Other Voices

Why I stay

In long conversations with friends about our personal faith journeys, I find myself slowly developing my own apologia for why I remain Catholic. I suppose it helps that I also have had to come up with a response to the perplexed questions of the Protestant women in my graduate theological classes who want to know how I can stay in the Catholic Church as an intelligent woman. (Really, they ask me that!) I can never give them a satisfactory response in the thirty-second time frame they allow, so I usually mumble some clichéd answer, knowing that I will probably never be able to explain to them how the church helps me to survive, and to stay reasonably sane in what appears to be an insane world. Besides, how can I explain that even though I might disagree with some of the church’s teachings, I am committed to "staying in the relationship" because this is my church and my tradition and it still feeds me?

Their question reminds me that I once asked a Jesuit priest from India why he wasn’t Buddhist or Hindu, since he always spoke with great passion and love for those traditions. His answer didn’t satisfy me at the time, but now it is mine, too. "Why are you Catholic?" I asked him.

"Because I was born into a Catholic family," he said simply.

Like him, I know now that being Catholic is in the fiber of my being, just as being American is, and even if I were to leave the church, I know that it would not leave me.

Ann Naffziger is pursuing her Master of Divinity and Master of Arts in Biblical Languages at the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley.

Fully immersed

The checker in Aisle 4 at the supermarket stared at me. Unashamed, slack-jawed, she stared at me. Accustomed to stares as I was, I smiled with all the politeness I could muster and continued to load my institutional-sized groceries on the conveyor belt. She stared as I explained to my four-year-old why there are surveillance cameras at the checkout. She stared as I restrained my two-year-old in something like a half nelson to keep him out of the candy bin. She stared as I comforted my one-year-old, who was crying steadily and wanting a nap. She stared as I wrestled my way around my eight-month-pregnant belly and down to the bottom of the cart to retrieve the economy-sized box of diapers. As her shocked stupor subsided and she began to ring up my order, the checker in aisle four asked blankly: "You’re having another one?"

"Yes." I had hoped that my reticent response would discourage her and make her return to her work, but I underestimated her horror.

"Are you going to stop, then?"

"Stop sleeping with my husband?" I thought to myself, but, of course, did not say. That is not what she was thinking, and I knew it, and she knew it, and the fourteen other people within hearing distance of Aisle 4 knew it. God knows why, but she needed to know how many children I had decided to have. And, apparently, not one more jar of peanut butter was going to pass through the scanner until she had her answer.

"I don’t know," came my lame response.

"Don’t you use anything?"All fourteen bystanders listened intently along with the checker to discover what kind of birth control I had been using (with such obvious ineffectiveness).

"Uh, we, um, use Natural Family Planning," I stammered as my face turned a brilliant shade of red.

"What’s that?"

"It’s, um, not using anything artificial, but paying attention to the woman’s body to identify times of fertility." Clearly having classified me as a freak, the checker lost interest about a dozen words into my response and went about her business.

As I gathered my brood around me, my heart grew heavy with the realization that my life is, indeed, a counter-cultural oddity. It is difficult to enjoy being in the grocery store, let alone the world at large, if I feel like an outcast. It is a constant challenge for me, a young Catholic mother, to feel integrated, whole. I am no otherworldly saint who leads a beautiful life of self-sacrifice and prayer in a secluded hermitage. I am fully immersed in this world. And still I treasure my faith in the Catholic church, the people of God-the wonderful, fallible, varied, human people-living both in this world and for the next. The faith that declares that the world is good is the same faith that challenges me to distance myself from many worldly ideas and practices. I am called to love this world, sinful as it is, and love God well enough to merit seeing him face to face. Being Catholic in contemporary America requires integrating my loves in this world with my love for God.

Grace M. Urbanski writes from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The search for authenticity

Do we need to have priests? I think so, and I doubt I’m alone in this. To be Catholic is to want, or to need, some mediating presence between the world and God. This is why we love the pope, even when we disagree with him.

I’ll go further: to be human is to want, or to need, some mediating presence between the world and God. In modern America, that mediating presence is usually not a priestly one. It may be crystal, or Deepak Chopra, or a Taizé chant, or a Buddhist meditation, or a candle and a silly book about simplifying life when you’re rich. But it’s something.

And therein lies our opportunity. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton describes the hunger people had in the 1940s for some accurate and trustworthy spiritual guide to life. Do we hunger any less today? In 1975, Walker Percy wrote that evangelization might not work in half-Christian 1970s America, but it would certainly work in a pagan America in the year 2000. Would anyone really disagree?

I don’t get much out of crystals, or Deepak Chopra, or candles, or silly books. I hunger for religious authority, and my sense is that I am not alone. I hunger because I’m human, of course; but my hunger is shaped by culture as well. I hunger because in America these days, there really is nothing to believe in. Born a generation after the 1960s, I’ve grown up with the feeling that I shouldn’t trust the government, the church, the media, or anything else. I’d like to trust something, though, and I’m willing to trust the church.

Jason A. Spak is a third-year student at the University of Michigan Law School.

Who says the book is closed?

I teach catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a religious education program for three- to six-year-olds, where we talk about the women, not just the men, who followed Jesus, and we let the children create their own images of God. We try to teach them about the Mass, so they can better understand what they witness on Sundays, and in our classroom we have a tiny altar. It stands about a foot and a half off the ground, and there are miniature implements to go with it-a chalice, a paten, cruets, candles, and an altar cloth. Recently, one of the little girls set up the altar by herself and knelt down behind it. She carefully unfolded the cloth and smoothed it over the table. She gently placed the cruets on the altar and pretended to pour liquid into the chalice. Then she held up her little plastic host and the little bronze chalice high above her head, and whispered little prayers. I had not taught her these motions; she was imitating what she had seen at Mass, and was obviously unaware that, as it currently stands, she will never be afforded the privilege of the role of consecrator. A deep sadness filled me as I watched her, because I knew that this great potential I saw would, in all likelihood, be rejected.

Despite this sadness, I remain optimistic that I will see big changes in the church in my lifetime. And if not in my lifetime, then in my children’s. Maybe my daughter will never have to hear the words, "You can’t; you’re a girl."

After all, when my parents were young the priest faced the wall, spoke Latin, and placed the host on tongues over a Communion rail. So, who says the church can’t change? Who says the book is closed? The church is always growing and living. It is a human institution, inspired by a living Spirit-how else could it be? What is silenced today could be doctrine tomorrow. Just ask Thomas Aquinas end

Tara K. Dix is a freelance writer from Chicago, Illinois.

Published in the 2001-08-14 issue: 

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