Saturday, May 23, 2009

I am Catholic.

I grew up in southern-central Maine, the youngest of 5 children in a solidly Catholic family. We went to Mass every Sunday (I tell people now that we could only miss Mass if we were vomiting or bleeding, and could produce evidence of such) and Holy Day, went to the parish suppers, belonged to the church's credit union, volunteered for the Christmas fair, and of course attended CCD and then Youth Group. I remember not knowing what religion most of my friends were, unless they attended my church, or unless they were Baptist, because the Baptist ones were always talking about being Christians.
While we were a devotional family, doing our Advent wreath every Saturday night before Christmas and eschewing meat on Fridays of Lent, I would say we weren't a particularly spiritual family. Our family prayer life was basically the recitation of Grace before dinner, and that was said at top-speed- I remember realizing that there were in fact actual words to that prayer- up until then it had been sort of a blur of syllables, like the ellemenopy section in the alphabet. But never did I hear anyone offer to pray for another, for instance. I remember one night my Grandmother was visiting, sleeping in the other bed in my room, and in the dark I told her I couldn't sleep. She said "why don't you say your Rosary?" and was horrified to learn that I didn't know how. Of all the many sets of Rosary beads I have now, the one given me by my Grandmother, allegedly blessed by a pope, is the one that I most treasure.
It was, then, not through my family directly but because we Talbots were habitual church-goers that I found my real faith. As teenagers, we were invited to attend retreats, and I followed my siblings first to a 9/10 grade retreat called Gift, then to a 11/12th grade retreat called Search. I think God opened my heart through Gift and then filled it to overflowing at Search. At Gift, I learned that I have gifts and that God loves me. At Search, I learned that God has a plan for me, and it was here and through other transformational Catholic activities that I received what I was sure was a calling from God, to Youth Ministry.
Now I have been in professional ministry in the Catholic Church for 14 years, and never would have guessed when I started that I would be where I am now, working primarily with adults and studying for a Master's Degree in Religious Education. The Church, the local Church, has changed so much, and I have grown with it and because of it- often painfully.
I was so stunned at the sex-abuse scandal. I remember at a Youth Ministers' meeting just after it had started in earnest, praying against the persecutors who were accusing the Church of horrible things. Now I know that they weren't so much persecutors as liberators. I remember pulling my car over to the side of the road more than once when hearing the news was more than I could bear and drive safely at the same time. I remember reading reports in the paper, and getting phone calls, about priests I knew. I remember the very real fear in not knowing who to trust, who to believe. It was a time when I realized that anyone could use the awesome power of fear- any call to any rectory with any accusation (no confirming evidence was necessary) could have a priest removed from his parish overnight, and exposed in the daily papers the next day.
It was a frightening time for me, who had devoted my whole life to serving the young of a Church which had spent many years abusing them. Now, my faith and my calling were in question. Suddenly teachings that I had disagreed with out-of-hand, teachings that I had overlooked as simply wrong, nonsense- teachings that I had avoided passing on, even in my ministry where I was paid to do so, became more important to really look at. I wondered if my credibility as a minister of God was in question if I continued to work for this Church, so full of evil.
At one point, I visited the Episcopalian Priest in town, who acknowledged my crisis of faith and gave me some guidance. A few days later, my lawn was struck my lightning. I was away from home at the time, so I didn't consider it altogether a direct message from God, but still... I think I'd probably be a pretty great pastor, and I think the Church would probably be improved by female leaders- at the same time I know that the local Church runs greatly on the backs and hands and feet of women, in partnership (or in direct opposition to) male leaders. It doesn't feel like a calling I've been given, at least not now. I am in a good place, a place where my gifts and talents are being used to glorify God, right now. I haven't always been.
My faith has been saved over and over again. At one point I heard a speaker at a Youth Ministry conference speak about those who are called to be Prophets. It was like hearing a diagnosis of a long-suffered, unnamed disease. He said that prophets can't help but be prophets- but that they should remember that historically, prophets are ultimately either listened to, or killed. I began to understand why I seemed constantly to be butting heads with church leaders who refused to focus on the Mission, who cared more about their own glorification than the glory of God, who worried more about their financial audits than the care of the poor, the young, the old, the needy in their parishes.
Now I work at a parish that is everything I've dreamed of- the pastor is intelligent, engaged, excited and happy to be a priest. He says and believes words like "conversion," "evangelization," and "discipleship." He reads articles and books about ministry, he knows his theology, he cares about people, he loves being Catholic, he does not live in fear of the Hierarchy, even as he respects it. These, I am sure, sound like no-brainer qualifications for a pastor, but in fact they are quite rare.
The staff at this parish is engaged, knows the people of the Church, is constantly trying to grow in personal faith and in professionalism. We have fun together, we respect each other. We laugh a lot. The people here are gracious and faith-filled. They are friendly and welcoming. They want to know more. They show up. They praise and give feedback all the time. It is a holy place, and I know, a spiritual retreat that God has sent me to, in order to keep me sane and to keep me Catholic. So far, so good- but I know this can't, being the Catholic Church, last forever. Someday I will be sent back out into battle. I am trying to Be Here Now.
My husband has the most pure and child-like (but not childish) faith of anyone I've ever known. He quiets my panicked fears with surety. He digs in to discuss our doubts (he has them too), he prays for me, he prays grace conspicuously at restaurant tables, he reminded me that God was indeed here with us, during our lowest points. Our marriage is truly a spiritual union, and a Catholic one at that.
I remember going to Rome for World Youth Day in 2000. I marveled at the architecture, the Catholicism pulsing through the air, the bells and smells, all so exotic but so personal and familiar to me. I remember thinking "ahhh- so here is my ethnicity!" I grew up with very little palpable connection to what I call "all the white peoples of the world" with whom I share ancestors. No traditional ethnic foods, songs, dress for me. But in Rome I found my true ancestry. I am Catholic.


CatholicWizKid said...

I feel so blessed to have you and Scott and all the IC staff as my mentors last year. My spiritual foundation as a Catholic and my call were there before I met you, but you helped me become a joyful minister. I read in this post the important heritage you and Scott have given me as a youth minister, and I was overwhelmed, as I so often am, with a feeling of gratefulness for my many blessings. You have been a prophetic voice in my life. Thank you.

Cate said...

Search was also a consolidation point for me -- that religion was more than church, "more" in so many ways. What I find most intriguing about our familial practice of religion was Mom's eschewing of our experiences at Search as "mind control," when those of us experiencing it saw it as opening up our minds and hearts wider than before. I know my spiritual life (and my church community life) is qualitatively different from our parents' experience -- and I'm grateful for that. Even if she didn't believe in the retreat experience, at least she let us go.

margmor said...

Aw Wizzer! Thank you, that means so much to me to hear. You're awesome!
Cate, I couldn't agree with you more about Mom and the Search thing. One memory that defined that time for me is a night when Mom and I went for a walk with Aunt Nancy in Presque Isle, and our path led us past a Pentecostal Church. We stopped and listened to them singing and banging around (dancing, I guess!)- they were singing "Jesus is Alive! Jesus is Alive!!!" Mom and A. Nancy said something about the crazy church, and I said "I think it sounds neat!" Mom turned to Aunt Nancy and said "ah, my little Jesus freak." That sentence stunned me and confused me for years. I'm so grateful to Search, and I am, too, grateful that Mom let us go, even if on the way home (while I sobbed and my head spun with all this newness and love) she lectured me about how unethical the whole thing was. It's a whole other world, her spirituality, from ours.

FrChip said...

That sounds like a great parish and a great pastor. :)

Cate said...

Well, I'm sure it didn't help that when I went, they didn't tell Mom & Dad that they were supposed to be there for the end. I walked in the door at home, dropped my bags and burst into tears. I, too, was crying from the sense of love I felt (and, the relief to find I was loved at a time when most of us feel rather unloveable), but couldn't express it and I'm sure that confused Mom about what I'd experienced. It was that sense of being loved that kept me going to church when it would have been easy to abandon it, and kept me looking for more from my church experience than simply going to church every week.

HerMajesty00 said...

Search was an eye opener for a lot of teens, me included. Margo I loved this post. and the other responses to it.
In out family my dad was very holy and very very one hundred percent toe the line Catholic. My mom was always challenging what she saw a patriarchal nonsense although she had a strong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
They both however appreciated each others interpretations of church and faith and both urged all of us to 'fight' for our own faith. There were however many many lively discussions around the dinner table!
Funny how we all come from slightly different places even though we were all raised 'Catholic.'