The last few days haven’t been very good.
I’m having my usual seasonal anxiety, on top of being glum for more concrete reasons. We’ve got one week to pay the tax on Serendipity and register her at the BMV before my cardboard tag expires. That means we’re paying rent twice in the same week, with twenty dollars currently in the bank. We were going to use the money from scrapping the old car for the tax, but one thing led to another and we had to spend it on last month’s bills. Adrienne keeps talking about Christmas, and when we’re going shopping, and when we’re going to visit Auntie Holly and Auntie Reese in the witch’s house in Columbus, and I keep muttering that we’ll just see.
I can’t even go back to Pittsburgh to look at the Christmas displays until I figure out how to get a tankful of gas.
It’s my first Christmas being totally estranged from my extended family, which is a good thing, but it hurts.
It’s my first Christmas allowing myself to believe whatever I believe. I am slowly deconstructing my abusive religious upbringing to find out what I really think about Christ, and it hurts.
This is a lot.
I went to the mail box on Friday, fantasizing that there’d be Christmas cards or a fruitcake or a check from the Publisher’s Clearinghouse inside, but all I got was a form letter from Franciscan University’s current president. Father Pivonka addressed me as “Mrs. Michael Pezzulo” and asked for “sacrificial offerings” so that other people could have “the life-changing education you’ve received.” He boasted of the seventy-six million dollars he’d already raised in “sacrificial offerings,” but apparently that wasn’t enough for the humble Franciscan. I thought, as I threw the letter out, that I have indeed had a life-changing education. And I have indeed been a sacrificial offering.
Sometimes it hits me all at once. It weighs on me like a pile of scrap from those filthy rotting steel mills that line the Ohio: I’m nearly forty, and I’m still trapped in Steubenville with no way to move home, for nothing. I have no extended family, and most of my friends live far away. I don’t belong to a parish because my religious trauma hurts too much. If my income goes up a hair more I will lose Medicaid and not be able to take Adrienne to the dentist. Then I’ll start to have “discretionary income” and it will go to income based repayment on the six-figure student loans that get a little bigger every month, for a worthless education, leaving me in the exact same boat forever. I’ll be in moldy rental houses in the worst part of Appalachia until I die. And I got myself into this mess for a lie– for a cult. I don’t think the whole Catholic Church is a cult, but the Charismatic Renewal certainly is. Franciscan University was Father Mike Scanlan’s personality cult in service to the Charismatic Renewal. There are so many people like me who got chewed up and spat out by the Charismatic Renewal, and we’re stuck.
If I’d gotten myself into this for Jesus, it would be worthwhile. That’s what makes this whole religious deconstruction so agonizing: the realization that Jesus never wanted any of it. That if there is a hell at all, the Charismatic Renewal comes from hell and Scanlan is burning there. I’m not on a mission from God. I’m a pathetic middle-aged woman who got duped.
And then the panic attack starts. And then it clears up, and I’m still here, and it’s Christmastime.
I took Adrienne to church last night, so she could receive Communion if she wanted. We went back to that quiet parish. I tried not to look at the giftwrapped box I told you about last week, the box where we’re supposed to tattle on our loved once who are “far from the Church.” Such a passive aggressive attempt to fill up the pews and the collection basket. I sat near the back, trying not to make eye contact with the statue of the Virgin Mary because she frightens me.
The Gospel and the sermon were about John the Baptist, whom I like. I wonder what the local gossips made of Zechariah’s eccentric son and his softer spoken cousin, both of them itinerant prophets making trouble, both of them angering all the wrong people, both of them eventually murdered in the nastiest way.
Imagine the son of the High Priest putting on camel hair and going to live in the desert. Imagine him calling his fellow respectable devout people in the same sect a brood of vipers, and taunting them about the coming wrath. And then his cousin starts doing it. Here we go again. And whatever they’re trying to do, it doesn’t seem to work. It’s a disaster. One of them is beheaded for mouthing off to Herod and one of them is crucified for blasphemy less than three years later. He is crucified because one of his dearest friends betrays him as a sacrificial offering for a month’s pay. Out of this catastrophe comes all of Christianity, good and bad. And this disaster, somehow, started a chain reaction that ended with me, sitting on a wooden bench, scrolling on my phone so I wouldn’t have a panic attack, in a Catholic Church in the Ohio river valley.
There is so much I don’t know about Jesus. But I am holding on to the belief that whatever Jesus happens to be, Jesus accompanies. Jesus descended to become a victim of an unqualified disaster, so that we would find Him with us in our own disasters.
I don’t know what to make of that, but here I am.
As I walked out of the church, I approached that awful box. I took a slip of paper from the table. I wrote “MYSELF” in big block letters, and tossed it in.
Hopefully I’ll have something more enlightening to tell you all later today. But that’s where I am for now.