Well, it’s partly inherited—I’m an Irish Catholic from a long line of Irish Catholics, and there’s a part of my world that doesn’t make sense without Sunday mass and homilies and the smell of incense. The church calendar orders my world; I know my extended family through a succession of white dresses and suits (baptisms, first communions, weddings). It’s so strange to me that there are people who don’t get homesick at summer camp and pray the rosary, because they might not have their mom with them, but they can cry to Mary and she’ll listen.
(that’s not a judgement, I’m not saying it’s better it’s just one of those things where—I don’t know what else could fit in that space)
And the other part is—I love the stupid religion. Despite all the dark history, the Vatican politics, the list of sins it’s racked up over the centuries—despite everything, I genuinely, really love my church. I love its its history, early church fathers struggling to figure out this strange Hellenistic Messianic Judaism thing, with desert prophets making miracles; the church of Constantinople, glittering on the crown of the Mediterranean; the church of medieval Rome, clinging to power by its teeth and the marriage of dying Italian families to invading barbarians, with monks in brown robes sailing to rocky islands where they can make golden manuscripts. I love the high church, cathedrals and grey rows of saints, with long faces and long fingers held up in chi-ro. Renaissance art and nuns writing books when women were supposed to be seen and not heard; ecstatic visions and universities and soup kitchens and schools and people saying prayers, humbling themselves, thinking about the world and serving and leading revolutions and protesting and—
I love the fact that every Sunday, I go and do and say almost the exact same thing that has been done and said for two thousand years. An unbroken line back to the apostles, of people both terrible and saintly but mostly just people.
I love the Bible. It’s a strange and sprawling thing, ugly and magnificent, heavy with thousands of years of scholarship and hope. I love the theology of my church, that talks about sin and heaven and bread and emptying yourself to be filled with God, that lifts up Mary and the weak, and the humble; that admits a humanity so fallible enough to fall from grace, but still possessing enough of it to reach for the perfection we sense within ourselves. Redeemable. And given a redeemer.
It is a very human thing, for me, a thing that spans the universe and lives in my cardiac muscle and—no, there isn’t a particular reason I’m Catholic, it’s the reason for everything else.
I love seeing these sorts of heartfelt posts about people’s relationships with their religions. I grew up Catholic, and I still have a lot of respect for the scholarship and history that goes into the Church, and I get genuinely angry when people butcher Church history. (If you’re gonna hate something, hate it for its truth, not for a defamatory lie.)
I also genuinely hate it when people don’t understand what it is they believe or why they believe it. “UHH CUZ JESUS” answers come from a lack of consideration and understanding of one’s faith and I would argue that faith without understanding or connection is not actually faith, just conformity.
So, OP, I love your passion for your faith and I respect it greatly. Even as someone who left the Church for the arms of a Goddess, I genuinely hope that I can carry the same kind of love and passion for my faith that you obviously do.
I disagree with this, more vehemently than I can really convey here. It runs counter to the spirit of the Church, the same spirit that Jesus came in—he called the humble and the poor and downtrodden and the weak and all those longing, not the ones with vocabulary enough to express their theological yearning.
Look, I come to my faith through a natural disposition to wordiness and thoughtfulness, four years of Catholic education, a further four years of a philosophy degree, two years of blogging about the subject, and a mother who loves discussing theology and church history and so encouraged the same in me. Part of the reason I love Catholicism is because it accommodates my disposition—it offers me the writings of Doctors of the Church, gives me mystics to puzzle out and reams of canon law to interpret. But to say that Catholicism is just that, or even should be is—it’s not a church of the world if you restrict it to the library.
Christianity is for those who serve in soup kitchens, and those who eat the soup. For those pray the same prayers on their knees every Sunday, and then go out to lunch with their families afterward and don’t puzzle over the meaning of the homily. It’s for Christmas-and-Easter Catholics and converts and those who only show up when their cousin is getting married and everyone in between. It’s for people who say “Because Jesus” because that is an answer, that is a damn good answer, that is an answer we founded a religion on, this one guy who showed up and said some good shit and was kind and he wept in a garden and he loved people, loved them enough to die for them, and there are worse answers to that question than his name. It does not betray a lack of consideration to answer with him—he’s the only answer really worthy of the question.
To declare Christianity only valid among those who can verbosely and intelligently articulate their belief—to call it conformity otherwise—smacks of the worst sort of academic arrogance.
I have been given, and worked to cultivate, a gift of expressing what so often is inexpressible. I am so proud of my ability to convey the passion I have for my people and my faith. But it is an ongoing project, and there are days when the words will not come, when the theology lies in knots I can’t unravel. Faith is forever a work in progress. (“Ineffable” is the word you use, to describe a thing which cannot be described.) I cannot blame others for not knowing how to convey what I myself struggle with—God is not a tame lion (to borrow a phrase) he can’t be surrounded in words, he defies, he evades, and you are left with some poor simulacrum of divinity that cannot keep you warm in the face of cold reason.
I have days (weeks, months) when I don’t understand what it is I believe or why I believe it. I exist only on inertia, the sustained faith of decades, and the hope that it soon might, if I don’t turn away. Would you deny me Christianity because of it?
Additionally, what I keep before me, always, is the knowledge that mine is a secondary gift. At no point in the New Testament does Jesus say, “be scholars.” He says “give” he says “help” he says “forgive” he says “love” he says “be just” he says “hunger for righteousness and for my father and for heaven.”
None of that requires a litmus test or a written portion.
This is not to say there are not lazy Christians, bad Christians. But their failing is not the inability to articulate what they believe—nowhere in any of our creeds is that ever asked of us. Jesus didn’t come for those who knew how to turn a phrase. No, what our prayer, our founding prayer, given to us by the Savior himself, asks is that the will of the Father be done, the bread be eaten, and forgiveness lift our sins from our shoulders—it asks nothing more of Heaven than that.