I don’t (I suspect I’m not the only one?).
I am a religious misfit and I have made my peace with that. I will always feel like an immigrant inside the Catholic Church. And I will never feel at home in the secular world. What keeps me grounded in faith is my love for Jesus. And when my faith fails, what keeps me grounded is His love for me.
That love is important because all things pass away. Nothing remains. Eventually we will have to detach ourselves from everything and everyone.
Since entering the Church I have been sustained by the Eucharist while also experiencing loneliness, darkness, discouragement, confusion. But my hope is not in institutions or the humans who run them. If they stand, I thank God. If they fall, I still thank God.
All that matters is that I sought God and I found God. The Eucharist is my sustenance and my small task is to love Jesus back. That single, little task keeps me centered, even while the storms rage around, in and through the Church. Even when they say I’m not “Catholic enough.”
“Our faithfulness to a small task is the most healing response to the illnesses of our time.” –Henri Nouwen