Monday, November 19, 2012

Stop Trying To Make Me Take Sides: I Just Want To Follow Christ

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."


  1. Allison, there is a deep grief in naming those divisions, especially those chasms that exist when we so want people to come together. I think of the nostalgia voiced in Acts: already people were longing for the good old days when they all got along and shared everything--except that they didn't.

    When I'm tempted to slam my head against the brick wall in frustration, I seek out stories about other people in other times, in other cultures, who face significant impossibilities. Those are the stories that give me hope. Greg Boyle's Tattoos on the Heart is a staple for me these days, but so is a book about Francis and Clare. I go back to Dante and throw people in hell and dream up suitable punishments for time spent in purgatory.

    And I look for stories like yours, someone who says, "I see. I notice. I grieve." Thank you.

    1. I have read your comment so many times Shannon. So thoughtful. Even when Christ was walking with the disciples, His presence did not always make them follow Him. How much harder it is for us, every day, to take up his cross and to not turn against each other.

  2. Shannon has said so much more, in such a more eloquent manner, than I can muster.

    We all walk together.

    1. A great image and something to remember when my pride and anger get the better of me.

  3. Alison, A wonderful raw and open sharing about your feelings and faith. One not to be judged but, rather, aplauded. Continue your walk with Christ in our beautiful Catholic faith and I will pray for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to continue to work and evolve in your life. May we all remain in communion with one another, despite the political distractions that have always, and will continue to surround our Church. We are called first and foremost to follow Christ, continue to cast your gaze upwards and at the Cross. He has chosen you to follow- there are no sides to take, and He who knows your heart understands. We are all in this together. In the name of The Father and of The Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

    1. Celeste: Thank you. I really like "He who knows your heart understands." That is the crux of it for all of us, I believe.

  4. I'm not sure I understand where you are coming from. I haven't seen the Church be polarized more now that before the election. It seems like we are finally agreeing that life issues need to come first because America is losing it's grip. It sounded to me like more Catholic were voting against the culture of death than the previous election. I do see the culture becoming more and more polarized as gays proudly announce and show their preferences for all the world to see and women boastingly proclaim that they are voting with their vagina's this year- like that makes any sense at all. I would certainly argue that America is going downhill fast. There were better times, for sure. The idea of that there is a God is dying out there. It's never been that way. People have lost not just their morals, but spiritual awareness. Throughout history, people have believed in many different gods and have had many different religions, but now all that is superstition. It's superstition to believe in anything but yourself. WE have become our own gods and I think that is a more dangerous path than the heathens took. There were times you could turn the tv on and not feel the need to go to confession 10 seconds later. There were times when you didn't have to worry about your kids going to public school and what ideas they would be indoctrinated with. Technology is taking its toll on the American conscience. We don't turn it off- ever. that's the problem. whether it's music, tv or internet. How will we ever know Him when we are kept from the still, small voice of God? And we also kept from knowing each other in the physical form. Social networking is superficial and I don't think America has ever been so superficial in all of history.

    In terms of Catholic, I don't call myself tradition or liberal or even in between, but I call myself a practicing Catholic. It's not about following some ideology- it's about following Christ, like you said. But there are plenty of Catholics would call that conservative since most U.S. Catholics don't even practice their faith/teachings of the Catholic church. You're right that it's not about what clothes you wear or don't wear, but at some point, if you don't want to follow the Church's teaching, you are not a good Catholic. Just like if you don't want to follow the teachings of any other religion- it makes you a bad Mormon, or Muslim or whatever. There is no relativism in the Church, thankfully, unlike society. Being an unfaithful Catholic has nothing to do with sinning and repentance and striving for holiness. It's when you give up on those things and follow your own agenda of what's right and wrong that makes a person a bad Catholic (or nonpracticing Catholic).

    I'm sorry you have experienced polarization in the Church. May we all work for a clearer understanding of what it means to be called to be Catholic so that we can all be united in Christ.

  5. I don't want to stir the pot, but I have read Sarah's comment several times and it really speaks volumes to me - about the church.

    Rules and obedience matter, to be sure, but when they do so at the expense of love, those rules lose authority when there is no love. (St. Paul discusses this better than I in 1 Corinthians.) And without love, obedience is nothing more than blind slavery.

    It is all rooted in love or it is lost. That is the message of Christ Jesus.

    What is my point? Sarah I suspect that you mean well and your obedience is full of good intention. The problem for me is that Allison is clearly in pain and distress, and your only response is to castigate her.

    There is no mercy in that from where I sit. Of course, I can't read your heart Sarah; only God can do that. Jesus never read the rules first, he loved everybody in, gathered them in - that is where the real inner authority of faith resides if you ask me.

    1. Fran: I in no way think Sarah was trying to castigate me. I have known Sarah for years, albeit cyberly, and I truly do not think that was the intent of her words at all.
      That said, yes, I am in pain and distress about my church, our church, when I see people going after each other with such vehemence in parishes and online. I have been a Catholic all my life and most of that time, a practicing one, and I never have seen such animosity within our "ranks." Better minds than mine have discussed this internal polarization as something that endangers a sense of Catholic identity for all of us.

      Rules for rules' sake are what Christ castigated the Pharisees about. If we don't have a daily relationship with Christ, with Mystery, I fear we all are lost. From that living relationship, from that love, flows obedience and freedom. I think all of us commenting here know that and sometimes all of us forget it.

    2. I do quibble with one thing Sarah said "Most U.S. Catholics do not practice the faith/teachings." Gallup polls aside, it is impossible to measure that. How is a person different in his interactions with others because of his faith? I am thinking now about my husband. He has taken it upon himself to found a summer basketball league in our town , free and open to all, for middle school boys. Some of these boys cannot afford the registration fees for the rec. program. Many of these boys do not have fathers in their lives and at least one is homeless. Is this a "Catholic" gesture? I would say yes; it is borne of love and care for others - for those who have less than we do. But it wouldn't come out on any phone survey of Catholic practice and belief.

    3. What Fran said in response to Sarah. Neither the energy nor the words to say it again or better.

    4. Fran, following the Church's teachings are not just about rules and obediance. I never said anything about "obediance" in my response, but it is curious that you would jump to that word since it is a stumbling block for those who do not understand Catholics. Society seems to think we Catholics blindly follow the man with the big hat. I've been called a "puppet of the Vatican" by one liberal Catholic. You have reduced my words: "following Christ" to "those who obey vs. those who don't". I don't think that statement entirely untrue, but to the outsider who doesn't understand obediance, it seems to leave out love and faith.

      It's a shame that it viewed that way. It would take volumes to explain how obediance and love and faith are intertwined and one cannot happen without the other. I'm sure if you examine how many times you have obeyed a person you love- not because of what you wanted, but for the sake of the other, you would see the two are cannot be divided.

      As far as the great divide in the Church, I do not see it as a division, but an opportunity to re- evangelize. JPII and Pope Benedict both speak of the need to re- evangelize those who have lost the faith i.e. "New Evangelization". I do not see this as division, but a problem with catecisis/crisis of one's own faith that requires the rest of us to help out in the task of evangelization in love and/or obedience- which ever comes first at the moment :)

    5. Sarah, I am Catholic. I understand - I just seem to understand differently than you do. This is not the first time we have had this conversation on this blog. I will say however, that for me, it is the last.

  6. Allison, I thought of you this morning as I came upon the story of Henri Dominique Lacordaire in Give Us This Day. Short version? He lived in France shortly after the Revolution and sought to bring religion to the Republic and liberty to the Church. That's not doing him justice, but I thought of you and your struggle.

    The readings from Revelation this week point to our on-going struggle. "You're doing all the right things, but you don't love me like you used to." Polarization? You bet. Society going to hell in a handbasket? Sure thing. But guess what: someone somewhere is always feeling this way. And still we struggle.

    I'm struck by the question Jesus has asked several times in recent gospels: What do you want me to do for you?

    Not for everyone else (please God, straighten them all out so I can live peacefully) but What do you want me to do FOR YOU? I wrote pages about that this morning. I'm still not done. I hope I never am.

  7. Wonderful post, articulating much of what's been causing deep grief for me these days.

    Possibly my favorite sentence: I don't want to take sides in a ridiculous, self-congratulatory and never-ending argument about who understands the faith best. And yet I find myself being forced to take sides. This, too, is causing deep grief.

    The polarized and polarizing Roman Catholic church of today is not the church I sought confirmation in after waiting a decade after my baptism, as an adult coming from Judaism.

    Much of what drew me in -- magnificent liturgy, an embrace of conscience, the balance of faith and reason, a commitment to social justice -- seems all but gone from the church, at least the USCCB version of it.

    But I'm planning to stay put . . . for now. Trying to stay focused on Jesus and serving the Lord with gladness. Good luck to me with that, eh?

    1. MEREDITH: As Fran and others are saying; we travel this road together. Blessings.