Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The 46th percentile...

"Raised Catholic, can you tell?
I'm goin' to Cat'lic heaven 'cause
I been to Cat'"
(storyteller Ed Stivender)

On one of those mini-quizzes, I scored heavily in the Emergent, Lutheran, Calvinist categories, but only in the 46th percentile as a Catholic. Which is pretty funny, because I spent the first 17 years of my life going to Catholic church weekly, including a period where I was going to Mass every day before school. In fact, I even won the "Most Valuable Altar Boy" award at St. Agnes' RC Church in Niantic, CT.

A while back (June 8th, to be precise), my friend Well Woman asked me a seemingly simple question:Can I ask a personal question? Maybe I should email you...I am just wondering when and why you left the Catholic church?

Well, it's like this...I didn't so much leave, as fade away, and then be refused re-admittance.

In the 1965-72 timeframe, my father was still working very hard to be a righteous Catholic man - kind of a Kinghts-of-Columbus poster guy. In all the churches we had been members of, up to that point, Dad had been an usher, retreat leader, Holy Name Society officer, you name it...ol' Joe Flower was there.

Then, in the winter of 1971, Dad lost his job with General Dynamics/Electric Boat. By the spring of 1972, he'd found a new job in Syracuse with Prestolite - so he moved to Syracuse, and we stayed behind (so I could go with my high school band on a tour of Europe that summer). We moved to Camillus, NY in August, and in October, Dad was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer. He made it through - but it was a long, hard surgery and chemo treatment afterwards. And three months later, he got the word that his work was being transferred to Toledo, OH, and he could either go - or lose his job...again.

When we got to south Toledo, we started going to St. Patrick's of Heatherdowns RC church - but the folks there didn't need Dad's ushering, or retreat-leading, or any of the other "just let me help you" behaviors. And Dad got mad - officially, about the "morons" who were still collecting pew tax (for you heretics: a 25-cent per seat collection before the collection). And so he just stopped going to church - period. And when he stopped, we stopped, too. And that, at age 17, was the end of my "practicing Catholic" phase of my life. To the best of my knowledge, the only other time I was in a Catholic church was for Dad's memorial service in 1978. (Amusingly enough, since Dad had donated his body to science, he himself was not "in church" for his memorial service...)

When my life and marriage were blowing apart in October 1990, I tried reaching out to the Catholic church - to three different churches. When I called and said I desperately needed to talk to the priest, each of the three rectory aides told me (in no uncertain terms) that Confession was on Saturday at 8 AM. (As this was Tuesday, that didn't seem at all likely to me.) When my friend Jeff connected me with his Lutheran (ELCA) pastor, and he shared the gospel with me, I knew I was home.

Of course, it was 11 years later that I encountered Richard Foster's Renovare' movement, and found Catholicism's contemplative strains to be a linchpin of the way the Renovare'movement is to be lived.

Wish there was more drama than that, sister. But there was no cosmic "screw you, Charley" moment - just simply falling apart from my old life, and definitely feeling "a part of" rather than "apart from" in the land of the Protestants. But, like everything else in my journey, my life among the Roman Catholics has played its part. And I'm glad to say that the anger and resentment have faded - I'm no longer "a recovering Catholic," as I once was. And for that, I am grateful.


Anonymous said...

As I recall we were at St. Pats for your mothers Memorial service.

Michael Dodd said...

Steve, your story could be multiplied a gazillion times, to my sorrow as a Catholic and to my shame as a former priest.

For eight years I heard confessions at a large Catholic shrine church, the sort of place where Catholics still go to confession in droves because of the added anonymity and the fact that shrines are tradtionally places of healing. I would be embarrassed (to quote the Dragon-we-know-and-love) to tell you how many times those confessions began with, "Father, it has been fifteen years since my last confession. The last time I was here, the priest refused to give me absolution/told me I was wasting his time with silly things/yelled at me/was drunk and nasty..."

God love us, the sacrament of mercy, for God's sake, and this is how people were being treated!

The foolishness of legalism -- "I'm sorry, your developmentally disabled child cannot receive communion in the hand becuase I am The Pastor and I don't think it is reverent." "I'm sorry your child is allergic to wheat, but that's the only way we give communion in the one-and-only, holy, Catholic Church." "What the hell kind of name is that to ask me to baptize a baby with? Are you people morons?" "Well, if they aren't registered in this parish, I'm not getting out of bed to come to the hospital. Call the Franciscans."

I have had my own bad experiences in confession and with legalistic superiors, but I have to say that they were few and far between. But the insensitivity that all too often comes with the clerical mindset (sadly not reserved to the Roman communion) is amazing. I once told people on retreat to pray hard for priests, because one ill-tempered (hungry, angry, lonely and tired?) priest in a confessional on a Saturday afternoon can do more damage to the faithful that Madlyn Murray O'Hare did in all her years of ranting against God.

And don't even get me started on the other things the clergy have been up to and the bishops... well, God bless and keep them ... far away from me! With shepherds like some [not all] of them, who needs wolves?

With all due respect to the office, of course.

Steve F. said...

And trust me, Br'er Damien, there's plenty of that crap that happens in Luther-land, too. The effect of legalistic, patronizing, ego-driven pastors didn't end because I stopped attending Roman Catholic services, trust me. And the sad part is, in my time at seminary, I saw a whole new crop of legalists and egoists being formed.

And to be honest, the Catholic church that I've seen in you, in Tom, and in the writings of people like Brennan Manning, is the heart of what the Catholic church should be. It's easier to be caring and loving when I see it in one's sisters and brothers.

Michael Dodd said...

Kind words. Thank you! :-}

Keith Brenton said...

Halfway through "Ragamuffin Gospel." What a joy! Thanks for pointing me to it, Steve.

May I point you to an online read?

I have a feeling it will resonate with you:

Anonymous said...

Oh, I love Waiter Rant, and yeah...that was a great post.

Several blogs I've read lately have talked about the stumbling blog of defining your faith by what it's not. How ironic that an entire portion of Christianity still, to this day, defines itself as, "we're not catholic!"

I'm glad that the ECLA minister was able to help you in your time of need. Really, I think the denomination is of little consequence -- the hearts of the pastor and people are much more important.