Given the events of the past week, I imagine some of my readers are expecting a particularly spicy post from me. The USCCB has voted to draft a document for debate that could result in denying President Biden Communion if the Vatican approves of the measure. Or something like that. Meanwhile, Catholic Social Services in Philadelphia won a Supreme Court Case that will shield them from having to place foster kids with LGBTQ+ families. If you really want my opinions on these things, they’re pretty readily available on my blog. But when I ask myself where my heart is, where the vulnerable stuff sits, it’s really not in this churning of hot takes. I have them. But none of that addresses what it feels like to be Catholic at a time like this. And that’s really what I want to write about. Why do I stay in a Church that hurts me?
Have You Ever Considered Leaving?
Absolutely. I used to consider leaving the Church a couple times a year. When I was in high school, I had several serious conversations with a good friend’s dad, who is an Episcopal priest, about converting. When I line up my theological views and check off the boxes, it’s pretty clear which denomination is the better match. Real Presence – check. Gay marriage – check. Women in ministry – check. If picking a religion were anything like picking a political party, leaving the Catholic Church would be easy. But I never took the step and, to this man’s credit, he never pushed me to do so. It wasn’t inertia. I’m pretty comfortable doing things that need to be done. It certainly had something to do with my parents’ potential reaction. But I do plenty of things they don’t agree with. At the end of the day, I couldn’t get over the fact that Anglicanism would always be a substitute for me. I’d never be Anglican because I believed it was the True Church. It would always be because the True Church wasn’t where I wanted it to be. If the Catholic Church ever softened any of these positions, I would return in a second. So my conversation would always be false. I’d always wish I could be somewhere else.
The Quiet Sadness of Being Outside
I identify with Joe Biden to an embarrassing degree. I relate to his fumbling persona, his naivete, his tendency to put his foot in his mouth. Rationally, I completely understand the reasoning for denying him Communion. Abortion is evil, and he supports it. But this is a guy who recited On Eagle’s Wings – the most “cringe” of the Boomer hymns – in his presidential acceptance speech. I also love that oft-hated hymn. It’s too sincere, too on-the-nose for serious Catholics. The people who have no qualms with any of the Church teachings don’t like On Eagle’s Wings. It’s theology is shaky. More importantly, it’s super lame. But I like it.
When you love The Church to an almost painful degree but cannot bring yourself to accept its principles, that’s the quiet sadness of being outside. When the “good” Catholics tell you to get in line or leave, and you can’t bring yourself to do either, that’s the quiet sadness of being outside. You show up to Church each Sunday and hope no one notices that you’re an interloper. (I cover my head in a veil, so the disguise is truly complete.) You pray that the Church’s teaching that sinners “won’t receive grace” from the Eucharist is wrong. And you receive. That’s me, and that’s the president. But he isn’t able to hide like I am, so they’ve caught him out. And I feel awful for the guy.
Do I Stay or Do I Go?
I’m past the point in my life where I think any one scandal or any one teaching will ever drive me from the Church. I can get emotional for a day or two. I can even skip mass for a whole (gasp) three weeks. But I know I’m going to stay. Fundamentally, I hold all of the theological dogma of the Church to be one hundred percent true and I believe that the Catholic and Orthodox churches are the only institutions with a direct line to Jesus Christ. My apologies to the Anglican Communion, which has my mind but will never have my heart. (I could convert to Orthodoxy in theory but my problems would be the same.)
I’m not going to say I’ll never leave, because life is very long. But if I haven’t been driven out yet, it’s unlikely that politics or scandal will ever do so. If I left, it would have to be because I stopped believing in Jesus Christ, the Real Presence, Mary as Queen of Heaven, and the lineage of St. Peter. So I stay. And yeah, I’m sad. And I feel bad for Joe Biden, which is ridiculous. But then again empathy is never ridiculous. I hope they cut him a break. I hope they cut me a break. But they probably won’t. And I’ll stay anyway.