Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Spiritual Exercises

People ask, on a fairly regular basis, why I'm still Catholic. I don't make any secret of the fact that many of the things said and done by the hierarchy of my Church break my heart. The pedophilia scandal never should have happened, and for the Pope to compare the idea of the ordination of women to such a grave and systemic sin is appalling and morally wrong. I'm also pretty sure that Mary Magdalene, the Apostola Apostolorum, has some words for him on the ordination of women issue. The Church is wrong on its policy toward homosexuality, and it seems to have forgotten the words of Jesus - "render unto Caesar" - when denying Communion to politicians who uphold laws that contradict Church teaching. 

Of course, I'm divorced, and I still go to Communion, and I think God's okay with that, so what do I know.

Except I do know why I'm still Catholic, and it has a lot to with what I learned about God at my high school, Bellarmine Prep, and from the Jesuits in residence there. Fr. Webber, Fr. Dan, Fr. Gerry, and Br. Paul. Especially Br. Paul.

Br. Paul is now at a Jesuit school in Maryland. I'm pretty sure this school has the best library ever, because he was, and is an utterly voracious reader, who has a particular love for speculative fiction. It was in his world history class I first read "The Nine Billion Names of God." We read Heinlein and Pohl, and when, in a particularly smart-assed moment of desperation on an exam, I wrote "42" as my answer, he gave me half credit. One of the best moments of my life was when he asked if I would sign and send him a copy of Stories for the school library. He was so proud to have a former student in the same book as his favorite writer. (Neil Gaiman. Br. Paul was one of the people I knew who read Sandman when I was in high school.)

He was the best Prospero I've ever seen.

A lot of my teaching style comes from what I learned from him. He cared about his students, and we cared back. He dressed up as a zombie (with Fr. Webber) for I honestly don't even remember what for a friend's French class, and the summer we refilmed Monty Python and the Holy Grail, he was God. 

Once, in class, we stood on our desks and cried out "Oh captain, my captain!" I'm pretty sure this was soon after he made us give Barbaric Yawps while running our cross country warm up.

He has always, and still does, referred to God as She, because "God is too large to be one thing or the other. Everyone else calls Her He, so I'm balancing it out." Just today, I got an email from him discussing the need for our Church to be more "open-hearted, unparochial, liberal, tolerant, and magnanimous."

That is why I am still Catholic.


  1. Wow.

    You really lucked out, as I did. Br. Paul sounds incredible. My own teachers weren't quite as electric or liberal, but I had my parents' Jesuit tradition backing me up--and the entire community of Dad's seminary friends in St. Paul.

    My father taught our religion to me as this: "God is Love, and Love is stronger than death." I think that, in the end, that's all that's important.

  2. It makes me so happy to read this! I was raised Catholic, and while I'm "not practicing" anymore, it's still a part of me, and I stopped going to Church not because of a grudge against it, but because it just didn't call to me the way it used to. I feel like I might find my way back one day, though. :) Thanks for this post!

  3. P.S. My Dad also refers to God as "She." :)

  4. Monica: The more I hear about your Dad, the more I think I would love to meet him. He sounds like an amazing person.

    Teresa: I don't know if I think of myself as "practicing" so much as "belonging." I don't go to Mass every week or anything like that. But it's still part of who I am, as you said, and an important part. I'm glad you liked the post.

  5. I used to say the priest who celebrated Mass at my school (girls' school w/ nun instead of priest, but she wasn't allowed to perform Mass) was the reason I stayed Catholic. Then the Boston Archdiocease asked him to resign because of (1) his support of GLBT parishioners and (2) his involvement w/ Voice of the Faithful, the lay group created in response to the abuse scandals. They replaced him with the priest who'd been archdiocease spokesperson during the MA abuse scandals.

    That's when I gave up for good.

  6. and stopped spelling archdiocese correctly. In protest.

  7. Oh, I dunno, your spelling seems pretty apt, all things considered.