- Attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation
- Confession at least once a year
- Receive Holy Communion during the Easter Season
- Observe the days of fasting and abstinence
- Provide for the needs of the Church
- Marry according to Church regulations
The funny thing is that when I searched for "former Catholics", I found plenty of "former Catholics for Christ", but not so much former Catholic-Christians. I had expected to find some online gathering of former Catholics who focused not so much on a newly embraced faith or secularism, but rather on how their Catholic heritage continues to shape their lives even after they have left the church. Something like this exists for former Mormons, which is where I got the idea to do this search.
So it would seem (and I've read this elsewhere as well), once a Catholic, always a Catholic. Especially for a cradle-Catholic like myself.
Ok, you may ask, but why am I back to writing about am-I-or-am-I-not-Catholic when my last post supposedly announced that I have embraced the label of Spiritual Independent? Fair question.
This past weekend, I attended a Called and Gifted Workshop at our local Catholic church, something Alex and I went through together last year. I wanted to get a better understanding of where God wants me, and I was already familiar with this approach and thought it would be fruitful. Well, other than the part about it being geared towards Catholics, it was. And in fact I signed up to attend weekly discernment meetings for the next two months.
While at the workshop, I remembered what it was like at our last parish that we had to leave when we moved. On one hand, I really do think that I am a lone wolf in a lot of areas of my life. I simply march to the beat of my own drummer. I'm a nonconformist. I root for the underdog. If there's a way for me to do something UNLIKE what everyone else is doing, I'll probably at least consider it. Yet church membership was something Alex and I shared, and I thought that it kept us close while we were struggling through the worst of our infertility and related problems.
At the same time, we recently decided to stay put in our apartment and focus some more on our finances and getting Alex back to school before we purchased a home, something we assumed would be our next step rather soon. Therefore, no longer "in transition" as far as our living situation is concerned, I thought we ought to register as parishioners at the church we've been attending and where Alex and now I have some smaller group activity linked to the church.
Interestingly, I thought about how freeing it was to see myself not as a Catholic who didn't believe what I was "supposed to", but as a Spiritual Independent who happened to worship at a Catholic church. I get the feeling that other Catholics would respect me and my beliefs more if I didn't try to identify myself as Catholic. Catholics as a whole are known for their religious tolerance, at least as compared to some of the hell-fire Bible-thumping Evangelicals I've encountered. Catholics don't try to convert people to their brand of Christianity, or Christianity as a whole. Rather, as the Called and Gifted workshop reiterated for me, we are to be available for the Holy Spirit to work through us. We are to show God's love to those He puts in our path. We are to be Christ's hands and feet in the world. Our job is not to convert. Conversion is an act of the heart, and only the Holy Spirit can truly convert someone's heart.
But if I claim to be Catholic and then proceed to list all the things I don't believe but "should", I'm looked at as a "bad Catholic". If I hold those exact same beliefs without calling myself a Catholic, then I'm a "good person" who may not have "the fullness of truth", but is nonetheless loved by God. Go figure.
So I am hoping to find others who have a Catholic heritage but who have not simply embraced another religion in place of Catholicism. I guess I hope to find other former Catholics who are now Spiritual Independents. In the meantime, my biggest dilemma with continuing to worship at a Catholic church is the reception of the Eucharist.
On one hand, I don't believe that the wafer and wine magically take on the literal substance of the historic Jesus's flesh and blood. (I used to believe this. See here.) On the other hand, I do believe that God is present in Communion .... but I also believe God is present in every other mundane area of life. I don't think there's something uniquely different about the Eucharist. I hold no animosity towards those who do, and I certainly intend to continue to be reverent around the tabernacle, altar, monstrance, communion.... after all, they all point to a reality that is absolutely most sacred.
God is present in each of us, and I am mindful of that as I receive Communion. I'm no better than anyone else in the pews. What's more, I'm to be strengthened by God's presence in me to do His will in the world. It's a beautiful metaphor, and I wish that were highlighted as I think it has more power to transform lives than merely saying, abracadabra, Jesus is delicious.
Yes, I know there's the Scripture in John 6 (and elsewhere too) about Jesus commanding us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and how he meant what he said because so few reacted positively to it. But there's just too much back and forth among various Christian communities about which parts of the Bible (or even just the New Testament) are literal, which are figurative, which are meant to be used as metaphorical parables, which are historical accounts, etc. It's easy to get lost in the letter of the law according to Jesus, instead of embracing the overall spirit of the law, which Jesus clearly demonstrated by the way he lived his life. Does it really matter what he did or didn't say? If we're not following his example, what good is believing his alleged words?
And then there's the question of why I should care what other Catholics, other Christians, or anyone for that matter, thinks about my interior spiritual life. What I need to focus on is cultivating that inner life so that the fruits can speak for themselves. That way, my thoughts will no longer matter, because my actions will speak louder than the words of any professed creed.