4/1/10

Amen

We probably won’t go to church this Easter. We don’t, actually, go to church all that often, but Easter is particularly problematic because it’s almost impossible to get a parking space or a seat, unless you arrive way ahead of time.

We will be going to church in about a month for Mallory’s first Communion. And we went last month for her first Confession. This is all a bit strange to me, because I’m not Catholic. For many years, in fact, I was somewhat anti-Catholic. I was raised in a church whose doctrine was “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, freedom,” so I suppose it’s not that surprising that I wouldn’t take to a denomination where everything is spelled out and there are highly codified rules and beliefs. My biggest beef, for a while, was that I – a baptized Christian – was not allowed to take Communion in the Catholic church. “It’s not right to exclude people like that!” I protested.

I enrolled in an RCIA class – for adults interested in converting to Catholicism – when Mallory was two or three, and when Chris and I started to discuss the possibility of sending her to Catholic school. In the class I realized that much of what I thought I knew about Catholicism was wrong. I learned that much of Catholic thought and tradition is quite beautiful. I concluded it was ridiculous for me to resent the Catholic church for its beliefs, even when I disagreed, because their beliefs were what, after all, made them the Catholic church to begin with. I decided, in the end, that although I was no longer anti-Catholic, I nevertheless didn’t want to become a Catholic. I understand where they’re coming from now, on most issues, but I still disagree with just enough of their teachings and stances on social issues that I cannot convert with a full and open heart. In a way, I now feel that joining the Church, feeling as I do about certain things, would be disrespectful, both to the Church and to my own self.

I've accepted the fact that my kids will grow up Catholic, and that, for now at least, they will be educated in a Catholic school. (There were lots of reasons for choosing their school, many of which have nothing to do with religion, but that’s another story for another time.) Sometimes it’s been strange – seeing Phoebe make the sign of the cross for the first time; helping Mallory write reports on saints and transubstantiation. Mallory has realized that if she has a question about Religion, she should ask Chris instead of me. She’s asked me why I don’t take Communion, why I don’t know the Mass responses. I tell her that I grew up in a different church and we did things a bit differently. I’ve always thought to myself that I don’t mind that she (and Phoebe) are Catholic, but I’m glad they know it’s not the only way to be.

Perhaps because of that, I’ve always had an attitude of…somewhat ironic detachment when we do go to Mass together. I’ve matured since the first time Chris and I went to Mass together, when I whispered, “It burns! It burns!” as the priest flicked us all with Holy Water (I was joking), but I’ve never allowed myself to totally relax into the experience either. I don’t make the sign of the cross. I haven’t learned the responses. I used to not kneel when others knelt; now I do, because I realized that if I don’t, I'll be in the way of the people behind me. I don’t go up during Communion to get a blessing from the priest in lieu of the wafer. I never remember to stop after “and deliver us from evil” when saying the Lord’s Prayer (because I learned that it concluded with, “For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever”).

Watching Mallory approach the priest for her first Confession, however, it struck me that maybe I’m doing her – and Phoebe, in a few years – a disservice. This is important to her; I could tell by the look on her face. This is not something that I should be taking lightly. Parents are often called upon to feign interest in or excitement about their children’s doings. We laugh at the stupid knock-knock jokes, we exclaim over the scribbled drawings, we clap at the antics in the pool or the playground. It’s becoming clear to me that my children’s religious beliefs, however, require a deeper response than that. It’s not that I’ve suddenly decided to convert, mind you. It’s just that…I’ve realized that by excluding myself from Catholicism, I’m not participating fully in an important part of my daughters’ lives (and, if the Catholic church is the only place we go to worship, I’m also not participating fully in my own relationship with God, which is also another story for another time).

I am not sure what to do about this, frankly. In fact I’ve been sitting for ten minutes trying to figure out how to end this paragraph. Hmm. Nope, nothing. Well, here’s something. Many years ago, when my older sister was herself on the verge of converting to Catholicism, she said: “I think God just wants us to do the best we can.” I completely agree with that. I think that I just don’t know exactly what my best is supposed to be.

So. Happy Easter!

3 comments:

Chris said...

I think you're doing fine. You've done as much as anyone could ask, barring actually converting. And that's something that I never felt I had the right to ask of you, so I never did (although frankly I am glad we're past the arguing days of my having to justify Catholicism to you). I've never been huge on going to church every week, since college really, because I grew up in Catholic schools, and was always up to my eyeballs in it. Masses several times a week a lot of times, holy days, Confirmation...it was nice to get a break from it, although it's not like I had a problem with it. I've just come to realize that I'm imperfect. I'm kind of lazy and selfish when it comes to my free time, and I'm a bit of a salad bar Catholic. I don't agree with all of it either, so I've picked and chosen the parts I like, and tend to ignore the rest. Not something I'm proud of, but in the days of sex scandal coverups and outdated doctrine, it's how I manage to get out of bed and go to work every day. I deal with masses and near-constant prayer as part of my job every day, so I sheepishly admit that sometimes on weekends, the thought of going to church again just doesn't get me jazzed. But i also know that now that the girls are getting older, it's something we need to do with some regularity. When they get older they'll have to wrestle with the tough questions just like I did, but for now I'm glad that they are where they are, and are learning in a Catholic environment. Learning charitable works, being a part of something bigger than themselves, and having a solid moral center are things I'm glad they're being inundated with at a young age. And hopefully they'll be able to go to Gibbons when the time comes...but I'm babbling. I think you're doing fine, and I wouldn't worry about your performance at mass. They aren't judging you for not knowing the responses, or doing all the "Catholic aerobics". The fact that you're there is enough. I don't feel too bad about skipping Church when it's overcrowded either...I really don't think God is keeping a scorecard or taking attendance. As long as we make it a semi regular part of our routine and do the best we can, that's enough. And really, it's more about living by example than anything. Some of the biggest immoral jerks I've ever known went to church every day of the week, and some of the nicest, moral people I know barely set foot in a church, so there's more to it than weekly mass. We should go more often and we will, on Saturday nights or whatever. But if we don't go every single week, or skip on a day when we know we'll have to stand in the back for 2 hours and park a half mile away, then well that's kind of our prerogative, I think, and not something we have to justify.

aimee said...

I have typed and erased about three times now. Honestly, I don't know what I would do either. Right now, in my own life, I have the don't-want-to-go-to-church-today-or-ever attitude and I am not exactly sure why. I know that isn't a good thing for my children but how do you tell your chid that they need to go to church when you really aren't sure of the answer? I can still remember a few Easter's ago when the preacher for UCC in Friona was giving a sermon and stopped suddenly and basically said, you know what? This is Easter. We should be celebrating the fact that Jesus was raised and not listening to this stupid sermon. The end. I think of that often when my preacher goes on and on about how we need to live. Not that it isn't a good message and that we probably do need to hear it but what about telling us sometimes that we are going to be okay and we should be happy because we know Jesus? I don't know, I am sure I am over-simplifying it...

Long story short-I agree with Jana and Chris. God wants us to do our best and I can't believe he would actually say, "Sorry but you didn't go to church on Easter" when there are people that only go to church on Easter.

Sorry, this comment was long and pointless (but not nearly as long as Chris'. hee hee).

Anonymous said...

As someone who doesn't attend church for various reasons (none of which I will get into), I have to say that I admire you for what you do for your family. I think in plenty of time, your two daughters will understand and probably appreciate why you haven't become Catholic. It's a very tough subject to answer to (Cam wonders why we don't go, but he goes with his grandmom and his mother) and someday I will tackle the subject deeper. But don't put to much thought into, just be there for your kiddos (that's the most important part).

I found that what I had to say and it coming out on this little comment page was different. Oh well - I'm sure you get the point. By the way "It burns, it burns!" was very funny.

Lil' Bro