After my bruising, profanity-laced encounter with a priest and my dawning awareness of how the grinding bureaucracy, religious pride and refusal to seek truth enabled the ongoing sexual abuse of children–I have realized that my love affair with Catholicism was more or less informed by my desperate desire to find Home.
The point is, when desire for truth is muddled by a desire for comfort (in my case, a religious place to call Home)–you’re willing to overlook red flags, warning signs, harbingers of doom. To put it Biblically: you “wink” at the obvious sin in order to keep the show on the road.
For years I wandered in a post-fundamentalist haze. I had no place to lie my head. And oh, how I wanted a place to call Home.
I don’t think this was wrong, necessarily. I am, after all, quite human. Most of us do not prefer homelessness. Homelessness grates against our inherent, inborn longings. We long for Home.
And I suppose after being raised in a religiously-saturated environment, the desire to seek another religious Home was only natural as well.
In Catholicism I recognized something that looked like Home. It was very different and also very similar. Even its peculiarities seemed endearing. I longed for the stability of ritual and tradition–also, Tradition. Because in Catholicism there’s a BIG difference between tradition (little t) and Tradition (big T)!!!! Oh, how I thrilled to this unique, precious code language. It felt so special.
Ay, there’s the rub.
Fullness of Truth.
THE one, TRUE Church founded by Jesus Christ Himself!
I had found it!
Still, I’m not necessarily disputing Catholicism’s claims to originality (it is sorta hard to deny apostolic succession), but I am disputing that particular flavor of religious pride that fosters an attitude of being above everyone else. Better than. Superior. Specialness. The idea that THIS particular institution contains God and has a corner on the truth.
I’m also deeply discouraged by the Catholic Church’s systemic inability to root out egregious sin among its own ministers. Furthermore, I’m disheartened by a widespread form of godliness that lacks true, transformative power.
At least here in Southern California, the Catholic Church bears a poor example of Christ. It appears more as a cultural institution–a museum–than an instrument of spiritual change. The fact that most Protestant, evangelical churches in Southern California are populated by former cradle Catholics and that the refrain I hear most often is, “I was raised Catholic but I never heard the Gospel!” is evidence of this spiritual ineptitude.
And yet, something drew me. I swam against the tide to explore the hidden, misunderstood mysteries of Catholicism. I found a priceless treasure. But it was buried–to put it Biblically–”beneath a bushel.” I have spent the last three years trying to unearth it.
I have battled the suspicions and deep-seated anti-Catholicism of my Protestant family, born the casual indifference of lifetime Catholics and prayed for fumbling priests who had less Holy Spirit than a limp fish on a hot sidewalk.
I have cringed at the triumphal elitism of the Catholic blogosphere, wept over the caustic You’re-Not-Catholic-Enough emails from Catholic gatekeepers, read the Catechism, prayed rosaries, gone to Confession.
And all of it has left me here: riddled with Catholic shrapnel, bleeding out and somehow, fully whole.
So, I lay here and I ask myself: what did you learn from your sojourn in Catholicism? Well, I learned several things.
- I learned about the centrality of Eucharist to the Christian experience.
- I fell in love with Mary and the saints.
- I stopped worrying about losing my salvation.
- I caught a glimpse of God’s unconditional love.
These lessons show me, even when I feel like all is lost, that this journey wasn’t wasted. I learned something.
And now I’m back to where I started: wandering, homeless. I’m not leaving Catholicism, exactly. But I’m not exactly staying, either.
Mostly, I am not afraid.
My faith is wounded and whole, my heart is broken and holy.