Public Service Announcement: I’m about to rant about Catholicism in the 80’s, but let’s be honest, EVERYTHING WAS BAD IN THE 80’S! I do have a point to the rant, and I hope you’ll read to the end.
I was a parishioner of a typical 80’s parish in the suburbs of Chicago. We used to sit right up front for Mass, and I can remember the countless times my mother looked at our parish priest with laser eyes, knowing that she and my father were going to have to correct the heresy that he had stirred up with his homily — yeah, she could never hide her thoughts very well. I like that about her.
Our main defense as an Irish Catholic family was to use the God-given gift of dark humor to make light of the many times even the kids could see that Father was a little “unorthodox” in his opinions. Yes, we often referred to our hometown church as “Holy Heresy” — it was our irreverent way of coping with the mess we had on our hands.
And believe me, it was a hot mess! Oh, the scandals, the heresies — they will remain nameless for all of our sakes — but there are a few lasting memories that summarize my 80’s experience quite well.
Take, for example, the time Father had us all look down at our hands during his homily, and he proceeded to say, “Look at your hands, your sexy, sexy hands”…talk about a hand fetish! I remember looking at my hands wondering what the heck Father was talking about.
And you know how you pray that your kids don’t catch the swearword in the movie, but that always ends up being the only thing they remember? Well, my brother sat down before dinner that night and said, “Now look at your hands, your sexy, sexy hands!” — Oh my poor parents!
I still remember the day I made my first confession. I walked into the confessional, nervous about confessing my sins for the first time, and I was greeted by a mop, a broom, and a dustpan. No — Father was on the other side of the screen, but apparently, this was the best place to keep the janitorial supplies. What a beautiful memory of my first confession — not really.
And then there was my preparation for confirmation. Our youth minister had us listen to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. Then he asked us to share our thoughts, and I said, “Well, we can travel the world looking for things that make us happy” — at this point he was nodding happily at my answer– then I said, “but only God can satisfy us” –he then began to frown and said, “oh, don’t go that far”. Oh, I apologize for bringing up God in confirmation prep; what was I thinking?
And to this day, I still have a queasy reaction to songs like, “Gather Us In” and “Here I am Lord” –I’m not saying they’re inherently evil songs –it’s just the association with those many awful moments that makes me want to throw up a little. Oh, and bad stained glass –you know the big awkward chunks of primary colored glass that casts an awful, depressing hue over everything?– they make me want to run outside and scream.
Does anybody else relate to what I’m saying here? The point is, when you are an innocent child and you are exposed to all of these moments that just don’t make sense to your mind or your spirit, you are left with an uneasy feeling that you can’t quite name. What you do know is that you’ve been handed a counterfeit version of Catholicism, and you don’t like it.
And every time you encounter that same spirit in a church today, you go back to that time as a kid where you reacted so negatively to something. Suddenly, all those things you wished you said to that kooky teacher or priest comes back in a flood of anger. Let’s call it Post-Tramatic 80’s Catholicism Stress Disorder, shall we?– well, it’s real and it throws you off!
And you start on your tirade on Father so-and-so and his homily, or Sister-what’s-her name wearing her blue power suit and nylons. And did you see what that Eucharistic minister was wearing? And why do we have to have Eucharistic Ministers anyway? And when everybody crosses the aisle and practically dislocates their shoulders to hold hands during the Our Father, and you just stand there with arms crossed and eyes closed trying not to scream — it is in this moment that you know you’ve got it bad!
Mother Teresa once said that she doesn’t judge people, because when you judge them, you can no longer love them. That hits me right in the heart, because I know I have often judged the more “liberal” Catholics around me as worse than myself. And in doing so, I have actually fallen into the greatest trap for people trying to Love God and His Church: pride. It is the greatest of sins, and it leads to many, many others.
If we’re not careful, we’ll become stingy pharisees of orthodoxy– and we all know that God despised the Pharisees far worse than the other sinners. The pharisees’ pride got in the way of loving God and the people around them. It blinded them to their own shortcomings, while magnifying the defects of everyone around them.
That doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes need to correct in love, because “admonishing the sinner” is a spiritual work of mercy. But without a personal relationship with that “sinner”, it’s probably not going to be very effective, so tread carefully. And let’s not forget that even St. Nicholas punched a heretic at the council of Nicaea, so anger is a normal reaction, but we need to channel the anger in a positive way and speak the truth in love.
My awakening came one morning when I really, really needed to receive Jesus. I ran off to my usual church and the Mass had been cancelled. I was hungry, thirsting for Jesus, and this was the only time in my day when I could receive him. I remembered that more “liberal” parish I had passed on the way, and I thought I’d try to make their mass.
By the time I arrived, Mass had ended. I was sad, downtrodden, distraught even. I had been praying “Lord, I need you. Please let me receive you” on the way there. And now, only the nun in blue suit and stockings remained (at least I think she was a nun – hard to tell without a habit). Anyway, I walked up to her, almost tears in my eyes, and said, “Is there any way I can receive Jesus?”.
She told me to take a pew and she’d be right back. And there she walked, down the steps, holding the most precious piece of bread-turned to God- I had ever seen! And as I kneeled there and said, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” — it was like I said it for the first time.
Oh yeah, I am not worthy. Here I was receiving exactly what I needed —who I needed– from the hands of a nun in pantyhose, the type of person I always looked down upon with a critical eye, because they didn’t look like I thought they should look, and sometimes even said things that they shouldn’t say. Maybe even now, she was giving me Jesus in a way that wasn’t exactly correct? I don’t know.
But it was in that moment that I realized that God loved this nun in nylons, and He loved me, and He wanted her to be the one to help satisfy that hunger that was burning in my soul — because He wanted me to let go of judging who is and isn’t Catholic enough for me. And I can honestly say that I did begin to let it go right there, and I decided that I needed to let Jesus worry about all of that, not me.
Hey, I still have many “judgy” moments, but I’m trying. So if you have found yourself in the same place as me, you might be wondering how best to deal with defending and sharing the truth, without becoming a judgy judge. We know that Jesus told his followers to do as the Pharisees said, but not as they did (Matthew 23) so Jesus wasn’t throwing out the law — He was asking obedience to the Law, without a hypocritical attitude. So what exactly does that look like in real life?
You’ll have to wait for tomorrow’s post for part 2. (Click Here for Part 2)….