April 6, 2013
I am not a good Catholic girl. I haven’t been one in a very long time. I’ve found the Church to be frustrating since I was five and learned that I couldn’t be the First Woman Pope because women aren’t allowed to be pope. (And, please, don’t get me started on “Pope Joan”. I’m a historian, not a conspiracy theorist.) Sure, the only reason I wanted to be the First Woman Pope was because most of the other First Woman titles were already taken. Not sure why I wasn’t aiming for First Woman President… Maybe I thought that title would already be taken by the time I was old enough…
Anyway, if the Catholic Church and I were in a relationship on Facebook, our status would definitely be “it’s complicated.” I stopped going to Mass regularly a long time ago. I gave up on even being a Christmas-Easter Catholic a few years ago. But I still can’t give up the name. If people ask what religion I belong to, I instinctively answer Catholic. It’s my culture, my heritage. They joke that in Italy even the atheists baptize their children because that’s what you do if you’re Italian. I’m not actually Italian, but I am Irish, so same deal. Yes, this means I’ve stared at the ceiling in the middle of the night trying decided if I should baptize the bump after it’s born. Do I induct my child into the Church with which I have such a, well, complicated relationship? Or do I deprive this child of the cultural heritage of our family, especially knowing that Nonna and Gpa plan to give Momma a break on Saturday evenings by taking said child to Mass while Momma does something frivolous like take a long hot bath or a nap?
So what changed this year that made me start questioning how I’ve chosen to handle my complicated relationship with the Church? Sure, there’s the whole pregnancy thing. (Which method of becoming so the Church frowns on, even for married couples, I might add. Single mothers welcome, but the Church hopes you sinned to get that way.) But there’s also The New Normal. I’ve loved this show. I loved it and then they got to the religion episode and the debate over whether to raise the baby Jewish or Catholic and Bryan decides to go to confession and ask the priest for advice. And this priest… Best priest on television since Nothing Sacred. (I have no clue where, if anywhere, you can watch that show. I’m not sure if it’s been released on DVD or not. It should be because it was excellent. And controversial. And canceled without airing every episode filmed. Written by a Jesuit, so what else could you expect?)
The priest had a line that made me stop and think. We’re willing to fight for equality in the law, but as soon as the Church puts up barriers, we leave. There may be a lot of Catholics like me, who self-identify as such but don’t really go to church often, if ever. We may even outnumber our conservative peers. But we’re not the people you see in the pews every week. We let ourselves become invisible by our absence. And at the end of that episode, all I could think was that the priest from The New Normal was going to guilt me into going to church. Because if I truly believe that the Church needs to change, then I should be willing to show up and fight for those changes.
[SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the last episode of season one of The New Normal, but you plan to watch it, you might want to skip the following paragraph!]
And then in the last episode, even though he’s initially said that, as a priest, no matter how much he wants to, he can’t preside over David and Bryan’s wedding, the priest shows up at the end and “by the power vested in [him] as a child of God” marries them.
And that is the catholic faith I know I still believe in. And, no, that’s not a typo. What I’m still trying to do is resolve my Catholic heritage with my catholic spirituality.
And I know that’s possible because I’ve experienced it once, in the wee hours of Christmas Morning, at the end of Midnight Mass at the Vatican. Our booklets said that the last song would be “Silent Night” but gave no music and no lyrics. James and I sang the English lyrics we learned as children. The couple next to us was from Argentina and sang in Spanish. The basilica was filled with people singing in their native tongues, each of us understanding everyone. And in that moment, the Church was truly catholic.