I’m a 66 year old lapsed Catholic. I’m not a conventional believer, but I miss my Catholic home. Help?

A funny thing happened last week after this little profile of me appeared at CNN.com:  I started hearing not just from Mormons, but from people of faith of all stripes who recognized in my story something very similar to their own.  Because, friends, it’s not just Mormons who face crises and transitions in their faith.  It’s not just Mormons who wrestle with belief and doctrine and institution.  It happens in just about every faith tradition on the face of the earth.  We are not alone.

Witness this letter I received from a man named Mark:

I’m a 66 year-old “Ex” Catholic. I decided to distance myself from the Church for many reasons:  I believe in married priests, women priests, and family planning beyond the abstinence pushed by the Catholic hierarchy. I’m not at all certain that the Catholic Church is the “one, true church” and that all others, Mormonism included, are somewhat defective since they were not established by Jesus. I believe that other gospels are relevant and good. And I’m not into the belief that the host in Mass is truly Jesus’ body.

For years, I sat in Mass and listened to preaching of the above and more. One day, a couple of years ago, I finally realized that my quietly listening to such talk was being read by others as agreement or submission. I told my wife that I could no longer allow my presence to be misread by priests and others as support for their beliefs.

I feel bad about the disconnectedness from the community that I was involved in for more than 60 years. I feel like a bad person sometimes. But the Church response is that if I choose to be Catholic, I must believe the tenets of the faith.

How would you answer this dilemma? 

I handed this question over to a friend of mine named Nadia, a Catholic woman who, funny thing, started hanging out around the Mormon bloggernacle a few years ago.  There was something in our stories and struggles she recognized as her own.  I was lucky enough to meet Nadia last week in New York City.  The world needs an Ask Catholic Girl, I told her.  She wrinkled her nose.  Late last night, I forwarded Mark’s query to Nadia.  And here is her response.


I’d like to let you in on a little secret. I am a 21-year-old progressive Catholic feminist. I long for the day when a woman can raise her right hand to bless the congregation with the Sign of the Cross. I worry that The Church forgets how important the sacredness of human agency is. I’ve read the Book of Mormon and the Quran, and they were beautiful. Some days, I know that those wafers are the Body of Christ, and other days that idea sounds crazy.  You and me Mark, we’re the same.

I suspect that when I sit in the very first pew, smack dab in from of my priest in my New York City parish, he thinks I have it all figured out. I don’t. I go to Mass on Sundays to say, “I ask you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to Lord our God,” and to share in a community meal.

Some Sundays, I lay in bed reading Why do Catholics Do That? because the thought of going through the motions feels disingenuous. Other Sundays, when I am back home in Texas, I sit in my car in the parish parking lot and listen to Mormon Stories podcasts while sipping a slushy from Sonic.  

Let me let you in on a little secret. St. Paul tells us, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” Mark, you and me we were baptized into this beautiful, confusing, mess of a Church and the priests on Sunday, uber-devout fellow Catholics, the Pope himself or our own misgivings can’t change that.

What would happen if you went to church this coming Sunday? I vote you come home. Maybe it won’t be this Sunday. Maybe this year you’ll go on Easter and Christmas. Maybe your first Sunday back you’ll slip out after Communion. You have every right to come home. To sit, stand and kneel, even though Church doctrine tells us people like you and me shouldn’t receive the Body of Christ come up to the altar and say “Amen.” The craziness we carry around with us during Mass is for us to ponder and pray about and for God to iron out.

BAM!  Beautiful.  A community meal, as Nadia says, to be shared in across faith traditions.  And what if the point of a religious tradition is having a place to sort out your “craziness,” as Nadia puts it?

Readers, what do we learn when we listen to the experiences of other people of faith?  What additional advice can you give Mark from your own faithful perspective?  And who has three cheers for Ask Catholic Girl?

Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.  Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com.  Read The Book of Mormon Girl.



Filed under ask catholic girl, faith transition

35 responses to “I’m a 66 year old lapsed Catholic. I’m not a conventional believer, but I miss my Catholic home. Help?

  1. DianaofThemyscira

    Beautiful answer, Nadia. This question and Nadia’s response is a beautiful, visceral reminder to me about God’s universalism. . .we humans, no matter what religious tradition (or none) we ascribe to, are all in this boat together. . .finding our way to the divine (whatever/however/whoever we determine that to be) in our own individual ways.

    Love the thought that “the point of a religious tradition is having a place to sort out your “craziness”” Amen!

    I love my Catholic grandpa, my polygamous-Mormon-pioneer-descending grandma, my secular humanist German-immigrant grandparents, and my Orthodox LDS immediate family. All have helped shaped who I am.

    I try to focus on what it is that *I* need from my religious Sunday worship. The point of religion (to me) is to help us become better people. And so, I focus on what Sunday worship will do to help me become a better person. If that means just attending Sacrament meeting one Sunday, then so be it. If that means attending more meetings (Sunday School or Relief Society), then so be it. If that means not attending at all and having a nice family day, then so be it.

    The Church will continue on whether you and I attend; we can still maintain our “unorthodox” views and enjoy what level of worship helps us reach a connection to the divine.

    • JA

      No disrespect intended, and maybe its the difference between the perspective of a 21 year old vs that of a 60 yr.old. When I was 21 and I disagreed with the teachings of my (Mormon) faith, I was OK with remaining an active member. My thought was that I was young, there are plenty of things I do not understand but I had faith enough to think one day I would understand. I could sit in the pew and absorb what truth I could find there. Now that I am closer to Mark’s age, I feel my presence in the pew shows support for certain doctrines I find utterly foreign to the God I know. I don’t kow how it is in other faiths, but if I were to bring these things up in, say, a Sunday School class, I would be told the famous Mormon quote, ” when the Prophet speaks, the discussion is over.” This is breaking my heart and Mark’s too, I believe. I am in the midst of my crisis of faith so I have no advice as to how to deal with the loss of that community. I am not angry with the Church so I do not fit in with the anti-Mormon crowd. I am disappointed and alone. Mark, let us know if you come to terms with this. I understand where you’re coming from.

  2. I think what we learn is that we have more in common than we really want to believe–that we all struggle with similar questions of faith, and that we all sense the divine in otherwise imperfect religious traditions. I’m right there with ya, Mark, and Mormon Girl–I’m a returning mormon girl myself. I had friends in law school who could not figure out why I felt compelled to go back to church, after what I’d been through with local leadership when I was in the throes of my divorce. And I couldn’t really properly explain it, other than to say that it was as much a part of me as the marrow in my bones, and I could FEEL the truth, though I didn’t entirely believe in all of the not-actually-gospel idiosyncrasies. And YES–three cheers for Ask a Catholic Girl! We need more asking, more thinking, more introspection, more soul-searching, more becoming personally involved in our faith. And then, just maybe, we can all feel comfortable in our own skin, in our own belief, in our own relationship with God.

  3. Tiffany

    It is so funny to come to your site today and see this posting, because last week I started writing virtually the same email to you but quit because I couldn’t find the correct words to express my position. As a lapsed Catholic, I too miss going to Mass and the community aspect of it but as someone who no longer believes all the tenets I have been unable to reconcile that with my urge to re-attend. Thank you for this posting and here’s one cheer for a “ask catholic girl!”

  4. I dunno, what would you tell a former devoted member of the Revolutionary Communist Party or the John Birch Society who no longer believes the message? Just go to the meetings for the warm feelings and the memories? The Catholic Church is one of the most politicized organizations on the planet, and I think Mark is right to feel his silence is taken as agreement with views he finds wrong. When he puts his dollars in the collection plate, he’s supporting the hierarchy’s political mission. It doesn’t sound like he wants to do that.
    Maybe he should try a progressive church, like UU.

  5. Evelyn

    Whle I will always consider myself part of the Jewish tribe, the religion did have the answers I was seeking. It took me quite a while, but I finally found a faith that I am spiritually at home with. Are you looking for comfort and the familiar and hope to change things from within, or that your current religion will come to accept you as you are? Or are you actively seeking a new home in congruence with your beliefs? As adults it is important to structure our lives so that they are meaningful to us.

  6. TMS

    As I’ve navigated a transitioning faith, I have tried to analyze what is the most problematic element of this metamorphosis. I’ve settled on dogmatism. The more I have changed my views, the less and less the institution has told me that I am allowed to fit. Being for marriage equality, not believing in patriarchy as a divine mandate, not being sure about many of Joseph Smith’s claims, etc. etc. doesn’t always sit well with leaders and fellow saints.

    I was raised by staunchly believing parents and found myself to have become that same sort of believer as an adult. However, trying to really understand my religion led me to read and research. As I discovered things in LDS history, I was forced to racially shift my understanding of religion and God. I also developed a profound sense of how much I do not know. How much all of us don’t know. With that has come a humility I was never able to quite possess when I felt assured that I was in the “one, true church”.

    And there is the problem. It appears that the leaders of the LDS church (and the Catholics as well) do not want to have their authority or pronouncements questioned. They do not want to be undermined. I understand why they desire this, and yet, I have come to believe that they probably should be undermined to some extent. I am utterly Mormon in my belief that we are here on this planet to gain experience, that we are to learn for ourselves to recognize the divinity we hold within. I feel that often leadership impedes rather than nurtures that end. I feel a demand for blind obedience is an awful form of repression, that quite frankly, is ungodly.

    I love what Nadia had to say. If we want to worship in the religion of our youth, then I feel we have a right to do so, regardless of what institutional messages might be sent. Religion is a tool and we should each be allowed to use that tool as we see fit.

    • JA

      Leslie – you’re the gal I’ve been looking for. You make a number of fine suggestions and, on my stronger days, i go to church and glean what I can. I often leave before Relief Society (The sisters are nuts). Sometimes I find myself looking around the room and wondering who else is with me. Many of these folks are kind and intelligent and thoughtful and surely they can’t agree with EVERYTHING?!?!?!?! (And for you non-LDS readers- when we Mormons say “EVERYTHING”, we do mean every last jot and tittle of doctrine. There is no smorgasbord with the Saints. If you don’t believe it, you’d best keep it to yourself until you DO believe. There is no “sincere people can have an honest difference of opinion.” And there is no “parish hopping”.
      I like your positive approach with making notes on the points you agree and disagree with. One friend I confided in said something that touched me and maybe it will help others. She said if I (and others like me) don’t attend meetings, then the others, who are also struggling, are even more alone. I could stay home and let people draw their own conclusions and have absolutely no impact on anyone. Or I could attend, politely and respectfully express another point of view and try, just try, to make an impact. I know it will be like pushing a boulder uphill the size of the Salt Lake temple, but I suppose that’s what we’re here for.

  7. FlockofSeagulls

    I love how Mark’s question goes to the heart of the struggle for so many of us: how to balance orthodoxy with our own view of the divine.

    I’m an active Mormon who had my crisis of faith a year ago (a crisis quite similar to Mark’s), but ultimately decided to remain in the Church when I came to understand that there was still a place for me there–that it didn’t have to be all or nothing, that I could question and still remain in the community. (As one thoughtful friend observed, isn’t the Mormon testimony meeting–the open mic event that occurs one Sunday a month–really a forum for each of us to articulate our own unique religion, the profoundly personal way we make sense of the universe and our own experience?)

    For me, finding a new comfort zone meant a subtle shift from “faith” to “hope,” which in the Mormon conception is kind of a precursor to faith. Taking that view enabled me to step back–imperfect observer that I am–and say, in effect, “I don’t agree with this or with that, but I could be wrong, and I hope it’s all perfectly true and literal, even if I strongly suspect on some level that it isn’t.” Perhaps more importantly, adopting that perspective allowed me to feel that I wasn’t somehow being dishonest with myself or with others by staying in Church. I’m simply at the extreme “hopeful” end of the hope-to-certainty spectrum, and happy to remain there on account of the wonderful fellowship, motivation, and other blessings that go along with active participation in Church and my local congregation.

    Still, some tensions remain, and I suspect they always will. I think certainty (or at least the illusion of certainty) is precisely what attracts people to religion. In a world painted in shades of gray, religion offers us something black and white, with clearly drawn lines between good and evil, truth and error. That powerful appeal is lost–or at least diluted–when we admit that our chosen creed is anything less than “God’s will” or the “one, true church,” which is why Mormonism and Catholicism and other faiths so strongly resist challenges to their orthodoxy. Before you know it, lines blur, certainty recedes, and one is left with the “Church of the Polite Suggestion” or something akin to a Chinese buffet, where one picks and chooses what one likes and leaves the rest. On some level, that’s a perfectly comfortable and cheerful way to handle faith, though I suspect it lacks the power to motivate people in the same way that an all-or-nothing orthodoxy can–the kind of conviction that motivates people to leave home and family and migrate somewhere else, to go to the far ends of the earth to share it with others, or, as with many early Christians, to endure a painful death rather than recant a cherished, orthodox belief.

    Ah well, it seems there are no perfect or easy answers, though it’s nice to find such thoughtful dialog here.

    • Actually there is a fairly easy answer. Doctrine and dogma come from human sources who have also told you that the buffet they present is all you MUST eat. Once you see that some of the buffet is actually something you should NOT eat, their all-or-nothing approach is invalidated. So if they don’t always speak for God when they say they do, isn’t everything else they told you suspect? What a nuisance, but don’t all the practices and beliefs you took on faith now have to be re-considered individually?

      If you are at a buffet and you know the egg drop soup has salmonella and the barbecue pork has botulism, do you just avoid those and pick from the rest? “I don’t know for certain that the spring rolls are bad too. They sure taste good and I am hungry and don’t know where else I can get fed.” Don’t you really have to think this through a little further than that?

      If you are looking for perfect, doesn’t it make perfect sense to just stay away from that restaurant? Sure you have been going there every Sunday and you love the owner who greets you at the door and you chat with other customers who also have been coming for years, but seriously, what if there is E. Coli in the garlic spinach? So the answer is easy in the sense that it is obvious, but following through is tough, especially if you really love those spicy crab puffs.

      • terrylinden

        I LOVE the buffet analogy. Especially since almost everyone does it, whether within one’s own religion or during a search. I’m Jewish, but I sing at a very progressive Episcopalian church here in LA. There is a great deal of Christianity (love, acceptance, love) that resonates strongly with me, but I’ve never been tempted to leave Judaism. And I see nothing wrong in crafting a personalized version of a religion (see Buddhism, Juddhists) if it is meaningful and fulfilling.

        Re AskJewishGirl: I’m fairly knowledgeable, but I don’t feel qualified to monitor a really comprehensive forum like this. I’m afraid I don’t know anyone who could be AskMuslimGirl or AskCatholicGirl, but there are a couple of women I could talk to at church who could be AskProtestantGirl. I’ve seen several blogs which were actually a hub for several people. Joanna, is there a way to contact you off-blog, or do you have a policy against that?

  8. ChristineHW

    I’m Catholic and longtime reader of AMG. I love reading this series because it reminds me (like Joanna said) that I am not alone in my searching. Nadia, you did a truly beautiful job of lifting that up for us today. I absolutely can’t wait for more ‘Ask a Catholic Girl!’

    I also wanted to give one more piece of practical advice for Mark: We progressive/radical/free-thinking Catholics can be a surprisingly organized bunch and we have become pretty good at building (what Catholic theologian Clarissa Pinkola Estes calls) the church beneath the Church. That is to say, as our bishops and parishes have become more restrictive we’ve gotten good at building spaces outside the institutional church where we can gather, worship and be the church we dream of. If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend looking up Call to Action (www.cta-usa.org) and Future Church (www.futurechurch.org), two church reform organizations that have great local, regional and national gatherings. Likewise, there are many parishes founded by Roman Catholic Woman Priests that manage to maintain both their Catholic and progressive identities.

    I 110% agree with Nadia that the Church is ours, and we can’t abandon it to the people who would exclude us just because we surpass their small idea of what being ‘catholic’ is. I also know that there are many great Roman Catholic parishes out there that are quietly supporting same-sex couples, letting women preach homilies and promoting peace and justice. But, if you’re not in a place in your journey where you’re ready to step into a ‘traditional’ church yet, that’s OK. I still encourage you to check out some of the organizations I listed above. They’re safe, supportive spaces where you can find the community that you seek, and they won’t make you feel left out or alone.

    Blessings to you on your journey, Mark. And thanks to Nadia and Joanna for your prophetic witnesses.

  9. SRLB

    yes. Yes. YES! So important, Joanna. And great job, Nadia! You need to keep it up.

    FWIW: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADDo5PT_ToI

  10. Old Mormon Lady

    I am so happy to have found this blog! I have always believed that “religion is a tool” – a tool to be used as we navigate this earthly existence (do I sound like the 65-year-old Mormon woman I am?). I am just not concerned with the “one true church thing.” I just want to live a happy, useful, productive life as I work towards returning to a loving Heavenly Father.

  11. Emily

    I was raised Catholic, and though I now disagree with a lot, I love my old faith. I feel steeped in its roots. I was in a Jewish choir for five years and feel drawn to their traditions as well. One of my best friends is Mormon and listening to him speak about the beauty of the theology is powerful. I’m now a Unitarian Universalist, because it means I don’t have to hide or diminish any of these things. Tellingly, though, it also means I don’t give money to the Catholic Church which so actively advocates against women’s rights and spends money hiding priest sexual abuse scandals. There is a difference between loving a faith and financially supporting its sins. And that’s where I draw the line.

    • Dear Responders,

      Emily’s comment is exactly how I feel about the money thing. And my wife agrees with me. She still goes to Mass and last Sunday the priest ranted about birth control. So she gave the money to Haiti fund instead. She and I are going to take all of the comments (above) and hash them out this weekend. I still don’t know what to do. I’ve also posted this to fb and have received other reaction, some of it recruiting to different churches. They don’t get my dilemma at all.

      Thanks for all the advice and help.


      • FlockofSeagulls

        Mark, I wonder whether it’s fair to insist that the Church as an institution align perfectly with your set of ideals to qualify for your financial support. Doubtless, you value your faith for a variety of reasons, as I value mine. But I don’t insist that the Church perfectly mirror me or my ideals to qualify for my financial support. To do so, I believe, risks “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” Despite reservations about some practices or points of doctrine, I still pay a full tithe to my church, knowing that, by and large, the funds will be used to support an institution that does an incredible amount of good with it. We don’t insist on perfection with each other. So, why do we insist on it from institutions made up of, and led by, imperfect human beings? In a similar vein, I happily pay my taxes, though I disagree with plenty of positions taken by those who claim to represent me. I still support the institution, for all it’s imperfections.

      • Hey Mark,
        I also advocate parish hopping. Most dioceses don’t follow through with assigned parishes. My parents parish back home is just awful so when I do go to Mass I go to a parish that works well for me. In New York City, same thing. At my parish up here all the Homilies are about love and repentance and trying hard again tomorrow, no gay marriage, birth control or abortion talk. I don’t tithe to my parish either. I give to Mormon Stories Podcast and the Catholic organization Food For the Poor. Give your money to effort you care deeply about (like the Haiti fund). There are lots of ways to go about being Catholic, don’t let the institution order that for you.

        Much love,

  12. terrylinden

    Do we need AskCatholicGirl? Sure. How about AskJewishGirl? AskMuslimGirl?

  13. Leslie

    What a heart felt question and a beautiful response. I found myself represented in both. I am a messy person with faiths and doubts and I struggle with some pervasive undercurrents in my Mormon community as well as many doctrinal positions. I long for the community but am finding it difficult to have it on my seemingly more mentally healthy terms. I ‘ve sat in the parking lot of my local chapel during our worship service listening to Krista Tippett’s program called “Being” nstead, (It used to be called “speaking of Faith”) i being somewhat afraid that if I went into the meeting I might feel the the terrible “shoulds” reemphasized and stacked high and deep.I might feel more angry about the pervasive perfectionism or the idea of patriarchy and less of the sweet beckonings of peace, humility and the deep christian messages I long for.

    I am trying to stay within my community for several reasons. I value the service that i am giving to my congregation. I feel connected to that giving part of myself and to the people who I serve. I value community. I believe hopefully and warmly much of the valuable tenets of this faith of my heritage. The sacrament is also a reminder of my connection with Christ..The temple worship that I participate in is something that has no books telling me how to assimilate my experience. There are no discussions or official doctrines telling me what to expect or what the experience means. We do not casually talk about the intricacies of that kind of worship and call it sacred. Though some have had problems with this kind of lack of dialog over temple worship, this secrecy, I find it refreshing because it gives me the freedom to have a very personal worship experience mostly without the clutter of other’s opinions or demands on the way I should experience it, think about it or do it.

    When i do attend the main meeting we call “Sacrament Meeting” I now keep a notebook with me. when I hear something that stirs me either with peace and strength or agitation, I write about it. I write my own sermons, the ones that i would like to hear. I doodle and draw. I take a wandering child next to me for moments. I try to think of the others that sit in meeting with me more compassionately. I let my angers lead me to more clarity in what I believe. Or I sit in the parking lot. This is when I choose to go. It’s how it is for me these days. Sometimes I am just tired of the whole package and I go camping instead! I have to take my church in doses.

    Thank you dear readers for letting me express myself in this forum. I think that i will have a better day today having had a voice. thank you Mark for your first entry and Nadia for your response.

  14. Lorin

    Mark, I’d love for you to visit an Episcopal church. Not all of them are as progressive as mine (here in the Bay Area) but it was a wonderful thing, as a feminist lapsed Catholic, to take communion from a female priest for the first time. Don’t feel like you have to be all or nothing – in a Catholic Church or at home – Sunday morning. There are other communities that will welcome you and allow you to come home.

    • That is just the thing, Lorin, what you offer isn’t home. Home is that familiar place you return to and it just feels right. There is a reaffirmation of childhood memories and a role waiting for you, waiting for the adult you would become. If you grew into the “wrong” size and shape for that role, however, you can’t go home again. Home is comfortable because it fits, and anything that involves some shoe-horning doesn’t feel like home.

      Finding an alternate place for the current version of “you” is problematic. Any solutions may just be temporary housing for refugees because who knows how far your changing process will go? Is feminism/patriarchy the only disconnection that has to be addressed, or are there other issues that will eventually come up with any religious product someone is selling?

  15. Ana

    Before I begin I should note – only my mother is Catholic, my father is not but they chose to raise the three of us Catholic and the same situation exists for me and my husband, he’s not Catholic but he’s agreed that we/I can raise the kids Catholic. I am a born and raised Catholic who, at the age of 16 and prior to my Confirmation into the Catholic Church, shared with my mom that I had doubts about my religion and was wanting to postpone my Confirmation. She waved it off and gave me a few books to read. Instead I went along with my Confirmation with a bit of hesitation and doubt (as I’m sure other teenagers have experienced when it comes to religion). In choosing a Confirmation saint (Catholics will appreciate this) I chose Saint Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas, aka Thomas the Doubter. (Side note – it was quite interesting when they read my saint name because 1) I was female and chose a male…not many females do, and 2) the doubting part caused a few gasps). The point being, I didn’t choose Saint Thomas because he was a doubter, I chose him because he had his reservations but in the end he still believed! That is what resonated with me.

    So now for my comment to Mark, I as well have doubts about my Catholic faith, and I agree priests should be married and women priests would be great (In fact, my local church had a Nun as a pastoral administrator for years due to our rural location in Alaska – traveling priests were few and far between some months, so we would have liturgy of the word with communion. Hands down she was one of the best homilists I’ve ever heard). I believe in contraception if the need fits in addition to other Catholic beliefs that I do not agree with. What I do know is this, faith is about believing in something bigger than ourselves, something extraordinary and amazing, for me that higher power is God and the life and teachings of Jesus. I believe God loves and cherishes us all, regardless of our religion or faults. I’m okay saying and knowing I’m Catholic but admitting that I don’t agree with some of the Church’s beliefs. And in the end, I truly believe, God is okay with it too. So knowing that, I wake my kids up Sunday mornings, listen to them moan and groan about attending Sunday school, and ask repeatedly, why do we have to go to Church, and with a smile on my face and gritting my teeth, I answer – because we’re Catholic and that’s how I was raised and that’s how we’re choosing to raise you three…NOW GET IN THE CAR!

  16. Margery

    A progressive Episcopal church with a traditional liturgy should have everything you love about the Roman Catholic church, plus a warm welcome. Episcopalians have a saying: You don’t need to leave your brain at the door!

  17. Abby Krug

    Margery has me infer that being Catholic requires one to “Leave (her) brain at the door.” So, the Episcopalians have cornered the market on spiritualism and scholarship? I had no idea.
    Here is a link to a Wikipedia piece on Catholic cleric scientists.


    Mark, while you are browsing the web, check out America, the Jesuit Magazine, online. You might find some great voices there too. The Jesuits have a strong intellectual tradition.
    When I struggled with the questions you have I went to a Methodist Church where the minister’s homilies were outstanding, the congregation warm and welcoming. What bothered me though- and brought me back to the Catholic Church- was that no matter how you look at it- Christianity requires faith. To believe the tomb was empty on Sunday morning requires faith. And no Christian church can really mitigate that completely. I found it more comfortable to sit in a pew on Sunday morning and be a part of the tradition of my ancestors, than to sit in a pew and agree with everything being said at the new church. To convert requires me to accept everything the new church says. To continue with my family’s faith requires me to bring myself to the meal and partake with my brothers and sisters and worship God as best we can together, always mindful that we have been asked to create Heaven here on Earth no matter where we worship.

    A friend of mine compared this problem to being American. My friend noted that she was born and bred in the US, but she did not agree with many American policies. Her disagreements did not make her any less American. The same goes for her membership in the Catholic Church. Good luck on your quest.

    • terrylinden

      This may create a firestorm of disagreement from the other Jews on this string, but Judaism doesn’t require faith. It requires action, which is one of the reasons it works for me, although I find many aspects of Christianity attractive. This requirement of action, as opposed to faith, incidentally, is why there are Righteous Gentiles recognized in Judaism. As long as you live a good life, a life which is pleasing to God (and there’s another discussion, isn’t there?), then you are a good person.

      Not needing to have faith also explains why there are so many discussions and disagreements and arguments among scholars, and ordinary people as well. A very old joke is: two Jews, three opinions.

      • rachel

        This Jew agrees with you, mostly! There’s a helpful triad in religious studies — belief/behavior/belonging — that helps at differentiating between religions, denominations, and movements. Within Judaism, belief is actually most important to Reform Jews and least important to Orthodox Jews, whereas behavior (to the extent it is synonymous with ritual and rules) is most important to Orthodox Jews and least important to Reform Jews. Obviously this is coarse description, but it can be helpful. It means that there are plenty of Orthodox Jews (some I know well!) who don’t believe in God but value community (belonging) and therefore engage in the rituals and practices (behavior) to the nth degree in order to be part of the community. This isn’t without its own set of issues, but it’s true that faith plays a much more minimal role in most movements of Judaism than in other religions. That, and a very strong legal and argumentative tradition, make for huge ranges of interpretation, law, and practice…

      • terrylinden

        I used to belong to a synagogue, back in New York, called the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (hereinafter the “SAJ”), which was the mothership of the Reconstructionist movement. (Sidebar: there’s a great joke for anyone familiar with the different forms of Judaism.) One of my co-congregants kept kosher, observed the Sabbath and the holidays quite strictly. When I asked her why she was a member of a denomination that believes in a non-supernatural definition of God, she said: “These are the customs which have helped to keep our people together for almost 6,000 years. We can at least honor them.”

        Your’s is a very interesting, and I think true, observation of which groups of Jews are more action-oriented, and which more faith-oriented. It’s not as obvious as one might think. For those interested in Reconstructionism, read “Judaism as a Civilization,” by Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of the movement.

      • Emily

        Terry, this is how my boyfriend practices Islam, incidentally. Although there’s a fundamental difference – Islam requires, by definition, a belief in one God – culturally it works the same way. My boyfriend prays when he’s with his devout father – mostly to placate him but in part because he knows the meditation has merit. He also avoids most alcohol and pork products whether anybody is watching him or not. This is more tradition than faith, but it seems to bring him some peace and I (a lapsed Catholic and now ‘devout’ Unitarian Universalist) greatly respect this, even if I recognize he has some big conversations with his dad in his future.

      • JA

        In the interest of full disclosure, I have always had an inexplicable attraction to Judaism – my husband says I was fixated in my “Yentl” stage.

        I love that Judaism requires action and would suggest that faith is a precursor to any action.

      • terrylinden

        An interesting response, because when I was doing some minor research on Lutheranism (part of a larger project) I learned about Luther’s “Sola Fides” (only faith) stance. In other words, faith was all that was necessary. I asked a more knowledgeable friend about it, and he said that action was the evidence of faith. I LOVE that answer.

        And it sets up–for me–a chicken-and-egg question: Which comes first? Faith, which then inspires action, or action which may (or not) inspire faith?

  18. I feel compelled to leave a reply. I found this post while searching for some advice on explaining to close Catholic relatives why they should not approach to receive the Holy Eucharist when they attend Mass with me this Christmas (the first Mass they’ve attended since last Christmas and are attending only out of a feeling of family obligation).
    Just before He departed for Gethsamane after the Last Supper (during which He instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist), Jesus prayed for his beloved disciples and those who would come after them: “May they all be one, just as, Father, you are in me and I am in you . . . .” Jn. 17:21. Sorrowfully, we are not “all one,” yet as the Lord prayed. The Reformation in the 1500s separated the Body of Christ, now represented in @ 35,000 different denominations. I am sure, in time, Our Lord’s prayer will be answered, but that is not now the case.
    Until the 1500’s, to be Christian was to be Catholic. And, to be Catholic then and now is a “Yes” or “No” proposition. Either the Catholic Church is the One True Church founded by the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity or it is not. “And so I say to you, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Mt. 16:18-19.
    I cite all this as reference points for the metaphor of the Catholic Church as a stool, supported by three legs: Scripture, Tradition, and the infallible teachings of the Magesterium. Remove one, and the stool collapses; all three are essential.
    I do not comment from my own authority; I am a great sinner praying for the salvation of myself and others. It took me the greater part of almost 60 years to scratch the surface of the majesty of the Faith…….and of my “orders” so to speak to defend it: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope . . . . ” 1 Pt 3:15.
    Jesus was at the height of his popularity, with thousands following him when he gave the great Eucharistic Discourse in John, Chapter 6. He was repetitive in insisting He was the Bread of Life and that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood and He would raise us up on the last day. Most of his disciples could not bear that command and no longer followed him. He did not call them back and tell them he was only speaking symbolically – He let them go. It was then that Peter proclaimed Him to be the Son of God and Jesus spoke the words cited above. Jesus always explained Himself to those who did not understand, so there can be no misconstruing the truth of what Truth Itself was speaking that day.
    When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, Scripture, Tradition and the Magesterium all instruct us that what appears to be bread and wine is really, truly and substantially the body, blood, soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. We are receiving God Himself.
    So to do so without believing this, or in a state of mortal sin is a sacrilege against the Most Blessed Sacrament. Catechism of the Catholic Church 2120. Another comment cited an epistle of St. Paul and I’d like to reference one specifically discussing the worthy reception of Holy Communion: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.” 1 Cor. 11:27-29.
    So, I say to the person asking the question – Come Home. I, too, was what I thought of as “not a conventional Catholic;” “a progressive Catholic” – whatever words I wanted to use to attempt to justify my remaining in the Church without really being in the Church.
    As Catholics, we have been given the greatest gift this side of heaven. It has taken me most of my life to come to this understanding and I am profoundly grateful. Still a sinner, not better than anyone else – but for some reason I’ll never understand in this life, incredibly graced to “wake up” and see the beauty of the fullness of the Faith in the Catholic Church. And yes, it is very difficult trying to live the “Yes” of that “yes or no” proposition. But the splendor, the awe – well, I have no words. God bless you all in your journeys.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s