Search This Blog

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Tantum Ergo Makes Your Hair Grow (and Other Memories of Faith)

Chris Brady

Easter brought back memories of Catholic rituals I have left behind:  Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, the reading of the Passion, and the joyful Alleluia hymns. 

Bless me father for I have sinned.  It’s been 16 years since my last confession. Shall we just talk about last month’s sins? I’m pretty consistent.

Remember this image from the Baltimore Catechism?

The Church has been hot news since the recent Papal election. It’s been positive coverage for the most part, but they couldn’t help bringing up the problems Pope Francis faces: the never-ending claims of abuse, mismanagement, and declining numbers of the faithful. I was not surprised to learn that if ex-Catholics were organized, they would be the third largest religious denomination in the world.

I stopped going to Mass because I was finding more spiritual sustenance at the dog park. My parish priests were like robots going through the motions; their sermons out of touch with the reality of their flock. And then the stories of the abuse became known and I would look at them and wonder, Did you know?  

But I’d had issues with the men of the Church long before that. In 1964, a priest came to my seventh-grade class to recruit altar boys and I boldly raised my hand and volunteered. I knew the routine and the prayers; I can still recite Latin prayers from memory (Pater noster, qui es in coelis)  

His stern look gave me my answer, and then he quoted scripture to defend why girls could never be on the altar. Girls did make it as altar servers sometime in the 80s but women remain second-class citizens in the Church, refused priesthood even though many communities are without priests. And recently, respected women religious leaders were threatened with ex-communication because they dare to disagree with the Vatican on issues of birth control and homosexuality.  

Hmmm, I thought when I heard that story.  Strong women get excommunicated; child abusers get reassigned. What would Jesus do?  

Despite my anger and disappointment, I cannot trade my Catholic faith for another even as I sit on the sidelines. It's a part of my DNA that cannot be denied. Author Jimmy Breslin made a good point in The Church that Forgot Christ, that the Church is not the Catholic religion. Those rituals of the Mass and the sacraments, linked to the life of Christ, are familiar and comforting. There are far more good priests than bad, and the faithful, millions of people worldwide, make the Church and enduring positive presence in the world.

On most Sundays, as I find myself at the park, looking across the meadow and watching the clouds float by, I ask myself would I rather be in Church?  For now at least, I prefer my park bench with my husband and dog to a pew.  I find God in nature and I am at peace with that.

But I hedge my bets by saying the Lord's Prayer and humming "How Great thou Art."

Dominus vobiscum.

 Is your faith an important part of your life?  Share your story.  300 days indulgence if you can give me the response to that Latin greeting.


  1. " Hmmm, I thought when I heard that story. Strong women get excommunicated; child abusers get reassigned. What would Jesus do?"
    Chris, that quote and this entire post so eloquently expresses what I, and I suspect many others feel.
    After a long absence from church, Jim and I started going to mass somewhat regularly again a few years ago. Still, like you, I often feel more spiritual in other settings. for me, it's walking on the beach, or sitting quietly watching the sun rise or set over the ocean. And, contrary to what many church leaders say, I suspect Jesus would be okay with that :)

    1. and P.S. laughing at the whole milk bottle, sin thing. What a way to teach kids about faith!

    2. On the Baltimore Catechism: no matter how much you laugh about it, you have to admit that the memorization and the illustrations stayed with us. My St. Joseph's Missal was the other text that I read inside and out.

      Glad you are finding peace at Mass.

  2. This post speaks so much of how I feel, especially now as we plan our marriage and consider raising children. In fact, next week we have a meeting with the priest at the church where we plan on marrying. I am bracing myself for the disapproving conversations about how we cohabitate and don't go to church weekly and how I take birth control. I connect with your feelings about being Catholic because of how you were raised and not because of how you actually believe and the lack of their being another option. I don't want to renounce my Catholicism but I also feel like I need to say I belong to one group of "do gooders" because not having a faith carries with it its own set of stereotypes. Those stereotypes consist of being cynical or militant, or worst of all, immoral. Perhaps I subscribe to the lesser of two evils but admittedly, both revolve around what others think. I'm not proud of that. My fiancé does not have a faith...but I don't care. He subscribes to the idea that if he is a good person, he will end up exactly where he should after death. I love that he doesn't cling to faith to guide his opinions. He believes himself to be more than capable to form them on his own...Wonder where he learned that from.

    1. As a parent, I did not force the religion of my youth on my son. I wondered at the time if that was a mistake. I rationalized that he would make decisions about religion when he was an adult no matter what I did with him as a child. I still believe that is true, but perhaps he did miss out on some of the cultural aspects of religion that I referenced in this piece. Parenting is a crap shoot.

      As you meet with the priest this week, just listen and tell him your faith is a work in progress. You want your marriage blessed in the Church because it completes the Catholic journey you have been on since you were a child.

  3. Agree with all of your points - the blatant abuse (on many levels and against boys, girls, nuns, cleaning women, et al) , the shameless coverup, and their position on woman-keep the woman down and oh yeah, if you can keep her pregnant, so much the better. Great piece, Chris.

  4. Lisa RamseyApril 07, 2013

    Faith is an integral part of my life, and one of the ways I live my faith is through active involvement in my church. I know many who feel as you do, Chris--that the church (Roman Catholic or otherwise) is out of touch with today's world. And while I agree that a personal relationship with God is primary, it's the community of faith that brings things full circle in the Lutheran church. As a lifelong Lutheran, I encourage you to explore some of the Protestant congregations in your area. Lutheran and Episcopal, in particular, will feel familiar, as many of the elements of liturgy are the same. The differences, as I see them, are the in roles of the pastor, the inclusion of women in leadership roles (and, indeed, depending on the congregation--the inclusion of all, regardless of gender, background, sexual orientation, etc.) and the commitment to grow and change to serve today's world while maintaining connections to tradition. I've written about my church in my blog--it's very much an extension of my family, and my faith is enriched by the presence of my "church friends." I hope you continue to seek the connections that make sense to you and that you continue to find ways to keep your faith growing.

  5. Mary Frances FoxApril 07, 2013

    Et cum spiritu tuo!