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.