Do I even belong here? aka the mess that is in my head right now

Note: I broke this up into three posts to save you from reading pages and pages of text, but this post will be all about my confusion, so be forewarned it will be a long, rambling mess.

Clearly, my religion is not something I think about on a day-to-day basis.  But on a daily basis, I do think about what it means to be a good person and how to raise my children to be good people as well.  For me, that means teaching them the following:

  • Be thankful for your family
  • Be thankful for what you have
  • Realize that others don’t have it as well as you do and find ways to help
  • Be considerate of other people’s feelings
  • Be empathetic, think about how you would feel in their place
  • Be kind (my kids think that “stupid” is a bad word)
  • Don’t stand in judgment of others (see the empathy up above)
  • Forgiveness is key (again see empathy)
  • Love is the most important thing

For me, religion at its core is about all of those things.  I’ve always felt that church was a safe, familiar place.  As I said, I don’t have issues with religion’s core teachings but how these things are applied.  To me, all of the above means that I sometimes disagree with what the Catholic church teaches:

  • I support good people falling in love and getting married (even if their body parts don’t match up)
  • I believe in the value of other people’s beliefs (Catholicism is no better than any one else’s religion)
  • I understand how people feel in tough situations and I support their decisions on how to extricate themselves (e.g., unwanted pregnancy and abortion), no matter how difficult that decision is

But they never really talk about these things in church, or at least they didn’t.  Therefore, I would go to church and feel bored, disinterested, but never in disagreement.  Religion to me means all good things at its core.  I generally view gospel readings as a collection of stories that teach the above lessons.

So Sunday, I went to church for the first time in 19 years and the experience was unsettling for me, in a number of ways:

  1. They took my kid away!  I purposely took him to the family mass, so it would be kid-friendly.  I had fond memories of family masses as a kid, being brought up to the altar, etc.  So when they called for the young disciples, I sent him off, and he just didn’t come back.  It was literally the longest he has been out of my sight in public, ever.  He came back super happy, so I guess it was all good, but it took me way off guard.
  2. The new translation – it stripped away any level of familiarity I had with the mass.  All of the prayers/responses I had painstakingly memorized through 17 years of Catholic schooling changed.  And replacing “and also with you” with “and with your spirit” is kinda creepy.
  3. No one sings!  WTF!  The music is better, more approachable and more upbeat than I remember it, so people totally ignore it, at a family mass??
  4. There is very little kneeling, which was kinda good, even those padded kneelers are tough on the old knees, but it was another level of strangeness for me.
  5. Lastly and most confusingly – The gospel and homily made me sort of angry.  I am going to escape from this neat little list now and go into full-on ramble mode.

Apparently this past Sunday was the feast of “Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe”, so I am not sure this is typical of today’s masses.  The homily was all about how Christians are still sneered at for their beliefs, which I can get behind as wrong.  But then he went on and on about fighting against secularism, and that’s where the hairs on the back of my neck stood up.  We need to fight against secularism in schools and courthouses.  Actually, no, no we don’t.  Catholicism doesn’t belong in those places.  This goes back to me valuing the beliefs of others and being empathetic to their situation.  We have every right to our beliefs but so do they.

Are we really so conceited to think that Jesus is the king and EVERYONE should acknowledge this fact?  I started to wonder what they were teaching my son in the little room the young disciples were brought to.  Did I approve this message?  My son tends to be someone who really takes in all of his learnings and lives by them.  Did I want him living by this type of message?  This kind of myopia?

And a bigger question came to mind – If I am not going to get on this bangwagon of Jesus is the king and you should all heed His word, do I belong in a Catholic or even Christian church?  I never felt like I didn’t belong in the Catholic Church.  I always felt I could agree with the key messages and beg to differ with how they were applied.

However, a belief in Christ as the Messiah is Christianity.  If I don’t believe that He is the be all and end all, can I still be Catholic?  Can I believe that all religions have equal value and still be Catholic?

Is it okay for me to view the Bible as just a collection of stories that provide important guidelines on how to live and still be Catholic?

If I am not Catholic, what am I?  Being Catholic is more than a religion for me.  It is about my childhood, a lot of beautiful traditions that will otherwise get lost.  My son came home from religion class yesterday with a picture of an advent wreath.  My mind immediately went back to my elementary school days, where these wreaths would be on full display during Advent, as a reminder that the season was about more than presents.  I remembered painstakingly recreating these wreaths from paper.  My dad and my husband had never even heard of an Advent wreath and that made me sad.  If he had never gone to religion class, I wouldn’t have had these wonderful memories and a tradition that used to mean so much would be lost.

Is it okay that I find meaning in these symbols, without believing that Jesus is the one king we should all follow?

I totally believe you can be a good person without being a religious person and I think I am a good person.  But how much of who I am was created by this religious foundation?  It is becoming clearer to me that there is still a lot of religious teachings hiding beneath my non-religious exterior.  If I don’t give my children the same foundation will something be lost?

Is it okay for me to view the religion as a place for comfort, a place for community and a place for my children to learn a strong foundation of what it means to be good, without buying into all the rest?  Am I just over-thinking this whole thing?

If you know me, you know that I am always open to discussion, debate and more information.  But this time, I am asking for it.

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