As a child, I was raised as a Christian by my loving grandparents. My own parents lacked a desire to instruct their offspring in any formal religious instruction. My grandparents followed a very simple Christian lifestyle which in all honesty and truth seems to me, to be the closest of how I know Christ himself lived and taught. Simple, selfless, compassionate – love. Completely with love.
I remember attending church with my grandparents as a very small child – and loving it! The “Gospel Hall” come one, come all. “Take your coat off and stay awhile” – yes, really. A habit I still keep when I attend Mass, even when I am chilly. I’m in God’s house and settling in for a visit. No tithing was required (though donations were accepted for overhead). As long ago as that was, I have a memory of rather than a basket being passed for “collections” they had a pretty burgundy colored velvet bag with a wooden circle on the top. You could drop your donation in and no one could see the amount because it dropped to the bottom of the bag, out of view. No judgement there for the poor or wealthy. Pot luck suppers and church picnics held in state parks.
When I was seven, I spent the summer with my grandparents out-of-state. At this point, the church they attended offered Baptism by full immersion. I remember wanting so badly to go up one night to be Baptized. I knew then that I loved Jesus Christ with all my heart and I wanted to be baptized in His name. Sadly, my grandparents did not/could not allow that as my parents did not want us baptized as children. That choice, my parents stated, was for adults only.
My parents did not attend church with us though I do have a vague recollection of attending a Dutch Reform Church in NY when I was small. My parents had moved us to upstate New York, away from my grandparents. I believe they promised my grandparents that they would take us to church. That did not last more than one or two times. I remember being upset that we were not going to church. As a very young child I spent a lot of time in the hospital for medical care, weeks/months at a time. That’s how it was in the 1960’s. Thankfully, I already knew Jesus at that time and that he loved me.
There were times when visiting overnight Girl Scout camp, or staying with friends that I would attend their church. Growing up, many of my friends were Roman Catholic. At such a young age, I had no idea what being Catholic meant (I did know they would not let me have communion and that I felt badly that I could not). I had watched old black and white movies about St. Bernadette, Our Lady of Fatima. I have vague memories of a movie about a Nun helping orphans. At thirteen or so my best friends two Aunts were visiting from Boston. They were both Nuns. We visited a local Abbey.
Over the years there are various times I visited a particular location on the Abbey grounds. Not drawn to a religious life as the nuns, more the peace and quiet and a specific spot there in which I liked to sit and pray. I visited that spot a year or so ago and wondered in amazement what it was I found there – whatever it was no longer remained. Perhaps because my faith and relationship with God has changed and evolved over time. Perhaps because I often find peace and connection with God both sitting in my parish church, alone by the shore, or in prayer at home. Interestingly, I have recently reconnected with my gal friend of those years. She is no longer Catholic (Lutheran now), one of her aunts (one of the Nuns) has also left the church after many years . . .
Thankfully, my grandparents had taught me about Jesus Christ and how much He loved me. I knew God was always with me. A year or so my parents’ marriage faltered (their failing marriage was the reason we were sent to Tennessee for the summer) my brother four years older than I, our mother and I were relocated to a small town in Connecticut to be near my mother’s family.
This time, my grandparents (paternal) were in the state and though “retired”, my grandfather took a position as an estate manager in order to live nearby. Back to church and loving overnights. My grandparents did not only take us to church. I was taught to love and and service. To visit the home bound, write letters, shop thrift, donate, share God.
There were times my brother and I were sent off to church either on our own (walking down the street to the local Congregational Church which when alive, my maternal great grandmother attended.) or with the families of friends, when my grandparents were away, needed a break from taking two kids with two very different personalities and finally, when they retired to Nova Scotia.
I stayed many Saturday nights with my grandparents who at this time lived out-of-town, so that I could attend church with them on Sunday. At home I remember around the time of eighth grade being sent to a Baptist church with my brother and the family of his friend. I didn’t really like it. I liked going to church not Sunday school (my grandparents church had Sunday school only for little ones). After a certain age you attended Bible Study before worship on Sunday morning. Home for a light Sunday lunch, early dinner, then back to church in the evening for more bible study. We also attended bible study at church one night during the week.
When I was fifteen my grandparents retired to my grandfather’s hometown in Nova Scotia. Being in my mid-teens it was not long before I was working all weekend (as well as school nights) and my religious life fell by the wayside. I know God was always with me and kept in prayer in an undisciplined manner for years.
My conversion . . .
When I met my former husband, and he proposed I knew I wanted a church wedding. I married for all of the wrong reasons, one bit of the fairy tale I believe was that he being from a “good Catholic” family would ensure the future of the family we would have together. That too – was not to be. We discussed where our marriage would take place, he visited the Pastor at the Catholic church he attended with his mother and siblings growing up (his father attended another parish). I remember him coming home fuming and spouting some rather vulgar language and insisting we would never be married in a Catholic church. Okay then. . . I had not attended my childhood church for many years but I will call, we will marry there. After being told that was okay, I was then informed – No, that was not to be either.
I learned that my former father in-law would not (could not) attend a marriage in a Protestant church because it would not be valid (I had no idea what that meant). At last this mean a Justice of the Peace, and so – no church wedding. We were to be the first marriage the Justice of the Peace officiated. He grudgingly agreed that we could have some bible readings incorporated into the ceremony at my request. We were married by the Justice of the Peace in an dingy VFW Hall in 1986.
Move ahead to 1988. I was pregnant with our first child. I was sure I would be able to bring my children to a Protestant church. My then husband was so adamant about not getting married in a Catholic church. It wasn’t long before I was informed that was not going to happen either. He insisted (after pressure from his parents) that the baby would be Baptized and raised Roman Catholic – “or we would attend – no church at all“.
I felt like I had no choice and being Christian was all that mattered. I had to bring my babies up loving Jesus as I did. Then I learned I had to be Baptized or the baby could not be. Oh. Okay, that wasn’t so bad – right? I had wanted to be Baptized from the time I was seven years old, sitting in that pew in a little church on a hot summer night so long ago, in Tennessee. So – yes. “I will be Baptized Catholic “and my babies will have that (I was young and naive) good “Catholic family” that I always dreamed of.
The church was contacted and an appointment with the Pastor was made. We met with him briefly and were introduced to a deacon who was to instruct me in Catechism. Sometime around the middle of February we began attending one hour classes for six weeks. I was then Baptized, received my First Communion, Confirmed and our marriage was con-validated in a senior center on church property (but not in “the church”). Still – no church wedding. In retrospect, perhaps that is was a foreshadowing.
A dear one, once commented on my being upset with that Pastor “who did me wrong”. He did not. He did his job, I never felt that he was wrong. I felt the church was wrong in forcing me through an annulment process in which I felt unsafe – knowing I was not married “in” the church. Physical structure. I do feel that the six weeks of instruction was nowhere near enough time for someone who was clueless about the Catholic religion to be given so many sacraments. Given the Sacraments the way I was – it was not until many years later that I received the Sacrament of Confession.
My first confession, I still remember that day. It was during Lent, the church had three or four Priests available at various areas of the church and you could go up in front of everyone (quietly) and whisper your confession. My big confession was that it was my first confession. Epic fail – I know. Interestingly enough, the older Priest told me he was very happy for me (sincerely) that I had such a close relationship to God, that I felt I could ask our Father directly for his forgiveness.
Over the years all three of my boys were Baptized and raised (by me) as Roman Catholic. All but the youngest was confirmed in the church. The older two now say they did so grudgingly. I remember their dad insisting upon it. I divorced when my youngest should have gone through the confirmation program. His father refused to bring him to Mass on his visitation weekends. He had the boys more Sundays than I did. For my son it became a real issue when the catechism program had a change in format. My older boys were taught by Seminarians (not popular with parents, assuming that is why it changed – though I don’t know). My older two boys did enjoy having them as their teachers.
When my youngest attended, the kids selected “classes” similar to high school, youngest son picked “Why be a Catholic?” first and oddly enough, at thirteen, the director of religious education could not relate to him why he should be a Catholic. She promised me she’d have the Pastor speak to him, in time I learned that never happened. So, he stopped going to CCD.
I had been teaching Catechism the year I filed for divorce and though I was encouraged to continue teaching, I felt that it was not the time – fearing a stigma of divorced woman in church (which does exist though it not often acknowledged). I too ended up taking a long break from church.
A growing faith. . .
A few short years ago an online friend encouraged me to go back to church, to file for an annulment and feel free to begin a new life. The annulment process was long and difficult. I almost gave up on more than one occasion. I had been legally married for twenty years when I petitioned, due to a complicated family background I was lacking in familial witnesses. I prayed. I prayed a lot. My faith in God grew stronger with each day. I knew, in my heart and soul – the marriage that I had could not possibly have been blessed by God. God would never have blessed the hell that had been. I wanted the annulment to feel that blessing, that I knew in my heart but needed my church to know. I so wanted to feel understood and hoped to one day have a real, true loving relationship and marriage. A marriage God could bless. In my church that meant an annulment. Finally, approximately eighteen months (and several hundred hard-earned dollars) later – I received the news. My request had been granted.
Remembering a promise, I had made a few years prior, that I would teach again if the marriage was annulled I stepped forward to take on teaching middle school students Faith Formation the next fall.
In a Sunday church bulletin, I read about an upcoming summer retreat to be held at a local parish. From 1-5pm every other Sunday the group would meet to view videos on Catholicism, work together as a group and discuss the videos. Great! I signed up. What better way to prepare for taking on a class of middle school kids? I felt good about this. I was going to learn more about my religion and grow deeper in my faith. I did learn. I watched, read, listened, heard and learned things that in retrospect. . . while I am glad my eyes opened, I often find myself wishing I was still naive and ignorant. That was not God’s plan, it was not the path He chose for me.
The questions began . . .
It was during this summer retreat that I became a “Cafeteria Catholic”. As much as I learned about my church and religion – I know that I lost an innocence that I cannot easily relay. A church that I actively attended for years, volunteered with – summer bible school (when large groups of children attended!), teaching CCD, I even was the first (or so I was told) to bring the Light of Christ and Parvuli Dei Cub Scout emblem programs to my parish.
It was during this retreat that two issues, that as a mother of young men cut me to the quick and honestly, in a very deep way – broke my heart. The church stance on same sex love came to the forefront one summer day, when a member of the group shared a family story and discussion ensued.
At this retreat, I met a young man a year or two older than my youngest son, he was discerning he had questions on celibacy and the conversations that ensued (more than one Sunday afternoon). The church requires most (but not all) Roman Catholic men seeking to become a Priestly brother of Christ (hoping I worded that properly) – to take a vow, if they are of a religious order. To become a Diocesan Priest a promise of celibacy is required to be made to their Bishop.
There are married Roman Catholic Priests in the United States, they have “converted” to Catholicism. These men have wives, families – and work side by side with Priests who are required to take a vow or make a promise of Celibacy. Disconnect. Particularly when we know that St. Peter, chosen by Jesus Christ as the “rock of the church”, the first Pope – was married. In fact, all of the original twelve apostles were married. Love and marriage are God given gifts. The church should not ask it’s religious to choose between marriage and life in service as Priest.
In future writings I will discuss my thoughts on these topics and more. I have spent hours researching, discussing, speaking with and listening to…. There is an underlying sadness in my heart and soul now that I have not been able to reconcile.
Why would our Lord, God – who is love itself, gift His children with Love and then expect them to turn their backs on it? This is something I have difficulty wrapping my head around. God is Love. Love is God. Love is love – right?
2/1/17 There is a very serious shortage of Catholic Clergy. This is a disconnect between the church and the children of God. God did not ask this. It is a man made rule and does not agree with the Gospel teachings of Jesus or St. Paul. All clergy should be allowed married as that is the foundation of the church.
Reading through articles posted and upcoming articles, I have – and will tie all of this together.
Some have told me I don’t belong in the church. Some have wondered why I am still practicing this religion. I read an article by a Pastor on Cafeteria Catholics, read articles linked off that article and have remained close to God, in prayer and actions.
“Where do I belong?” To God.
Today, this means the Catholic Church. I am where God asked me to be today, of that I am confidant.
2/1/17 This is an extended portion of my “About me” post. I know I have certain readers that may find this helpful. It’s still a “cliff notes” version of me, but explains a bit more about my religious background. I realize how much I have grown spiritually over the past few years, if not religiously. The Catholic church is shrinking. I see reasons why this is happening – a disconnected clergy, particularly at the upper levels is largely the reason. You cannot live in a box and expect to grow. I have said recently and will repeat here, I have much respect for our clergy, I say nothing with any intention of causing hurt or pain though I am aware some things I say may cause that. It is not without great efforts, prayer that I share what I do. I am where I am supposed to be right now, the reason really is not clear to me. I hold in my heart the original reason this blog began and that still is. The additional writings here. . . seem to be something additional. I know others will relate and understand this comes from my heart and soul. I will move this back in date to be the original post in a day or two, as that is where it began.