Saturday, September 02, 2006

I Was Robbed! - Part Three

Let me back up here and fill in some details. Shortly after I graduated college, I became engaged to Dean Miller, a nice agnostic Jewish boy (so much for my attempts to find a Catholic husband!). My identity as a Catholic was strong enough that I had come to this relationship with certain non-negotiables: I would never get married outside the Church, and any children of mine would be baptized and raised Catholic. Dean (who, ironically, attended a Catholic high school) respectfully and unselfishly agreed to my conditions, and we were married a year later in a Catholic church by my childhood priest.

Over the next four years, I gave birth to three beautiful babies. As you might imagine, this provided me with any number of excuses for not going to Mass on Sundays, and almost never on holy days. Of course, when one does not understand what takes place during the Mass, it is easy to become lax about attending. During those years, I lived in two major cities and had done a bit of "church-hopping," trying to find a parish I liked. I became disillusioned by the seemingly endless (and lame) attempts to make the Mass "hip" and entertaining. All of the hand-holding, applauding, trite songs and political correctness was a monumental turn-off for me. I felt no reverence, no awe; there was nothing in these Masses to snap me to attention, to take me out of myself and focus my mind and heart up to God in His Heaven. I wasn't "getting anything out of it." (Like so many others, I did not fully comprehend that one doesn't go to Mass to "get something out of it" -- one goes to worship God.) When I did get myself to church, I felt as if I were "putting in my time," mechanically fulfilling an obligation. I often ducked out right after Communion.

Because I was raised to never miss Mass, I felt guilty for skipping it so often (as well I should have, considering the gravity of the sin!). I half-teasingly blamed Dean for my not getting to church, but he wouldn't let me get away with such scapegoating. He and I knew I had no one but myself to blame. Though my actions were inexcusable, allow me once again to explain my state of mind during these years. I had grown up in a culture that had, with amazing rapidity and nonchalance, thrown all of the old value systems out the window. Nothing was sure and eternal anymore, and it had gradually become unacceptable to believe in a right and wrong. The idea of sin was deemed positively medieval, and "morality" became a dirty word. "Getting one's needs met" was the focus of each individual's personal growth, with the question being, "What's best for me, and what makes me comfortable?"

Of course, Christ's message to the world is exactly the opposite. We Christians must die to self, take up our crosses in suffering and sacrifice, and do the will of our Heavenly Father. The Catholic Church in America seemed to me to have forgotten this message, and was all too eager to fit right in with the culture. Instead of the Church going forth in courage to influence and change the world, the world was influencing the Church. Worshipping and glorifying God seemed to take a back seat to worshipping and glorifying ourselves. I knew enough about Christ's message to recognize that a serious gulf existed between what the Pope and the Bible were saying and what American Catholics were hearing. At some point, the American Church and the world became almost indistinguishable in my eyes.

Case in point: The only moral challenges given to the faithful from the pulpit were (and are) calls to help the poor, or admonitions against racism and sexism. But it was obvious to me that every good atheist, pagan or non-believer out there was saying the same thing. So why bother being a Christian? Why get out of bed on Sunday morning and go to Mass when I could turn on any news program or TV series and get the same message? Young Americans generally are sensitive to social justice issues, since we've been immersed in a culture that never ceases to speak out on such things. To this day, when I hear yet another social justice homily, I want to yell out: "We get it! We get it! But what we never hear about is the need for personal morality! For repentance! For conversion! For holiness! What we don't understand is our Faith! Teach us! Challenge us! Help us get to Heaven!" Have too many leaders of the Catholic Church in America forgotten that their mission is to save souls?

The abuses and trials one must endure at Mass today are legendary among the faithful, and it was just such instances which helped fuel my estrangement from the Church. For example, I have been at Masses where I have been driven to distraction as I read the words of Sacred Scripture in a missalette while the lector read a distorted "inclusive language" version of the same text. My intelligence has been insulted as I've witnessed the disappearance of words like "brothers" and "men" from both liturgy and song -- apparently the political correctness police have decided that I as a woman am either too stupid or too fragile to understand that such words include me, too. I have sat through an Easter Mass where the priest donned a bunny suit for a homily/skit, and balloons were tied to the pews. And I have sat with my mouth hanging open as I heard one priest use that morning's gospel reading to condone homosexuality. After a while, it didn't seem worth it anymore; I could no longer see the point to attending Mass. Looking back, it is clear that I had lost respect for the Catholic Church.

Which brings me back to my flirting with the idea of leaving for a Bible church. I had listened to my friend Kim tell me about the powerful and courageous sermons she heard week after week at her non-denominational church. The pastor spoke out against the immorality that surrounded Christians today. He spoke of right and wrong, and he used Sacred Scripture to show his flock the proper way a Christian should conduct himself. The evangelicals at this church did not pretend to blend into the culture; they were fighting against it, in a loving, Christ-centered way. They kept their eyes on God. And the faithful were actually instructed in Christianity! Kim was attending Sunday services, weekly Bible study, a doctrine class and a Christian parenting class. She loved it because her soul was being fed, and for the first time she understood what it meant to be a Christian! What a contrast to what I was experiencing in my Catholic parish. No wonder a good portion of her church's congregation consisted of ex-Catholics -- young ex-Catholics like me, who were raising families.