Whither the Subtitle

Why “As Catholic As I Wanna Be . . . ” ?
1. When I first thought to myself, hey, I might like to blog about religion and spirituality, I was feeling a little defiant. I am in a mixed-faith marriage (i.e., faith + no-faith), and sometimes I feel a little constrained when The Domestic Church is a central part of Catholic life. I have some friends who are anti-Catholic. Enough said on that. So I liked the idea of having a ready place to talk about things on my mind, and hang any of those people in my life who weren’t buying it.

2. I belong to a fairly middle-of-the-road parish. We are a mixed bag, politically, though probably lean more liberal than conservative. I have friends of both parties who are active in the parish, and I think they all seem to be at home there.

Theologically and liturgically, again, we’re a mixed bag. But I like what our former director of liturgy encouraged us to do — take part in all that the Roman Catholic Church has to offer. Sure, there are folks in the parish who would never touch a rosary — too old-school — but others who lead family rosary during Lent. We’ve expanded our time for Adoration of the Eucharist during the week. We have a significant section of Boomers who freak out whenever the guitars are missing from Mass, but we also have chant and songs in Latin. The basement of our church was as plain as a concecrated worship space could be (we no longer use it because it was not accessible to anyone not good with stairs), but our main worship space is filled with statues, old-style confessionals, and a Mary chapel.

When I say I’m Catholic as I wanna be, I mean I’m not giving up traditional Catholic practices because some people associate them with unhealthy aspects of the church. We can study the saints in our homeschool, we can learn to pray the rosary, we can go to confession — and we can participate in Centering Prayer and walk a labyrinth. Our tradition is so rich, and I’m blessed as an adult convert that I can approach it without the negative connotations some lifelong older Catholics feel.

3. At the same time, I tire of the phrase “Cafeteria Catholic.” I hear that and I hear, “I am the judge of all things Catholic; differ from me at your peril.” It’s not clear to me why people even give energy to this kind of activity. Have they erased all occasions from sin in their own lives, taken care of all the hunger and homelessness in their own communities, and rooted out all instances of pride, greed, and sloth in their own hearts? What happened to that thing about not removing the mote from someone else’s eye before getting the log out of your own?

Is the Roman Catholic Church so weak that it cannot withstand a little disagreement — even what might look like “disobedience”? Is that how we parent — expect perfection and eager, instant cooperation or you’re out on your ear? When I started poking around the popular Catholic blogs, I was shocked and more than a little depressed by the snide attitude many self-proclaimed Orthodox Catholics (and I don’t mean neoTraditionalists) took towards fellow Catholics who, say, allowed altar girls, liked hymns by certain modern composers, had questions about whether Cardinal Ratzinger would be a good pope, etc. (FWIW, I think many of those who had questions have been pleasantly surprised — if not consistently pleased.)

It’s pretty clear that to those folks I’m a mere shadow of a Catholic. But hey, screw them, right? I’m Catholic As I Wanna Be. And to me, that means giving up on pretending to know the right answers. If the Buddhist-loving poet-priest Thomas Merton is not a True Catholic, I don’t know who is, and this is what he says:

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

– Thomas Merton, “Thoughts in Solitude”


A Lesson from Yoga

There was a time that I studied and practiced yoga very consistently. When you first start yoga, you’re concerned with big movements: where your limbs go, bending at the hips, pointing right or left.

Then after you’ve gotten the basic posture down, you find that even the most minute adjustments can make the biggest difference. Distributing the pressure among your toes and trying to increase the weight on your pinky toe suddenly opens your hips, which opens your chest, and suddenly you are like a blossoming flower with a sense of lightness and openness that is at once totally new and like coming home.

What’s funny in yoga is that sometimes the movements are so tiny they are nearly imaginary. I remember my yoga teacher telling us to adjust our tailbones in a way that, she admitted, may not be physically possible, yet somehow making the attempt makes a difference in your sense of alignment.

This is the way of a Christian life, as well. Small adjustments make big differences.

For example, I am a person who suffers from cyclical depression. It’s not chronic in the sense that I am constantly feeling depressed, but it is chronic in the sense that I have experienced multiple bouts of depression and can expect to experience more in the future. “Depression management” is a necessary part of my daily life whether I feel great or awful.

I have had some graces from my experience of depression. One is that in meditating through depression and not denying it (and to be clear, this also involves using medication and working with both a therapist and a psychiatrist) I have felt my heart break totally open. Though my heart, like all hearts, has a human tendency to want to close up tight, one grace of depression is that I have had my heart wide open at a time of utmost pain, and I survived it. So I can carry that knowledge of survival with me into anything else. Another grace is that I know, not just intellectually but from profound experience, that my thoughts are not always trustworthy. What seems like cold, hard reason in depression is merely an illness talking. I know this so deeply that it is much easier for me to regard my thoughts and feelings with interest and a bit of skepticism. This is a blessing.

I am, however, offended deeply at the notion that God gave me depression to teach me these lessons. I can’t bear to hear people say that God gave a child cancer for the purpose of building character or correcting a fault. The verse is “God turns all things to good,” not “God does all things for good.” This may seem like a minor adjustment to the notion of how God works in the world, but it is a crucial one.

I have recently made a “re-alignment” in the way I pray that has made a huge difference to me. A common motto of those who pray is “give it to God,” as in “let go, let God.” This is a nice idea. But it is not one that ever clicked genuinely with me, as I never really felt that sense of peace that I had truly decided to let God steer the ship.

After some additional meditation training this summer, in a class on depression management, I came to try a different way of praying. I had an experience much like the “opening up” experiences I have had in yoga. I could see that in “giving it to God” I was pushing things away, trying to separate a person, a thing, a problem from myself and hand it off.

What I do now is “give it to God” through me. I use my “broken-open heart” as a doorway to the heart of Jesus. I embrace that person, thing, or problem that is causing me so much distress, because I know my heart can take it, and it can because behind it lay the heart of Jesus, which is big enough for every mistake, every hurt, every injustice.

When I pray this way I have that sense of lightness and openness that is at once new and like coming home. I have a closer understanding of what Jesus meant by saying “I leave you my peace.”

Published in: on November 11, 2007 at 10:36 am  Comments (2)  
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