"You were born a Catholic, you were raised a Catholic, and you will remain a Catholic until the day you die!" So thundered my father in a rage, finding an heirloom copy of the Book of the Baha'i that a friend had loaned me to read as part of a religious exchange discussion we had planned in high school. I have laughed to myself for years over that statement - I had been wiccan for almost a year by that point - though at the time I was terrified of my father (Jesuit aligned Catholic who might have been a deacon had he had the time), and livid that he threw my friend's book in the garbage. Thankfully my mother rescued the book, and my friend and I decided to put off the discussion until there was no longer a risk from my father. The discussion never happened.
Still, I found that phrase amusing in the years since then. The nuns at the grade school I had been sent to had expected me to join them in their convent; so confident were they and the priest at the school that I had full freedom of the cloister and the sacristy. My father died before he learned that I was not a Catholic; most days I am glad I never had to fight that battle with him. I loved him dearly, but he would not have compromised, and neither would I.
How surprised I was then to feel the impact of John Paul II's death. So much of my childhood was subject to the rulings and supremacy of that man, indirect though it was. Because I had served on the altar as a child I almost was not given the sacrament of Confirmation, because only boys were supposed to serve. The factions in the church dogged me throughout my childhood and early teen years, until finally I realized there was no place for me. Amusing actually - So many teens of my time turned to paganism out of rebellion; I turned a wounded and rejected supplicant.
As the years passed and the anger cooled, and as I studied more about how things worked, the more I realized that the pageantry and ritual so prevalent in the Catholic Faith, those very things that I did rebel against, had such a profound meaning and purpose. The Mass when properly performed is a fantastically scripted ritual to focus the energy and belief of a room full of people into the transmogrification of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The Rosary, which is now so rarely said in all decades, is a deep and moving meditation on the nature of the human spirit. The saints, who are so often held up as idols or otherwise ridiculed by some protestants, serve as intercessors just as helping spirits do; furthermore they provide human references who people can look to and say "If Francis did it, then I can too," because they were what Jesus was not (according to doctrine): human. I discovered a deep appreciation and respect for the very things I had scorned. I do not share their faith, but I better understand how and why it works the way it does.
The news that John Paul II was dying concerned me, primarily for my mother. I knew she had some very stern differences with the Pope, but I thought she might be affected by his death. To my surprise I heard story after story about things that the man did that Mother, and many of the nuns she knows, sternly disapproved of. In the past weeks we have discussed the candidates for the papacy, and the possible impacts of each.
The new pope, Benedict XVI, has been elected now. When I heard the white smoke was seen, I hit the web and probably generated as many hits as many Catholics did. I was dismayed to see that what all considered the hard-liner had been elected (After all, he is the head of the organization that replaced the Inquisition); much needed reforms will not occur soon.
Or are they needed? And why do I care so much? I am not a Catholic, nor could I ever return to The Church given who and what I am now. "We respect your right to follow your own vision; We listen with consideration to those who choose to share their wisdom with us, and respect their rights to do so in their own way, in their own time." Why then does it affect me so much?
And that's when I realized it was a matter of ancestry, and roots. No, I am not a member of the Catholic church, though I have debated, if I ever encounter a Catholic priest who's open minded enough to do so, to see if he can excommunicate me (it's fallen through the cracks I guess!), and then if he'd be willing to enter discussions with me, clergy to clergy. I still hold on to that lifeline in some ways, and how not? I was raised with it, and while when I do go to mass I go as an outsider out of respect, the sign of the cross and genuflection at the aisle before entering to sit, the responses from the congregation in the mass... these things are so ingrained in me I have to force myself not to join in. I actually have more respect today for the Church of my birth than I had when I was expected to join the convent.
I will be a Catholic until I die indeed - my physical, cultural, and spiritual ancestry demands it. It's all a matter of levels. That doesn't prevent me from being an animist as well. And I pray for Benedict XVI, that he listens to God's voice just as we listen to Spirit, and leads his people to the best of his ability, as his God dictates. God Bless the Pope.