Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Can Faith and Religious Doctrine Be Separate?

Since I was born I have been a Roman Catholic.  My Mom's family is Italian and as such very Roman Catholic.  Growing up I dutifully went to PSR (Parish School of Religion aka CCD aka Sunday School) and learned about my religion.  For many years I proceeded with the rule of "they said so, so it must be right" when it came to religion.

By the time I was in Eighth Grade preparing for Confirmation, my view of religion had started to change.  I started to ask why and wanted to learn more than the average Baltimore Catechism view of the world.  When I was confirmed, I took Bishop Daniel Ryan's charge that we were now adults in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church to heart.  I sought to participate fully in the liturgy of the Church by becoming an Eucharistic Minister and soon thereafter a Cantor.

During High School my mission became to find a Parish in which my love of music and the Mass could coexist.  Many Parishes in my area were stuck with small repertoires and saw music as something to get through instead as I saw it as a vital part of active participation in the Mass.  During this time of "Parish shopping" I was introduced to the Life Teen movement that emphasized music and full participation.  Bingo I had found a home!  And then doh, the Priest supporting the movement in our area was reassigned and poof it disappeared.

College was a "Golden Age" of sorts for me religion wise and a great reawakening in the faith department.  As such it was also when I discovered that religion and faith are not necessarily one in the same for me.  I started to discover that my religion had flaws, but I still had faith and in fact it grew.  During college I participated in the Newman Center on the campus of Truman State University. At Truman I found community as part of my religious experience.  I was able to share with people in the same place in life and learn from the group.  It was during this time that a lot of my adult views were formed.  The unfortunate part about college was that it was only 4 years long and once I left that community I would be forever searching for a sense of community again.

Between college and last year I was a practicing Roman Catholic in an average Parish.  Nothing fancy, nothing too bad, just ho hum.  Go to Mass, come home, wait one week, repeat as necessary.  Because of the monotony, I started to seek out more knowledge about the Church.  I started to read books like Christopher West's Theology of the Body for Beginners and online sources like NCR and Catholic blogs.  Through this process I began to see the debates within the Roman Catholic Church and that things aren't black and white.  I began to question things and ask why.

One of the things that I learned quite a lot about during my reading was the new English translation of the Roman Missal.  At first I was optimistic about this process because I had read texts of the never implemented 1998 translation.  Unfortunately as often happens in the Roman Catholic Church, politics trumped the Holy Spirit and the 1998 translation will never see the light of day.  Instead the Holy See sought to bring back mystery and "loftiness" to the language of the Mass.  The new translation was as close to going back to Latin as they could go.  They aimed to make the Mass' language less accessible and less understandable.

Why would they do this?  One word... clericalism.  It is the same reason that Martin Luther wrote his 95 theses back in 1517 and was shunned.  By putting the faith into the common language of the people, you lessen the importance of the "learned" clergy to be able to interpret the Mass and scriptures for the people.  In essence, if you control the language of the faith, you control knowledge and thought.  What many in the United States don't realize is that the Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, or even a republic.  Instead it is the only true absolute Monarchy left in the world.  They don't call the Cardinals the Princes of the Church for nothing.

With this absolute Monarchy comes absolute power and we all know where that leads.  Instead of the hierarchy striving to open the liturgy ("work of the people" as translated from Greek to English)  it constantly tries to restrict the liturgy to the ruling class' will.  One by one, very conservative (to put it nicely) Bishops, Arch Bishops and Cardinals have begun to close the doors of the Church.  Various groups have been told that you're no longer welcome whether it be homosexuals, divorcees, "Cafeteria Catholics", or those that support said groups.  As such I no longer feel welcome in the Church of my ancestors and of my family.

A year ago I attended my last Roman Catholic Mass as a practicing Roman Catholic.  It was Christmas Eve and I went because my family was going and because I knew it would most likely be (Unfortunately I was right.) the last Mass that I would go to with my Grandfather.  Before Mass I sung Carols with the families gathered and all was normal.  Then the Mass started and I was soon transported to a foreign language (the new translation).  I could grin and bear things like "and with your spirit," but at the most important part of the Mass when the Priest would normally say:

Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you.
When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:
Take this, all of you, and drink from it:
this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for ALL so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me.
Instead we heard:

In a similar way, when supper was ended,He takes the chaliceand, holding it slightly raised above the altar, continues:he took the chalice,and, giving you thanks, he said the blessing,and gave the chalice to his disciples, saying:
Although there are several changes int he text, it is the change from Jesus' blood being shed for you and for all to being shed for you and for many that hit me like a ton of bricks.  It wasn't that I didn't know it was coming, I had read the debates on the translation of pro multis,  but I wasn't ready for the change's impact on my faith.  I realized at that moment that I no longer believed what was being said at the Altar by the Priest.  I had always had my disagreements with some Church teachings, but this shook me to the core.  I believe and will always believe that Jesus Christ came for everyone with no exceptions.

Holding back the tears and anger that I felt at that moment, I was able to make it through the rest of Mass, but after Mass I ran for the car crying.  I still had my faith, but I had lost my religion.  Some grey haired old men in dresses and pointy hats(as one of my friends is fond of saying) took it from me.  I was now a Christian Catholic set afloat looking for a home.

Thankfully my loving wife went with me on this journey and we have found a new home.  A vision of church that I believe was what the Holy Spirit was trying to achieve at the Second Vatican Council some 40 years ago.  A place where all are truly welcome.  This place is the American National Catholic Church.

Unfortunately the nearest Parish is in St. Louis, but thankfully Fr. Phillip helps to keep us connected via social media and YouTube.