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losing my religion

I was raised Catholic. Indoctrinated since birth. Mass every week. Sacraments, religious education classes. Mom taught CCD. When I was old enough, I did too. Went to Notre Dame, the Catholic Harvard. It was a foregone conclusion that I was to be a good Catholic girl.

At the same time, I was raised to cultivate my intellect. We were of Irish descent which meant a distrust of authority and conventional wisdom. An urge to question, to fight. Dad was a financial man which meant disdain for government. Mom was an English teacher which meant lots of talking about books and writers. My early life was one characterized by reading, literature, following current events, and questioning the world and our place in it.

And so, once my mind was set free to explore at university, as I read, thought, explored, observed, Catholicism became increasingly less appealing to me. There was no convincing argument as to why women could not be priests. There was no convincing argument as to why the Pope or any clergy for that matter had a superior connection to God than everybody else.

Forgetting the physical implausibility of the Christ/Virgin Mary story, the sexism of it all, what most appalled me was the hypocrisy of the institution. How it abused young boys, how its leaders lived in wealth and comfort, how judgmental it was of individuals and invasive it was into their lives and bodies. How it required me and all of its followers to repeat over and over the words: “I’m not worthy.” That just didn’t seem right.

the-VaticanWhen I was 19 I did a semester in Rome, Italy. Looking back, that’s pretty much what sealed the deal for me on why Catholicism is not something I could identify with spiritually or intellectually for the rest of my life. I lived down the street from the Vatican and would travel up there with my backpack and study leaning against the pillars on sunny days. It was a thing of beauty but also lavish opulence. It felt antithetical to everything the figure of Jesus Christ stood for and was.

Then, for my compulsory religion class I had a Vatican priest who loathed my feminist inclinations and used his position of power to spite me. For my final oral exam I was asked to recite the grounds for annulment. There was no room for analysis or analytical thinking, just rote recitation of various canons. I think I came up with two or three out of more than a dozen. And because I couldn’t help myself, I wrote my final paper on the ordination of women. He gave me a C- on the paper (I RARELY got less than an A- on anything I wrote) and a C+ for the semester (the only C I ever received in college, thank you very much Father Mark).

It was hard to walk away from Catholicism after being told since birth by all the authority figures in my life and all my family members who I so loved that this was the path to “morality.” My cultural identity was so tied up in it all. But my conscience kept nagging at me. I couldn’t keep going through the motions pretending it all made sense and was perfectly acceptable. So I phased it out.

And because I am a genuinely spiritual person, I was left with a void for a long time. I missed it. I didn’t let my Catholicism lapse out of laziness. To use a ridiculous phrase from recent history, I had “consciously uncoupled” from it. Just because I didn’t believe God was an old white man sitting up on a cloud in judgment of us all didn’t mean I didn’t believe in God at all. But what was the alternative?

When we were kids in school learning about other cultures and religious history they made it seem like Native Americans with their animism and anything remotely Polytheistic was intellectually inferior. It took several years of reading and searching well into my adulthood before I once again found a spiritual center again in Yoga and meditation. The awareness didn’t happen overnight and was not the result of any single teacher, book, philosopher. It was a combination of things and experiences that I came to by myself — not by being force fed.

Eventually, a practice developed. The practice fed my body mind and spirit in a way that Catholicism never did. Now that I am a parent, along with my husband I’m faced with the challenge of imparting spiritual guidance to young, willing, open young souls who have lots of questions. We don’t have a fixed curriculum when it comes to matters of morals and ethics … we teach them in a practical way as the opportunities present themselves. And we DO make time for family meditation (probably not as often as we should). Sometimes we wonder if we should be doing more but overall I have a deep faith that the way to teach is through example, and that we can help them learn their way in this world by continuing to learn and explore ourselves.

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