Being Catholic

My story of religion is like the photographic negative of most stories I hear. A lot of people I know talk about being a “lapsed Catholic,” not quite as if it’s something to be proud of but at least something that’s natural and fully expected. Most mainline Protestants don’t speak of being lapsed because devotion was never really part of their  picture.

You assume these lapsed persons grew up in strict religious households whose views and practices they abandoned the first chance they got. I grew up in an agnostic household. My family attended church for cultural reasons and to be involved with church music, yet they would get annoyed if the minister spent too much time talking about God.

I have at least one thing in common with the lapsed Catholic community: What I was raised with didn’t stick.

I came to believe in God because I felt God’s presence. I think it also came from being a natural contrarian. It was my reaction against the liberal, academic view — so common among the people I know and the books I’ve read — that holds religion to be little more than a fount of hypocrisy.

So why do I bring this up now? Well, it’s Lent. And once Lent runs its course I will mark one year of being a Catholic. I joined the church last year, giving in to the fact that my wife and children are Catholic so I might as well be too. It was either that or shun the church that wouldn’t allow me to take communion.

I imagined walking my kids up to the church door and refusing to set foot inside, glaring at the priest like a defiant Orangeman. But while I’ve never bought the silly claim that Catholicism is the one true church, nor have I considered it the den of the Antichrist. In the end, becoming Catholic was the most sensible path and it was no big deal.

Still, it’s an interesting time to be a Catholic. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has assumed the role of Super Catholic. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has vocally opposed laws that force Catholic non-profit businesses to offer birth control along with other health benefits.

The vast majority of Republicans, like the vast majority of Catholic lay people, have no problem with birth control. The GOP just sees it as a handy club with which to beat Obama, though their focus on the subject, along with the crude rabble-rousing of Rush Limbaugh, might come back to haunt them. Politically, if not spiritually.

The church’s prohibition on birth control, in fact, has become a joke. Aside from Rick Santorum, very few Americans it seriously. And I would actually think it funny if it weren’t such a potentially damaging message in places like Christian Africa, where overpopulation can lead to starvation and genocide.

The church’s stand on birth control, along with its insistence that priests must be celibate males, are the two points of Catholic dogma I find ridiculous. I suppose the contradictions in the church should cause me to dislike it. But I have known a kind side of the church. The Catholicism I’ve known holds a message of love. On the anniversary of 911, the homily wasn’t about disliking Muslims. It was about forgiveness, that most difficult of Christian requirements.

The Catholic Church is big tent that covers a lot of people, and I can’t dismiss it because it doesn’t suit me on all points.  I won’t be forced to choose between secular and religious fundamentalism. I reject them both.

So I look forward to my anniversary, come Easter. I’d like to say I’m suffering through Lent, but I’m not really denying myself anything. I tried to stop drinking beer, but a trip to the Pizza Port in Ocean Beach made me fall off the wagon. The flesh is weak.

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