Disclaimer: The following blog was written while on vacation in Maryland and Washington, DC. Normally, I’m fairly lighthearted and quippy in my blogs. However, recent events and statements have caused me to write about something near and dear to my heart. I’ll get back to my normal fluff next time.
I am visiting with my brother this weekend at his parish in Avenue, Maryland. He’s a Catholic priest and I’m his Catholic sister; however, I am not a nun.
Every time I see my brother at work, I see his love and his passion for The Church. It is a rare and beautiful thing. His love of his ministry is what makes him so good at his job. He is good for The Church as She is for him.
In recent years, there’s been a string of damaging news for my faith. There has of course been the tragic abuse scandal, the unfortunate and very public fall of the outspoken Catholic actor, Mel Gibson, and recently, the announcement by popular novelist Anne Rice that she is once again leaving Catholicism – and all organized religion – due to the Christian church’s opposition to gay marriage. Very public stories such as these wound me deeply as they damage the view of Catholicism by those outside the faith and those who have left it.
People ask me how I can continue in my faith given the scandal. Others take the examples of famous Catholics as an expression of who we are. A friend of mine told me that when Pope John Paul II died a few years ago, her protestant mother-in-law opined whether the Pope would have gone to heaven or not because, “As you know, Catholics aren’t Christians.”
I believe she was mistaken.
But this is the sad truth that I think is worse than all the bad news in the media. It happens all the time; like any organized religion, the public at large is sometimes misinformed by bad press or unhappy former members. Worse yet, those inside the faith are also misinformed and there is a lack of understanding of what we practice and why we practice it. Not that I can correct or combat all this except for living the best example that I can, but I will say two things I feel are very important to convey:
1) Catholics, are in fact, Christians and we do read the Bible. Catholicism is the best possible structure for me to build my ever-growing relationship with my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Following Jesus Christ, is as I understand it, a main component of being a Christian. We believe Jesus is the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, so yes the Bible is a central part of our living faith.
2) Another very important fact about how I have experienced the Catholic faith is that GUILT IS NOT PART OF THE EQUATION. Central to my faith is the notion that Christ exists within the Eucharist and very much wants to be a part of our lives. He wants to be in relationship with us. He does not continue to heap guilt upon us following our sins – check the bible for the story about the woman caught in adultery if you don’t believe me – and He does not want to push us away. While we are not encouraged to not feel remorse for our sins, (ie, some amount of guilt) at no time in any part of my upbringing in a Catholic home or Catholic Schools or at church has anyone ever tried to use God’s word to shame, embarrass or humiliate me. Instead, when I sin, I am offered the sacrament of reconciliation (known as confession in olden days) in order to tell my friend Jesus that I was sorry I hurt Him. I felt bad, I confessed, Jesus forgave me, and we both moved on. So, “Catholic Guilt?” Not for me, my friends.
An important corollary to my rant, if I may: it is not part of our teaching that we may plan to do something sinful and just go to confession afterward and all will be well. We are expected to be sincere in our sorrow and want to make things up; thus comes the notion of penance – where we show God we know we are wrong and have sinned and make restitution for our sins. So all those movies where the promiscuous teenager tells her friends that she’s going to “go all the way” with her boyfriend and then just go to confession and all will be forgiven…well, that’s not quite how it works. We’re not allowed to “plan for sin.” By the same token, it is also mistaken idea that we are supposed to feel guilty all the time for our sins and, even after confession and forgiveness, carry the remorse and guilt with us. It negates the Grace received in the sacrament. Living with guilt nullifies the gift of Gods Mercy
A few years ago, my brother helped further clarify in my mind, what we’re about. He was leading a peaceful prayer vigil across from an abortion clinic in Washington, DC (it’s part of his job, people, so ease up here…) He instructed his parishioners when they arrived at the clinic that, “If these women and doctors do NOT know that we were here because we love them, then we have failed.” Later, one of the nurses at the clinic came across the street to thank him, because all to often, these demonstrations are seriously devoid of love. It is a great shame, that this has consistently been the case for so long; that’s not what we’re supposed to be about.
I will conclude by adding that what hurts us most besides misconception and an inability to demonstrate our faith with Love outside the walls of the Church is what’s happening inside the Church among Catholics all the time. For some, they are in church and participating at a minimum because they feel obligated to do so. They don’t understand or acknowledge at times the presence of God in His Word and in our lives. The belief in Christ’s real presence is sorely lacking. If we had this love; this passion, this fire for Christ, we could quell the misconceptions by living our lives truly for Christ in love and mercy. The notion of Catholic Guilt would cease to exist. Thank God we have had a few brave souls to blaze the trail. One of the recent and most widely recognized and admired examples of Catholicism was of course, Blessed Teresa (known worldwide as Mother Teresa). She said it best for all of us. She told us to “do small things with Great Love.” And this is how I see it for myself and my church. We are to do small things with great love, living the gospel every day – forgiving others AND ourselves for our mistakes.
I am so sorry for all of you readers who were at one time part of this rich and wonderful faith and were pushed away, turned off or otherwise run out due to misguided teachings, ill intentions or downright evil behavior. The Church loses great treasure when She loses her faithful. It is my prayer you have found for yourselves a space that is right for you and helps you remain in God’s great love, free of guilt and filled with His real presence.