Well, isn't that special...

2012... Does this seem ridiculous to anyone else? As I get older, I am more and more astounded by how time truly does fly. I was lucky enough to spend time with an old friend the other day, while she was in town for a conference. In chatting, we talked about how it will be 10 years this year since she and her husband packed up and left D.C. My time in Chicago and LA was 6 years ago. 10 years ago, I was in law school. 15 years ago, I was a senior in high school. I am perpetually 27ish in my mind's eye, but time has left my mind's eye in the dust. I have to keep reminding myself to be present, truly present, to appreciate the time we have with the ones we love. I think that is my resolution for 2012, which makes sense, seeing as we just had a whirlwind two weeks full of both of our families. We are pretty lucky that we both have families where time together is viewed as celebratory rather than as an obligation, and as so many of us have learned the hard way, our time together is fleeting. 2012: The Year of Learning to Live in the Moment. And also of trying to stop typing the date as 2010.


I could give you a rundown on the holiday festivities (family fun and way too much amazing food with my family in Boston, followed by a week of skiing, exploring, and relaxing with my in laws in CO -- see? so lucky), but there is another issue that has really gotten under my skin in the last week or so. I read a couple of Lauren's posts over at Petroni that have made my blood boil. Not anything Lauren has done, of course, but rather, some experiences she has had recently surrounding her attendance of daily Catholic mass with her young son. In short, Lauren was singled out, first by an older woman, complaining about her son's age-appropriate behavior, and then again by the celebrant, suggesting that she and her son belonged in the church's entryway rather than in the sanctuary with the other worshippers. The older woman, unkind as she was, is easy enough to write off as a cranky older person, intolerant of young children. However, the priest's response? I haven't the words to describe how WRONG he is. I mean, I don't know about you, but I don't know many people who attend daily mass, other than my grandma and her cohorts, and maybe my dad during Lent. One would think a priest would be more welcoming of a mother making good on the promise she made at her child's baptism, to actively teach her child how to live a faithful life, right?

You would think so, but in my experience, this has not been the case in the Diocese of Arlington, VA.

Let me back up. I was raised in the Boston area, in a fairly religious family. It's tough to escape the church in Massachusetts, where a huge number of Irish and Italian immigrants settled in the early 1900s, all of my great-grandparents among them. My dad's Italian family was always pretty devout. My mom's enormous Irish family was less so, given their travels with my grandfather's Air Force career and the ridiculous amount of wrangling required in getting their myriad young children to church on Sunday mornings. However, my mom became much more involved in the church after marrying my dad, eventually becoming the director of religious education for our parish's 800+ children. My dad became involved with our parish's RCIA program, assisting adults preparing to convert to Catholicism with their studies. Many of the friends my parents have to this day they met through the parish and the parochial school my sister and I attended. Needless to say, we were decidedly down with the big J.C. in our house.

From that small parochial school, my sister and I went on to a Catholic girls' prep school, where the dichotomy of Catholicism in the modern world first started to become clear to me. For as much as the school delivered a very pro-women, glass-ceilings-are-meant-to-be-shattered, Reviving Ophelia message, Catholic doctrine was still quite central to our education. Of course, because the school was run by women, we were obligated to import priests to celebrate masses on campus. But for the majority of my fresh(wo)man (oh yes, we did) year, we also had to import altar boys for mass because girls were not yet permitted to be altar servers. As students, we marinated in the knowledge that we could be anything we wanted to be; as Catholic women, we were relegated to supporting roles. Mixed messages were delivered in class as well. We learned about the infallibility of the church and pope, and therefore, the hardline doctrine on abstinence, birth control, family planning, and abortion (topics on heavy rotation in a Catholic girls' high school, as you might imagine). However, we also learned that the genesis of the Friday meat prohibition was the church's support for the Roman fishing industry, and that one major reason behind the celibate priesthood was the church's concern regarding its property rights (i.e. if priests were allowed to marry and have children, would the church's property interests be diluted by the existence of the priests' descendants?). In world history classes, we studied the Medici family, which produced two popes through less than devout means; I think it suffices to say that this ruling family makes Capitol Hill look like a font of ethical wisdom.I was a young high schooler, however, so while the mixed messages registered to some extent, I was a good little rule follower who excelled at telling authority figures precisely what they wanted to hear. I went to church with my parents, taught CCD for my mom, and served as a eucharistic minister in school, not yet ready to ask the questions that were forming.

I went on to a small, intensely academic, liberal arts college that also happened to be run by the Jesuits. I wish I could say that I chose my school for deeper reasons, but alas, I was 17. It was a known entity among my family's social circle, a good school, and when I visited the campus, I loved that it felt familiar, that everyone looked like me. Because the school did its job quite well, this homogeneity was somewhat stifling by the time graduation rolled around, but for the majority of my time there, I was happy and blessed to have found my people. This is not to say that college was a static period; my experience there was life altering, as it should be, and this includes my views on Catholicism. The Jesuits struck me as philosophers more than hardline doctrinists. This is not to say that they operated outside of the church's teachings; this was a college campus where you could find beer on tap but with nary a condom in sight, let alone access to hormonal birth control. However, when it came to the classroom, the role of the college was clear: they were there to raise independent thinkers. Much as religion was central to life on campus, the ability to examine an issue, take it apart, evaluate it, and analyze it was central to our educational process. They may have been the black sheep of the Catholic clergy, but the Jesuits refused to let us leave their clutches as mere sheep following the herd.

Equally as important was the Jesuit philosophy encouraging students to be "men and women for others," which was evident in everything from the number of students who went on to service programs like the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to the inordinately long time people would hold doors open for someone following them. (Seriously, the door holding thing was crazy, going well beyond the bounds of politeness; it was de rigueur to hold the door for someone who was 20 seconds behind you, which sounds like nothing until you're out in the real world doing that and, instead of thanking you, the recipient of the open door looks at you like you're an insane stalker.) This philosophy of generosity of spirit and service to one another, combined with the emphasis on analytical thinking in an environment rich in exposure to new people and experiences outside of my upbringing, well, it obviously broadened my worldview. I am actually embarrassed by the degree to which I blindly followed the narrower views held by my family for so long (though I am really proud of my parents for having come around in a number of ways, too).

This sense of empathy for people and ideas different from me and mine, however, is precisely what has driven a bit of a wedge between me and Catholicism. I do not see issues in quite the same black and white fashion; my world has a whole lot more gray. I mean, how could abortion mean the same thing to me after reading the eloquent words of women like Julia and Cecily? How could I look at my beautiful family members who are here through IVF and believe that reproductive technology is wrong? How can I know such wonderful people, created by God in his image, and think that they are unworthy of sharing their life with someone who they love just as I love my husband, simply because they are gay? How can I believe that my kind and generous friend will not be welcomed into heaven merely because she was raised in a Hindu family? In short, I can't. I have questions, is what I'm saying. Although my faith in God has never changed, I now see the humanity of the church, and therefore, its inherent flaws.

And the flaws? I'm not even touching on the sex abuse scandal. Let's just say that I have come back around to where this all started -- the Diocese of Arlington, VA. However, this is getting seriously WORDY, so I'm going to wrap things up for now. Stay tuned for Part Deux, in which I am called a whore. By a priest! Good times, yo. Good, good times.


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