Personal musings on religion following the death of a pope


NOTE: IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE OFFENDED BY THIS AND TRY TO ARGUE, JUST MOVE ON. I’M NOT TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR MIND AND YOU WON’T CHANGE MINE.

Everybody else is talking about it, so why not me? First, for those who have forgotten or never knew it, I’m not Catholic. I grew up forced to go to a Pentecostal church. That’s right. Holy rollers. Arms in the air, tears on the face, “speaking in tongues” and ready to condemn any other religion or denomination. Well, I never cried in church (not counting funerals), never have spoken in tongues and never said people in one Assembly of God church is going to Heaven while people in the the church down the road are going to Hell (that was actually more a Baptist thing, in my experience). Once I moved out of my parents’ (my dad was really the one pushing us into the church) house, I refused to go into a church for any reason other than public elections or funerals for a long, long time.

But I did think about it, and in the early 1990s I was ready to become a Catholic. I went to the nearest parish in Enid and talked to a nun who gave me a notebook to study. A priest was supposed to get in touch with me later to talk about the classes necessary to become a Catholic, but nobody ever did. At the time I looked at that as, “Screw them. They didn’t want me.” I see it a bit differently now. I’ll get to that in a minute.

There’s a lot about Catholicism that appeals to me. I like the ideas of ritual and ceremony. Are they necessary? No, I don’t think so. God will hear my prayer even if I don’t make the sign of the cross during or after the prayer. Can my sins be forgiven without confession to a priest? Of course. But confessing to another person, I think, helps keep us honest. Do Protestant boys really pray, “God, forgive me for jerking off in the shower last night while I was thinking of Susan from third hour study hall”? Probably not, and so the sin (and Jesus said it is a sin) is sort of ignored (“He knows I did it and I’m sorry because he can see into my heart.). I know Catholic men who said they would confess to a priest of having impure thoughts, which was the code for spanking the monkey, and so the sin came out and could be dealt with. How to deal with it? The Protestant way simply says you “repent” of the sin. “Gee God, I’m sorry. Let’s move on now.” The Catholic way is to do penance, such as reciting the Our Father (or Lord’s Prayer to us Protestants) or Hail Mary a certain number of times. Necessary to be forgiven? No, I don’t believe so. But by doing the action it focuses your thoughts on what you did and how you feel about it, and by doing so allows you to actually think about repenting.

Ah, and there’s the Protestant complaint about praying to Mary and/or other saints. Most Protestants I know have never even read or heard a Catholic prayer to a saint and so assume the Catholics are praying to Mary as they would to Jesus or God. I could call my dad and ask him to pray for me and he’d be thrilled to do it. But if I told him I’d asked Mary to pray for me (and that’s what the Hail Mary does), he’d freak out. Why? I dunno. Mary’s already in Heaven, so she can step right up to the throne. Well, I do know. It’s ignorance. Ignorance about what the Catholic prayers to saints are about.

Praise for Pope John Paul II is coming from everywhere. Rightly so. While I won’t pretend to have followed his career closely, I believe he was a very devout man who was an absolute follower of his faith, but tolerant of others. Not tolerant as many liberals want it defined now, meaning indifference and making no judgement of others, but tolerant in a way that meant he would seek common ground with others and work toward resolving differences in way that would benefit everyone. And he stuck to his guns on issues like abortion, birth control, homosexuality … all the social issues of the day. He did not waver. He did not say the Church should adapt to fit the modern day, as we’ve seen the Anglican church do and several other denominations. I say good for him. Church doctrine should not change to reflect the desires of a decaying society.

Whether we like it or not or agree with it or not, the Bible and Catholic tradition says certain behavior is sinful. This journal entry isn’t made to debate whether or not gays are going to Hell with women who’ve had abortions. I’m simply saying those are the rules Pope John Paul II accepted and he faced down strong opposition to maintain his position. There are people I disagree with but who I admire for the same reasons. You have to have a code by which you live your life and you have to believe in it enough to stand on it when others are saying you have to adopt to changes in the beliefs of others.

And if you join the Catholic Church — or the Boy Scouts of America or the Church of Satan or the Lion’s Club or the Science Fiction Book Club — you accept the rules of that organization.

So, the priest never called me and I assumed they didn’t want me to join the Catholic Church. Looking back now, I suppose they wanted to see if I was interested enough to come back. After all, the Church didn’t need me. If it was something I wanted, the responsibility to make it happen was mine. I fell into leftist thinking by believing somebody else should do the work for me. I wasn’t applying for welfare, filling out a form, then sitting back and expecting somebody else to do the work that would get the checks rolling my way. This was something I had to work for, prove myself worthy of. And I didn’t.

Do I regret it? Not really. I was not pleased with the Vatican’s handling of the sex scandal involving priests. I do believe in using birth control and could never picture myself kissing the ring of a church official.

At the time I looked into joining the Church, I’d never been inside a Catholic church. I have now, and I was as impressed as I expected to be. Too many Protestant churches could just as easily be office buildings with big conference rooms for the auditoriums. But you walk into most Catholic churches and you think “cathedral” and you feel a sense of awe. I like that. I love the stained glass windows, the smell of candles and incense, the imagery that is everywhere, including the tormented figure of Christ on the cross.

I’ve tried instituting a family policy of attending church now that I’m a father. We went to a United Methodist church in Ponca City for a few weeks when we lived there, and last year we went to a United Methodist church in Moore for a while. You know why I don’t go to church? Hymns. I hate hymns. There are some beautiful ones, like “Amazing Grace,” but most just don’t appeal to me and I hate singing in public. Then there’s the fight with the kids who don’t want to go. This is such a mixed thing for me. As a parent, I am responsible for instilling morality and introducing my kids to my faith. But if I force them to go they very well may end up hating church as much as I did. My oldest kids don’t even know some of the most basic Bible stories, like David and Goliath. Even if you don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian teachings, you have to know those stories because of their cultural significance. So it’s a dilemma I need to deal with.

It’s something the death of the pope will make me think about again.


0 responses to “Personal musings on religion following the death of a pope”

  1. Very well said.
    The boys in my family attend CCD every week. For those of you who aren’t familiar with CCD, it’s the Catholic churches’ form of Sunday school. They know all their prayers and bible stories. A few days ago while they were reciting one such prayer, I asked them if they BELIEVE in God. They looked at each other, then at me, in unison the answer was “no”. Quite frankly, I was astonished! The boys are familiar with my Wiccan beliefs, thankfully, they didn’t ask me the same question back. I learned the hard way to hold my tongue.
    My point being, belief, whatever belief you choose, has to begin and be reinforced within the home. Otherwise, all those prayers and bible stories hold no true value, but, become just words.

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