|Bye-bye Papa B.|
I’ve been asked plenty of times “Why are you Catholic?” Not going to lie, I’m Catholic in large part because my parents raised me that way. Honestly, that’s why a lot of people are Catholic. They’re “culture Catholic”…don’t always go to Church, but still want to be a part of the group. But for me, it’s more than a label I walk around having but don’t really do much with. I’m Catholic because I find something beautiful in the tradition, the celebration, the structure, and the worldwide community that I’m apart of just for being Catholic. I could go to any Catholic Church in the world, and even if the Mass wasn’t in English, I would still be able to understand what is happening for the most part. There is a comfort in that kind of unification and connection.
I’ve also been asked “Why do you stay Catholic?” As I said, I recognize that there are some major issues within the Catholic Church. The sexual abuse, and the way that the situations were sometimes handled, was really disgraceful. Many clergy, however, were very adamant about new measures being adopted by the Church that would ensure the protection of children against such abuse, and many of the faithful called out those who tried to downplay or cover-up the situations. On the more theological side of things, women’s ordination and general leadership within the Church is another major issue, and one that strikes especially close to home because I am a woman who is Catholic and studying to do ministry (non-ordained) within the Church. This is something that I think truly does need to be reexamined because the theology and explanations defending male-only priesthood is, in my opinion, kind of weak and unconvincing. Yet, I remain Catholic. Gay marriage is another issue the Church is currently facing, and another thing that I am personally in favor of. Again, the theology and explanations behind arguments against gay marriage seem lacking to me, and I can think of and have heard various solid arguments in favor of it. Yet, I remain Catholic.
You might be really wondering why I stay in the Church at this point. Why I don’t just up and leave everything I have known since my childhood to find something that better accommodates my ideals. One reason is that I believe the easiest way to change something is from the inside. Standing on the outside, yelling and pounding your fists against the wall are not going to be effective. Being a part of the tradition, the culture, and understanding the issues with an insider’s perspective will get you a lot farther in your arguments. I also know some of the theology behind a couple of these issues, from both sides of the arguments. I’m not just going around bashing the Church because I don’t agree with everything it says or does (show me a religion in which all of its believers agree with everything it says…and is not a cult). I know why the Church says some of what it says, and on my end I can make thoughtful critiques of it because I give enough of a damn to actually learn about my faith and my Church. People who think they know the issues within the Church without bothering to actually try to learn about about the theology and understand it are not doing themselves or their causes any favors.
I believe the Catholic Church is worth fighting for. I believe, at its heart, that it is meant to bring good to this world, and I see so much worth being a part of within it. I try to keep in mind that women’s ordination and gay marriage are currently very Western issues. The Church in Africa and Latin America, for example, is more concerned with alleviating poverty and ending war. People are happy to bash Benedict for his stand on Western issues, but did you also know that in one of the three encyclicals he wrote that he spoke specifically about economic issues and declared that working and exploiting purely for personal profit is immoral? This doesn’t mean that the average Joe who puts in an honest day’s labor falls into this category…he’s just trying to get by and provide for his family (if average Joe has a family), or even that all rich people are bad, because maybe becoming obscenely wealthy isn’t actually their goal and just happens to them. What this does mean is that Benedict basically called out those mega-corporations who exploit and take-advantage of people all over the world…whether through cheap labor or under-handed business practices…just to make that much more money for the people at the top, and said “Hey, assholes…you’re bad people. Knock it off.” We’ve also got a pretty impressive legacy of social justice powerhouses, like Mother Theresa and Dorothy Day.
Finally, Catholicism is also a part of my identity…part of who I am at my core. I am not just a Catholic…I am Catholic. Being Catholic, for a lot of people, isn’t just about what religion they are. There is a culture and a history to being Catholic that stretches farther back into the past than most institutions that exist today (it’s older than even a few long-standing governments). Even if I stopped actively being Catholic…I would never really stop being Catholic. It’s ingrained into me that deeply.
A short list of some common misconceptions about Catholicism that really, really annoy me:
1. “Papal Infallibility” does not mean everything the Pope says is true or that a Pope is even sinless. The Church is infallible, and the Pope is the spokesperson for the Church. There is a whole list of stuff that has to take place before any Church teaching can be declared infallible by the Pope, and this has actually only happened twice in the history of the Church. Both times, the teachings had to do with the Virgin Mary (her Conception and Assumption).
2. We do not worship saints, so let it go already. When we pray to saints, we are really asking them to pray on our behalf to God. It always goes to God. It’s like asking a friend to pray for you when you are about to face some kind of challenge in your life…except in this instance a lot of these “friends” were willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives, to follow their faith. Saint side note: A lot of us won’t get too pissed off if you critique the hierarchy, doctrine, tradition, or sacraments of the Church…but don’t you dare go after the Virgin Mary. You will regret it.
Do not mess with the Virgin
3. Going along with the Mary theme, the Immaculate Conception does not refer to Jesus’ conception…but to Mary’s. We believe, in order to prepare her for her role as Jesus’ mother, God allowed Mary to be conceived without original sin (read Augustine and you’ll understand how this idea works). I could hardly get through the Family Guy Christmas episode this year because they kept getting the Immaculate Conception wrong…you’re better than that, Seth MacFarlane! (He actually might not be)
4. The Church doesn’t say sex is only for baby-making (not anymore, anyway). That definitely is still a big part of it (hence the no-no on contraceptives), but there is also an emphasis on the relational and spiritual intimacy between the couple. So, unlike in the Middle Ages, it’s okay if you enjoy having sex. It’s also okay (now verses then) for couples to have sex even if they can’t have babies (see…progress!).