A Crisis of Church

While waiting for a phone call the other morning, I took a few minutes to peruse boston.com.  I don’t often get to read a paper or watch the news, so it was a nice treat, the uninterrupted five minutes to catch up with the bigger world out there.

The headline that grabbed me was the story of the three women to be ordained as priests in the Boston Catholic Church (here’s the original story).  Well, not officially ordained, according to the bishops and other men in charge, who assert that by doing so these women would effectively be excommunicated, forever severing their ties with the church.  Even so, these women feel such a strong calling to the priesthood that even this threat from the powers that be will not dissuade them from accepting the highest sacrament the church offers.

I was struck on many levels by this story.  Mostly, though, as a female Catholic, I once again faced a huge question — could I continue to embrace a church that excluded so many people?

This is a tough enough question for a person, but as a Mom I am particularly troubled.  Mitzi is due to start her religious education classes this fall, leading to her receipt of the second and third sacraments, penance and communion respectively.  I feel an obligation to resolve my conflict before setting my kids down a particular religious road.

Not that my faith is in question.  Well, not entirely.  There are many days where I wonder what I believe,  as far as a Higher Power goes.  God, he or she, whatever religion, is a mystery to me, but one I’ve always been willing to take my time contemplating, with the ups and downs of faith that challenge many of us.

Having kids changes the playing field.  Somehow I have to be a solid role model, unwavering in my beliefs — or at least church of choice.  My kids, upon reaching a certain maturity, will be free to choose their own belief system, their own means of worship (or not).  Raised Catholic, given a foundation in matters of religion and faith, they can choose to remain Catholic or not.  That was a great gift given to me by my parents, one I hope to pass on.

But can I model for them a behavior that I am questioning?  I don’t always know what I believe, and am not sure where I can find answers for myself, let alone for my children.  They need something to believe in, of that I am sure.  So I will sign Mitzi up for classes and hope I never have to remind her to “do as I say, not as I do.”  I hate feeling like a hypocrite.  But this church of mine sure is not helping me avoid hypocrisy.

Did God ever say that women could never be priests?  Did Jesus definitely never have a female apostle? (Apostles are the forerunners of today’s priests, and the lack of women present in the Bible as Jesus’s main confidantes is the sole reason for women being denied this highest communion with their God.)  I am mystified by the blindness of people in today’s world, when daily discoveries are made that indicate all of history ought to be taken lightly until proved otherwise.  Who is to say that some men, in the long-ago patriarchal society, did not destroy evidence that some of Jesus’s closest companions were women?  That he was married?  That he specifically said women ought to be the main force in spreading his message?

I am a questioner, one who never believes at face value.  Doesn’t make me much of an optimist, I will admit, and too often I look toward the dark side of the moon.  I think it’s okay for my kids to learn to question the world around them. But despite my cynicism and doubt, I have to be the one to open doors for my kids, especially now, when they are far to young to even begin to examine matters of faith.

My mom may have had questions, struggles, crises of faith.  I never knew if she did.  We went to church, we prayed, we believed, all with her as an example.  That was enough for me.  She allowed me to strike out on my own in my teens and twenties, to explore Buddhism and other eastern perspectives, to wander through the mystics of the Kabbalah, to search wherever I could, from Salinger to Sartre, to find out where God might be.

Today, nearing forty, I have no firm answers, and frankly, still enjoy the questioning.  For myself.  As a Mom,  I have to decide where to send my kids.  Is it fair to leave them spinning in my galaxy of questions, or should I offer to them the solidity of my upbringing, the church to which I return time and again, despite my questions and frustrations?

I have no answers today.  Ten o’clock mass will not give them to me.  But we will go, Mitzi, Cooper and I, and I will teach them the prayers that helped define my childhood, and therefore, myself.

Because they don’t need questions.  They need traditions, familiarity, comfort.  At least for now.  And if I find myself playacting sometimes —  the role of confident Mom will be played by Jennifer today — maybe I’m not so unusual.

The unexamined life is not worth living.  And this I believe to be true– if God did not want us to question, we would not have been given the tools to do just that.


3 thoughts on “A Crisis of Church

  1. Jen – there are no easy answers as you go along your faith journey. Yes, the Catholic church is rife with mistakes and scandals, as in the recent sex scandals, the Spanish inquisition, the silence during the holecaust and up to not ordaining women. You are right, there were women who served with Jesus in the beginning. The woman were always there to serve and many times they remainded when the apostles fled. And what about the Virgin Mary? She has seen me through many things when I felt I needed someone to listen to me. I sought her out when I couldn’t approach God in my prayers. Do you remember when you say the creed at mass? The only time we bow our heads, other than when Jesus’ name is mentioned, is when we recite, born of the Virgin Mary. I have questioned many times and many times other ways looked so good! But I kept with what I know. You know that the kids have the same free will that you have. They will also question and seek as they go on their faith journey throughout their lives. When you go to mass next time, remember there are VERY few as the mass who believe absolutely that they are in the right place. I’m sure if you could speak with Anne O’Callaghan she would tell it to you better. Work from within was her path. She didn’t see her work fulfilled but you can bet she’s up in heaven routing for us all to make a difference. Sorry that I couldn’t list facts or reasons for or against. Just know that YOU are not the first one to question and seek. xo

  2. Do not confuse Faith with Organized Religion. The Catholic Church has changed dramaticly over the years and will continue to do so. As a catholic Mom you took an oath to raise your children in the Catholic Religion. If one leaves out the pomp and ceramony the CR by itself is a good religon to learn about a Higher Power. Let your children gow up in the RC tradition and let them ask questions along their journey. Teach them to love one another and their fellow man. Do always try to do the right thing. Teach them to pray and meditate, to read spirtitual liteture, to be willing to keep an open mind about all things.

    ” There is a principle which is a bar aganist all information, which is proof aganist all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance— that principle is Contempt Prior To Investigation.”

  3. I think we share all these thoughts and feelings with our kids, when they are old enough to start wanting to talk about these things and share their own perspective (hard to believe, but they will be little 12 yr old philosophers — soon!). Just as we share the positive things – what you love about Catholicism, or Christianity, what it has meant to you at different times in your life.

    Recently we walked by the church we attend. I’ll admit it’s very sporadic at present, especially since neither of the kids are old enough for CCD yet. We started talking about the pastor, and how he had been transferred this summer, and how 5 yr old Nicolena didn’t think it was very fair that Fr. O’Leary (a very dynamic presence at the children’s Mass) just had to go whereever the Bishop told him to. Then she asked me if I thought the new person would be a man or a woman – so I had to try to explain to her that there was no way it could be a woman, and I shared the perspective of the church authorities, and my somewhat heretical ideas about being holy and close to God.

    Without ANY coaching from me, I promise – She wanted to write a letter to the Pope, asking him to explain! I really need to remind her about that, because I would love to hear what the response would be if it ever came.

    At the end of the day, I think what Rangers 1 says is right – what our kids need is to foster their abilities when it comes to prayer, meditation, and openness. It is the greatest gift you can give, beyond unconditional love, in terms of coping when life gets tough. And maybe throwing a little bit of debate in there isn’t such a bad exercise either – like toughening them up with a camping trip!

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