It's all so very complicated.
During this Lenten Season, I've been thinking about my Catholic upbringing. My father was a devout Catholic, my mother [originally Russian Orthodox] quite a bit less so. I've been trying to determine what good the Catholic Religion has brought into my life . . . .
I remember my [now deceased] father teaching me to pray when I was a very little girl. I remember the two of us kneeling beside my bed, him prodding me through my nightly prayers. In the beginning, the foci were always thankfulness and blessing: for what was I thankful and whom did I want to pray for God to bless. As I got older, new themes were added: what may one ask of God? Wisdom to make appropriate choices. Strength to follow through. Empathy. Clarity to process.
I also remember Father Jude, the priest at a local college's Newman Center, who was, when I was in highschool, among my favorite adult voices-of-reason. Granted, I didn't have to encounter him in church. On the weekends, Father Jude would hang out at a local all-night diner drinking coffee, eating french fries and pie, and smoking cigarettes while talking to anyone who came along. Because he was kind, a veritable vault when it came to secrets, logical, and open, many people [and not necessarily Catholic or even religious people] would be prone to sliding into the booth across from him just to shoot the shit.
When faced with a stated moral conundrum, he'd frequently recommend that one read something, although I don't ever recall him recommending the Bible or the Catholic Catechism. He'd recommend classical philosophers, Shakespeare, Zen writings, Milton, Judy Frickin' Blume. Fuck, he'd recommend we read the Cliff's Notes of things just to get the idea.
He was open about the Atrocities of the Church . . . . in fact, in my sheltered life, his chats were the first I knew of the Children's Crusades or the Boxer Rebellion.
The only ideas he seemed to preach were do unto others, only s/he without sin may cast the first stone, and pause and really reflect before you say or do something. I very much respected him for that. I think I'd have entirely different questions for Father Jude now. But, I want to believe that he'd address my new questions honestly and without reservation. I wish I could drag a few friends down to that diner so we could ask him questions. Alas, I don't even know if he's still there [I doubt it . . . . I think they get moved around] or still even alive.
He was an archetype of the priesthood for me for some time, and it was horribly disenchanting for me to realize how rare he was.
I rarely go to church anymore, perhaps once or twice a year. The last time I went to church was this Ash Wednesday. I was surprised at how comforting I found the rituals to be. I hit the appropriate sacraments for the day, mass including communion, ashes, and yes, even confession.
Confession is particularly tricky for me. I don't think that My God has a problem with all of the things the Catholic Church teaches, so I don't intend to stop doing them. [Even as a child, I absolutely refused to buy into parts of the dogma. Certainly, over the years I pieced my way through much of it, discarding this bit and internalizing that one.] Because I don't intend to stop doing some things, it would be silly and pointless for me to confess them and be absolved for them. I view the confessional as a time/place to unpack and lay-out those things that I did/do but wish that I had the fortitude and control to avoid, and will sincerely try to avoid in the future: presumption, cruelty, dishonesty . . . .
[I realize that many will see this as a type of roll-your-own religious attitude that has no place within the Catholic Church and is probably better suited within Unitarian Universalism, but that's another discussion].
I'm not the same person I was those many years ago, not the little girl who prayed with her daddy beside her bed at night, nor the rebellious and possibly tipsy teenager seeking guidance from a college priest at a diner. But, each year, during Lent, as an exercise in willpower, denial and reflection, I give up something I really like. And, I still pray for wisdom, strength, empathy and clarity.