Church

A friend sent me an article, an op-ed piece, by the man who stood up in the middle of Mass recently to confront his priest about how to move on from the abuse scandal in the Catholic church. It’s worth a read here. I had seen mention of it on Twitter.

While I have some admiration for a person who could do this, interrupt Mass, challenge his priest, after I read the op-ed, I realized I did not share this man’s opinion about what comes next. He asserts that people should stop going to Mass, and “It is wrong to support the church.”

But he doesn’t offer anything else.

Just: Stop going to church.

He has given up on the idea that the church can be reformed. He is taking his family and walking away.

And that is a valid choice for him. I am sure he will not be the only Catholic to make that choice in the wake of the abuse scandal and the coverups.

I am not going to walk away — or at least not just yet. I am continuing to struggle, I won’t lie. Time may prove Mr. Nathaniel correct, and the church may not be able to reform itself. It may continue to bluster and obfuscate. And if that proves to be the case, then my choice becomes more clear.

But I’m not leaving without trying to have an influence.

Michael is due to receive First Holy Communion this spring, and Flora is due to be confirmed. I want to give them the opportunity to receive these sacraments.

The Gospel reading for this week reveals a community in crisis. Some of Jesus’s followers turn away from him as he starts to preach the good news about receiving eternal life — by partaking of the communion of faith. Last week, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” This week he says, “No one can come to the Father except through me.”

As disciples leave, Jesus turns to his apostles. “Are you going to leave, too?” He asks. And Peter says, “To whom shall we go? You have the message of eternal life.” (Source)

If I decide to stop going to church, what do I do, where do I go? A church without a Eucharist? A church without a Pope? Yes, the death and resurrection of Christ is the center of all Christian religions. But only Catholicism has the transubstantiated Eucharist. (I’m willing to hear arguments against the papacy, but I will meet you with great skepticism. I recognize these men are, only, ultimately, men — flawed and weak, learned and holy. Changes need to be made, but I’m not sure I’m on board with ending the papacy.)

So! What’s next for me? I will continue to attend weekly Mass, and receive the Eucharist. I will sign my children up for CCD, and continue to educate them in our faith at home.

There is a good woman I know via social media. She has been such an example to me as a Catholic woman, and wife and mother. She has started a campaign to advocate for change in the Catholic church, and I am going to join her in her efforts.

She has founded The Siena Project, named after St. Catherine of Siena, who declared, “Proclaim the truth and do not be silent through fear.”

If you feel the need to leave the church, I understand. But if you are like me, and struggling and want to stay but DO SOMETHING, then I encourage you to check out Miriel’s project and participate. I know Mr. Nathaniel is not alone, and I hope that I am not alone either.

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ETA: The priest at the 7 p.m. mass I attended last night with my children addressed this head on. He said (and I’m paraphrasing), “Many of you sitting here tonight are struggling. Are you going to stay in the church, or are you going to leave? I understand, and I encourage you to pray.” He acknowledges, as do many of us, that the church as an institution has lost its moral authority.

All I have to say is that we, the people in the pews, have to hold the church accountable. If the church does not provide transparent changes, it truly cannot stand as an institution. Time will tell.

Catholic

I am not a lawyer.
I am not a theologian.
I am not a victim of childhood sexual abuse (by a priest or anybody).

I am Catholic, and I am a writer. So I am going to try to put some thoughts down. I am going to write and mail some letters to the church leadership (much thanks to Twitter friends Katrina and Miriel, who both have given me scripts to use).

Ultimately, I don’t know what will happen to (in any particular order): the priesthood, Catholic churches, the Catholic laity, or anything else.

Primarily, of course, my thoughts are with all the victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. The crimes committed against those victims and their families is appalling beyond words. They have all of my prayers, and, frankly, I hope that when they come to the church leadership about things that need to change, they are heeded. The fact that church leadership compounded their suffering by moving priests around, settling cases with abuse victims and making their silence part of the payoff, and, even now, asserting how sorry they are without defining consequences for their actions is not helping or healing.

Yes, we know that a lot of this abuse took place a long time ago. That doesn’t matter. We know that many changes have been made so this type of abuse is less likely to happen going forward, and is more likely to be reported and stopped much sooner if it does happen — and that matters, but probably not to men, women, and families who have already been victimized at the hands of their clergy.

Yesterday was the first mass I attended since the news of the grand jury report broke in Pennsylvania (coverage here). (Yes, I know, I missed a Holy Day of Obligation — remember, I am a #badCatholic.) And I struggled yesterday, struggled in my heart.

My faith has sustained me through some very difficult things. And getting up and leaving the Catholic church — it’s not like choosing another restaurant or clothing store if I don’t agree with their views on stuff.

What happened was a great sin and tragedy, and I don’t condone it, and I want to see change. I honestly think any priest, bishop, and cardinal named in that report and still serving — looking especially to my own diocese of Pittsburgh — should be prosecuted and defrocked, statute of limitations be damned. Does that leave the Catholic church in Pittsburgh without a head; or the Catholic church in America rudderless, leaderless?

Maybe for a time it does. Maybe that is something that needs to happen. So that the good men and women of the church can step in and… resurrect it to a more holy institution. The church is fallen. Again.

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The two central tenets of my faith are: the death and resurrection of Jesus, who was the son of God; and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, aka transubstantiation.

We are in a cycle of the liturgical calendar that is especially focused on the Eucharist — it is focused on God feeding the people. Manna from heaven, the loaves and the fishes, Jesus offering himself as the bread of life. Receiving the Eucharist is the most important thing I do every week. It sustains me; it gives me strength.

But I’ll tell you: I am struggling. I want to know what the victims need to facilitate healing, if that can be done. What they need from leadership, clergy, and laypeople. I want them to have that.

I am grieving, for the victims — and for myself. For my experience of my faith that is altered, that has a shadow cast over it. I don’t know how that will change in the coming days and weeks, if it will.

The church cannot offer us apologies and sorrow, and then close the door. Our bishops cannot offer us changes in processes that protect children — protect my children! — and think they’ve taken care of everything. I don’t know what the future looks like for the Catholic church.

But it’s got to look more different from its past.

Thy Will Be Done

From the first reading of Mass yesterday: “As for foreigners who adhere to Yahweh to serve him, to love Yahweh’s name and become his servants… [T]hese I shall lead to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer… for my house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” Isaiah 56:1, 6-7

From the second reading: “God has imprisoned all human beings in their own disobedience only to show mercy to them all.”

And in the Gospel, Jesus heals the daughter of a foreign woman who is not Jewish. I actually found this reading to be a rather harsh depiction of Jesus. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs,” Jesus says, when the woman persists. “Yes, Lord,” the woman answers. “But even dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ tables.”

I wonder if how many white supremacists call themselves Christian, and if they were in a church yesterday. Did they hear the words? Did they understand them?

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Some say that T*ump is part of God’s plan – I don’t know why they didn’t believe that about Obama, but I’ve very little doubt that some of those who trumpet this current administration believed that Obama was a secret Muslim.

And here’s a thought I had in Mass yesterday. What if T*ump is part of God’s plan, but not in the way that Falwell Jr. and the evangelicals would have it. Maybe T*ump was elected not to save America, but to reveal it, and God “let” it happen (insofar as God directs things here on Earth; the Big Guy [or Gal] did give us free will) so that we would see the worst of human kind, not the best.

Maybe God said, “All right. They’re going to go ahead and put this fool in the White House, and even though he’s hardly done service to me – except lip service, am I right? – we’ll just let this go. I work in mysterious ways, after all.”

Instead of the example of Jesus, who humbled himself even unto death, we bear witness to the vainglorious antics of T*ump and Bannon, whose narcissism knows no bounds. Instead of the welcoming and generous mien of Jesus, we watch as petty men enrich and empower themselves and their families, with no thoughts for the ones they harm.

Instead of a moral leader who can point out the wrongs in this world, and vow to do better to make things right, we have a weak man who thinks the wrong extends in every direction, and he’s the only one who is brave enough to say it. T*ump will admit no wrong or weakness. Jesus knelt at this apostles’ feet to wash them. He sent his believers into the world to be servants, not to be kings.

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And even if we are willing to buy into this idea, that God does have a plan to profit us (and I don’t mean make us rich with material things), it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t speak out and speak up when we see the wrongs in the world, and the feckless, faithless people in power won’t do it. I pray every day that T*ump and his minions fall from power. I use my voice to decry injustice and hate, and I will keep doing that. And, more importantly, I will amplify the voices who know better than I do, and I will listen to those who know better than I.

Peace Be With You (14)

When we walked into church on Sunday, I noticed the priest was wearing red.

“It’s Pentecost,” I whispered excitedly to Dan. “I love Pentecost!”

I do love Pentecost. As a Catholic, I know that Easter is the most important holy day in the calendar. Without Easter, there’s no Christianity.

But I always regarded Pentecost as extremely important as well. (Please note: I am but a layperson in the church, not, by any means, a theologian.)

Jesus promised his disciples that he would not leave them alone. That he would send them a helper. He sent them the Holy Spirit so they would have the strength to go out into the world and share the good news.

And that’s what is documented on Pentecost Sunday, fifty days after Easter. A great wind comes to the disciples, tongues of flame rest over their heads, and they leave the room where they had locked themselves away, and begin to declaim the Word.

Imagine if the Spirit never came. Imagine if they never left that room.

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Fourteen years ago today, it was Pentecost Sunday.

Fourteen years ago today, I delivered my stillborn son Gabriel, after four days of being induced and going into labor.

I truly believe that the Holy Spirit came to me and to Dan, in our time of need, and I was given the strength to deliver our son. Jesus breathed into that room and stretched out his hands, and peace came into my heart, and strength came into my body. It did what was needed to deliver Gabriel.

I was given the strength to leave that room.

Without the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure I would have left that room.

I don’t mean literally. I am sure I would have been delivered of Gabriel one way or another, and I would have left the hospital, empty handed, hollow in my heart.

But metaphorically, if I had not received the strength of the Holy Spirit, I would have stayed locked in that room. I would not be mother to three other children. I’m not sure my marriage would have survived if I had stayed in that room out of fear.

So, Pentecost has deep personal meaning to me, as well as being important to the church in which I practice my faith. I give thanks to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit for imbuing my life with the ability to move forward. Every day I am thankful for my marriage and my motherhood, in all their aspects, both dark and light. I feel the flame in my heart.

The Great Lie

I am a religious person. I think we’ve established that.

When I advocate for things like gay marriage and women having access to healthcare, when I speak on the virtues of love and tolerance even when you don’t agree with someone else (which can just as difficult from a liberal perspective as from a conservative one), I struggle with my religion a little bit. Not my faith, mind you, my faith is pretty straightforward: “I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” And so on.

It is said sometimes that Satan’s greatest trick is convincing people he doesn’t exist. So I struggled with that. I don’t think my God of love and mercy gets hung up on human sexuality the way humans do, for example.

But I don’t know. God is infinite and unknowable, and me saying, “Eh, I don’t think God gets hung up on human sexuality” could be just as valid as someone else saying, “God wants marriage to be between one man and one woman.” The first message just sounds more tolerant.

But at some point late Friday night, I realized that I don’t think the lie of religion is in any of the things I hold dear and advocate for in this human vale of tears.

The lie of religion is that God wants you to kill or oppress other people for your religion.

God doesn’t want that. I don’t know the rules of the Quran, but I am willing to bet that just like in my Christian Ten Commandments, there’s something that states, “Thou shalt not kill.”

God doesn’t want us to impose our religion on other people be it through laws or through guns and bombs.

We can speak our faith and our religion. We can practice our faith and our religion — here in America, anyway. It’s easier to be a Christian here; when people hear freedom of religion, that’s what they default to. But Muslims, and Jews, and Hindis, and Buddists, they get to practice too, without fear of being barred from their places of worship, without being beat up for their religion.

And no doubt, it is harder in other parts of the world. Christians are persecuted in the Middle East — and I don’t mean Starbucks red cup persecuted, I mean “live in real fear of prison and death” persecuted. Muslims in American must live in fear, too, after things like the attacks in Paris. I cannot imagine.

French flag colors.
Prayers for Paris. Image credit: Paisan Changhirun

The lie of extremists is the lie that when they act out in violence, they are doing God’s work. When they act out to oppress and take things away from, that they are doing what God wants. I’m not just talking about ISIS. They are the most egregious and scary example, to be sure.

Christian extremists may not be toting guns around at Pride rallies, but to impose one’s religion on people trying to exercise their civil rights is wrong-headed and ugly too.

Jesus came to us and left us with one commandment.

One.

“Love one another. Love one another as I have loved you.”

We don’t get to be selfish and judgmental in the service of our religion. That is about the exact opposite of what Jesus charged us with.

We need to sacrifice and serve in the name of God to give him glory. And maybe some of what we need to sacrifice is the idea that because we are Catholic or Christian or Muslim, that the rules we live by need to be imposed on everyone.

Religious extremists do the work of Satan in the world. They foster strife and drive people away from God. They end conversation. They close off what we should seek to open.

We need to show them that love is stronger than death and destruction. That the world will unite and be stronger in love than in hate. Faithful or not, religious or not, spiritual or not, if we can unite in love, we will be doing what we are here to do.

Love one another.

Follow Up to #badCatholic

I’ve done some reading and research over this past week, trying to understand my own feelings regarding marriage equality and my Catholic faith. I am neither a theologian nor a lawyer, so in some ways, I simply cannot speak to the larger issues of these things.

The most important part of the Catholic message is the following (and I am quoting directly from Bishop David Zubik’s letter in this week’s Pittsburgh Catholic):

“The Church has taught and will continue to teach respect for the dignity of all women and men, regardless of sexual orientation. The Church is here for everyone, and Jesus extends his love and mercy to all of us.”

The most imporant thing to remember about America is that we have a firm basis of rights and liberties that are NOT built on religion. I don’t know when the idea of American being a Christian nation took root, but it is simply incorrect.

Are we a nation build on ethical and moral law? We sure are. One doesn’t need to be a religious person to be a good person. Treat others well, do not harm others, be kind, treat every person with respect and dignity. These aren’t necessarily precepts that need to be culled from a religious book in order to be codified into law.

The Catholic church is remarkably consistent in its teachings about sex and death. Sacramental marriage, that is marriage performed in a church by a priest, will remain between one man and one woman. Sex outside of that sacrament is viewed as a sin. Adultery, premarital sex, sex after divorce, and homosexual sex are all rated the same. Priests take a vow of celibacy, hence they cannot marry (hence they are not supposed to be sexually active). Nuns take a vow of chastity; they are viewed as married spiritually to Jesus.

The church is also anti-abortion, pro-gun control, anti-death penalty, and against suicide and euthanasia.

The church also teaches its adherents that we have a duty to care for our fellow humans. We should perform acts of mercy and charity, donate to those less fortunate, and work to see that people are protected from harm. As Catholics, as Christians, that is our part of our calling to love everyone.

Many people have written on this issue much more eloquently than I am able. This article from Dwight A. Moody is well articulated and there’s is this one by John Pavlovitz, about what Christians actually lost in the marriage equality ruling (hint: it’s not the freedom to practice our religion).

So. I’m feeling better. I can return to church in good conscience. I can continue to love and support all of my friends and family. I can pray and be heard. As my father said in a text to me (and I hope he doesn’t mind me quoting him): “Church is important to you for the right reasons.”

I can love. And that’s the most important thing.

Happy 4th of July, everyone. Peace be with you.

4th of July Fireworks

#badCatholic

Yesterday, I got up during the homily, in which the priest was going to address the Supreme Court’s decision to make marriage equality the law of the land, and I walked out of church.

And then when I got home, I cried because I walked out of church.

When the priest started his homily, he was completely upfront about what he was going to talk about. I froze. I thought to myself, “Okay, now what am I going to do?”

The priest suggested if we hadn’t read the dissenting opinions on the ruling, that we should. And then he brought up the First Amendment, and I’m pretty sure he was going to head into an argument about how the Supreme Court’s ruling infringed on my freedom to practice my religion. And *that’s* when I leaned over the Flora and Kate and said, “We have to go.”

It wasn’t fair, what I did. It wasn’t brave. I should have sat and heard the priest’s argument so that I could adequately state my position, whether for or against.

But all I could think about was my cousin and his husband, and how happy they looked in pictures. All I could think about was my new friend Kristen (who was in Listen to Your Mother with me) and her wife Beth, and their little girl, with whom I had just spent the bulk of the day. And I couldn’t sit and and risk hearing hateful words about these people, because I love them. And because if the priest said hateful things about them from the pulpit, it would break my heart, because I love being a Catholic.

The American bishops have declared that the Supreme Court’s ruling is a “tragic error”. That marriage is between one man and one woman, and that a human establishment can’t overrule that.

I did go and read the dissenting opinions. I understand the arguments for states’ rights, and I believe, that given time, enough people in enough states would vote to make marriage equality the law of the land. But how much time should we have given states?

The court had to order states to free slaves, allow blacks and women to vote, integrate schools and businesses. So the argument that the court overstepped its role to bring marriage equality to the states just doesn’t fly.

Sometimes people in states have to be told to do the right thing. Sorry, people in states.

As for the potential arguments that same-sex marriage impinges on my First Amendment religious liberty, that I just do not understand. I cannot see how the marriages — and divorces — of my friends and family curtails my right to go to church, receive the Eucharist, pray as I like, and preach the word of God.

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“I say that gratuitous interference in other people’s life is bigotry. The fact that it is often religiously motivated does not make it less so. the United States is not a theocracy, and religious disapproval of harmless practices is not a proper basis for prohibiting such practices, especially if the practices are highly valued by their practitioners. … That isn’t to say that people are forbidden to oppose same-sex marriage; it is merely to remark on one of the costs of that opposition and one of the reasons to doubt that it should be permitted to express itself in a law forbidding such marriage.” — Richard Posnar, writing for Slate

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When I got home and burst into tears in the kitchen, Dan held me. He said, laughing a little bit: “I love you, and this is what I love about you. That you struggle with this.”

He assures me that I can reject what the priest was saying and still be a good and faithful Catholic. “Jesus gave us one commandment,” he reminded me. “Love one another. That’s it. That’s what we have to do.” I have to love everyone, including that priest.

And I suppose Dan is right. I *love* my faith, I love going to church and receiving the Eucharist. It is so integral to who I am as a person. I love the creed and the message of Jesus to love and help one another, to minister to those less fortunate, to bring the light of the Word to others by my speech and by my actions.

If accepting and celebrating the fact that same-sex couples can take advantage of the legal protections and benefits of marriage makes me a bad Catholic — well, it won’t be the first thing. I’ve said before, I am a creed Catholic, and a New Testament Catholic. If Rome parses the Gospel in such a way to declare that holy matrimony, that is, sacramental marriage, is only for heterosexuals… then so be it. But the civil and legal institution of marriage, the right to join your life to the person you love above all others, to live in peace and raise children (if that is your choice) — I’m going to celebrate that, too.

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I suppose I’ll go to confession this week, because I walked out of church and did not receive communion, and prevented my children from receiving communion. And we’ll move forward from there. As with women in ministry, I can do more good in the pew than outside the church.

Right?

Love is Love.
Love is Love.

Image Source

What a Weekend!

Katie on the altar after 1st communion
Kate did great!

It was an extremely busy and exhausting weekend, but all the effort was completely worth it. Everything to celebrate Kate’s First Holy Communion fell into place, everyone got where they needed to go, the weather on Sunday worked out beautifully (thanks, Spring, for showing up for a day!), and I’m sure I owe my dad a ransom in gas money.

I think my husband and my parents think that I was doing things by the seat of my pants, but I have been working on this plan and this weekend for more than a month! Yes, it required a lot of logistics planning and delegation to pull off, but that was actually part of the plan.

Of course, my mom is right. If it had rained Sunday, we’d have been screwed.

Kate's Cake
Indeed.

Of note: Saturday night, we needed to find a place that could accommodate a dozen people around 6:30. After talking over the possibilities, we decided to call The Central Diner, and see if they could do it. We called at 4:30 to see if they could accommodate a party of what turned out to be 13 around 6:30, and they made a reservation for us.

They hooked us up big time. If you’ve never been to the Central Diner, they are a New York-style diner with a full bar and a full menu including Greek specialties. They are always packed. I was a little worried when we showed up, actually.

I needn’t have been concerned. They put the children at a big corner booth, and we adults at an 8-top nearby. The children behaved AMAZINGLY WELL. The service was IMPECCABLE. We had two servers, one for us and one for the children’s table, and the children’s server loved our kids. She asked to let her know when we were coming back so she could wait on them again. And I think she meant it! Portions are HUGE, and everyone’s dinner was delicious.

So: a special thank you to the Central Diner for not just accommodating our large party on a very busy night, but for making it a wonderful, memorable part of a fantastic weekend.

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Saturday morning, we woke up to a messy mix of snow and rain, and I cried in my kitchen. However, by Sunday afternoon, it was a breezy 60-degree day, sunny and pleasant. Once we got set up at Moon Park, we hardly saw the children. I just want to thank absolutely everyone who came to play, eat, and celebrate with us. And thanks to everyone who brought cookies! Oh, my, the wealth of sweets!

After about three hours, I chased Michael down and made him sit and eat something. Then he promptly fell asleep on Pap-pap.

Tired selfie
Tuckered this little guy out!

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We are truly blessed.

Dan, Kate, and I outside church

God So Loved the World

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I read Number the Stars by Lois Lowry today. (The Book Thief is better, IMO, richer. But Flora’s class read Number the Stars.)

This is from the afterword by the author. In case you can’t read it, let me transcribe it:

“… And I want you all to remember that you must not dream yourselves back to the times before the war, but the dream for you all, young and old, must be to create an ideal of human decency, and not a narrow-minded and prejudiced one. That is the great gift our country hungers for, something every little peasant boy can look forward to and with pleasure feel he is a part of — something he can work and fight for.”

It is the holiest part of the year for my faith, for my religion. And this is the message that Jesus came to bring us: Love one another. And these are the words from a century ago, from a peasant boy who was killed for fighting to save other people — people he may not have even known, people whose faith he may not have shared.

He wanted to save them because they were fellow humans. Jesus wants us to love one another because we are all flawed people who are in this together.

It’s so simple.

Last night was the washing of feet. Jesus told us, “If you will lead, you must first serve.”

It’s so simple.

Jesus came to give us a new covenant. A new commandment.

Will you follow? Will you serve?

The Persistence of Faith, Part Two

The priest at my Sunday mass was a visiting priest. He was also a combination of priest/stand-up comedian, which is notable because those were the two career choices Dan was trying to decide between when he was 10 years old.

His homily was successfully funny and engaging — and he started out by thanking parents for bringing young children, so he won me over from the start — and also inspired and moving. He captured the vitality of my faith.

Despite what some people may think, Catholicism isn’t dead or moribund. It’s a vital and living religion. It’s not a dull, dead set of rules that we are supposed to follow so we can go to heaven. It’s a journey, it’s an adventure. It’s alive!

God has plans to prosper us. He doesn’t want us to live in little tiny boxes, and not break rules, and not have pleasure in our lives. He wants to heal us, he wants to love us. And he wants us to show the world his healing and his love.

Listening to the priest talk, I had this feeling in my chest — this feeling of brightness and lightness. And THIS, this expansive feeling is the thing I wish I could share with everyone who wonders why I am Catholic. It’s so hard to put into words! If I could just reach into myself and put some of it into your hands, I feel like it would be clear.

It’s like that feeling one has — or that I had, anyway — when one meets the person they want to spend their life with. Sometimes, people ask, “How did you know?” And the response is, “You just know.” My whole internal calculus changed when I started dating Dan.

Something happened inside of me when I put myself back on the path that God wanted me to be on. It was quiet, but it was revelatory. I didn’t find my Catholicism constraining or restricting. I find living with my faith to be entirely freeing. It’s the same way I felt when I got married — I didn’t see my commitment to Dan as limiting to me. Instead, it freed me — it freed me to be the best person I could be.

Does that make sense?

And I guess that’s a major reason I take the children to church, even though it’s a pain sometimes. It’s the reason we are educating our children at a Catholic school. I don’t know what life is going to throw at them, and I don’t know that they will always be Catholic or religious at all. But if I can share with them what the priest was up there talking about — that God has plans to prosper us — then I will have done the best I could do.

The priest said something very interesting, again, somewhere near the beginning of his homily. “You can’t love something you don’t know.” I can’t depend on my children to just love God or love their faith because I tell them to. I have to teach them about it so that they can fall in love with it.

It took me a long time to be in love with my faith.

I had a lot to learn.

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