All the talk of the Conclave of Cardinals, the election of a new Pope, and the unending news coverage of this historic Vatican event have gotten me thinking about the Catholic Church, my relationship with her and why I still profess Catholicism. As I’ve mentioned before I was born and raised Catholic. Of course my relationship with Holy Mother Church can best be described as troubled or perhaps conflicted is a better word. Our problems date back to 1963 when then Pope John XXIII and the second Vatican Council decided to try and bring the Church into the present. They made several changes but the two most prominent were the turning of the altar so that the priest, instead of having his back to the congregation, would be facing them, allowing parishioners to be more a part of the mass. The second change was the move from the traditional Latin mass to saying it in English.
I was an eighth grade, altar boy when the changes took effect in 1964 and I really had a hard time with them. Learning the Latin responses was difficult but a must if you wanted to be an altar boy, not everybody could. I’d studied long and hard to learn all the Latin responses, then just like that everything was in English. It was disappointing and seemed to lose something in the translation. The English mass was boring, it had no sense of fascination and wonder, and nothing magical or mysterious like in the Latin mass. I didn’t like anything about it. I missed the magic.
Several months later in September of 64 about two weeks into my freshman year at Bishop Amat HS, my religion teacher, a Sacred Heart priest, told us to forget all the hell fire and damnation religion that we’d been taught by the nuns and dismissed it as rubbish! He went on to tell us that the God of retribution who logged our every misdeed and repaid them with punishment that the nuns taught us about was the God of the Old Testament and that our God was the loving, forgiving God of the New testament. He also told us that if we were attending mass every Sunday for fear of going to hell, then we should just stop going! “God doesn’t want you there by force,” he told us, “He wants you there because you want to be there!” Can you believe that, a priest told a classroom full of 15 year old boys not to go to church! He didn’t have to tell us twice, needless to say several of us stopped going. Soon the 10:15 AM youth mass became the 10:15 AM swap meet, and we attended regularly.
Then late one fateful summer Saturday afternoon a naive and remorseful 18 year old, (me), made my way to St. Frances of Rome Church hoping to rid myself of the ton of guilt I was feeling, seeking solace and guidance in the darkness of the confessional. The remorse, a direct result of all the propagandism the nuns dished out back in grammar school, was eating me up. Once inside the confessional I had second thoughts and was going to leave, but at that moment the small opaque screen slide open. I said the obligatory prayers then shared what was on my mind. It felt good to get it all off my chest, all the feelings, thoughts and confusion.
My confessor had remained unusually quiet during my disclosure. As I waited for him to speak to me I could almost make out his face through the screen in the dimly lit center room. He didn’t look very happy. Finally he began speaking softly to me but I could detect a hint of anger. After a moment he got to the heart of the matter and asked me to make him a promise, a promise I wan’t sure I could keep or if I wanted to. That’s when I made the mistake of telling him how I felt about it. There was a moment of silence followed by what can best be described as a roar! That’s right he roared at me, and believe me, that’s exactly what it sounded like! I’m sure the people waiting outside the confessional got an earful. With that he told me to get out of the confessional! I guess I didn’t move quickly enough because the next thing I knew the confessional door flew open, he reached in, grabbed me by the arm and escorted out of the church. As he pushed me out the door he told me to come back when I was ready to keep his promise, not God’s promise, but his! Wow! Unbelievable, I went there looking for redemption and found rejection instead. did I forget to mention that my confessor was the pastor of our church? Go figure.
Needless to say I didn’t go back to Church for quite some time. A few years later I ran into an old friend who invited me to his wedding, Catholic of course. I wrestled for a week on whether to go or not and finally on the morning of the wedding decided to go. Best decision I ever made. Not only was the wedding incredible, but I was introduced to a side of the Church I had seldom seen, a true community of caring, loving faithful followers of Christ. I returned to church soon after and continued going for several years until once again the Church and I locked horns.
I could go on and on about my encounters with the Church bad encounter, good encounter, incredible priests, pompous overbearing ones, return to church, fall away again, but what’s the point, suffice it to say that the Catholic Church and I have had a real love-hate relationship. Believe me it’s been quite a journey, and though I’ve had plenty of good moments and found warmth and comfort in the arms of Holy Mother Church, the times I’ve detested, despised and disagreed with Her outnumber the good. Yet I continue to call myself Catholic because in spite of the personal adversity I’ve faced, the tarnished reputations and bad press She has received, I still believe Christ is there waiting for the moment when the Church will be restored.
I’ve been attending mass regularly for about two years now and am quite happy with my parish. Our pastor is an incredible person and a thoughtful, caring leader. Although our parish went south for awhile and lost sight of our true purpose, it is quickly becoming a community of faithful followers of Christ once again. I can only hope that one day the entire Catholic Church will be renewed and return to her former glory as well, the glory Christ originally intended for Her. Perhaps a new beginning is coming soon. We’ll have to wait and see. One can only hope.
Just a Thought…