Funny the World...


A simple faith, A quiet faith
Not complicated, something you feel
and that's the risk you take
when you pick a simple faith...

-Steve Schalchlin

April 10, 2000

Yesterday was Sunday. As usual, Walt went off to Mass and I stayed home. I was baptized and raised a Catholic. I even planned to enter the convent when I graduated from high school. This was no idle fantasy. I was really going--I had my room prepared at the Daughter of Charity Motherhouse in St. Louis, I sold all my records to my cousin, my trunk packed, and plane ticket had been purchased. But I was also dating a guy and the sisters thought that perhaps I wasn't quite ready and suggested I take six months to think it over. I never went. (Many's the time, when raising 5 small kids, that I would think "I could have been in a convent now!!!")

Walt and I met at the Newman Center, the Catholic Student Center at the University of California, Berkeley. We were married at a high Mass. Our kids were baptized there (except the one who was baptized at a home Mass). We were active at our parish churches. I sang in the choir, we went to Bible study together.

Where did it go wrong for me?

communion.jpg (29300 bytes)I never could accept the whole ball of wax, even as a child. Here I was in this church that was telling me that my father, not a very nice man, had a straight shot into Heaven because he was a Catholic, but my mother, who had never been baptized, but who was one of the best people I ever knew, didn't have a chance. Sorry. Does not compute. Even at 8 I could figure that out.

Then we started being the good Catholics that we were and began to multiply. Like rabbits. The kids are 16, 17, 17, and 19 months apart. There was a time when I had 3 in diapers and 2 nursing at the same time. But the Church told me God wouldn't give me more than I could handle. I wondered where God was the day I threw Ned down on his bed so hard and really wanted to throw him across the room. I saw the fear in my children's eyes when I became a screaming banshee because I never had any sleep, was always buried under a mountain of laundry, and simply could not handle the stress. It was my first daring act of defiance (well--except for that one time when I set foot inside a... gasp... PROTESTANT church!). I decided that there was this old, albeit venerable man in Rome who was telling me I had to take what God was giving me, and God was giving me a baby every year and a half. But the old man in Rome wasn't changing diapers or soothing crying babies, or dealing with tantrums. Nah--he had all sorts of folks to wait on him, and people bowing to him and that stuff. When the old man showed up at my door with his sleeves rolled up ready to wash a few poopie diapers, I decided, then I would listen to him about birth control. I marched myself to the nearest doctor who would give me an IUD. And I didn't regret it for a moment.

I continued to go the Mass, though, and to receive the sacraments even though by the strict letter of the law, I was now Living In Sin (oooooooo). I had taken the first step on the road to degradation. I also stopped going to confession, 'cause I'd have to tell the good padre that I was Living in Sin and I obviously wasn't sorry about it one bit. (There's something else about the machismo of the Catholic Church. I was living in sin because I was using an IUD, but my husband, 'cause he wasn't doing anything himself, was pure as the driven snow. Which group of men made that determination??)

The years passed. The kids made their First Communion, we moved to a new town, we went to Mass and church functions. We established ourselves as part of the Catholic community. Then Matt came along. Matt needed a place to stay and so he moved in with us for about 6 weeks. During that time he told me he planned to become a Catholic and he asked me if I would be his sponsor. We dutifully attended all the classes and became close to the other catechumens and their sponsors.

One woman was the most devout of the class. It had been her dream for years to join the Catholic church and as Easter, when they were to be baptized, approached, she was so excited she could hardly stand herself. Then one day, a week before Easter, she disappeared. She was no longer in the class. Why? They discovered that her husband had been married before and the Church would not permit her to be married to a divorced man. She was told she could not be baptized until she left her husband. This wasn't the worst of it, though. When the members of the class, justifiably confused, demanded an explanation, they were told, "It's a marriage problem; we'll explain it to you after your baptism."

Here they were asking these people to join a special club and they weren’t even giving them all the rules up front. First do all the joining stuff and then, when it’s too late to back out, we’ll let you read the fine print.

This killed a lot inside me. The bald faced hypocrisy of this religion (or perhaps just this pastor) at deliberately keeping from prospective members the full nature of the commitment they were about to make.

After Easter, I stopped going to Mass regularly. I was downright pissed. I still went to Mass, but not with the same attitude I had before. I still made my "Easter duty" (don’t go to Mass on Easter and you’re excommunicated is what they taught us in school.)

The final straw came with the decision of Vatican authorities to "permanently prohibit from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons" Sister Jeanine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent co-founders of New Ways Ministry. Over the years, I had developed very close ties to the gay community, most of my closest friends were gay, and I was beginning to be aware of the discrimination issues and beginning to be indignant at the treatment my friends were experiencing simply because of their sexual orientation. When Father Nugent and Sister Gramick, who had been ministering to the gay community, with love and acceptance, were told they could no longer do that, it was the end for me. At Mass we stand and pledge that we believe in the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic church." We profess our faith in the teachings of that church and I had no faith in those teachings any more. I had seen Matthew Shepherd murdered by some good ol’ boys who thought he was "only a faggot" and now my church was telling me that there was to be no building of bridges between the church and the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered community. The church had lied to its new recruits and now it was practicing overt discrimination toward a group of God’s children. I would no longer be a member of this church.

It was not a grand protest, as protests go. I simply informed my family and friends that I no longer considered myself a Catholic. When Christmas and the inevitable midnight Mass came (I will admit that the pomp and circumstance of the Catholic Church has always appealed to me), I searched around for a way to make that night meaningful for me that did not include going to Mass with Walt. I decided to go to the cemetery at midnight. Jeri decided to come with me. Ultimately we all went, including Walt. We stood around Dave’s grave and sang Christmas songs and I put up a little Christmas tree. The night had great meaning for me.

I haven’t looked for a new religion. I don’t feel the need for organized religion in my life. I’ve been told by a conservative Christian/Catholic friend that it is arrogance on my part. Perhaps. But I believe in God. I believe in celebrating God by doing good for your fellow human beings, of whatever race, color, ethnicity, economic status, or sexual orientation (or any other category you can name). I believe it’s important to make a difference in the world, to leave this world a little better place than it was when you arrived--even if it’s only better because you planted a tree and contributed to the oxygen of one little corner of the planet. I really do believe that "a simple faith" doesn’t need incense and ceremonials and trappings. I believe it needs getting in and getting your hands dirty doing God’s work rather than sitting quietly talking about other people who are doing God’s work. And if I’m wrong, well, then those Conservative Christians will have the last laugh, I guess, but wherever I go after this life--and I believe that my spirit will be "somewhere" after this life--I suspect I’ll be in the company of the people that I’m the most comfortable with anyway.

...I think a simple faith
isn't very simple at all...

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created 4/10/00 by Bev Sykes