Elegy for an Illusion
In retrospect, I needed deliverance from my infatuation with the Catholic Church. Which is to say, I needed to stop seeing it as the alpha & omega of my faith. 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.