I was born Catholic. Six years before I entered the world, my parents, in a traditional Catholic marriage ceremony, vowed to raise any children they might have in the Church. In a baptism ceremony shortly after my birth, my parents christened me "Mary Theresa" and began the process of making good on their promise.
Nearly 30 years after my parents married, I stood under a garden arch in front of a Unitarian, folk-singing minister and exchanged vows with my husband. Despite my parents' adherence to their promise, I had fallen away from the Church. I questioned some of the basic tenets of the Catholic faith, and I was strongly at odds with the Church's position on homosexuality, the role of women in the Church and a handful of other social issues. My Catholic baptism and confirmation would have allowed me to marry in a Catholic church. But my misgivings prevented it. On my wedding day, I only wanted to confess to beliefs I was certain of and to make promises I intended to keep.
So I didn't make any promises about future children and the beliefs I would instill in them.
But the truth is, despite my issues with the Church, I most likely will raise my children Catholic. I may not believe everything the Church believes and may even actively oppose some of its positions. But as time has passed, I've come to see that, for me, Catholic isn't so much my faith but my culture. It's who I am.
It's 13 years of Catholic schooling. It's praying the rosary while crouched down in the hallway, hands over head, tornado sirens blaring. It's the Ursuline Sisters, with their quick laughs, steady guidance and humble intelligence, who acted as teachers, mentors and friends. It's ashes on my forehead on the first day of Lent, midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, Stations of the Cross, summer church picnics, "The Lives of the Saints," fish on Fridays and "Ave Maria." It's so many pieces of me that I would not be who I am if I took any of them away.
My Catholicism is for me, in many ways, like home -- not always what I want it to be, yet often exactly what it needs to be. It is where I come from and where I belong. For my children to know me, they must know the Catholic Church.
Oh, yeah. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic. A few years ago I was at a gathering where several women, upon discovering they attended the same non-denomination church, started laughing about being "recovering Catholics." Being the tactful person that I am, I refrained from pointing out that just as the phrase "recovering alcoholic" means that one is always an alcoholic in some way, so their jokes about "recovering Catholics" meant that they couldn't leave the Church behind, no matter how hard they were trying.
One of the things that helps me is remembering that the Church belongs to ALL of us--not just the hierarchy (however much some of them pretend the Church is theirs, and the rest of us are only part of it by their gracious tolerance). I just bought a terrific book (at half-price!) by a theology prof at my alma mater, (Boston College), Thomas Groome, called "What Makes us Catholic: Eight Gifts for Life." In it he writes that
Catholic Christianity ought to share its spiritual wisdom at the great table of humankind, as well as welcome all who choose it as their particular home within God's family. though catholic usually is taken to mean "universal," this was more Aristotle's use of the term than how early Christians understood it. Ignatius of Antioch, the first on record to call the Church catholic (circa 107) had inclusion in mind more than universal. Inclusion, in fact, is closer to the roots of catholic; katha holos literally means "gathering in the whole," or, more colloquially, "all are welcome."
In other words, as James Joyce once wrote: "Catholicism means here comes everybody." It does seem to me that perhaps, if all of us Catholics kept this in mind, we'd have fewer petty disputes amongst ourselves about "who is authentically Catholic" (of which I myself am as guilty as anyone, especially regarding some of the--in my opinion--rigid, ultra-traditionalist seminarians and priests I knew in grad school). It's a pretty big Church, after all, as I discovered anew watching pilgrims from the world over at John Paul II's funeral; surely, there is room for all of us!
One further thought: I think we get into the most trouble when we forget that the Church is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. More on this, and other things Catholic, in the coming days.