I am not too active "in the [Catholic] Church" anymore, but it used to play a very important and defining role in my life. Most of my dearest friends I met through church retreats and volunteer opportunities organized by my favorite parish. I grew to appreciate and cherish the divinity and dignity inherent of every living thing, largely through my friendship with Father R. He taught me and our community so much. This man is a wonderful leader and represents the followers of Christ that I can admire. (If you've ever seen The Laramie Project, then you've seen a small glimpse into what a fine man he is.) He voiced his opposition to the hypocrisies in the Church while respecting it as his own community. That is not an easy task.
I miss the community intensely. Eventually, I found I was crying through Mass a few too many times, enraged and heartbroken by the hypocrisies and hatred that too often prevailed. You can probably guess what bothers me the most: not welcoming gays and lesbians as fully divine members of the community, turning "our" backs on divorced individuals and families, refusing to recognize that women are capable and inspirational members of the Church who would be a remarkable addition to the priesthood, etc. Basically, I've been a total (and happy) pain in the butt of every priest and nun I've known since high school.
I struggled with my relationship with the Church mightily. If I were truly a member of the community and took that membership and its accompanying responsibility seriously, shouldn't I stay and work to bring about the changes I think "The Church" so desperately needs to be more like Christ? I suppose I am just not strong enough for the fight. After years of internal conflict, I finally stopped attending Mass. I am not always at ease with this, but I wasn't always at ease with attending, either.
I suppose part of why I am not fit for the battle is I never really bought into everything the Church said. I wasn't never really, oh, fundamental about my faith, for lack of an articulate explanation. The Church has many hard and fast rules that I always interpretted as suggestions. (Cafeteria Catholic, anyone?) Parables and readings and spiritual studies always seemed to me to represent ideas and considerations to facilitate an active spiritual journey. I didn't see those as actual, immediate answers. I never took any of it literally. I even struggle with whether or not I actually believe in a literal sense either Jesus Christ the Man or Jesus Christ the God . I always have--and still do--believe in Jesus in a spiritual way. In a connected way. In a divine way. I could go on and on, trying to articulate this, but clearly it is beyond my means. Maybe in another post some day.
All of this leads me to how I am feeling about today: Ash Wednesday. This used to be a powerful symbol for me, and in many ways it still is. I still chose to observe this devotion, though its meaning for me is still ambivalent. Right now, for me, it is a time to do the hard work of engaging my faith, of examining what I do in my life that keeps me from Christ. (And for me, Christ is found in/is every human being, and when I really think about it, every living thing in our system. I think of Christ as our unconditional connection, through grace, with every living thing and God. But, anyway....) Also, what do I do in my life that keeps others from Christ? How do I hinder their faith journeys, rather than nourish it? (In whatever form, vocabulary, etc. those journeys may be.)
So, along with giving up soda for Lent, (as usual! When I think of a soda I'll remind myself of Jesus, or whatever they taught us in CCD classes) I've decided to meditate daily. I am hoping to develope a habit of quietness, where I can look for and find my demons in an environment of peach and grace. I am hoping to train myself not to react to these demons, but rather draw them out and face them. And maybe reconnect with whatever my faith is again.
Oh, and I will also work on The Thesis for at least three nights a week. Bah.
Now for the fun part! Do you observe Lent? What are your plans for the next 40 days?
This post turned out to be much heavier than I'd planned. Obviously, I've decided to throw it out there anyway. I am struggling with how to articulate much of what is bouncing around my head, so please bear with me.