I am a Catholic.
I used to be confident in being Catholic, but my confidence wavers when I am faced with what many people associate with this religion. After graduating college, stepping into the "real world," and having my happy, Jesuit bubble burst, I quickly realized that, like the rest of the nation, American Catholics are somewhat divided. On one side, you have the more conservative Catholics who focus more on the rules, fight hard to stop abortion, and are completely against homosexual marriages. On the other side, you have the liberals who skirt around the rules, have mass outdoors, fight hard to stop poverty, and pray for acceptance, tolerance, and dignity for all human beings. What I found when stepping into the "real world" was that when I told people I was Catholic, they automatically assumed I was a conservative one and were surprised to hear that the liberal ones even existed.
I often found myself saying, "Yes, I am a Catholic, but not one of those (insert any number of steryotypes here) Catholics."
So I started to wonder, "Just what kind of Catholic am I?"
Then, I quit going to church regularly, because I couldn't find one that rubbed me the right way. I also got busy being a mom and church times often coincided with nap times. As Graham got older, I started going more often, but found that I was more focused on keeping him quiet and occupied than on prayer and reflection. When I did find time for reflection, I started questioning man-made religion in general and wondered if I wanted to be a part of it.
I'm still wondering. I still go to mass from time to time. I still call myself a Catholic. But I'm still wondering.
When we stepped into St. Peter's Basilica, I expected to feel moved, because this is where it all began for the Catholics.
Instead, I was hot, tired, achy, and annoyed with Graham running all over the place like a wild man.
I felt awed and wowed by the magnificence of it all, but it was difficult for me to feel anything spiritual.
Until I looked back at some of the pictures and realized that I was moved several times while we were there.
I was moved by Michelangelo's famous Pieta. This is depicting the moment when Mary is holding Jesus after he dies on the cross. Whether Jesus is divine will be debated amongst scientists, philosophers, and religions until the end of time. However, I believe the historical facts are pretty clear that Jesus was a human. His mom was Mary. She probably sang to him and tucked him in at night. She had to watch him die on a cross. As a mother, that would be very, very, very hard.
I felt a trickle of joy while watching Tony be an incredible father and teach Graham the importance of listening and having respect.
I was happy to see that amongst all the statues and gold and glory, the artists and designers chose to include a simple dove and olive branch to represent hope and peace.
I felt calm when I noticed a nun using this sacred place to pray while hundreds of tourists shuffled around her.
It made me incredibly grateful to have a few moments to myself while Tony took Graham on a long journey to the restroom. I was able to listen to the priests chant the vespers before mass. I fell asleep in my chair.
I noticed a sense of community among the tourists as we all tried to be reverent and respectful of one another, whereas, in contrast to other tourist hot-spots, we try to trample one another to get a photo.
Lastly, I felt refreshed. Simply, refreshed.
Perhaps due to the magnificence of St. Peter's and its depictions of Christ and God, we sometimes expect the heavens to open and angels to gather and the big, booming voice of God to tell us that we are having a spiritual experience. Even if we know this isn't really how God works, we (okay, I) still sometimes expect to be swept away by emotion and feel brand new after encountering God. It is sort of like this with counseling. People come to you hoping to have a magical moment when all of their troubles and anxieties evaporate into thin air and they feel fresh and new. (Think Oprah and the "ah-ha" moment). In reality, though, spiritual and magical moments usually happen occasionally and quietly, and if we're not careful-or if we don't have a camera- we'll miss them.
And that, I hope, is something most Catholics can agree on.
And, since we've been discussing Catholicism, I have a confession to make. I am really scared to write about religion, because I worry a lot about being labeled. I don't like to be pinned into a corner.
Nobody puts baby in a corner.
Thanks again for listening. I hope you'll still come back for more.