Again, the Cruel Mother

Again, the Cruel Mother October 17, 2022


I  hadn’t gotten through a whole Mass in a few weeks.

I have been determined to have mercy on myself, since I got back from Columbus. Going to Mass in Steubenville makes me sick. It gives me panic attacks due to my religious trauma. But staying home also gives me panic attacks, because I am afraid I will go to hell. Several times, I’ve gone to church and had to leave before the Gospel or during the homily, and scroll on my phone on the front steps of the church until it’s over. Last week I didn’t go at all. Yesterday I went. I hadn’t planned to. Michael was going to walk out to Mass by himself. But I decided to bring Adrienne to meet him in Serendipity.

We stood in the foyer because we were a bit late. There was a hastily typed note about the planned diocesan merger on the table where the bulletins usually are: one paragraph, with far less information than we read in the news.

I breathed and centered myself and tried not to panic, all the way until after the gospel.

The priest took the lectern, with a binder full of notes. This was a new priest, the young pastor I hadn’t met yet because the associate pastor usually has the 5:30 Mass. He apologized for reading notes today when he usually talks more spontaneously. “I don’t want to forget anything today.” And he began to talk– not about the Gospel, but about the week’s news.

His voice was so anguished, I thought he might be on the verge of tears.

He gritted his teeth as he read the paragraph we could all see in the printed pages on the table. And then he explained that when the bishop claimed that the process was just now beginning, that wasn’t true, because this had already been proposed to the other Ohio bishops and was up for a vote by the USCCB in less than 30 days. He said that the bishop had apparently been planning this for a long time, perhaps years, but had not said a word to the priests he oversees about it. No warning at all until they read about it in the paper.

The priest explained that he’d discerned in the diocese of Steubenville for six years, and then gotten all the way through seminary before his ordination. “It’s like… it’s not exactly like this, but it’s as if you were engaged to someone for six years, enjoyed six years of marriage, and then were told you had to marry somebody else.”

He continued to preach, beautifully, still not about the readings but about how he felt about the merger being sprung on him like this. I wish I’d recorded the whole thing. It was very good, but I was only half listening.

I was so taken aback by the priest’s grief and shock, I couldn’t take in anymore information.

What a cruel thing to do.

Maybe a diocesan merger does need to happen. Maybe that’s the right and just choice in this circumstance. I don’t know. But I know that not telling the priests whose lives would be affected until it was already underway, was the cruelest possible way to bring this about. It was gratuitously, breathtakingly sadistic. If the priest is right about how this happened, then our bishop is a totally heartless man.

I never thought I’d feel sorry for a Steubenville priest again.

I always thought that, if this diocese with all the suffering it’s caused ever disappeared from the face of the earth, I’d be happy. But up until I went to Mass, I felt numb. And after listening to that priest, I felt terrible.

I still feel terrible.

I have been honest with you about my spiritual journey, because I don’t know what I can be besides honest. I have never been any good at being anyone other than me. I think that I would be much more successful as a Catholic writer if I could mask my weaknesses and tell everyone how confident I am that the Catholic Church is the best faith there could ever be. But I can’t do that. I’ve tried, and I’m no good at it. I can only show you myself: a former Charismatic with bad religious trauma. I am a person who is sure that God exists and that God is love, a person who has communed with that God in the Catholic Church, but also a person so badly hurt by that Church that I’m too sick to even sit through a Sunday Mass. Christ is someone I love with all my heart, but at the moment I have trouble knowing where Christ is to be found or whether He’d be glad to see me if I found Him. I have found the theology of the Catholic Church to be the very best articulation of every experience I’ve had of a loving God, but I’ve found the Church to be supremely unloving. I was raised to believe that the Church is my mother, but I have found her to be the most abusive mother imaginable.

Again, today, I confronted that abusive mother, the Catholic Church. This time she wasn’t beating up on me but on another child, a brother of mine, the eloquent young priest in the pulpit. And I was furious with her again.

How dare she do that?

How dare God let a mother this cruel watch over His children?

I had to go no-contact with my earthly family because of emotional and spiritual abuse. What am I to do about this other mother?

I don’t know.

I don’t have any answers.

I just know that I’m reeling at her cruelty once again.

It wasn’t a very good welcome back to Sunday Mass.

I’m sorry, but that’s all I have today.



image via Pixabay 

Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.




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