“I am aware of the many ways the Church has failed me, and I have failed her. Yet I claim this Church as mine. She is my mother; my home. A broken home, yes! Broken because you and I are broken.”
Sister Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB
To my family and friends:
Instead of a Christmas or other Holiday card this year, I thought I would send a letter of reflections from my own “up-and-down” experiences with the Church I love and am part of.
Most of you know that, in 2005, I returned to the Roman Catholic Church after 35 years of being within other branches or expressions of Christianity. In April of 2006, more than 3 decades years later than my high school classmates, I was confirmed, and many of you were there to cheer me on during that very meaningful day in my life. I will always and ever be thankful for your presence that evening.
I suppose I thought at that time that I had finally arrived somehow, and would no longer struggle with faith issues. But that was not to be the case. Ironically it was as I began to study more in-depth, beyond the childhood Baltimore Catechism I had learned from, or the adult “refresher” classes dealing with the basics of the Faith that I had taken in preparation for Confirmation (otherwise known as RCIA or Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), I started to dig deeper into Church history and at times found events in our past, and even present, which troubled me greatly. And sometimes still do.
Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman once said “Ten thousand difficulties do not equal one doubt” and I believe he was correct in that assessment. However it is a fine line between asking tough questions and entertaining doubts, and I have more than once fallen into that miry pit of confusion which goes beyond simple or even complicated questioning. And I can only say that abyss of skepticism is not a fun place to live within.
Two years ago, for around 6 months, and again this summer, for an additional 4 months, I separated myself from active Roman Catholicism and during those periods I attended another fine, but not Roman Catholic, parish in my area. Rather than becoming overly theological, I will just say I left Rome because I was greatly disturbed at behavior I was learning of, both with other laity and also in some cases amidst the Catholic leadership/hierarchy as well. Then, going back to history as I mentioned above, I in both cases saw ample examples of questionable practices that had taken place over the centuries, whether horrors such as burning people at the stake, unwarranted arresting of people for heresy or confiscating lands of peasants, and many other such outrages in the Church’s 2000 years. Looking towards today, in our recent modern times there have been numerous cover-ups regarding the sexual abuse of minors by a clear non-majority but still significant group of priests and bishops, and at times a seeming absence of empathy or concern for those from my own background as an LGBT/SSA person. These too have saddened and frustrated me greatly.
All of these are indeed difficulties, and ones which I will not in any way minimize. But for reasons I cannot easily put into words, I keep returning, because, as Newman said (and here I freely paraphrase), doubtfulness should not be in the vocabulary of a person who truly and fully believes.
In saying that, neither he nor I would mean to suggest that painful questions will never exist or need to be asked. But separating historical or still current Church practices, even if at times horrendous and ill-informed, from actual official Catholic teaching or doctrine on issues of faith and morals (what we believe and how we should live out that belief), are two very different things in reality. And that sense of faith and hunger for objective truth is what keeps bringing me back.
This Advent, I started out again with the Sacrament of Reconciliation and made a fresh commitment to the Church of Christ as expressed through Rome. As the Sister quoted at the beginning of this letter lovingly stated, in reference to the Church, “She is my mother; she is my home.” I cannot explain it better than that.
Do I expect no more issues or struggles? Not on your life…I have long lost that naiveté and good riddance to it. But I believe my calling is to work within the “home” God has given to me, and that I can best live out my Christian Faith through her. So yet again I stand with Rome.
As already stated, my questions and concerns have not been primarily with established doctrines of the Church but rather with some, certainly not the majority, of her practices at times. And I am allowed that gift of questioning as a Catholic Christian. What I do with those questions is more to the point. And that, after all, is true with each of us, whether Catholic or other persons of faith, as well for those who are not believers for that matter.
We are each obliged to be true to our hearts, and, fight it or not, mine keeps calling me home to Catholicism, but more so, to following Christ wherever He may lead me in this fleeting life.
My wish for each of you is to have a wonderful and peaceful Holiday Season however you may choose to celebrate it. For me, that will most likely take place at the parish I recently registered with, Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in St Paul, MN, or else the Cathedral of St Paul (also in St Paul obviously), where I am still an associate member. Wherever or however you do so though, please know you will each be in my prayers and also my love. Take care all.
My new main parish, Nativity of our Lord, St Paul, MN…
PS—the linked booklet just below is something I read recently and has been quite helpful to me. It goes into more detail on some of the thoughts I have shared briefly here. Read it for what it may be worth. Again many blessings.
This is the parish where I was baptized as a Roman Catholic Christian on December 31, 1955, when I was just 7 days old…it was called Nativity of Mary and located in Waseca, MN…
- Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel…blessed Advent and Some News (catholicboyrichard.com)
- Pope to French bishops: ‘Religious ignorance…one of the gravest problems of our time’ (trusthismercy.wordpress.com)
- Prophecy & Utopia – Germany Urges Churches to Find Common Ground (disclose.tv)