On Being Catholic: The Mystery of Faith

DSC_0037My 10-year-old son had a play date after school the other day and when the friend’s mom came to pick him up, she asked if we were in a rush to get my guy to CCD.

“A lot of kids seem to go on Tuesdays,” she said.

“Um, we’re taking a break from being Catholic right now,” I told her, and she laughed at my joke, but I still feel really guilty about the whole thing.

It must be the Catholic in me.

I went to a tiny Catholic grammar school – where prayer was a standard part of the day, you went to confession monthly and students always stood when a nun entered the classroom and recited (in sing-song voices), “Good morning/afternoon, Sister _______.”

We celebrated All Saints Day – not Halloween – each year with an all-star parade of saints. My classmates dressed as their heavenly namesakes while I, named not for a biblical sufferer but for a character on a soap opera my mom watched, dressed in the white robes of your standard, run-of-the-mill angel. Oh, to be a Theresa or a Mary.

We wore grey plaid jumpers over short-sleeved, white blouses with Peter Pan collars and didn’t think twice about running around the parking lot out back during recess (no grassy fields for us, no sir, we were told it was our cross to bear) during cold winter months with our bare legs exposed.

Compared to how Christ suffered, you knew you had little to complain about.

I grew up loving the Crowning of Mary each May, the smell of incense that filled the tiny church next to our school as the altar boy waved the lantern during mass and of course, I always looked forward to the cock crowing as we sat on the church’s wooden pews enduring the endless stations of the cross during Lent, trying to suppress yawns and then briefly uncontrollable laughter. Who knew the Bible could be so dirty?

While there were many things I was not sure of during that time – when my parents’ divorce turned my small world upside down – going to Catholic school provided many things I could bank on, like the 10 Commandments and the Holy Spirit. You knew they weren’t going anywhere.

We knew the seven deadly sins by heart, along with the beatitudes and the Act of Contrition and believed, inside and out, that Jesus had died for our sins.

Next to that, the other thing we knew – beyond a shadow of a doubt – was that CCD Kids were heathens.

They were the kids who went to the public school in town who would use our classrooms after school a few days a week for their religious education classes. We’d return the next day to find the insides of our desks in disarray and trash on the floor. Any time something turned up broken or not working, we’d know whom to blame.

“CCD Kids,” we’d mutter.

Many years later, I found myself the parent of not one but three CCD Kids. Kids who couldn’t tell me a single commandment or holy day of obligation if their lives depended on it, and who would ask me, on numerous occasions, as we waited on line to receive communion, “What do I say again?”

Really? How hard is it to remember, “Amen”?

I probably spent over a dozen years shuttling those three kids back and forth to their weekly religious education classes and then dragging them, kicking and screaming, to mass each Sunday (or to the quicker Saturday night 5-o’clocker if we could swing it). I would make sure to sit in between troublemakers and was not above giving a good pinch if someone was having impulse control issues or a hairy eyeball to someone who thought they’d take it easy and sit when it was time to kneel.

And what was the result of this herculean effort? Well, of course three confirmed soldiers of Christ who can now go on to receive the sacrament of marriage in the church while the flame of the Holy Spirit burns within them.

I also have three kids who really don’t know the first thing about their faith, which might have a lot more to do with the lack of instruction on the home front than what they were taught by all the good souls who volunteered each week at CCD.

Basically, they’re heathens.

miss-trunchbullSo last year, after missing the deadline to sign Kid #4 up for CCD and lacking the energy to suck up to the fairly frightening woman who runs the religious education program for our parish (think the terrifying headmistress in Matilda), I just did nothing.

And the same thing happened this year.

I struggle with the Catholic Church: The failure to address sexual abuse, the politics, and the fact that women are not able to become priests or hold any positions of power. That last one gets me the most. It’s bullshit.

Because as much as I really liked all of the church’s rules and regulations when I was young, as a grown up I see that those rules do more to exclude than include.

It’s been a while since I had been to mass and when I attended the funeral of a good friend’s mom a few weeks ago, I opted out of receiving communion.

It was the first time, since I received First Holy Communion in first grade (1973 for those who are counting), that I attended Mass and did not take part receiving the Body of Christ. It just didn’t feel right.

And that’s about it right now. There’s no tidy way to end this subject. I do like being a part of something bigger than me that connects all of us. And I really like going to Mass, even though they keep screwing around with it (Note to Catholic Church: Please leave the “also with you’s”s alone but get rid of all that annoying singing of everything.).

I just don’t buy everything the Catholic Church is trying to sell. I know you’re supposed to just have faith in the whole thing but I don’t accept that God doesn’t love Jews and Muslims and Buddhists as much as he loves us Catholics.

But if anything gives me hope about remaining a Catholic and embracing my faith these days it’s our new Pope. What a guy. I’m so impressed by everything he says and does and think that Pope Francis really does embody goodness and love. The people seem more important to him than the rules.

And isn’t that what we really want in the end? To be united in our desire to be good people and love each other, regardless of our race, gender or sexual preferences? That’s the world I want to live in and the Church I want to belong to.



25 thoughts on “On Being Catholic: The Mystery of Faith

  1. I grew up in the same world, you did a great job bringing it back to life! What memories. Great post….and don’t give up on the church, it is one more thing that will always be there, warts and all.

  2. I think what we really all want is to be loved even in light of the selfish pig headed people we really are. anyone who thinks they are a good person is deluded. our thoughts betray us.
    but the truth is, though none of us is good, and all have gone astray, Jesus loves us anyway. that goes for all people. what he asks for is for us to accept this love and follow him. you can never be reconciled to God without him. and you can do that in whatever church tradition you find your way to. don’t stop searching.

  3. I am a C and E Catholic. Christmas and Easter. Although, the new Pope is intriguing and if he really changes some things (I’m with you on the women can’t do anything rules) I might consider it again.

  4. Once again – you hit the nail on the head! I’ve been struggling with my Catholicism these past years – and I KNOW the scary CCD lady of which you speak… I feel hypocritical teaching my children that gay marriage is wrong, priests must practice celibacy (hello!!!) and women cannot be in any positions of importance… among other things- however…When I sadly attend either funerals or happily weddings and I know all the SONGS (for God’s sake “Eagle’s Wings – where my own Dad played the role of “God” in song at folk mass) and prayers I feel a complete comfort and ok I’m home… what to do what to do bc now I feel responsible for the fact that my kids dont have that home base… just another struggle I guess – love love love your blog BabyCakes:)))

    • Jen, I think THAT’S what it is: that my kids don’t have that same “home base.” However we feel about all the Church’s politics, it does bring so much comfort, too. Very confusing. Glad to see you here, sister … xoxoxoxo

  5. I so enjoyed your posting as it brought me back so many years “to my roots”. I graduated grammar school in 1968 and at that time all of our teachers were nuns of St. Francis. Your post made me feel melancholy as I remember all those special times like the May crowning. Two of my three children attended CCD. It just isn’t the same as attending Catholic school. I am divorced and that is when I stopped attending church.

  6. When I hear people talk like this I think its a cop out. Faith is not suppose to be easy. What ever you believe in, its up to you to teach your children. Not the nuns or the CCD teachers. I am far from the best Catholic. We miss CCD and church for things and sometimes that’s just sleep. Probably makes me a hypocrite to some. But, in the end I try to teach my kids that we should try our best. And when we fall we get up and try again. If you don’t believe what the Catholic Church is teaching either change churches or change the Catholic Church. We can change the Catholic Church by teaching our children what WE believe in. Our kids are the future so by molding them we mold the future of the Catholic Church. But, we will never change the Catholic Church by just sitting back and saying well I don’t believe in these parts so I won’t go or teach my children. Start with your local church and demand more of it. Remind them “All god’s children are created equal.”

    Finding and following our faith is a continual journey for my family and I, but one we continue to take. I hope you continue to take it with your kids and encourage others to do the same regardless of what religion they follow. We do not need to go back to the dark ages of the nuns slapping our wrists for saying the Our Father wrong, but we need to move forward as a community who has faith in a higher power.

    God Bless

  7. I love your honesty, because I think so many of us struggle with the same thing. I grew up as a heathen CCD kid who ended up really involved in youth group as a teen in order to avoid Catholic HS. My mom’s idea. I gained so much faith and community and confidence there, but as an adult I have a hard time with all baggage and exclusivity, especially when it comes to my kids. Recently we’ve been going to the Episcopal church. Kind of like Catholic “light”. The comfort of the traditions I remember are there but in a much more inclusive way. We shall see. If Pope Francis keeps things up, maybe many of us will return. Thanks so much for sharing.

  8. I love this… I love the fact that you speak your mind! I would love to have you meet Ophelia from St. Georges. It is all the parts of Catholic that you like without the part you don’t… She’s a smart, thinking mom, wife, nurse, and our priest. If you don’t know her yet, I think you would really like each other. Keep on writing sister… you are awesome! xoxoxo

  9. As a grad of Catholic schools myself, this brings back many memories. A few:

    I remember they were always collecting for the mssions (aka spreading the Gospel and helping the poor people overseas.) Apparently that worked out pretty well since so many priests come from those countires we were sending $$$ to.

    There were only two teachers that I was actually afraid of in my life including a nun who taught algebra in high school. The only exccuse for not doing homework was that you had better be on your death bed. Her insisitance on drawing margins down the center of the paper and the fear of not doing so correctly tramatized me for life.

    All and all a very good experience.

    • Bob … the hands-down, most terrifying teacher I ever had was my high school geometry teacher, who was also probably one of the smallest grown ups I’d ever met. But oh, she could intimidate a classroom full of kids double her size. She actually ripped my test in half in front of the class because I did something like use the wrong color ink. I am traumatized to this day.

  10. hey renaissance woman….did you see the most recent article on cnn about our pope’s latest activities. he’s the bomb (can i say that about a man of the cloth??:) he is so much more about doing more than conforming to old ideology. it was a great article to read i think my aunt ro, who left for rome on 11/15 for 6yrs to be the general mother of the marymount order is quite pleased with his progressive/proactive views — for us other “fair weather catholics”….we just try and do the best we can…..right amy baby????

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