Why I’m still a Catholic

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I’ve got a book by that title on my nightstand. I borrowed it from my church’s library about a year ago. The writing is erratic–it’s a compilation of essays-slash-testimonies by famous Catholics like Maria Shriver–and I’m find I’m resisting it for literary and psychological reasons.

There’s another book I’d like to read: Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great. My friend Gerry, another fallen Catholic, recommends it highly on GoodReads (if you haven’t already, check this site out; it’s like crack for book lovers).

As you may have read this week in the back-page essay in TIME, I’m struggling with my faith. And, as I promised in last Friday’s post, I attended church for the first time in months yesterday. I felt compelled to go not out of feelings of remorse, nor because I have resolved any of my deep and baffling issues with Catholicism. I went because I am spiritually exhausted from all this cogitating and needed a place of respite.

My essay was in the main a complaint about the content of the sermons in churches I have attended over the years. The first church we attended when we first moved to our New Jersey town was populated by an aging, mostly Italian and Irish congregation. That was where the priest pulled out a rambling homily about a baby left in a Dumpster to be devoured by red ants that somehow advocated against laws allowing abortion. I didn’t walk out, but I resolved I’d never go back to that particular parish.

The former pastor at my current church loved to expound upon his movie viewings in his sermons. I can’t decide what bugged me more: the introduction of pop culture during a discussion of the Gospel, or his stunningly bad taste in films. In retrospect, I realize he probably had to tailor his movie mentions to a PG audience. But in doing so he lost the attention of at least one adult parishioner.

That priest is gone now. This week’s Gospel reading was about the sisters Martha and Mary, who welcome Jesus into their home. Martha gets ticked off because she’s doing all the hostessing work while Mary chooses to ogle Jesus by his feet. But when Martha complains, Jesus kind of scolds her, telling her she’s got “much anxiety” and that Mary is the one who chose the right thing.

I can relate to Martha. I’m a nervous hostess, fussing about the mess and worrying over the oven so that others may relax and enjoy the company. The homily could easily have taken Martha to task for focusing on the little things while her sister knew the importance of hanging with the big guy. Instead, the father praised Martha. Her service was just as vital to making her guest comfortable as was her sister’s attentive listening, he said. Though most of us search for God in the extraordinary (the Virgin Mary in a meatloaf, say), we ought instead assume his presence in the ordinary (the partaking of the meatloaf as a family, say).

In my essay, I advocate a return to Latin Mass because too often I don’t like what I hear in English. My point was that I attend Mass for reasons aside from hearing the priest’s or the Vatican’s political views, which in my experience are too often shared from the pulpit. When I sit through moving and thought-provoking homilies like I did yesterday, though, I do on occasion appreciate the value of a homily in the vernacular.

(To address you Catholic scholars out there: yes, I have read that though the Tridentine Mass is said/sung in Latin, the homily may be said in the local tongue. However, I also understand that the homily in those cases typically consists of a vernacular reading of the Gospel along with marriage and other announcements. And my older Catholic friends reminisce of Latin Masses conducted in 20 minute flat for the regular lack of a homily. Go ahead and correct me in the comments.)

As I said, I still suffer many misgivings about my faith, and I fret over the hypocrisy of attending Mass as I work these out. In response, my friend and colleague Amy reminded me of an Andrew Sullivan piece in TIME a few years ago. In it he wrote:

There’s a line in a Leonard Cohen song that has always stayed with me. It kept me going in a bleak moment in my life, when I thought, as we all sometimes do, that I couldn’t see how good could come out of the dreck I had turned my life into. “Forget your perfect offering,” Cohen advises. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I’m waiting for my light.