Monthly Archives: December 2006

on communion and other rituals

When I first started going to the Catholic Church I was very put off by the fact that, although I had been baptized a Christian, I could not partake of communion in the Catholic Church unless I was Catholic. I felt that they were turning people away and being non-inclusive. They were the curmudgeon church. Grouchy, old, not accepting of outsiders, etc. Now that I have attended Catholic Church for about 8 years and have done a little more research on religion I have a new appreciation for the rituals of a faith.

I wondered if I would you feel the same if visiting a Mosque or a Jewish Temple and were not allowed to partake in some ritual? No, of course not, I would agree that these religions have certain rituals that are considered quite sacred and therefore reserved for the truly faithful of that faith. Well, that’s how communion is for the Catholics. This is a BIG deal for them. They believe that when the priest performs the Eucharist the bread actually transforms into the body of Christ. This is not minor. I feel that they have every right to politely request (because I’ve never seen any non-Catholic actually called out for taking communion in a Catholic church) that this ritual be reserved for those who truly believe.

If you think that because you are a Protestant and therefore a Christian you are should be able to take communion in the Catholic Church, you really need to brush up on your history. The Protestant Reformation was a big deal and there are huge differences between Martin Luther’s interpretation of religion and how one should practice it and the Catholic Church’s. I won’t go into the history lesson here but there’s a great course on the subject. [See Luther: Gospel, Law, and Reformation on the Course List page.]

I’ve also come to believe that it’s okay, even preferable to be selective. Going to church and participating in the traditions of that church is not something to be taken lightly. There should be activities reserved for those who have gone through a process that has brought them closer to their faith. This isn’t just a place to hang out on Sunday morning (or whenever you might go) and get a free drink. Someone told me once that although, he wasn’t personally devote he gave $20 to the church every week when he went with this family because he felt he should pay for the seat. My response, Stay Home! I would hate the idea of sitting in church with a group of people who just had nothing better to do. If you don’t want to get anything out of it then do the rest of us a favor and don’t come in the first place. God doesn’t need people to pay for their seats. He doesn’t need pity.

Then there’s the contrast the non-Catholic churches I’ve attended that latch on to any breathing thing. I feel suffocated at times with so many people pressuring me to attend a certain church because I went once. Religion, as I’ve said before, isn’t easy and if you think it is you’re doing something wrong. It’s okay to be confused and unsure and to struggle with the concepts – it’s deep stuff! I like that the Catholics require courses and have age specific rights of passage (so to speak) to help people along the path. This won’t ensure that they are Catholic forever, but they will most likely give religion a lot more thought than people who just join a church because everyone else is doing it.

So, every week at church when it’s time for communion I politely sit in my seat or go to the back of the church to wait for my kids. I don’t feel self conscious about it, I don’t feel embarrassed about it. I’m more than happy to acknowledge how important it is for them. And I’m secure enough in my own faith to feel no doubts about not converting to Catholicism.

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why i go to a catholic church

I go to mass at a local Catholic church almost every week. I’m not Catholic. I probably never will be Catholic. I was raised as, well nothing really. I can say I was baptized as a member of the Disciples of Christ Church where my father was the minister. But I can’t say that I was raised in any particular way as that would imply I had been taught something and reared with a particular notion of what it meant to be a Disciple of Christ, which I wasn’t. I was and am still not close to my father or step-mother, who is also a minister and was given no “inside scoop” on what this religion stuff meant.

I went to church maybe once or twice throughout my undergraduate and graduate years. I never quite understood what I was supposed to be getting out it; it was a hollow experience for me so I quit going. At age twenty-five I married a Catholic man; a man for whom faith was more important than it was for me. But even then we went to church only occasionally. I did not convert to Catholicism when we married mainly because I just didn’t feel it would be right given I had no strong feelings of faith.

When we had children, he wanted them raised in the Catholic Church. I was hesitant; but I couldn’t really offer a good alternative and I did want them to have a religious base. But was Catholicism the best base for them? I had a LOT of concerns about the Catholic teachings, their position on gays, women in the faith, abortion, etc. I was also more than a little resentful that they wouldn’t let me take communion unless I converted! I had grand notions of taking the kids too many different churches so they could sample each one, like picking their favorite flavor of ice cream. But that was easier said than done and we continued to dribble into mass and finally christened my son at age 3!

Nine years after we were married, my husband told me that he was gay. I can’t even imagine the internal religious conflict he experienced, I felt it and I’m not even Catholic. The main goal for us was to keep the inevitable divorce as friendly and smooth as possible for the children. And to that end one of the things we decided to do was to continue going to mass every week as a family unit. I wasn’t sure at the time how this would work out but I felt strongly that it was something we had to try and do.

For the first year after our separation and divorce it was difficult. It was hard to sit next to a person with whom you are experiencing an emotional roller coaster. There were days when I would decide not to go or he would decide not to and one of use would take the kids alone. We were getting better, but the consistency lagged. As I started dating it again felt awkward at times to sit in church with someone else. There were times I felt like I should take the kids to another church and introduce them to my protestant upbringing. After all, I wasn’t Catholic, why should I have to come here every week? But despite all that, I kept going – and I kept finding new things to be thankful for.

So today I sit in church with my son, daughter, ex-husband, his husband and a multitude of other people who no doubt wonder who belongs to whom. I’ve become comfortable with the fact that they won’t let me take communion – after all they have a right to determine what the truly Catholic can do. [Besides, I still can’t grasp the whole bread actually becoming the body of Christ.] I still don’t agree with all of the Catholic beliefs and rules, but there’s a lot of good too and every religion is going to have something I disagree with.

For my kids, church has become a very positive experience – it’s a time where they get to be with us – together. They get to see that divorce did not tear their family apart. We are certainly much more consistent about going to church than we ever were before. For this, I will continue to go to a Catholic church – it gives 2 parents and 2 children an opportunity to be thankful for each other in a situation that is typical fraught with pain and resentment.

Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt

I’ve never read an Anne Rice book until this one. My non-fiction bias kept me away. However, I was drawn to Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt because I am always interested in learning bout people’s decision to return to or renew their faith. Anne Rice wrote this book as part of her own journey back to her Catholic roots. It’s a first person account of Jesus as a 7 year old child. And as a mother of a 7 year old I was especially intereted in her rendention.

As her fans will already know she’s a writer who can suck you in to the world she’s created. I have just discovered this and thoroughly enjoyed this glimpse into one person’s thoughts on what Jesus’ life would have been like at this stage. It opened up new ideas for me and new ways of thinking about my often conflicted views of the man/God. It also gave me new ways to think about the figures of Mary and Joseph who are so often blank to me.

Christ the Lord gave me a greater understanding of why Mary’s immaculate conception is so important – not just because one who is without sin should give birth to the Messiah but because she will also have to raise this son. And it’s the rearing that really becomes the most important aspect – one that we don’t hear much about in the Bible.

I also loved the concept, and it had never occurred to me before, that Jesus didn’t know who he was. That his was a story of discovery, looking for his path – like we all are in some way. It seems obvious to me now that if God were to decide to have this son and experience life as a human through him, that he would have to do it all the way – not with some special knowledge of himself. That would not be as authentic an experience. And how much more powerful the crucifixion becomes when it happens to someone who has struggled so with his reality – when so much was still unknown for him yet he is still willing to die. A representation of his own leap of faith.

It’s a complex and controversial subject – Jesus as son of God and God himself. It’s one I have trouble with. Anne Rice’s book helps me better align these two sides of Jesus. Now hers is a work of fiction of course, but really could be called an interpretation; and one that has just as much plausibility as any religious scholars’. Her research is impeccable! If you read the book, don’t miss the Author’s Note as the end. Her own description of her renewal of faith and reason for writing the book are as touching as the book itself.

teaching kids about religion

I understand and completely agree with the notion that we should not be teaching religious theories in our science classrooms. But what about religion classrooms? Oh, that’s right we don’t have any… Well, a few in the parochial or other religious based schools. In which case, they are teaching the beliefs of that particular religion not a general understanding of the different religions of the world.

I’m floored when I meet adults who are amazingly ignorant to the very basics of religion – even their own. I’m not immune to this either mind you, I am often amazed and embarrassed at what I don’t know. Our religious knowledge is limited because unless you majored in religion in college most of us didn’t take a general course on the subject. And although there are opportunities to learn more about the particular religion each one of us has signed up for, where does the person who isn’t sure go for more information.

And more importantly, how can we teach our children early on the differences between religious groups so that they can grow up with more understanding and hopefully compassion than the generations before them? How can we offer a broader more universal understanding of what Religion is? There’s really no where to turn.

In my opinion, religion is one of those things that if you think it’s easy, you’re probably doing it wrong. [I have the same philosophy on parenting by the way.] My children are just now at the age where they ask questions about what they hear and learn in church or at the religious schools they attend. I was frustrated by how best to give them a balanced, yet solid answer. Of course that’s impossible, and it was muddled by the fact that I’m still in my own learning path. These were not questions that I had “right” answers too.

What I came to realize was that by helping them understand how difficult these questions are to answer I am paving the way for them to feel more free to ask and question what they learn. When they enter their own path to faith I want them to do it with eyes open and with a better understanding than I had growing up of what Religion is and how different people’s beliefs can be. And that ultimately there is not one “right” answer for everyone.

I would love to see a History of Religion course to be taught in middle school or high school or even as a required undergraduate college course. This would not be a course proposing validity of any one religion. It would simply relate what scholars of different religious philosophies believe and why. Provide a history of how different religions have evolved. To give kids a basic understanding of the principles of what different religions believe would be invaluable.

Considering that religion one of the most controversial and bloody subjects throughout history I would hope we would want to avoid that by educating our children more comprehensively.
I can guess some of the arguments that would be made against this. How could you ensure that it would be presented in a balanced light? How much time would you focus on each religion to be fair? Would you have to cover EVERY religion and wouldn’t that be impossible? Could you even give enough information to develop a good understanding without simply offering a very shallow glimpse? Yes, these are all factors to consider. But every subject has a depth that is never fully covered. That doesn’t mean we shy away from giving children some basic understanding. This is not a subject that we can ignore.

I think one fear is that kids will no longer believe what their parents are trying to instill in them or that they will become confused. Probably in some instances this would happen. But if someone claims to be a certain religion only because they don’t know anything else is it really based on faith? Why not teach our children to ask questions, to seek out more answers? I turned away from religion until I started asking. It strengthened rather than weakened my beliefs – and no one was more surprised than me. We might actually be doing more harm than good by keeping too quiet on a topic that demands understanding in this day and age. Understanding in the sense of where seeing where someone else is coming from. You don’t have to agree, but you have to ask the questions.

beginning the journey

What does it mean to be a religious person? I would have defined it as someone who believes in God, goes to church, prays, maybe makes charitable contributions of time or money – something like that. And all those things probably do apply. There was a time that I would have qualified under that definition. The problem was I didn’t really feel like a religious person. I wasn’t sure what faith felt like. I can remember sitting in church looking around the room wondering if all those people were getting more out of the experience than I was. If there is a moment to pinpoint when my journey began, that would be the most concrete.

Despite my very minister filled family, there was a profound lack of knowledge on my part of even the basics of religion. I wanted to “get it”, whatever “it” was. I had no clue how to start my own journey of faith, so I did what I always do, I started studying. This will come as no shock to those who know me. I would be a professional student if I could afford to quit my day job. As a lover of history, I picked up a book that I was sure would answer all my questions. – A History of God, by Karen Armstrong (no need to start small!). It took me three years to finish it. But when I did I was hooked. I was a bone dry sponge soaking up everything I could. [By the way, if you haven’t read anything by Karen Armstrong I recommend ALL of it.]

A History of God didn’t answer all my questions. If anything it left me with more. But it opened up concepts and ways of looking at things that I had never considered before. Not because they are such unique concepts per se; it’s just that I had never been taught anything. I had never been challenged to really understand the subject of religion. In my younger years that made me shy away from the topic. I had no clue how to even have a mild discussion on the subject without feeling ignorant.

To my surprise and glee, I discovered that the more I studied the more connected I felt to God and this thing called faith. That’s when I realized that there isn’t one thing to “get” about whatever religion you practice. It’s a constant journey, a constant path that must be nurtured in each individual’s way. Sitting in church was not nourishment for me. It still isn’t, but it serves another very important purpose. Continually learning and reading is how I nurture my relationship with God.

The feelings of closeness to my faith and my God have waxed and waned during this time. The first time I doubted my new found faith I was fearful that I had lost something I thought I had figured out. Now I take it as an opportunity for deeper understanding. I welcome the challenging parts knowing that I will come out on the other side so much more enlightened. I also understand that it won’t be the last time that happens. That same philosophy applies to any obstacle (physical, emotional, work, family, etc.); it is something to be embraced and met head on because the faster I deal with it the faster I will be in a much better place.

Today I sit in church not because I feel I have to to be considered a good religious person and not because I expect to learn great things from the pulpit (although sometimes that does happen). I’m there because it’s a time for me to reflect on how I’ve impacted the world around me and what I can improve upon. And a time to remember to be incredibly thankful for what I have. I have gone from being a very skeptical almost cynical Christian to one that, still with a huge journey in front of her, has no doubt of her own faith. All thanks to a book.