The National Catholic Review


            “If I ever lose my faith in you
            There’d be nothing left for me to do . . .”

                                - Sting


    This has been a heart-wrenching time for the practice of my faith. A confession: For the first time in over thirty years of active, committed, adult Catholicism, I have weighed leaving the Church. I don’t mean considered the option: I mean really wrestled with the idea that perhaps God is calling me to leave the Church I love as a statement of conscience.

    I love the Church because I believe in the Eucharist. I know that’s how Jesus feeds me. I find that going to Communion is a visceral experience, as well as a spiritual one: when I eat Christ’s body and drink Christ’s blood, I feel full. Sated. And for a few moments, like I’ll never have to eat again.

    But then I get hungry. Of course I need to eat again. And Jesus feeds me, without fail.

    But such turmoil has happened this year: statements and decisions made that have so alienated me, have so made me wonder if we Catholics even know what Jesus was talking about all those years ago. Much of my personal pain has stemmed from writing columns in the secular press in support of civil marriage for same-sex couples and the ordination of women, and the unpleasant admonishments and consequences thereof. Public dissent, apparently, has no place in ministry. I have been politely removed from the Catholic part of detention ministry, although I am still welcome to serve in a nondenominational capacity. People in power have told me to shut up or leave, but is God telling me to leave? Is God telling me to shut up?

    Through prayer and discernment and soul-searching and sorrow, I’ve come to believe that shutting up is not the path I am to take. But neither is leaving. I am a Catholic, and like a marriage, the commitment is for better or for worse. Like my marriage, I prefer the “for better” part.

    I know I cannot change the Church. I don’t even know if I am right. But in my heart I do feel called - even compelled - to speak up for what I believe. As a lay person, I am as powerless in the Church as the persistent widow in the Gospel of Luke. Like her, I can but nag. I can be a voice, no matter how insignificant or ineffective, or, for that matter, personally inconvenient.

    A small revelation sustains me: In order to stay Catholic, I’ve had to cut away, at least temporarily, my distraction with everything between the Eucharist and me. The parish, the ministry chain of command, the diocese, the Roman hierarchy: everything. A day spent alone and in prayer led to this understanding, born not of conceit but of desperation. My relationship with the Eucharist has been the only way to salvage and practice my Catholicism. If all of the extraneous stuff has actually had me considering other churches and other ways of worship, then that’s obviously the stuff that has to go. I will not divorce the Eucharist. And I do not walk alone: there are priests, sisters, bishops, cardinals, theologians, liturgists, whose hearts and minds are open and whose work is courageous. I am especially blessed to be able to rely on some of them for their gentle wisdom and impeccable guidance.

    While I am deeply grateful to be encircled by God, who always loves me and always takes care of me, I am not comfortable with this uncluttered, unbuffered, unsupervised relationship with Jesus. I am used to layers and layers of rules and traditions and people between us: the safety of numbers. I feel like I am practicing my faith without a safety net, and without backup. I feel naked and more unworthy than ever to call Jesus friend. Yet he feeds me.

    And I miss the community of parish, the fulfillment of ministry. I miss meaningful membership in the institutional Catholic body whose many arms do so much good in the world. I used to be an enthusiastic cog in the machinery of organized ministry. I used to be puzzled by the people in the parish who were pleasant and devout, but whose only involvement in parish life stopped at Sunday Mass. When I worked for the Church and was responsible for recruiting volunteers for various educational ministries, I was even annoyed with the Sunday Catholics. I was rarely able to draw any of them closer into weekday parish life. Now, ironically, I am one of them. I go to Mass every Sunday, but as a nomadic Catholic. I count on the Church for the Eucharist, but I keep my distance. My confessors are men I’ve never met, the homilies I hear are at out-of-town parishes, and maybe a visiting priest will have to bury me. The rest is onward into the wilderness, right behind Christ, nourished by his holy gift.


Comments

Anonymous | 11/17/2010 - 10:35am
Thanks for that thoughtful response, Brian.

I actually do not like the comparison either, but was simply responding the Pharisee-"traditionalist" equation that was posted by Micheal at #21.

It is tough to say on blogs - there is mostly heat on here, but also a little light at times in the battle of the tribes of the Church ;)
Stephen SCHEWE | 11/16/2010 - 11:14am
Thanks for your brave, candid essay.  Whether you experience it directly, there is a community of like-minded travelers with you, on both sides of the Roman church's exits, who support your struggle with silent prayer and compassion.  Many of us express the concern Cathleen Kaveny voices in her recent Commonweal article "Long Goodbye," that "in important ways the Catholic Church is not acting like Christ's church now."  Speaking of devout Catholics who are looking for another alternative besides fighting or suffering, Kaveny says of our generation:

"...They have been taught and believe that God's saving grace is everywhere, not merely within the structure of the Roman Catholic Church.  They emphasize the generosity of a loving God, who would not refuse anyone whose knee bends at the name of his Son.  So they believe they will remain within Christ's church, even as they loosen their ties with the Catholic communion."

I honor your devotion to the Eucharist, and will keep you in my prayers.
we vnornm | 11/17/2010 - 5:06pm
I once read a book called "Clutters Last Stand" that inspired me to remove all the accumulated junk from my house.

Perhaps you have discovered the spiritual equivalent!

Best wishes and amdg, bill
Vince Killoran | 11/17/2010 - 10:17am
Thanks Valerie for your informed and thoughtful comments.

I suppose one of the reasons I don't leave the Church is that I'm plain stubborn and don't want our Faith highjacked by reactionary and defensive forces.  But I'm stymied on how to continue-and how to convince my kids that this is still a faith generous in spirit and one that honors the process of forming one's conscience. We have the facts on our side, but is that enough? To that end, I like the way you have managed to carve out a spiritual space among those with an increasingly pinched view of the modern world.
Brian Volck | 11/17/2010 - 10:12am
@Brett #21

Having learned that almost nothing good or enlightening comes from commenting on blog posts (the gnostic temptations are far too treacherous), I have until now merely followed the responses to Valerie's moving post, which comes so clearly from her heart. I am not so bold as to offer her, whom I have met only once, any commentary or advice save my prayers as a fellow member of the Body of Christ.

But, as your brother in Christ, Brett, I'm not sure you want to go there with the Pharisee-"liberal" equation. I don't know; perhaps the intent is to place "conservatives" in the role of the apostles or, perhaps, Christ himself, but the analogy is rather forced at best.

Jesus, after all, conspicuously dined with Pharisees and shared many of their commitments, if not their exacting focus on certain religious practices. Indeed, when one considers the historical information about Pharisees as opposed to their depiction in gospel accounts, Jesus seems rather close to their party in many respects. Paul, of course, calls himself "a Pharisee," (not a former Pharisee), "and the son of a Pharisee."  

The Sadducees (Tzedukim), in contrast, accused the Pharisees of adding dangerous new suppositions, accepting modern ideas, and watering down the clear truth of Torah. Accordingly, the Sadducees rejected such novelties (not found in Torah) as angels, the afterlife, the resurrection of the dead, and the oral Law. From the little we know, they saw themselves as holding on to the true way in a dangerously heterodox world. All of Jesus' recorded encounters with the Sadducee party are adversarial, and there are no NT accounts of any Sadducee becoming Christian.

I point all this out not to shame or refute you, only to let you know that your identification of modern Christian "liberals" with Pharisees carries baggage you may not care for. 
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 11:46pm
Actually questioning your personal opinions on this issue and taking a deep accounting would be better than running for the door.
Carolyn Disco | 11/16/2010 - 9:33pm
Thank you, thank you, Valerie. You are a breath of fresh air. What generosity to share your heart's struggles, echoed by countless others, including me.


I need to hear you, and Cathleen Kaveny's outstanding ''Long Goodbye,'' in which I recognize my own thoughts. In a strange way, just knowing you are out there helps me find shelter in my own Church.


By contrast, reading those like Brett Joyce just makes me want to run for the door.
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 8:40pm
What bunk...the Pharisees were sophists who bent the commandments of God to their advantage and power - they were not "orthodox," if anything they would be the modern liberals in their attempts to retain power and twist the Gospel in the Church to their own needs and personal opinions and preferences.

Christ called all of us to repent before the Kingdom of God - he did not make exceptions from the repentance of sin based on some type of ideological or sexual identity politics like modern liberal Catholics do.
Michael Cremin | 11/16/2010 - 8:10pm
Valeie, there is nothing easy about being a Catholic. God knows your heart. Your faith, and your beliefs, are between you and God, not you, God, and the person sitting next to you in the pews. If you feel that God is calling to you remain in the Catholic Church, then that's between you and God. Many Orthodox Catholics are modern day Pharisees: they are self-righteous and legalistic. If Jesus Himself showed up and invited everyone to His table (which he already did, by the way), they would find reasons to tell Him He was wrong. ''Well you see, Lord, Canon Law Article XXVIII subsection q, paragraph 34.8 clearly states that...''

A famous Rabbi once said that the Torah could be summed up as love God, love your neighbor. The rest is commentary. Jesus said the same thing.
ed gleason | 11/16/2010 - 7:07pm
Hang on to the Eucharist,, find that default parish, chapel, small Christian community that will nourish you and yours. Keep writing in America.
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 6:55pm
See, that is the thing, Jim: we don't get to pick what we love, We either accept His Church and the teachings of the Church , in toto, or we remain outside it where cannot know the fullness of His love.
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 6:53pm
Promoting homosexuality and other amoral acts is definitely not following the life of Christ.  He did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it and to call for the loving repentance of sinners (not the promotion and acceptance of sin).

You can either be true to Christ and his Church or true to your own emotions and personal opinions - they are not the same thing.  And claiming that they are is pure sophistry and solipsism. 

JIM MCCREA | 11/16/2010 - 6:40pm
Valerie:  remember that your and all of our salvation comes from belief in and living out life in Jesus.  The ever-more pretentious organization which purports to be the One True Church is an impediment to living in Jesus more than it is a help.

Be like so many of us who restrict our Catholicism to what we find in a parish we love.  All the rest is so much bumfodder (ask Austen Invereigh what that means).
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 6:34pm
Nancy,

I agree that the statement you cite is ignorant; however, it is the logical - if extreme - conclusion of the solipsism and misconceptions contained in the essay above.
Mark Harden | 11/16/2010 - 6:09pm
"Has it ever crossed your mind that in fact you can transubstantiate bread by breaking it and praying over it with some friends? That the Roman Catholic Church does not have a monopoly on the Body of Christ"

As a comment to the heartfelt cry by this post as to the Real Presence in the Eucharist, this heretical whimsy is not merely ignorant, but rather insulting.
Kay Satterfield | 11/16/2010 - 5:08pm
Valerie, your candor in your writing has always been so refreshing, so honest.  It makes me feel I can breathe.  Your faith is so real.  Thank you for expressing so beautifully how God is working in your life now in your struggles and how important the Eucharist is for you. I understand that.
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 10:32am
I feel the pain that your term, ''nomadic Catholic,'' expresses and think that by having ''cut away, at least temporarily, my distraction with everything between the Eucharist and me''  you have made the best choice, for now.  Please stay and keep up the good work.  My prayers will be for you and others like you.
Chris Sullivan | 11/16/2010 - 10:03am
Valerie,

Please do stay.

The Church desperately needs women like you, now more than ever.

It's good to focus on the essentials.

Will keep you in our prayers.

God Bless
Roseann Saah | 11/16/2010 - 3:27pm
Dear Valerie,

First of all, thank you for publicly standing up for civil marriage for same-sex couples and the ordination of women.  Thank you for being honest and truthful;  I, too, struggle to stay.  Even my young children bring to my attention the disconnect between the message of love, mercy and compassion of the Jesus they read about in the Gospels and the messages (verbal and symbolic) that they sometimes get from the Catholics around them, whether it be from the homily, the notices they read in the bulletin or just conversations they hear.  As a nomadic Catholic, I try to make it to mass everyday at one of our local parishes.  This helps me to keep bringing the kids with me on Sunday.  I believe that Eucharist will continue to sustain and grace us to seek and speak the truth with courage and humility.
Boreta Singleton | 11/16/2010 - 2:27pm
Valerie,
      I would encourage you to find a church home in which you are comfortable. I travel a distance to my parish because I know that I need not only to be fed by Jesus in the Eucharist, but also I need to be fed by God's word, and part of that is receiving the grace of a good homily. We need your prophetic voice!
Blessings on your journey.
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 2:15pm
"Humility is simply the truth. The scope of God’s providence is an ocean without shores. But within this providence there is one purpose that God always has. He wants us to not just be humble but to grow in humility.
That is why we may say he allows the fallen angels, who are demons of pride, to lead us into sin so that we might grow in humility.
The deepest humility is the realization in my heart that I am a sinner. Whatever people may think of me, I know better. I know that I have offended my Creator and Lord. I know that I have been seduced by the father of lies to think that my will is my will and does not have to be obedient to the will of God.
Certainly persons can be humble without being converted sinners. But in the genius of God’s providence, most people learn humility from the realization of their sins - especially the sins instigated by Lucifer, the personification of pride". Hardon SJ

I promise to keep you in my prayers, Valerie.
CLAIRE BANGASSER MS | 11/16/2010 - 2:00pm
Has it ever crossed your mind that in fact you can transubstantiate bread by breaking it and praying over it with some friends? That the Roman Catholic Church does not have a monopoly on the Body of Christ?

I would think any time anyone breaks bread with Christ in mind and the Last Supper and all that He meant at the time He said all that He said, in illo tempore, He is present.

I have yet to do it. But the idea has crossed my mind. In fact, it bubbled up from my heart. Jesus is with the marginalized. He is with you always. He promised it. No one, absolutely no one, can take Him away from you.

We need not give power to those who claim to have it. Without our power given to them (Vatican & Co), they have none.
 
(((((Valerie))))) 
Winifred Holloway | 11/16/2010 - 1:53pm
You are exactly where many of us are right now, Valerie.  I attend Mass at my parish and am also an EM once a month at the local hospital.  And that's it. I once was more involved and have always been all my adult life.  And now I am one of those shadows who just shows up on sundays.  We have good liturgies at my church and faithful Vatican II priests.  Their numbers are declining, however, and they will be gone to be replaced by whom?  Men who want to wear capes and birettas and feel themselves set apart from the rest of the faithful.  Stay with it, Valerie.  We are all in this together even though we don't sit side by side in the same parish.  Like you, I love the Eucharist and cannot leave.  The hierarchs have all the power and their love of it is scandalous.  This will not change in my lifetime.  We cannot do anything about the crazy old uncles in the attic, we can only work on ourselves. 
Mary Ann Daly | 11/16/2010 - 12:14pm
Oh, do I feel your pain! I am so close to the same thing, and not for the first time. I too have gotten to the stage where I simply had to withdraw, found a real need to be nourished by the Eucharist, found myself showing up in different churches, and before, have always, sometimes because my own parish had a change in priests, gone ''home'' again.
But now changes are endemic. Changing parishes, attending liturgy somewhere else, isn't going to work. All the wonderful Vatican II changes I so rejoiced in, are being relegated to the dustbin.
And as much as I love my parish, we just got told that as Eucharistic ministers, we could only distribute from the cup, and the long lines waiting for Father to distribute Our Lord's Body don't seem to matter, only he can do that now.
How many more changes can I handle? 
How long will I manage to swallow my anger and hurt and remain a Roman Catholic?
Anonymous | 11/16/2010 - 11:39am
I've found that when I had strayed from the Church's teaching, it was easy to fall into the temptation of believing that the Church was wrong, not me.  The more I practiced behaviors that were against the Church's treaching, the more entrenched my anti-Church views became.

Maybe you should try not writing articles promoting anti-Catholic rhetoric.  How brilliant of the Devil to tempt you with the opportunity to write on secular hot topics knowing that your participation in the great compassionate works of the Church would lapse.

Kathleen O'Brien | 11/16/2010 - 10:41am
Valerie,

Stay and continue to witness.  I had to fight to be able to receive communion when there was not a Mass available in a mission parish.  The bishop granted my request after months of waiting but had I not spoken, I and others who desire daily Eucharist, would not have it.  Jesus knows our hearts and will always nourish those who seek him.

Blessings to you and all who try to follow Jesus way today.
Beth Cioffoletti | 11/21/2010 - 11:03am
I so relate, Valerie.

For years now I've called myself a "Catholic in exile".  I don't know if I'm in or out.  If I'm in, I'm way out on the edges.

But there's something that keeps me calling myself Catholic.  I was formed in the Catholic faith; my whole perception of life and death rests on this notion that God became human and gave us Eucharist.  If I really believe this, how can I walk away?  How can I not avail myself of this sacrament, and often?

Recently I asked a priest-friend if he thought the institutional Church used the Eucharist to keep people in and under control.  Does the Catholic Church, alone, hold the mysterious key and uniquely Eucharistically way to being fully human in the world?  So if you turn away from the Eucharist (ie, the Church) you are turning away from this gift of God.  He was inclined to think that the Church abused the Eucharist to make it an "In" club.  You're either in or out, and you can't recieve the Eucahrist unless you are fully in.

I read some of the comments above, and Claire B's really jumped out at me.  I've heard this from another friend, that the Eucharist was given to all of us, and each of us really do have the power to turn bread into the body of Christ. 

So, I remain muddled.  Another friend tells me: "don't get so far out that you're not willing to get in and messy with the rest of us".  There's a lot of wisdom there as well.

And then, Merton said in his last talk, on the day he died, that we shouldn't look to institutions for support because they could come tumbling down, and from here on out, "it's each man on his own 2 feet">



deborah rose-milavec | 12/27/2010 - 2:00pm
Thank you.  I wept at your account and feel deeply grateful for your generosity in sharing it.  I'm a bit older than you and have been profoundly shaped by Catholic teaching, especially the teachings of Vatican II and Catholic social justice.  It is these teachings that stir a profound and healthy impatience for power politics, cover-ups and hard hearted deafness to the voices of the faithful.  I hope you will come to understand that your words are powerful, stirring and holy - a bright candle in the midst of fearful murmurrings eminating from the mouths of some bishops, priests or others in the church.    You already know - not everyone will love you.  You already know - you may be seen as a threat to the status quo.  And it is true -  you are not always right anymore than anyone else has been, including Jesus and Paul.  But with all that imperfection and the limitations of culture, community, place and time, God does call us out - to be brave in our times - in the face of our own ignorance, unknowing and imperfections and to seek others - communities of like minded believers (inside official religious structures or outside).   While I wish there had been more stories of Jesus weeping because of the inevitbable loss of family and friends as he followed his calling - a personal comfort I would have cherished -  I recall the powerful stories of Jesus mocking and condemning the hard hearted religious leadership of his day - turning over tables in absolute disgust and rage - and getting murdered as a criminal because of it.  Sound familiar?  And as you have begun to experience, there is no romancing a cross.  The reality of leading toward a new reality - God's vision and dream -  is hard work, cruel in its inevitable losses and wearing to the point of despair.   For me, that is why community(s) is so important.  I need nourishment, hope, song and joy in order to carry on.  I want God's vision of justice, compassion and peace for the world to take hold and it won't happen unless we carry it forward...Many many blessings!