Thursday, July 2, 2009


I opened my online version of The New York Times newspaper tonight and picked up THIS.

Evidently there's a new study, ordered by the Vatican, to investigate various nun orders. The article states "While some nuns say they are grateful that the Vatican is finally paying attention to their dwindling communities, many fear that the real motivation is to reel in American nuns who have reinterpreted their calling for the modern world." The article details what are known as "visitations" -- and what sounds like a harsh indictment of practices by American nuns that deviate from Catholic tradition and doctrine.

(Read it and tell me what you think. And now here are some thoughts, random at best but that's the beauty of the blog, I suppose -- I can throw the stuff in and let it stew.)

My history with the Roman Catholic Church is a spotty one. I was raised Catholic and attended church nearly every Sunday as a child. I lived in a large "Catholic" neighborhood and played with kids whose last names were Flynn and Geraghty and Murphy and who had five and six and sometimes sixteen (!) children. My father's parents were southern Italian immigrants and my grandmother was the kind of old woman who never ate meat on Fridays or Wednesdays, for that matter, because her husband, my grandfather, had died on a Wednesday. She wore black every day after his death, until he died. She walked around our home when she visited us for a month or so every summer with a rosary bead wound around her gnarled, rough fingers. She was an incredible cook, the stereotypical Italian fare with admonitions to mangia, mangia and then an indignant whassa matta wit you? you no eata? whassa matta? Nonnie smelled clean and neat and I remember most her rolled down pantyhose and thick shoes. When she was old she ate mashed up saltines in her coffee and smacked her lips. She could thrust her jaw forward in such a way that her dentures came out and made us run, screaming and laughing. When she made a bed, you could bounce a quarter off of it and she taught us the Lord's Prayer in Italian.

To me, she defined Catholicism and I respected her lifetime of hard work, her blind faith and even her ignorant superstitions.

The article I linked above, though, is like another shovel of dirt thrown on the dying Catholic within me. I've been digging that grave for years, now, I suppose -- despite the years of Catholic school that my sons had and going through the motions of giving them the same traditions that I had (church on Sunday, penance, first communion, etc.), I find myself moving further and further away. The conflict isn't anything immense; it's actually quite banal and it certainly has nothing to do with spirituality and everything, really, to do with the bullshit that is the Catholic church. The male-dominated hierarchy, the condemnation of homosexuality and marginalization of women. The enormous evil of the pedophile scandal and the continued obduracy of the Church's leaders regarding their culpability. It's those pointy red hats that the Cardinals all wear when they meet in Rome and their evident lack of humor when they look at each other. It's the deadening of everything that is beautiful and dynamic about faith. It's the several visits I've made over the past couple of years for pastoral counseling and the incredibly stupid responses I've received. And it's the preposterous nature of investigations like the one reported on in this article, as well as the ever more ludicrous encyclicals et al that the Church puts out, year after year after year.

Spirituality runs through me like a prehistoric vein in a rock. One of my favorite paintings is The Annunciation by Fr'a Angelico (I wrote about it HERE) and the Book of Ecclesiastes makes me swoon. I value the community right here in my neighborhood whose members are devout Catholics in the way of my Nonnie and those families with whom I grew up forty years ago.

But I can't do it anymore, push aside what I believe, what I know because of tradition laced with a guilt that is centuries old.

Grace has always been random, I think.
My own reaction to fortune is one of wonder and gratitude.
I can rail at the universe and curse the god of chaos.
I can also breathe deeply, in and out, and feel my edges blur and a hand on my shoulder, tapping on my heart.
I can sit on the floor in the dark of night with anger inchoate and then laugh like an idiot in the light of day.

Enough random thoughts. I'll end on a poem by George Herbert, one of the great metaphysical poets. I remember reading this poem in college and feeling the hairs on my arms rise at the poem's end.

The Collar

I struck the board, and cry'd, No more.
I will abroad.
What? shall I ever sigh and pine?
My lines and life are free; free as the rode,
Loose as the winde, as large as store.
Shall I be still in suit?
Have I no harvest but a thorn
To let me bloud, and not restore
What I have lost with cordiall fruit?
Sure there was wine
Before my sighs did drie it: there was corn
Before my tears did drown it.
Is the yeare onely lost to me?
Have I no bayes to crown it?
No flowers, no garlands gay? all blasted?
All wasted?
Not so, my heart: but there is fruit,
And thou hast hands.
Recover all thy sigh-blown age
On double pleasures: leave thy cold dispute
Of what is fit and not. Forsake thy cage,
Thy rope of sands,
Which pettie thoughts have made, and made to thee
Good cable, to enforce and draw,
And be thy law,
While thou didst wink and wouldst not see.
Away; take heed:
I will abroad.
Call in thy deaths head there: tie up thy fears.
He that forbears
To suit and serve his need,
Deserves his load.
But as I rav'd and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, Child!
And I reply'd, My Lord.


  1. Sweetie, since abandoning the and all its silliness I have become more patient, more kind, more tolerant, have a better understanding of Christ consciousness and Jesus the man, am a better mother, teacher and person. There is no path to enlightenment outside of's all on the inside baby...right there for everyone to access, anytime, anywhere...which is why, traditionally, the Church vigorously persecuted those who dared to speak that particular truth. There are lots of good people in the Church, and I honour each one of them, but the hierarchy is foul and only seeks its continued existence. Men who want power, divine power. Nothing more, nothing less. Our poor little parish suffered some 35 years of molestation of its children...the first period by a homosexual pedophile, the second by a heterosexual predator pedophile...who had been shuffled from parish to parish by the hierarchy (and I found out about that only long after I had left the church). Yet they continue to breed them in exclusively male very, very sad. It's best to leave them to their own devices.

  2. I have written so much about religion which I find to be an anathema to my very soul and heart. Not just this religion or that one- all of them. They set rules to control the people and they do not follow them but blast to the fires of hell those "below" them.
    The human spirit yearns to be uplifted and to celebrate that which we find miraculous and churches use this to their benefit.
    Yes, I am bitter. I know it. But so much harm done in god's name...
    Why do people continue to allow themselves to be duped by the red-hatted, the bearded, the angry-souled, the judgemental men (usually) with a "holy" book in their hands?

  3. Religion is ultimately alienating. Profoundly alienating.

    I am deeply comforted by what Jesus said, "God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth."

    God is Spirit.
    Man is religion.

    I was raised catholic too - but I can hardly sit in catholic church anymore without practically weeping over the loneliness of the priesthood. The celibacy thing is a burden too great to bear. Let them marry and have a life from which to find strength, happiness, comfort, love, peace, grace and be better able to minister.

    p.s. "flaner" is an inspiring word :) .... it implies restful progress down the path of things

  4. I’ve been remiss in not telling you, Elizabeth, how much I value your superbly enlightening and erudite blog. I think it is because I’m a little in awe of your scope of knowledge and your ability to express yourself so vividly and astutely that I have not done so. Nor do I very often leave comments – again because I’m afraid that what I say may appear banal – but I read every post avidly. And your comments on my blog are treasured.

    I’m stirred to comment here, however, because this post has a certain resonance for me. My father was raised in the Catholic Church, but when he and my mother married (she was a Protestant) he was, as he called it, ‘de-frocked’. He and my mother then chose to raise my sister and me as Anglicans precisely, it appears, for the same reasons that you express here about the restrictions and limitations imposed by Catholicism. Also, I think he rather revelled in the fact that our family could be considered to be ecumenical.

    It was Pope Benedict’s recent visit to Africa which really made me sit up and see red. He said on the eve of his trip that he wanted to wrap his arms around the entire continent, with "its painful wounds, its enormous potential and hopes".

    All well and good – but mere lip service, I rather suspected. Every pop-star utters banalities such as those. And then came this - HIV/Aids was, he argued, "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which can even increase the problem". The solution lay, he said, in a "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer".
    I was struck speechless. God in heaven – what complete, unadulterated bollocks! In fact, in my view, it was a very, very dangerous thing to say. Condoms have saved countless lives in Africa and it is VITAL that distribution – and education – continues throughout the continent.

    There – I’ve said it. Phew!

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing this with us - and for all your other illuminating, and luminous, posts.

  5. My wife converted to Catholicism as an adult. She saw the Catholic tradition as ont ehat stretched from the days of the apostles. She saw a spiritual tradition which she could accept, without following every aspect of canon law. I looked at it much more legalistically. I could not accept the concept of papal infallibility. I thought the male, celibate priesthood was simply wrong.

    I suspect she's right in seeng beyond the legalisms that prevented me from joining the Church. The Anglican tradition which I've adopted is in that same apolstolic tradition, but it has its own spiritual problems. At least here in the States, it's still very much a community of the well-off and well-educsted, while the Roman Catholic Church truly embraces both the rich and the poor, the Ph.D and the illiterate.

    In spite of all its flaws and its present leadership, the Catholic tradition is still a rich and beautiful one.

  6. I don't think this was random at all. I think you wrote it exquisitely!

    And this bit of writing, "Nonnie smelled clean and neat" hurt my heart. Beautiful.

  7. your writing is truly a gift.
    thank you

  8. Wow! What an amazing gift of writing you have! How I wish I could form my thoughts and feelings like this... so eloquent!

    You're feelings are not felt alone. We grew up in a Christian church that was full of religiosity, hypocrisy, and legalism. To say the least. When my family and I finally 'saw the light' and learned that you cannot put your faith in man or an institution, only then did we find freedom and true grace that can only come from Jesus Christ.

    I pray that you too can find that freedom, grace and peace. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts!

    Happy Day!

  9. Very interesting thoughts on a religion that mystifies me.

  10. I'm a cafeteria Catholic -- pretty much pick and choose what I'd like to believe as far as that religion dictates. I agree that there are some very backwards viewpoints and contradictions within that religion.

    My problem is that I don't think there's any religion that would do it for me. So I stick with what I know. I'm a passive religious, but an active spiritualist.

    You've spurred me. I'm going to go post something on my blog about this now.



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