Disclaimer: I know none of this artwork is mine. I’m not making any money off of it. Try to sue me, and you won’t make money off of it, either.
Elizabeth Scalia on Patheos has invited Catholic bloggers to respond to the question, “Why do you remain a Catholic?” I was thinking on this question and reading others’ responses, like Sarah Reinhard‘s and Barb S‘s. Then I woke up this morning with the realization that I couldn’t possibly tell you why I stay without explaining why on earth I came back in the first place.
I’m a storyteller. Let me tell you a story.
Once upon at time, many years ago, there was a little girl who loved nature and science and art all together. Basically, she loved learning. She was a nerd from the get-go.
Alas, she grew up in a world where adults weren’t to be trusted. They lied to children. They manipulated. At best, they ignored them. At worst, they used them for their own gratification and told the child it was her fault. They put the “ME” in “The Me Generation.” As for catechizing the little girl? You mean, from the cafeteria line?
Anyway, this girl, while not a Millenial, did get sent to Catholic schools for thirteen years (kindergarten included) during the late 1970s into the super-early 1990s. High school saw her progress from suicidal thoughts, to aggressive atheism, to a nice, bland “I’m spiritual, not religious,” agnosticism. Her gods were her ability to read palms and tarot cards in the lunch room and at cast parties for modest sums. Strangely, the only Catholic school lessons that did stick were the ones on abortion and, perhaps less so, the one on artificial birth control being bad for you, on a scientific level, mind you. She couldn’t see past the science of them both. So. Remember, she’s a nerd?
Oh, and the whole “save yourself for marriage” bit: see, it was the age when the world was being introduced to HIV/AIDS. This girl had an anxiety about getting sick and dying a horrible death, so the whole “waiting” thing seemed smart, but it was not taught in a very cohesive manner, so she only thought she had to wait for some things.
And then she, her palm readings and her tarot cards got to college. All she knew upon arrival was that she was a weird person whom people generally don’t like. She didn’t know why she had trouble trusting and connecting with people. Then she got cast in a play where she played a character who had faced similar (not the same, just similar) betrayals as she herself had throughout her life up until that point. She broke down. During rehearsal. In front of the whole cast.
She didn’t know why. She just knew something was even more wrong with her than she initially suspected.
She went home from rehearsal, curled up under the quilt made by her (devout Catholic) Granny, and stared at a wall. She shook a lot. She tried not to sob too loudly. She remembered things she’d experienced and thought to herself, “That’s not such a big deal. Why would something so minimal make me this upset? After all, everyone always told me that whatever I thought was making a big deal out of nothing.” But that thought did nothing to console or heal. Whatever was going on was much bigger than she herself was.
So she stared at the wall some more and thought, “Okay, God or whatever you are. I just want The Truth. I don’t care what it is. I just want The Truth so I can get out of this bed and have things be better some day.”
Over the next days, weeks, and months, God (not the whatever, thankfully) answered her. She did still own a Bible (for the intellectual exercise of reading it, like reading Thoreau), and she’d heard that the Psalms could be comforting, so she read those. She also read about Wicca and Buddhism and Shinto and a whole alphabet soup of scavenging for Truth. After about four months, she and her nerdy, metaphor-loving brain could find no more solid metaphor for God than the cross and resurrection.
Disappointed that she couldn’t find truth in nature worship or something cool like Eastern religion, she conceded. “Okay, fine, God. You want me to be Christian. I’ll be Christian. Just whatever You do, don’t make me Catholic. The odds that I’d be born into The Truth are pretty darn slim to begin with, and besides that, nobody likes Catholics and their archaic, made-up beliefs that have no basis in reality.”
She joined the campus Christian fellowship, but in the interests of remaining open-minded, she still poked around the local Catholic community center. Except remember how she didn’t just like literature and plays and art? She also liked science a whole lot and always felt kind of torn at having to choose a major? Well, she loved nature. A lot. Hence Wicca being mentioned first on the list above. A girl who loves both nature and metaphor is a sucker for finding the logic in Natural Law, and a girl who doesn’t trust authority is going to mistrust what the culture says her.
Guess what? Catholicism is all about Natural Law. And even moreso, Catholicism is about Truth being solid, unchanging, utterly immune to manipulation.
“Oh, crap,” she said to God. “Am I Catholic?”
She was talking to God pretty regularly at this point, and said, “Okay. I can’t stand that this means that most of my friends are living in a way that is contrary to biological reality, but since I still get to love them, I can stomach it. However, I still don’t get the Eucharist, Mary, or the Pope. You’ve got some ‘splaining to do.”
Considering how much this girl got metaphor, the Eucharist barrier was the first to tumble: God loves us so much that it’s completely intimate. He loves us so much that he won’t just die on a cross for us. He literally will go through $h1t for us. It’s a no-brainer. The Eucharist is Jesus. No other Christian faith teaches that with such clarity and reverence.
The Pope was next: every play needs a director, and her life was plays at the time. Easy-peasy. Not like this:
The Mary thing was tougher. Human moms are unrealistically held up as the height of perfection. Mary was just another human mom, so what’s the point? Funny enough, this girl was reading one of the most anti-Catholic novels every to be written just as she was struggling with this idea of Mary being a sinless intercessor for us with Jesus. Goddess worship abounded. But Mary couldn’t be God. There’s only one God. But upon closing the book, this girl virtually heard God say, “What makes you think I would leave you without a mother?”
“Oh, crap,” she thought. “I guess I really am Catholic.”
So by junior year, she poured the cultural Kool Aid down the drain, made several decent confessions, and accepted the Body and Blood of Jesus. Peter’s great confession, “To whom else could we go, Lord?” sounded in her head more like, “If there were somewhere else to go, Lord, believe me: I’d be there. But you’re Truth, so I’m stuck.”
There was still one thing, though, that took a few more years to take, something she only learned while practicing True Catholicism. It was the value of suffering. She had suffered much in her life, and becoming Catholic did nothing to ease that. It did, however, give it meaning. Other faiths teach that suffering is to be avoided, ignored, or passed on to others (especially if you’re counting Western individualism as a religion). Catholicism is the only faith that teaches that suffering has meaning and value and can be accepted with love for God and for others.
Suffering means that God loves us so much that he wants us to know the agony of his own heart. It’s not about winning heaven, like some twisted martyr complex. It’s about having faith and hope that we are loved in a relationship, that we get to give, not just receive. We have the honor of loving God back.
So, yeah. I’m that girl. And, crap, I guess that girl’s Catholic. Still. So, however reluctantly most days, I run to God.
What’s more amazing is that he runs to me right back.
Why do you stay Catholic, when everybody else is leaving? Blog it, and let Elizabeth Scalia know by tweeting at her @TheAnchoress.
Your GIFs crack me up, as does your choice of a song. And your story–well, that just blew me away. Glad you’re here. Glad you stayed. Glad you told us why, because I think there are people who will be better off for having read this.
I hope so, but there’s also great comfort in the humility of knowing that not many people read my blog!
Your reply above made me laugh! I take comfort in that humility as well (with my own blog, of course). What drama – which based on you interests, seems apropos. There’s a beauty in how God finds each of us according to our needs, our passions, and at exactly the right time.
Yeah, well, when you’re in it for The Truth, humility isn’t far behind. Thank you for your kind words!
I always find it interesting when anyone who’s a member of a group that an organization teaches is inferior (whether that organization is a church or anything else) stays with that organization anyway, rather than simply striking out and finding the comfort, structure, or whatever in something that doesn’t also consider that person to be less than. To the specific point here, I often question why anyone female or anyone on the LGBT spectrum would support the Roman Catholic Church. But, of course, there are many and probably many of those people are working hard within the church to change the organization into one that recognizes the value of all people. But I also believe that people should embrace anything in this difficult world that makes them feel better, as long as they’re not hurting others (or themselves) in the process. So I’m glad your Catholicism gives you such comfort in your life, while also wishing that your church didn’t hate women and LGBTs , didn’t protect pedophiles, didn’t insert itself into politics, and had a more realistic view of science and human sexuality. I am full of conflict about religion having seen the good, growing up in the Presbyterian Church and drawing strength from that, but also witnessing the disturbing theology on display from most conservative-leaning churches today.
Hence, my friends, “the just don’t make me Catholic” thing.
This is the third (I think?) time you’ve volleyed an engagement with me on this topic over the years. I’ve never really engaged back, because I can’t really discern your motivation: To understand? To convert? To shame?
It’s to understand. It’s not my business to convert anyone to anything or shame anyone about anything. Everyone’s got their baggage. I appreciate reading your perspective and appreciate the opportunity to offer mine. I love that many people find comfort in religion and envy that in some ways. But I do wish that religion also wasn’t the cloak used to camoflage bigotry and corruption, as is so often the case, and always has been. I find it difficult to separate those things and take the good while ignoring the bad; it’s easier to just chuck the whole thing and start again. It’s increasingly difficult to ignore the negative aspects of religion when those screaming the loudest are those whose perspectives are anathema to my experience in the world. This wasn’t the case when we were kids. People were allowed to have different ideas without religious beliefs informing absolutely everything and without one side demonizing the other because they believe differently. Public discourse in the 21st Century depresses me because it is no longer two (or more) sides arguing different ideas based on a set of facts. It’s one side arguing facts and another arguing beliefs and, of course, beliefs can’t be swayed by fact and facts shouldn’t be swayed by beliefs, so we can’t ever get anywhere. Anyway, this is a very long-winded way of trying to explain why I engage. I admire your belief and your ability to believe while also maintaining a healthy and sane perspective on your beliefs. I hope I haven’t caused offense; that really wasn’t my intention.
Long-winded or not, certainly one of the more generous and thoughtful replies I’ve read on the subject, so thank you. If you do want to understand, I’ve often wanted to share Jennifer Fulweiler’s A Conversation With My Gay Friend. I’ve not read it yet but it’s on my list to read Gay and Catholic by Eve Tushnet, a gay convert to Catholicism. [And I hope the HTML I coded into this reply actually works, as I’ve not coded out HTML in many a long year.]
Erin, thanks for the links, which did, indeed, work. I’m curious about Ms. Tushnet’s book and will try to track down a copy to read what she has to say. I also very much enjoyed the essay by Jennifer Fulweiler. In my limited experience with it, it does seem like she articulates the Catholic viewpoint well. I liked that she limited her response to the question that she was asked by her friend, which was “What do you think of gay marriage,” rather than taking on the larger question of should marriage equality be the civil law of the land. The distinct difference between civil marriage as a right and responsibility granted by our government and religious marriage as espoused by the Catholic Church doesn’t come into her thinking here, nor should it. That’s both a larger and a smaller question and wasn’t the point of her essay. I would be curious to read her response had her friend’s question been “Should all people be treated equally under the law, even if doing so conflicts with the religious beliefs of some?” On a personal note, my issues with organized religion (not just Catholicism) run deep and wide and involve many issues, not just this particular one, and, like many others, are informed by my childhood, my life experience, my family, and current events. I try to hold myself open to opposing viewpoints, but find it hard to accept any viewpoint that is predicated on one person being lesser than another, simply based on gender, sexual orientation, race, or religion.
Turning 75 in 2 months, I will probably remain Catholic — but as a curmudgeonly gray beard who returned to the church again, after two separate decade-long absences, in May 2001. With my usual good timing, this was just before the sexual abuse scandal broke open. A young adult during Vatican II, I felt very at home in the short ecumenical era. When this faded away, I did too, in the late ’60s, my first agnostic-secular humanist period. I returned in the late ’70s in a parish with a very liberal Christ-like pastor about 5 years older than I. For a while I was very religious, going to both the Catholic church and to the Lutheran church with my wife, then to just the Lutheran church; I was a Commonweal Lutheran. Then a fade away again until my unintentional return in 2001.
The end of 1999, I played in a brass choir at a millennial ecumenical multi-church service bringing in the new century. After a period of trying unsuccessfully to meditate in a Buddhist fashion, I happened to read an article about prayer beads. I researched possibilities. Eventually I decided to use beads I was familiar with. At first it was very embarrassing, even alone in our spare room, kneeling and praying the Rosary. But it helped with distractions. I didn’t pay attention to the words; just said them.
I should have know better. Eventually, gradually, imperceptibly, my reservations and disagreements with the church seemed more and more trivial. I returned to my parish, went to confession with Father Paul. He has since retired, but I’m still there. I am heartened by Pope Francis. As a recently retired psychotherapist, I was especially struck by the significance and the necessity of his naming the church’s misdirection: its obsession with abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage. That was the Holy Spirit speaking. Francis may back track or move away from these words. But they were spoken. It is up to us in the church to give up obsessions and to live the gospel of love, mercy, forgiveness and non-judgment.
Thanks for visiting. I do encourage you to check out what Francis said, how he used the word “obsession” in context.
Erin, I love your story and I really just want to be your new best friend. Because you’re Catholic, sure, and you get how hard it is. We all need friends like that. But really, I just want to watch Firefly with you. Is that needy and weird?
Honey, after you read this post, you think needy and weird are gonna scare me? Which episode should we start with?
Hello Erin, I just found your blog through a link at The Anchoress. I like the way you write. And, since I’m really trying to cut down on the amount of time I spend on the computer, I naturally bounced around several more of your posts. If I give it two weeks, I might think of the words to convey how much (I don’t know…depth, love, healing?) your posts have touched my soul. Suffice it to say, you’ve got a new follower.
Kathryn, thank you so much. That means more to me than anyone could possibly imagine.
I truly enjoyed reading your story. Truth, Natural Law, Suffering. …yes to all of them.
Thank you! It was hard to post, so your encouragement is a gift.
Reblogged this on Erin McCole Cupp and commented:
Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum posted her conversion story (http://thisaintthelyceum.org/my-conversion-story/) and asked for others’, so consider this my 7QT for the, um, month. Happy Triduum & Joyous Easter!
I’m just here for the Firefly references.
Reader makes a comment like that… you know she’s not afraid of anything.