Thinking Aloud: Being Catholic in America

Sometimes it’s really tough, and being a Catholic woman just adds to the fun.

Religious intolerance—as long as you are some form of Christian—is perfectly acceptable. The amount of snark I saw on Twitter yesterday about Lent was… I’ll use the word “impressive”. “Since Catholics give things up for Lent, I’m going to ADD something for 40 days.” “I’m going to develop a bad habit for the next 40 days.”

I, personally, blame Rick Santorum. He’s totally a sanctimonious twit, but I think that’s really more of a personality trait, and his Catholicism is just a convenient foil. Believe me, the Catholic church has no doctrinal position about pre-natal testing.

Actually, it’s not difficult for me to stay true to my Roman Catholic faith. What is difficult is to explain why I am still — in the face of a possible Santorum candidacy, in debates in Washington about birth control and what rights a woman has over her body, in the face of the painful child abuse crimes committed by priests and covered up by the hierarchy — a Roman Catholic.

I get reactions that range from genuine curiosity to outright scorn. I, obviously, have little patience for the latter. But I try to meet all the responses with equanimity. I guess I could keep my trap shut, and maybe people wish I would. It’s just that as a practicing Catholic woman, I feel like I have to defend my faith as well as my decision to be a part of that faith.

Let’s take the birth control debacle. The common misperception that I saw was twofold: Those dirty old men are trying to oppress women by not allowing them to have their birth control. And Catholic women obviously don’t give a fig about what those dirty old men think; 98 percent of them use birth control anyway!

I addressed the latter point a little bit, and Guttmacher issued a clarifying statement. Their “98 percent” stat referred to practicing Catholic women between the ages of 15 and 44 who had ever, even if just once, used a form of artificial birth control. It’s less Catholics Gone Wild than at a first glance.

As far as those old men trying to deny women or men or couples anything, and if you aren’t Catholic, you may not understand this, but: Our God is a God of Yes.

SECOND READING: 2 Corinthians 1: 18 – 22

18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No.
19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silva’nus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes.
20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.
21 But it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has commissioned us;
22 he has put his seal upon us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.

I understand that on the face of things, it doesn’t look that way. But God didn’t just give us a list of stuff to NOT do. He (She, It, Turtle) instructed us in things to do: Love thy neighbor. Take care of the poor. Marry and be faithful. Be open to having children. Learn and educate.

Catholics understand we have free will, and that’s why plenty of couples will choose to use artificial birth control. In my opinion, the hardest prayer is the Our Father. The hardest thing God tells us to do: to have strong enough faith that HIS will be done. But that is what we are asked to do. How do we know God’s will? By reading the Bible and going to Mass. By praying and listening to the small, still voice.

I saw a couple of tweets last week about those dirty old men, as well, that invoked me to respond directly. Two people were very respectful about it; one person I had to block. That was a first. As far as pedophile priests go: It is a horrible crime that haunts the church to this day, and rightfully so. But the rate of pedophilia in the priesthood is lower than that in the general population. Men don’t become priests because they want to abuse young children — you may as well say that men have children so they can become pedophiles. So please don’t rant about old men who abuse children. That doesn’t define priests.

As far as the Catholic church changing its position on artificial birth control: I don’t expect that it will change. It relates directly to the idea that we should do God’s will, and that our actions (abstaining from artificial BC in this case) should reflect that. It’s not about the oppression of women, although I understand why it looks that way.

As a final note, I would like you to understand one last thing: I don’t want to make you Catholic. I don’t want to force my moral and religious choices on you, especially via the political realm. And I don’t want anyone else to do that either; and I don’t want people to force their moral imperatives on me. This, too, speaks directly to the idea of free will and religious freedom. It’s not about obeying the rules so you don’t go to hell. It’s about loving so much and so fully, that you want to do God’s will.

I could go on (and on) about my faith. It has sustained me through some very difficult times, and it has helped me to celebrate very joyful times. I cannot turn away from it or deny it — I can’t even be quiet about it because it fills me so. I’ll just leave you with two other things. One is my favorite prayer, and the other a video that a friend sent to me via Twitter. I was moved by it. “This is why I’m Catholic,” I thought. And I’m not afraid to let anyone know that.

The prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

where there is injury, pardon;

where there is doubt, faith;

where there is despair, hope;

where there is darkness, light;

where there is sadness, joy;

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; 

to be understood as to understand; 
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;

it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

“What makes this religion great is not errors of wars or inquisition.
It’s that broken men and women get to participate in his mission.”