Ash Wednesday…

I am Catholic.

When people ask me what religion I am, that is what I tell them.  The truth is…I haven’t been a practicing Catholic in years.

I was raised Catholic.  My parents weren’t religious, but they thought it was important that my brother and I have a solid religious background.  Also…the public school where we lived was terrible.   So I went to Catholic school and I was taught by priests and nuns.  I had religion class every day.  I read the Bible.  I went to mass every week…and in high school I went twice a week.  I was a member of the CYO and my friends and I would sometimes hang out at the rectory on the weekends.  I believed in the Church and everything they taught me.

Then something happened…something really ugly and horrible.  A priest that we’d all been very close to…and who had disappeared from our parish a few years before…was suddenly on the news.  He was in jail for abusing a teenage boy.  He’d been doing inappropriate things for a long time and the Church covered it up…moved him from parish to parish…didn’t get him the help he so clearly needed…and at least one kid has to live with those actions for the rest of his life.

That shook me and the foundations of my belief in the Church crumbled.  I never lost my faith in God…but I no longer believed in the Church.  That was about 17 years ago and since then, I haven’t voluntarily attended a Mass…weddings and funerals only.

But lately, I’ve found myself longing for Mass…longing to be a part of a church again.  It’s something I’ve been struggling with…because I’ve developed many beliefs over the years…on things like gay marriage and a woman’s right to choose and divorce…that don’t quite mesh with the teachings of the Church.  Doesn’t saying I’m a Catholic and then picking and choosing what I believe make me a hypocrite?  A fake?  A fraud?

Yes, I think it does.  But that doesn’t make me want it any less.

So what is the answer…do I continue to shun the Church?  Do I do what has been suggested to me and find a different religion that more closely matches my personal beliefs?  Do I go back to the Church and pick and choose what I want to believe?

I don’t know the right answer, but today is Ash Wednesday and I’m going to spent the next weeks of Lent trying to figure it out.  It seems a much better use of Lent that giving up chocolate or soda…especially since I can never really stick to those things anyway.



  1. I had a very similar religious upbringing as yours. I went to Catholic elementary school and, although my high school was public, I went to church 3 times a week when I was a teenager. When I got to college I was free to not have to go to church anymore and I didn’t. It was in college that I met a lot of people from differing faiths.

    Growing up, I’d known people of different denominations of Christianity but nothing really outside of that. In college, I was able to have real discussions with people of differing religions and I learned a lot.

    The religion you choose to practice or believe is a choice. For me, I couldn’t just go with what I’d grown up with just because it was all I knew. I didn’t want to “inherit” something as important as my faith. I did research on various religions — Hinduism, Scientology, Buddhism, Mormonism, Kabbalah — and about 7 years ago, I converted to Buddhism, a choice I made after careful consideration.

    So I say do some research. You may find there is another religion that totally supports your views so you don’t have to pick and choose which parts you agree with and which ones you don’t. Or you may find that Catholicism is where your heart and remain Catholic. Or you may decide that organized religion in general just isn’t your thing. But at least you’ll be making an educated decision.

    Whew, a comment about religion. Heavy stuff, man. I hope nothing I wrote was offensive. Religion is such a touchy subject.

  2. I just read something yesterday about how Lent is just as much about taking on something (a good habit or pursuit) as putting off something.

    I’ve never practiced Lent–it wasn’t something Baptists were into–but these days I don’t actually *pracice* much. I veer towards the “spiritual but not religious designation” these days, but I do understand that yearning for the rituals inherent in an organized religion.

    If you just can’t reconcile your beliefs with Catholicism, maybe create your own rituals and practices that fit best. Giving it a title is just so that other people know what category to put you in. Make up your own :)

  3. I don’t think that picking and choosing what you believe is hypocritical at all and I’m going to tell you why in a babbling Brooke kind of way.

    Not one Christian religion in this world follows the Bible, which the religion is founded upon, to the very last letter. Every religious sect of Christianity picks and chooses what it emphasizes. Christians focus – IMO – on the “mission” and the saving. Catholics focus on the ritual. None of them follow everything, so I feel that if a religion can pick and choose what it’s going to enforce, why can’t you?

    What’s most important is that you have FAITH, which I strongly believe is different than religion. What’s also important is living your life in a Christ-like way. Are you a good person to those you meet? Are you fair and compassionate and kind? Are you forgiving and understanding? That’s what’s important.

    I also believe many of the beliefs of the Church (I grew up Catholic, too) are somewhat (or maybe not so somewhat) archaic. The stances on birth control and divorce don’t take into account modern life, the sexual liberation of women and the LGBT community, and modern ideas and needs of families. Those things are happeneing in societyy whether the church chooses to accept it or not. Parents no longer need 7 boys to work their farm. Family size today is dictated by affordability and desire. While I still believe that people turn to divorce far too easily, sometimes (like in cases of spousal abuse) it is justified. The Church we grew up in would rather a woman suffer indignity at the hand of her husband than demonstrate strength and a healthy relationship to her children.

    My point is, I don’t think you have to believe in everything your church teaches because some of it just hasn’t caught up to us. Instead, I urge you to give yourself permission to focus on having a meaningful relationship with God within the church (if you so choose), no matter which church that is.

  4. This is a tough call. Actually just yesterday I left a comment on Ally’s blog telling her what I liked most about Buddhism is the ability to pick/choose the teachings you’d like to follow. That’s the problem I have with all other religions. If they were more a la carte, I imagine I’d be much more open to trying them all! Well, not all, but many others.

    Anyway, I think using this time to figure out what religion/Catholicism mean to you is a fine way to spend Lent. I actually have felt the same way lately. Though I attended church with my family growing up (I was raised Protestant), my father was Jewish and we still celebrate the high holidays. It’s a tough thing, but maybe now that we’re a bit older and can freely go to a church/synogogue of our choosing, we feel that urge?

  5. Also, I agree 100% with Brooke. Faith is, in the end, what’s most important.

  6. I agree with Brooke, too. Faith is what’s important, not how stringently you follow the rules. God knows my heart, and that’s more important to me, personally, than what “the church” or my religion tells me I should do.

  7. Getting deep. I don’t really have any good solid advice for you but I do experience the same things. I have been a part of a Methodist Church since I was a kid and I’ve always had a hard time just going along with all the teaching of any religion. I find that religion is a very personal thing in that each person finds it, practices it and believes in it in different ways even sometimes when they are part of one big religion.

  8. The reasons you posted having a hard time with going back and feeling like a fraud are the same things Mike struggles with. We constantly spend our weekends partying and having fun and well, I guess sinning. Heck we lived out of wedlock for 7 years before marrying. His issue was he hated going to services only to leave feeling like he was a horrible person because he didn’t fit into that perfect picture of what his church painted as a good Christian. Needless to say I never attended church regularly but I’ve been to lots of services with friends, former boyfriends and my mother when she was alive. I want to feel good about me, the moral choices I make in life and know I’m not a bad person. I had a hard time with his church, and their teachings [won’t name the religion I don’t want to offend anyone] I just knew it wasn’t for me. I will go at Easter, and Christmas if his parents insist but I think they have since understood that it’s not that we don’t like church, it’s the fraud feeling we are dealing with. All the examples you mentioned are ones we all feel the same about, and it’s rough to find a place that will openly accept all of that.

    Keep me posted on what you do, maybe together we can find a place to have our faith again. ox For now I’ve followed my heart, and tried to live a life that I can feel 100% comfortable with that I’m not hurting others in the process… I hope.

  9. Look at all of these comments you’ve generated Miss – must be a great post! Oh Catholicism. I feel you. It’s a confusing and contradicting bag of tricks. As you know, I too was raised Catholic and consider myself Catholic. It was important to me to be married in the Catholic Church and the Boy and I have discussed having our kids Baptized and going to church somewhat regularly.
    Here’s my thinking. Religion, doesn’t matter which one you choose is going to have parts that you agree with and parts that you don’t. Short of making up your own, you are probably going to always feel like a bit of a hypocrite. I remember years ago when Canada was legislating Gay Marriage at a Federal level, we were at church for Christmas and in the prayers of the faithful they prayed for our Government leaders that they will govern with morality or some bullshit. I chose not to repeat “Lord Here our Prayer” to that one. When I told my family afterward I found out none of us responded to that one. We laughed at our quiet rebellion.
    Here’s my thinking. Religion is such a personal thing, and the physical building or the avenue through which you practice it – is just a vehicle. How you practice is not for anyone else, the Pope included, but you. So, do what feels right for you.

    Also there’s a great podcast from Dan Savage on this very topic, his and his mother’s conflicting feelings with the Catholic church being an openly gay man. I loved it. I think I heard it on This American Life, and since I’m currently listening from the beginning I’ll let you know when I hear it again.

    Either way, happy Lent! Woah, this was a long comment. Happy weekend.

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