Offbeat Catholicism

I read the blog post entitled “Why I Don’t Go To Church,” which talked about how always going to one church and subscribing to one particular set of doctrines and rules, and only talking to the same group of people about spiritual things might not always be the best thing for you. I found myself agreeing in many ways. However, I do go to church just about every weekend (not bragging, I just do), and here’s why:

The “pomp and circumstance” of the Catholic Church used to annoy me a lot. As a teenager especially, I wanted nothing to do with structure, rules or tradition. I didn’t like (and still don’t love) a lot of the simple, traditional hymns, and I often felt that there was not enough energy in this kind of worship. We often call the Eucharist the Celebration of the Mass. The word “celebration” seems to imply high energy, at least in the modern understanding of English. However, I’ve come to understand that celebration can be much deeper than that. I go to church to celebrate. I go because I feel like I should; not because I have to, but because it makes me/lets me focus. Saturday afternoon (or sometimes Sunday morning) is when I can (at least try to) stop thinking about my life, my problems, and how scary the world is, and reaffirm that I am saved, God is good, and all will be well.

There are other reasons I go to church too, though. For one thing, I’m a sentimental person. Maybe that has some not so good connotations for some people, but I mean it in the best possible sense. I was baptized in the Cathedral in Portland Maine. My parents were married there, and even though we lived in Massachusetts by the time my brother was born, he was baptized there, too. If I ever get married, I want to be married there. Whether I liked it or not, my childhood and my family are deeply connected to the Church, and this church in particular. Many of my extended family members have also been baptized, confirmed and/or married in that church.

In our hometown, my family and I attend what is quite possibly the ugliest church in America. It was built in the 60’s, and was recently remodeled, which only made it worse. The building itself is a ridiculously odd shape. The roof is basically four triangles sticking off at odd angles. The interior is fairly simple: wooden pews, ugly carpeting on the floor, and weird wood paneling on the walls around the altar. There is one stained glass window at the front of the Church with an obnoxiously huge crucifix in front of it. The ceiling is peppered with a million tiny lights that I guess are/were supposed to be stars. I can’t quite do it justice here, but take my word for it: it’s bad.

Aesthetics aside, though, This is also my home church. I made my first communion here, made my confirmation here, and am now teaching religious education here. I’ve sung in the choir (though I don’t do that now), and I’ve helped out with other, less formal worship stuff.

There was a period, probably in my Senior year of high school or my freshman year of college, but maybe earlier than that, when I didn’t go to church. I didn’t feel like I was getting anything out of it. I thought it was boring, and I wanted to form my own ideas and opinions about God. Ironically, it kind of felt like there was something missing during that time, and it took going to a nondenominational, mostly protestant college, and learning some things from my Godparents that made me want to come back. Now that I’m older, I really appreciate the weekly mass. There’s a time and place for high energy worship with contemporary music, etc, but I also need time quiet down and rebalance myself.

Another thing I’ve heard people mention or occasionally complain about is the whole hierarchy business. For example, I’ve heard a lot of questions about the authority of the Pope. My understanding, in the simplest terms, is that the Pope is just a really nice guy committed to a deeply spiritual life, and to helping lead the Church in the right direction. The criticism I’ve heard is that we shouldn’t need a human to lead us in the right direction if we have God. However, I know that I’ve needed spiritual guidance from other people a lot, and I like to have someone to look to. I’ve always instinctively been more of a follower than a leader, though I’m good at being a leader if I have to be. Plus, I feel like Pope Francis has done/is doing some really good things for the Church.

I’m actually probably not the best advocate for traditional Catholicism, though. For one thing, I’m a universalist. I don’t believe in the traditional version of Hell, in which people suffer for all eternity. I do believe that (as awkward as it is to talk about it) terrible people do go to some sort of place where they have to face the consequences of what they’ve done, but I believe that Jesus came to save all mankind. Eventually everyone is redeemable because there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth, and everything that’s wrong will be righted. I could be totally wrong, and I accept that. I’ve also decided that “I don’t know” is a perfectly legitimate answer to a lot of questions about spiritual stuff. I haven’t come to this conclusion just because it sounds nice, though. I’ve done my research, and it just makes sense to me.

Furthermore, I think I take a more liberal stand on certain things than a lot of old school Catholics, but of course I’m generalizing. I believe that gay marriage should be legal everywhere, I believe that abortion should be legal, but only when absolutely medically necessary, and I’m unsure how I feel about euthanasia, and suicide in general; to mention a few. What I am absolutely sure about, however, is that we’re meant to take certain things Jesus said very literally. Two of those things are that we are supposed to love our neighbors as well as our enemies, and we are not supposed to judge others.

I do feel that, through the Catholic Church, I’ve been able to form a close, personal relationship with God, and it’s given me a basis on which I can form my own ideas and beliefs about morality, etc. In many ways, yes, the Church and Christian culture in general fosters conformity, but only if we let it. The Church is made up of people and free thinkers who, ironically, are often considered cultural nonconformists. It takes a nonconformist to follow Jesus. Back when he was alive and the Church was just a baby, people thought he, and by extension his followers, were crazy. History tells us that the Church is guilty of some pretty terrible things, but it also tells us that, at one time, the Church was persecuted, and in some places, is still persecuted. The fact of the matter is, however, that it’s still alive and well, and that’s pretty cool.

Because in my world guinea pigs can fly!


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