Category Archives: Catholicism

Time to Say No? {Part III}


Community and the spiritual connectedness I feel with the community.  That’s the main thing that keeps me linked to my church.

The first Sunday in January, 1996, i came back to this particular Catholic church for the first time since high school.  It was odd and wonderful.  A homecoming, so much was familiar, even though no one recognized me.

I remember ~ we do this thing, like lots of churches, where we ask new people to introduce themselves at the beginning of mass.  Well, the first week I was too shy to stand up.  The second week, I didn’t stand up because I didn’t quite feel like I was new, I felt like I was returning.  By the third week, I didn’t stand up because, you know, I’d been there three times already.  Too late.

But for the longest time, when the greeter would ask people to stand up and introduce themselves, I felt like they were looking at me and waiting for me to do it.  I never did.

The first week we were there, I noticed that when we made the sign of the cross, we said “In the name of the Creater, the Redeemer, and the Holy Sanctifier.  The Lord’s prayer was the Our Father/Mother.

The second week, we had a baptism for a baby who had two mothers.

The third week, I noticed more inclusive language built into the mass.  And i noticed that the priest didn’t always do the bread at Communion.  He was just as likely to offer the wine.

Every week for the longest, i noticed something different.  A woman who prayed that the Church would recognize the vocational call to priesthood of women.  The way we treated children.

I was thrilled.

I had not realized that a “male” God was an issue for me ~ in fact, i would have insisted that it wasn’t.  After all, my mother had always said that God was a spirit.  That we referred to God as “He” because we don’t have a gender-neutral pronoun and we couldn’t very well call God “It.”

So i thought i got it.

But exposed to language that either avoided “he,” or that alternated “He” and “She,” when talking about God, I felt something inside me blossom.

I remember being glad that I hadn’t started back to this church while I was still married.  I thought that in the context of my marriage there had not been room for the kind of feminism I was feeling now.   Or for the image of servant leadership.  Or for acceptance of all kinds of diversity in all kinds of ways.

Don’t misunderstand me.  It wasn’t about feminism, per se.  It was about being able to imagine a God who was as much like me as He was like my father, or my ex-husband.


It opened up all kinds of room for spiritual growth.  And joy.

Time to Say No? (Part II)

Having listed some of the more pressing reasons that I may be called to reject Catholicism, I’ll begin to look at the reasons why I don’t want to do that.

I.  All That Mumbo-Jumbo

Recently, I was talking to some friends who aren’t Catholic about some of the issues I have with the church.  One of them said, “Well, the Catholics have all that mumbo-jumbo…”

And I confess, I bristled for a moment.  Some of that mumbo-jumbo is the very thing I love about the church.

My friend went on to talk about the connection between some aspects of Catholicism and the pagan religions that pre-existed Jesus.  After that, we slid rapidly over to saints, recognized and “deleted” ones, so I didn’t have a chance to say ~

“Hang on.  That connection with pagan religions – and Judaism – is part of what I love about Catholicism.”

After all, religion of some sort has been around forever.  It’s not like the Christians came up with the idea of religion.  So why wouldn’t we hang on to whatever traditions and rites we could?  I’ve heard people fuss about that before, as if it proves something bad, but it’s always made perfect sense to me.

Being a martyr for Christianity was one thing – why would people have to give up a celebration around the winter solstice too?  In my mind, the carry-over reflects our connection with the collective unconscious, and I don’t want to lose that.

The other thing that people often mean when they talk about the “mumbo-jumbo” of the Catholic Church is the saints – and I plan to keep them.  No, really, I do.

I’m not giving up St Christopher – I know, we don’t count him anymore, but we really do.  Not giving up St. Therese – not St. Therese of Avila or St. Therese of  Lisieux either one.  Keeping St. Francis of Assisi.  St. Martin de Porres.  St. William.  St. Augustine.  The list goes on and on.

Ok, maybe they’re kind of like imaginary heavenly friends… still.  How could I let go of a saint who in his wild youth says, “O Master, make me chaste – but not yet.”  (St Augustine.)

Or St Therese of Lisieux, who created “the Little Way” – who first said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”  

St. Therese of Avila, who said,  “If this is the way You treat Your friends, no wonder You have so few!” and “From silly devotions and sour-faced saints, good Lord, deliver us!” 

Nope, not letting go of them…  

Other “mumbo-jumbo” – sometimes that used to mean the Latin mass, and that’s already gone. I don’t long for those good ole days, so I don’t have to worry about that.

Or, “mumbo-jumbo” can mean the rites and rituals of Catholicism.  Once again, I’m fond of them.   That’s not what bothers me.

I’ll miss the mass.  It’s part of me.

I remember when I was little, maybe 8 or 9, getting up real early in the morning in the summer, riding my bike to 5:00 mass.  Yes, 5:00 in the morning.  Even back then, not a lot of people picked that mass, but some did.  There was something magical about going alone in the quiet pre-dawn…

Those first mass memories were at the Newman Center in Lexington, at U of K.  I loved Father Moore and remember how exciting it was when Vatican II started.

Then we moved to Louisville, and found St. William, back when Ben O’Connor was there.  John and Vince Grenough were still priests, and sometimes we’d say the “Our Father” in sign language.  And the priest from Nigeria, omigosh, I can’t remember his name – Emmanuel, maybe?  Drums were a new experience in church, and we used to sing “If I Had a Hammer…”  Kenny Wade was young and used to wear a peace sign round his neck.


Those are memories to pull out and look at another day.

I get to keep the memories, I know that, but they will not have the same meaning.

Time to Say No?

At church today, Father Tony Gittins, from Chicago, was a guest homilist.  I thought I had heard the name before, and when I google it, I see that he’s renowned for his teachings on discipleship and social justice.  Cool.

His homily is excellent, of course.  The reading today is about the man with two sons who he asks to go work in his vineyard.  One son says “no,” but goes out and works anyway.  The other son says “yes,” but doesn’t go work.  Jesus asks, “Which son does his father’s will?” 

Father Gittins preaches on it admirably, and actually in a way that might change my life.  But let me give this some context first.

I go to a Catholic church.  

Yes, I’m Catholic.  

I suppose.  

Staying Catholic is increasingly a struggle for me.  

I was raised Catholic, but not in the tradition of American Catholic grade schools, nuns with rulers, and families with 10 children.   My Mama’s Catholicism was more Italian style and, at least in her world, the pope gave his opinion and people agreed – or didn’t.  No hard feelings either way.

I remember her explaining to me that while it was important to listen to the Pope, he was only infallible when he spoke “ex cathedra.” I remember her saying that a pope had only done that three times in the history of the church.  

I understood that if you didn’t agree with him when he spoke ex cathedra, you couldn’t call yourself Catholic.  But the rest of the time, you didn’t necessarily have to agree.

As I write that now, in today’s climate, I find myself wondering – was that really what she said?  And then I remember John Kennedy, our only Catholic president.  I remember how proud we were when someone asked him what he’d do if the pope tried to tell how to decide something based on religion.

I remember him saying that he would have to do what was right for the country, that we wouldn’t “be ruled from Rome,” which was a big fear at the time.  I remember feeling proud, and other Catholics did too.

I had this sense of being Catholic back then as something that I intrinsically was, in almost the same way that Jewish people are Jewish.  I suspect that was very Italian of me.

Ok, so fast forward a bunch of years, and a bunch of experiences.  I know now that being accepted by the Catholic church in America in our time is very conditional. And I guess that’s ok.

So, I go to this Catholic Church that is pretty liberal.  We always have been.  We’re a church I can love, with our inclusive language, ecumenical leanings, commitment to peace and the pursuit of social justice.  Sounds good, right?

Of course, some of our stuff is getting a little shaky these days.  New pope, new Archbishop, and we’re working on keeping a low profile.  Inclusive language is not acceptable and let’s not talk about women being called to serve as pries~~~ shhhh – don’t say it.  Hush.

Yes, really.

But we’ve hung in there so far, and keep looking for ways to adapt and survive.  

I won’t name the church, it doesn’t really matter and I want to give them plausible deniability, cause by the time I finish writing this, they may need to not claim me.

So here we are, this little radical Christian Catholic Church, full of peace and love and inclusion.  This is what it looked like to me today:

We start off with the sign of the cross.  We used to say an inclusive version ~ “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Holy Sanctifier.”  There are other versions too that have been considered acceptable, but~~

~~ but it’s inclusive, it doesn’t make it clear that God’s our Father, not our Mother.  Can’t have that.

So now we don’t say it.  We don’t say anything.  We make the sign of the cross silently, and say what we want to say to ourselves.

How sad is that?

But we have permission to do that.  Thanks.

So we go on, and I notice again that it’s been ages, really ages since we used one of my favorite songs before the readings.  Maybe a year.  Maybe more.  It’s one I love, and we used to do it often, but it seems to be gone.  I wonder if it’s on the not-acceptable-music list.

I let that go, and I’m fine til it’s time for the gospel.  Then our esteemed visitor rises to read the Gospel, and I think ~

“He’s a priest, so he’s allowed to read the Gospel.  The other people we have, our local prophets and preachers, aren’t allowed to do that, and they aren’t allowed to preach.   They’re allowed to stand there while a priest reads the gospel and does some little homily just to remind us all that he has the power and the authority.  Then they can expound on what he says.  But some priest can walk in off the street, and read the gospel himself.”

And i feel a little sick.  

No offense to the visiting priest intended.  It’s the message we send our lay people that bothers me.

So Father Gittins reads the story about the two sons and the conversation Jesus has about the discrepancy between their words and their behavior.  Father says that he read the non-inclusive language version on purpose because it’s important that the story is about sons, not daughters.  He says he’ll expound on that later, but I must have missed that part.

Anyhow, it doesn’t really matter, because I’m taken with the rest of his homily.  Here’s what sticks with me.  

The story is about integrity.  Doing what you say.  Actions that match your words.  And the importance of saying “yes” when you mean “yes,” and “no,” when you mean “no.”  

The story, he says, is about the importance of rethinking things so we are transformed to God’s way of thinking.  

And I begin to ask myself – Can I call myself Catholic with any sense of integrity?

I run down the list of things that Catholics publicly proclaim these days – not just for Catholics, things that they – we? – try to force on everyone.

1.  Marriage is one man + one woman.  

We believe that so strongly that we’re not willing to provide adoption services if we might have to place a child in desperate need of a home with a gay or lesbian couple.  In fact, we’d rather withdraw our funding and not participate at all.

But I have gay and lesbian friends who’ve adopted and I believe they’re wonderful parents, and I believe they should be able to get married in all states.

2.  Getting divorced and remarrying is wrong. 

We Catholics believe this so strongly that in many churches you can’t go to Communion if you’re remarried, or serve on the parish council, or participate fully in the spiritual community. 

By those standards, I am already “beyond the pale.”  Of course, I’m not remarried anymore, but I’m pretty sure that getting divorced a second time doesn’t let me off the hook.

3.  Artificial contraception is wrong.

We Catholics believe this so strongly that we won’t support any sex education that includes any kind of real birth control, not even condoms.  Not even in countries where young women are getting married and pregnant so young that they end up with fistulas.  Not even in countries where children are starving because there are too many mouths to feed.  Not even in countries where HIV is rampant.

Ludicrous, I think this stance is ludicrous.  And possibly evil.  

4.  Abortion is wrong under any circumstances.

We Catholics believe this so strongly that we excommunicated the mother of the nine year old in South America who was raped by her step-father and pregnant with twins, and we excommunicated the doctor who aborted them because she couldn’t have carried them to term and survived.  

We are ok with some women and the occasional child dying, that’s just the way it goes.

Since we don’t believe in artificial contraception, our chances of dying in childbirth go up, but that’s ok.  And it’s ok if we get raped and get pregnant – unfortunate, maybe, but just the way it is. Because once we’re born, women don’t really matter.  So of course –

5.  Women can’t be priests.

Never, never, never.  So much never that if we even say we think it’s wrong, we’re just-about-kind-of excommunicated.  So much never that even thinking some women are called to the priesthood is some kind of sin.

If you think I’m kidding – they’re on the verge of excommunicating Father Roy Bourgeois.  Maybe they already have and I missed it.  As I recall, he preached the homily at a mass for some renegade group of folk who were ordaining a woman.  They don’t want to kick him out – he’s a priest, after all, and they didn’t excommunicate any of the sexually predatory priests.  

But thinking that women should be priests is at least as bad as priests abusing children.

So let me say it publicly, proclaim it from the rafters – I think some women are called to be priests.  I think the Catholic Church is wrong not to recognize this and use the talent of these gifted and compassionate women.

AND – I escort at the abortion clinic, accompanying the patients and their companions down the gauntlet of pray-ers, preachers, and chasers, many of whom are Catholic.  I used to cringe a little when the Catholics marched down from the Cathedral once a month to fill the sidewalk across the street, certain that one day I’d look up and see someone I know.  But I no longer care.

There are lots of other places that I have issues with the Catholic church.  The ways we’ve treated our African-American brothers and sisters is one, but that’s a more subtle discussion.  So is the “God is male” position I think they – we? – take.  

But the five things I’ve listed – Marriage, Divorce, Contraception, Abortion, and Priesthood – are substantive and crystal clear.  I do not believe what the Catholic church teaches.

How can I say I’m Catholic???

Why would I want to??

(to be continued)
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