I have been angry lately at the Catholic Church. That's not much of an interesting opening sentence, right? I suppose there are millions of folks, maybe even a billion, who could say "Join The Club." The club of folks who have walked out, disgusted by the hypocrisy, the pompousness, the patriarchy and the pandering.
The trouble is, my faith is not up for grabs. The Church is stuck with me because I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. And I believe all the rest of it, too.
My problem is I don't remember the Church ever being as harshly politicized as it is now. I can't stand it. I can't stand the way the Church is reflecting the polarization of the larger American culture. Either you listen to Fox News or you listen to MSNBC and that's supposed to predict what car you drive, what alcohol you drink and where your children, if you have them, go to school. People. We are so much more than segments of a consumer market.
I am sure the men who run the Church and the folks who sit in the pews, including me, always have been flawed and exasperating. But what draws me to Christ's presence in this world are not the men who hold leadership positions in the Church, or writers and bloggers who act as if they never have had a moment of doubt or distress or questioning about their earthly journeys with the faith. What draws me to Christ are the fruits of the Holy Spirit, including joy, patience and love. I need all of that. Very badly.
I don't want to take sides in a ridiculous, self-congratulatory and never-ending argument about who understands the faith best. On one side: self-described traditionalists, overwhelmingly white, who long for the days, the days that never were, when the faith was well taught and well-scrubbed children sat in their pews without a whimper. They follow Father Z's blog and wish women would not wear pants to church and maybe even consider wearing veils. That is not me, but I don't feel comfortable with the social-justice crowd either, folks who want to hold my hand across the aisle during the Our Father and post facebook pictures of the Nuns on the Bus and say poverty is the biggest abortifacient and who think contemporary music is a folk mass with guitars up front, or a jazz ensemble whose music sounds like...well, God forgive me, because I once laughed out loud visiting a parish because the music sounded so much like the theme song to Mr. Roger's Neighborhood.
I don't want to take sides. I just want to follow Christ.
I listened to an audiobook recently. I gave it a thumbs up on this site, and I did that before I finished listening to it and I probably wouldn't recommend it because at the end of the book it kind of endorses incest and that part repulsed me.
Despite my misgivings about this novel, about this ambitious and beautiful novel called Island Beneath the Sea, there are parts I loved. Like when Chilean writer Isabel Allende describes a Spanish priest, a Capuchin Friar in early 19th century New Orleans, Père Antoine. He was a real guy, a real living person. You can look him up. (In the novel, the priest rightly refuses to marry a brother-sister couple) Allende, raised in Chile and now living in California, has left the Church but she has a brother who is a priest and I found her attitude toward the faith on this book to be one of reverence, almost awe.
Here is how she describes Pere Antoine. I wish more priests, more bishops, more bloggers, more parishioners and more of me could be like this: (I wrote this as I listened so I am sure I did not capture every word.)
"By then, the priest was already thought of as a saint, even though he had only been in the city three years.
He arrived ready to tolerate the Jews, to turn a blind eye to the heretics and buccaneers and to propagate the faith with compassion and charity.
He treated everyone the same, without distinguishing between free and slave, criminals and exemplary citizens, virtuous women and others of the married persuasion, thieves, lawyers, hangmen...
They all fit, elbow to elbow, in his church."