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?