Religion & Politics

Okay, this is going to be long. I’ll be amazed if anyone makes it to the end! I don’t even know how to concisely convey what I want to, so it won’t be short and sweet – bear with me. It’s religion and politics in my life. It’s no less complicated because it’s my life. If anything there is more gray rather than less. I just need to put all of this out there. Make of it what you will.

Being raised Catholic we went to church every Sunday. Our family never missed unless we were on vacation. From early on I noticed that my dad never received communion, but he was always there with us. When I was about 8, shortly after I received my first communion, I remember asking my dad why he didn’t receive communion. He was raised in a large Catholic family and attended Catholic schools through graduation. It didn’t make sense to me why he was always going yet never fully “participated”. His reply was something to the effect of it being a conversation for when I was older. My brother and I continued on in CCD (religious education) through our childhood and adolescent years until we made our Confirmation in 10th grade. After confirmation, I continued to accompany my mom to church most weekends. When I went away to college a couple of years later I wasn’t going at all. Around Easter I felt the desire to go to mass in the college town. To put it mildly, I wasn’t the perfect fit in that small town, and I never felt it more acutely than attending mass that Sunday morning. It was like I was a stranger, an outsider.

It was a long time before I went back to mass – aside from when I was home for major holidays. I first went back to mass after my oldest was born. I went for Ash Wednesday. At that point I had decided that I wanted her to be baptized. I couldn’t really explain why I wanted this, but I did. I started attending mass alone with B. Tim wasn’t raised with religion, and I didn’t want to push Catholicism on him.

Tim was active duty at the time, and one of the post’s priests was very “old school”. When we went to the pre-baptism class, he lectured us. This priest essentially said that if you came from a broken home, there was no hope for your own marriage. We left feeling sick. This was not the church I had fond memories of attending with my family. We stopped going at this point. We even went to Christmas mass at the local parish – where the priest essentially said that you weren’t welcome in church unless you came every week. I was floored and angry all over again.

Then a new priest transferred to our post. He was younger; he didn’t decide to go to seminary until he was in his late 20s. He did a lot as a young adult that gave him a certain amount of understanding and acceptance towards the military parish. He made me feel content and safe. I enjoyed hearing his sermons. I can’t remember any of them, but I felt he understood who he was preaching to. He actually married us into the church. It was a nice little ceremony. Our good friends were there along with some of the guys in Tim’s unit. It was our friends’ actual anniversary, so we went out to lunch together afterwards to celebrate.
When we moved after Tim got out of active duty, we started to attend the local church in our town. It was a nice parish. It was a few months before we heard the cry of fundraising for the school. The part I had trouble with was what they were doing. They were planning a road trip to Jackpot, NV to go gamble and drink – all in the name of raising money for the Catholic elementary school. This concept boggled my mind, and I had a hard time committing to attending this church. We went to mass probably once a month. We baptized our 2 younger girls in that church, but that parish never felt right.

When we moved home 2 years ago, (I can’t believe it’s been 2 years!) we started attending the same church I grew up in. It was comfortable to me. I enrolled B in CCD for her kindergarten year. Partly because she needed to get out since we were doing school at home. We have been attending fairly regularly over the past 2 years. B will make her first communion next spring. I’m excited about this as is she.

Now here is where the politics get involved. I don’t subscribe to a lot of the doctrines that Catholicism teaches, i.e. anti-choice, anti-gay, women not allowed to be priests. Those kinds of things I can’t agree on; I think some of these things is why my dad stopped participating and ultimately stopped going. My dad went to be a united front for us kids. I admire him for that. I want my kids to be exposed to CCD and the teachings that are taught there. The basics: be kind to those around you, those less fortunate than you, try to do good things. You know, follow “The Golden Rule”. That was the premise of the church I was raised in.

So with the election this year and how fiercely I am against the right-wing “Christians” taking over the GOP and wanting to limit the rights of the citizens of our country all in the name of being a good “Christian”, I was trying to come to terms with my attendance in church and my ill-defined faith in God.

Last Sunday the gospel was a reading from Matthew (20:1-16 to be exact). I’ve never felt a “connection” in my heart about what was said during sermons. I would listen and take it in, but I never felt that I heard my own voice…until Sunday. This reading is a story about a landowner who goes into town in the morning looking for workers to tend his vineyards. He finds some men, they agree on payment for a day’s work, and takes them back to his vineyard to work. The landowner goes out again and again throughout the day and finds more men who want to work. They don’t discuss how much payment will be, but landowner says come and work; and they go. So at the end of the day the landowner calls forth the men who worked in order from least amount of time to most. He pays the men he picked up last the same wage he agreed to pay the men he picked up first thing in the morning. When the landowner gets to the men who worked the whole day, the landowner pays them exactly what he paid everyone else. These men argued that it wasn’t fair because they did more work so they should get more than the person who worked for a short period of time. Here are verses 13-16:

“But he answered and said to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14’Take what is yours and go, but I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15’Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with what is my own? Or is your eye envious because I am generous?’ 16″So the last shall be first, and the first last.”

I had heard this story before, but the priest goes on to equate this to our world in the realm of social justice. Taking care of everyone. He said, “these men deserved a ‘liveable wage’ too.” Then he spoke of immigration and how that even though people who have come to America “late”, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be treated with respect. We need to treat others with respect because we can’t walk in their shoes and know where they have been in order to judge them.

I actually teared up at this point. My church, “my” priest was telling me that my feelings and concerns were valid within the church’s eyes. Maybe not all Catholic churches, but my church. For the first time I actually felt like I belonged in this church that I have attended over the past 20 years.

Last Saturday I read an article written by Fr. Andrew Greeley entitled “Why I’m Still A Catholic”. It is not the most succinct article, but it sums up why he believes people “hang on to” Catholicism even when they don’t agree with the doctrine that has come out of the Vatican or how it is implemented in different parishes. This introductory paragraph sums it up for me.

I am still a Catholic because of the beauty of Catholicism, beauty being truth in its most attractive form. It is the beauty of the images and stories of Catholicism which keep me in the Church, not the wisdom or intelligence or the virtue of the Church leadership. Beauty, truth in its most attractive form, is not weaker than prosaic truth but stronger.

I’ve never felt myself to be a very religious person. I don’t know my bible. I never took a bible study course. I have always almost wanted to hide it. I never wanted to push my faith on someone else. It was like politics in my house growing up, religion wasn’t really discussed. But as you can tell my faith was never really defined. I didn’t know if I fit in Catholicism or maybe another denomination would be a better fit. This one day helped heal my heart in a way.

But back to politics, my faith coincides with my politics. My faith is between myself and God. I don’t preach to people.

If anyone has noticed yet, my posts don’t have a natural ending to them. My thoughts just sort of end and I leave it at that. I don’t have the insight and wisdom to wrap it all up in a pretty package, but it is what it is.
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