Wednesday, May 16, 2012


i have always thought of the catholic church as the jesus police.  it always seemed to me that they knew what jesus wanted us to do, and that they were especially qualified in evaluating whether what you were doing was in line with what jesus preached, and that they pretty much had the cornerstone on judgment.  when i joined the church in 1998, i think i felt like jesus had to love me if i was willing have faith and join a church that seemed so devoted to him, yet so close minded and exclusive in the world.

now, keep in mind, my in laws belonged to the church.  they were devout catholics.  the weekend my husband (boyfriend at the time) told his parents that we were pregnant with our first son, my mother-in-law went to church four times.  and when the weekend ended, they took him out to dinner to celebrate that he was going to be a father.  my mother-in-law has never said an unkind word to me.  as a matter of fact, sometimes she annoys me because she says such positive, hopeful, trusting things to me...things that sometimes make me thing, "but how do you know i work hard?  or that i do great things?"  but that's usually because i'm having a bad day.  and i'm sure she has bad days.  but, even when we lived with them for nine months after dh finished pharmacy school, she never took a bad day out on me.  i mean, i'm pretty sure this woman loves me.  i really, really hope to treat my children's partners as well as she's treated me.  seriously.

but that wasn't exactly my point.  it was part of it, but not all of it.  my husbands parents have been so supportive and so giving to us.  and they never hold it against us, or use it to manipulate us, or try to work it so that their gifts give them power over us (which i guess are all three different flavors on the same theme).  anyway...if the biggest thing in my in laws' life was their faith and their religion, then i always wondered if it had something to do with their generosity...yes, of material things....but also of spirit and kindness and love.

see, i grew up believing i had to earn love.  i had to earn like.  i had to earn anything positive.  the world always seemed kind of inherently it was always about to slip off an edge into an angry, scary, powerless, defenseless, directionless rage.  and i acted hard to keep me and mine in the light.  that may be a bit dramatic.  it's hard at this point in my life to really evaluate the fear i lived in when i was younger.  i will say that i don't believe it was my parents fault that i learned that.  they may have contributed, but i also think i'm just wired that way.  and the way those things came together just made me the way i was...helped me to choose to be who i was.

the reason i bring that up is to say that my introduction to religion, as i understood it at the time, fit quite well into my understanding of how to gain the love and appreciation and acceptance of others.  the catholic church provides a lot of doctrine and rules, and i was good at following rules.  so when i followed the rules, i felt the love of God, and i was confident in that love because i knew i had followed the rules and earned that love.  now, when i fell short, i knew, as a catholic, that i could confess my sins and be reconciled.  (not that i often do)  and so i've gone on...attending mass regularly, doing the things i'm supposed to do, bringing my children to religious ed classes, celebrating sacraments and such. 

but i have really struggled lately.  our family has gone through some big challenges and i have had a lot of feelings through the last few months.  and somewhere along the way, i realized that while i felt like i was doing the things i was supposed to do, following the rules (and for the record, not just catholic rules...attachment parenting rules, homeschooling rules, american dream rules...i'm not perfect, but i really was trying to do all the "right stuff" as i understood it), i was really pissed that things were so not what i wanted them to be.  that people were making bad decisions, that trust was being lost, lies were being told, relationships falling apart, hearts breaking....i was just really, really pissed.  in all that anger, i would also fall into a pit of despair that said i obviously was just inherently less than, a bad seed that couldn't be redeemed by my own actions, no matter how hard i tried.  that while everyone else got to have love in their lives, something i did brought this distrust and fear and anger.  because god is good, right?  so the other stuff must be because we are not following God well enough.

well, my understanding is shifting.  and the challenges of this year have had a lot to do with that.  i was trying to explain to my therapist last night the difference between believing something and choosing to live in that belief when something big confronts you...when something hard comes your way and annihilates so much of what you thought you knew...when it hurts so much you think you might die but you keep waking up and you're not sure if you're happy about that or not.  that's when faith is truly developed.  and oddly perhaps, the catholic church has had a lot to do with the hope and love i find myself developing a strong faith in. 

when i became a part of my husband's family and listened to his family talk about jesus, it was the first time i'd ever heard jesus referred to an a liberal...a rebel challenging the social norms of his time.  and i could never understand how jesus could do that and still say he wasn't coming to abolish the law, but to fulfill it (mt 5:17).  i had such a cultural understanding of jesus and the catholic church.  even fourteen years into being a catholic, my knowledge of my church comes more from general media sources and the mouths of others than real, sound sources.  but i'm working on that.  and it liberates me.  instead of confining or condemning me, it frees me of my own self-condemnation and allows me to believe in a love greater than i could imagine (and therefore restrict myself to only feeling those small amounts of what i thought i'd earned).

i know there are a lot of questions and doubts and hurts surrounding religion.  and i don't have the knowledge to answer those questions or release people from those doubts or heal those hurts.  i do have faith that if i keep following the question of my own heart and the doubts of my own mind, that i will be healed by grace.  and i believe that matters.  i have a lot of faith in that very thing.


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