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.

  1. I learned about the centrality of Eucharist to the Christian experience.
  2. I fell in love with Mary and the saints.
  3. I stopped worrying about losing my salvation.
  4. 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.

I can place a soup spoon on the table with the utmost care.

My faith is wounded and whole, my heart is broken and holy.