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.