Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Real" Catholics

This post may end up being really disjointed. There have been a bunch of similar themes floating around in my head for the past few weeks.... ever since the retreat, actually. And it all seems to be coming to head this weekend.

Our Parish is a small-ish parish... we have between 800-900 active families. It is just over 50 years old, and we still have some original parishoners. I would say that it is fairly evenly spread between senior citizens and young/school-age families. We are a moderate Catholic parish. We are most definitely not "liberal"... our two priests and two deacons are all faithful to the Magisterium and obedient to the Archbishop. But neither are we a very "conservative" parish. No one wears a mantilla. The choir sings both traditional, organ-based songs, and modern, Christian-rock songs. We occasionally have bongos at 10:30 Sunday mass.

To say that we fit in here would be accurate. In fact, if I look at all the areas of my life, the best "fit" is at the parish. It's not perfect, of course. Nothing is. The parish has a school. We homeschool. If my kids attended the parish school, we would likely bridge that last little gap, and it would be a near-perfect fit. But, as it is, the fit at our parish is as good as I think I'm going to get.

But here's the thing. There is a group within our parish (actually, there is a group within the Catholic Church... and it has offspring within our parish) that is pushing us toward a fundamentalist view of Catholicism. This was blatantly apparent to me on the retreat in September. The retreat was sponsored by a fundamentalist Catholic group. That is actually not a problem. I knew that when I signed up for the retreat... and I signed up anyway.

The problem is that this group defines Catholicism in their own narrow view. If you do not meet their narrow definition, you are not a "real" Catholic. I ran into this directly on the retreat. I had had the impression of judging and "score-carding" going on among the women. But it was confirmed for me on Sunday afternoon. I had been the lector for Sunday morning mass. During lunch, one of the women stopped me and told me I had done a good job. She asked if I was a lector at my parish. I said, no, but that I go to daily mass. Just by paying attention, I knew what to do. Her jaw fell open, and she said, "You go to daily mass?" The judgment in her voice was not a mere impression... it was plain as could be. Yes, me... I go to daily mass... even though I don't wear a mantilla, and I hold hands when I pray the Lord's Prayer, and, and, and .... whatever other bad marks I had gotten on her scorecard.

What is really disturbing me is that this same, narrow view of Catholicism is permeating my parish. Yes, the group is really small... but they are vocal. And the worst part is all of the judging that is going on. It's not just that some people pray one way and others another way. It's like going back to the Pharisees... all these silly rules that must be followed exactly, completely and totally right... or else it's all for naught.

And that is not the point. Not even a little bit. I don't go to mass to impress some other person with my holiness. I go to mass to worship God and receive Jesus in the Eucharist. My prayer posture, so long as it is not disrespectful nor disruptive, should not matter at all. My clothes, so long as they are not disrespectful, should not matter at all.

The judging doesn't stop there, though. I have three children very close in age. There are 3-1/2 years between BigBro and LilBro, with Princess in the middle. LilBro is almost 3. On more than one occasion, someone has assumed that we are contracepting. Because if I were a "real" Catholic, I would have had at least one (if not two) more children. My fertility is proven. The only explanation for no more babies must be that I am one of "those" Catholics... the ones who cherry-pick which rules to follow, not a "real" Catholic.

As if there is only one way. Maybe it's just all the readings from Paul's letters in the daily masses, but it seems like this battle was already fought in the early Church. The Gentiles worshipped differently than the Jewish Christians. And Paul said it didn't matter... following man-made rules didn't matter. Heck, even following Mosaic law didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was following Jesus Christ. And His teachings couldn't have been more clear... you need only look at today's Gospel for that.

"You shall love the Lord, your God,with all your heart,with all your soul,and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments." (Mt. 22:36-40)

It's really very simple. But it's not easy at all.

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