Seven days from now, my marriage will be “convalidated” by the Catholic Church. My son is getting baptized...something that regular Catholics usually do at infancy. But we aren’t regular Catholics. In fact, I am not sure I’m a Catholic at all.
My husband is Catholic. Former altar boy, Catholic school, and the whole nine yards. Kicked out in ’68 for not cutting his hair. One of the priests came up behind him with a pair of scissors and cut off a chunky lock as an example. My husband’s temper flared, perhaps rightly so. The result was finishing his senior year in public school, parents’ refusal to pay for college, and my husband enlisting into the military.
In the twenty years we’ve been married, he never attended a service before this past spring, when he decided that we should move forward with a baptism, for the grandparent’s sake, because it was the right thing to do, because, in his words, “I’ve never stopped being a Catholic. It’s what my parents and grandparents and their parents and grandparents have been, in Italy and France, for hundreds, if not thousands of years.” He’s first generation American, from a 100% French girl and a 100% Italian boy thrown together by war. To him, Catholic isn’t a religion, it’s a culture.
He mentioned getting married in the Church the first time, in August of 1991. I was willing to take the classes and jump through the hoops (although at that time, I hadn’t even been baptized myself...but that’s another story). But we couldn’t find a priest who would marry us outside at the time we needed to have the service. We found a nice Congregationalist minister who let us quote Shakespeare and Tom Robbins.
So, this spring, in preparation for our son’s baptism, partly out of tradition, and partly out of my selfish, protective preference to put him a private school (there are no charters near us, or that would be my first choice), we enrolled in the adult courses to prepare for your child’s Baptism. The little Catholic school two blocks from us has one of the best visual arts teachers in the city, and isn’t even taught by nuns anymore. Mainly, it’s just very small, and they don’t have to “teach to the test,” like the public schools in our town.
I didn’t mind the class...in fact, I found it rather enjoyable to see this new side of my husband, and to be forced to talk about philosophical and moral things with him. And I even enjoy reading the Catechism...it’s like this big secret code that other people have known all along, that I’m finally getting access to. Oh, so THAT’s what a sin is. But if you confess from the honest depths of your heart, you can be forgiven? And you should always try to be good and do your best? Okay, I get it now.
So, we’ve got all our paperwork ready to do these sacraments. I don’t even need to “convert,” which at this point would mean taking an adult education class and going through confirmation. But I do need to raise my son as Catholic, and I’m happy to do so...because, you know, being raised Atheist, like I was, really wasn’t any fun.
I just worry that he’s going to be confused as we proceed, as the quirks of the faith become more complex to understand, and Daddy is Catholic and Mommy isn’t...why isn’t Mommy Catholic? Why do I have to be Catholic if Mommy isn’t?
See, I’ve never fully gotten over the pain and alienation of being excluded from religion in a religious culture. I grew up with a ton a Protestants, including a gaggle of Mormons, and a handful of Catholics and Jews. We were the only open Atheists in our small community. I was a poster child for non-believers. The other kids on the playground teased me: “You don’t believe in God? You’re going to HELL.” And I didn’t even know what that meant. I was taught that the universe was a complex impersonal machine, and when you die, you’re gone. That’s it. God was for other people. Stupid, needy people. Which I think did contribute to a self-destructive pattern of moral relativism in my wanton college days...
Being in Church right now for me is a beautiful and healing experience. The Parish we’re in is relatively liberal, the service is contemporary and has a really amazing choir and soloists, and I am finding ways of making my scientific, material understanding of the universe meld with the metaphorical truths of religion.
I can agree to pray that “people everywhere find the joy of family planning and living with the natural rhythms of our bodies,” as was said in the service yesterday, as being preferable to the sin of abortion. Because abortion is a very sad thing, and it would be better if women never had to make that choice at all: but that doesn’t mean that I think the law should prevent women from making that choice.
So, as I try to make room for Jesus in my life, I do have to remember my first spiritual role model, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and try to reconcile what good I believe she did in the world. Without her, we would have even less separation of Church and State in this country. And I will always think of her fondly for that.
And for the Church’s many apparent hypocrisies? How different is it from being born an American and having to live with the absolute and cruel stupidity that our government is acting out these days? For all the complaints about the Catholics...who are, indeed, quite rich, perhaps as powerful as a government: at least they ask for your tithes voluntarily and don’t promise you support that they can’t deliver. They aren’t today (overtly and publically) declaring war on other peoples. They’re trying to work out the sexual aggression of priests, which seems wrapped up in some kind of suppressed homosexuality (even if it is going way too slowly...like all institutions do). And they do provide charity to those in need: clothes and food and even medical outreach, beyond political borders. And I don't think it's wrong to look at scientific progress with caution: as we have not adequately worked out the moral and personal ramification of many of the technologies we now possess.
Now, I’m certainly not saying that this or any religion is right or necessary for everyone. Fundamentalism is a very special kind of evil, and I want no part of it. Even if I find truth in Catholoism, I also find it in many other paths and practices. My true guide is my internal connection to the eternal. I do believe in one "universal" truth: that there is a caring consiouness in the universe and we are co-creating reality right now. As they say, faith is a kind of grace, and you must find it where the Lord gives it to you...if you are given it at all.
Maybe, just maybe, I will take that confirmation class. I am a curious person, and always interesed in expanding my awareness of the glorious wonder of creation, and learning new ways to create more happiness on this earth for myself, and for others. After many years of extensive and deep readings of Plato, Aristotle, Tertullian, Descartes, Nietzsche, Foucault, and Derrida, among dozens of other great historical, cultural, and philosophical thinkers who saturated my secular liberal education, I think it’s time I give the Catholic, or “universal,” perspective a chance.
- November 26
- Helvetica Stone wants art and science to hold hands and look up in wonder at the miracle of existence. See more on my website:
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