Recently I read a friend’s blog that reflected on the various “seasons” of faith he has identified in his life. It caused me to do some reflecting of my own.
I was raised Catholic – twelve years of Catholic school, most of the instructors nuns, attending Mass every Sunday was obligatory, and quite often, we attended daily Mass. When I went away from home to college, the experience allowed me to visit churches of different faiths…but I continued to follow what was familiar.
My first reality check occurred when my husband-to-be and I began discussing marriage. To my astonishment, the priest told us that he wouldn’t marry us because of my fiance’s previous marriage that occurred in his teens (a marriage that lasted approximately one year). I had never been married! Why should I be punished by the Catholic church? I stopped attending church for a long time.
Years later, I returned to the Catholic church. Somehow, all those years of Catholic education had left their mark. I now refer to that as “Catholic guilt.” How well it had been ingrained!
Even more years later (and much to my husband’s credit, I might add), we began the process of annulment. The lengthy process finally completed, we would then be “allowed” to have our marriage blessed by the Catholic church. I dropped the matter. By that time, I had determined that it didn’t matter. The marriage had occurred – no one could erase that reality – but it had also been a step forward for him in his growth as a person.
I think that may have been the beginning of another phase for me – that of “cafeteria Catholic.” I began looking more closely at what I was expected to believe, and then to balance that with my own feelings. (This was no simple effort on my part. In Catholic school we were always told what to believe. I do not recall ever discussing or debating a matter in school, being encouraged to ask questions, or to disagree. Thus, this was a step forward for me in making choices.)
When a beloved pastor retired and moved from the area, his replacement simply didn’t measure up. I became more critical. The bishop of the diocese then added his expectations to the mix and all Catholic churches within any reasonable driving distance were expected to conform. I found there were many more things to which I objected, and I began seeking another church home.
In my search I discovered a man who gave wonderful sermons. By this time, I had determined that, for me, the overall message was something I needed to hear. As a result of being drawn back again and again for this pastor’s messages, I made new friendships, was offered employment, was encouraged to read the bible, and developed greater involvement in a church setting than I had ever had previously. This experience helped me to realize that community is also of great importance to me.
Next, a judgment call (and what turned into some bad publicity for this local church) pushed me a step further. A man in the parish who had been very active in church activities (lector, choir, parish council), but who had also not kept it a secret that he was gay, was suddenly told by the church pastor that he could no longer participate in the above-mentioned church activities – because he had had a commitment ceremony with his partner of 30 years! I remembered the words of one of the hymns I had sung in this very church: “All are welcome in this place.” Really???? It was at this point I decided I no longer wished to have any affiliation with this church.
Today I feel as though I have entered a new era in my religious journey. I have concluded that all religions are man-made, thus susceptible to human failings. I have begun reading the bible. So far, nowhere have I seen any admonitions that I have to be a Catholic, Lutheran, Buddhist, or Muslim. Rather, I have seen Jesus’ words: “Love one another.” Although I have yet not made a commitment to any church membership, I feel that I have found a church family and a community that I can respect and support. I have decided that I am choosing to “love one another” and to spread the gospel by example. Though I do not know where my journey will next take me – for now – I am satisfied that this is sufficient.