Monday, February 25, 2013

When Did I Stop Being Catholic?

When I was in Ocala, I went out to dinner with some new friends I like very much.  Conversation flowed easily--my trouble is rarely that I talk too little--and we all had quite a bit in common.  One woman and I compared our experiences attending Catholic high schools.  Then she leaned across the table and said, easily and without condemnation, "So.  When did you stop being Catholic?"

There's a question I'd never been asked before.  "I didn't," I said.  "I'm still Catholic.  I always have been."

She was cool with that, but it got me thinking.  I'm probably not the most orthodox Catholic, but I'm far from the least.  I'm not closeted about my faith; in fact, since I live in the Southern Baptist Bible belt, I probably talk about it far more than I did when I lived in a predominantly Catholic midwestern town.  (Yes, we Catholics do consider ourselves Christians.   We do believe Christ died for our sins.  No, we don't worship Mary.  We really don't.  I don't know where y'all got that idea.)

Everything you need to believe as a Catholic is summed up in the Nicene Creed, here.  It's a lovely profession of Faith we recite every week at Mass.  I wouldn't call Catholic social teachings optional, but I would call them of lesser importantance.  After all, while the Pope speaks infallibly on matters of Catholic doctrine (on doctrine only--he doesn't predict the weather.  I don't know where y'all got that idea, either.) the last time he did so was 1968.  Popes have come and Popes have gone, and they've written and said a lot of stuff, most of it prayerful and much of it interesting, but none of it infallible since the year after I was born.  I figure, if the Pope doesn't have to be infallible, neither do I.  It's such a relief.

That said, I believe that while the Vatican seems to be a hot mess just now, the Pope emeritus and most priests are truly good men.

I abhor the coverup of pedophile priests with all my heart.  I grieve for the people who were hurt by them.

I love Christ's presence in the Eucharist.  It floors me.  I love the Eucharist as the center of my faith.  I love going to Mass. 

I'm against abortion and the death penalty.  I support the use of most contraceptives.  I believe gays and nongays should have equal civil rights, including civil marriage.   I don't really have a dog in the fight, but the idea of a married lesbian priest consecrating Eucharist doesn't bother me at all.

I believe Jesus meant it when he said that the two greatest commandments were loving God and loving each other.  I believe he also meant it when he suggested that only those without sin should start chucking stones.  I believe Jesus probably does not hate all the same people I do, and I believe I've got enough work to do on my own self that I don't have extra energy to devote to judging everyone else (though of course, sometimes I still do.  I'm working on it.)

I believe in social justice.  I've been known to get a little carried away talking about poverty issues, but then, I've also gotten carried away talking about the history of refrigerators, so maybe that's not saying much.  When you look around the developing world, some really amazing social ministries come from the Catholic Church.  I'm proud to be a tiny part of that.

I also love the community of my faith.  Yesterday at Mass, we had a new cantor, a young woman with a clear true beautiful voice.  It took me a moment to realize she was one of my daughter's classmates.  I've known her since kindergarten.  Meanwhile, the two tween sisters in the pew in front of me kept poking each other, irritably, until I ready to whap them upside the head on my own.  But at the sign of peace, they pushed past their mother and went out of the pew and across the aisle to shake hands with Mr. Carrera, who's in his 90s and wheelchair bound.  They offered him their left hands, knowing that his right hand doesn't work well anymore, and he took their hands and raised them to his lips, and that was grace enough for the rest of my day.