Why would I, a retired college professor, lifelong Anglican, political activist and ardent feminist, join the Catholic church? Join it even as I loathed its exclusionary stances on homosexuality and divorced persons and the role of the laity, even as I rued its tin-eared translations of the Bible and the Psalter, and abhorred its growing intolerance of dissent. Why ever?
God only knows. Ultimately conversion is a mystery and a grace.
What I experienced was a sharp pull into an invisible vehicle, a capture, a wild night ride at breakneck speed. I dont know what precipitated the journey, only that it was fast and long and uninterruptible. I found myself compulsively praying, thinking, debating, reading (the Catechism of the Catholic Church, church history, Newmans letters, Teresa of Avila, NCR, America) and backpewing it every Saturday at a different Vigil Mass in my area, hoping not to be recognized, half hoping this madness would pass.
It didnt. Several years ago I was received into the church on the feast of Teresa of Avila, Deo gratias.
And, ever since, I rejoice in: Daily Mass. Saints days. Mary. The crucifix. Reserved sacrament. Stations. Reconciliation. Benediction.
The churchs teachings on social justice. The example of Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Louis Vitale, Pax Christi, Catholic Charities, and the tuned-in, vocal nuns who do Gods work everywhere. Vatican II and initiatives in ecumenism and apologies for past anti-Semitism and other ecclesial sins. (May this work go forward!) The heroism of dissenters who love the church enough to stay and work for change.
Pew piety. Belief in the Real Presence. The joy of shut-ins receiving Communion. The Salve Regina, Anima Christi, the Prayer of St. Francis. The rosary in an anxious night, the Angelus at daybreak, reading the Divine Office and knowing I participate in the ongoing prayer of the whole church. Holy water, Mass intentions, singing the Alleluia, chanting Parce Domine at the close of Lenten Masses.
Every word of the liturgy, but especially, My peace I give you, Only say the word and I shall be healed, and Do this. Doing this in Dijon, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, in the Nevada desert, in a tent on the Chattahoochie River, before the tomb of John of the Cross, in the local nursing home -- and every Sunday with the byzantinely interrelated clans of my parish, clad in bowling jackets and leather, body-pierced and blue-rinsed, Knight of Columbus and gangly confirmand who took Maximillian as his saints name. Saying one, holy, Catholic and apostolic, and feeling truly a part of this, at last.
The long and inexhaustible line of spiritual teachers and gifted theologians. The dedication of so many parish priests. The variety of churches (within the Cleveland diocese alone!) The beauty of Romanesque and Southwest Mission architecture, and the beauty of churches built in basements, pitched after floods and earthquakes and civil wars, or formed illegally and without walls. The church of tomorrow so many are trying to build today.
I am glad to stand among them.
I was raised Anglican, attended an Anglican secondary school in Perth, Western Australia, and would describe myself as agnostic when I completed my time there. I attended university, and thought nothing of religion. As a teacher, I found myself employed in a Catholic secondary school and was entranced by what I witnessed. In 1983, I spent time in Chile with Mercy sisters from Rochester, N.Y., and Victoria, Australia. I joined them in their celebrations and work. Within six months of returning to Australia, I was accepted into the Catholic religion. I studied Catholic religious education and ended up working at a secular university, teaching Catholic studies units to students preparing to teach in the Catholic school sector.
In 1992 I was asked to write a short article for a social justice newsletter about a new venture in Perth, a Catholic university. I pointed out that while the Catholic church here was pouring millions into this elite university, the social justice and welfare program of the church was being cut. At the same time, the church lost millions in a bad business deal. To say that the article created a storm would be an understatement. The church as an institution made my life hell. I saw no sign of a loving institution or leaders. Some things they said were slanderous. Certain people stood firmly by me, and anyone who did was crucified. I use the term deliberately.
I went to spend some time with the Maryknoll Sisters in Guatemala, figuring if anyone or any place could rekindle what was by then a dying faith, that combination would. It didnt. I left the church that I had joined with great love 10 years earlier. I know the church is bigger than the people who run it and those who attend, but I read stories similar to mine all the time. I grieved for a long time. I dont want to go anywhere near a Catholic church ever again in my life.
Your paper is perhaps the only one left with the courage to share what is happening in the church. Sr. Joan Chittister is brilliant. So are others. How they remain within the hideous institution is beyond me.
Why stay? For me, the answer is simply John 6:67-69. There is no other faith that can give me what the church does, though there is much in which some might not consider me orthodox.
Because I have been wondering for years why I keep going to church, Kerry Egans article made a big impression on me. I wept at the part where Spanish women silently surround the weeping Kerry and breathe with her until she stops shaking.
Kerry is probably right: Its the ritual that keeps us in the fold, and no one can explain satisfactorily why this is so. I am way past fretting over the hierarchys abuse of power, feminist issues, views on contraception, homosexuality -- the list is endless.
But thats not the nub of the problem for me. I no longer believe literally the twin pillars of Christian faith: that Jesus is God and his death saved the world. But I know that the myth of Christ has literally saved millions; Christ is their salvation.
My salvation is a syncretistic spirituality incorporating Buddhism, Taoism and more isms. My faith has increased since I stopped believing the Christian story literally. So why do I keep going to church? Its my spiritual home. There are more reasons, none of which I fully understand.
Thank you for the opportunity to say this. Its a relief to come out of the closet about my true conviction.
JEANETTE BLONIGEN CLANCY
I am 51, raised in a relatively small ethnic Protestant denomination. After two tragedies in the summer of 1991, I found myself with a God who was shaking his finger at me, saying, you got what you deserved -- certainly not a God who would help me heal.
A local hospital chaplain had an answer for me, the Ignatian exercises. I had no clue what that was about, but he was convincing, and a year and a half later, I found myself on the Catholic road, although that is not what I thought at the time. I just knew that I had been exposed to some wonderful authors and people in the form of priests and nuns whose spirituality I desired for myself. It still took until spring of 2000 on a silent retreat in the deserts of Arizona, struggling with where I needed to attend church, that I heard God say, Why not the Catholic church? Some of my friends dont understand, others wonder why it took me so long to hear that. But, a year later, I struggle with whether to make the leap.
I, too, have many reservations about the official stance of the church on many issues, but also know that within the body I find many Catholics who are able to let go of that aspect of the church, for the spirituality and blessings they receive in spite of that. I understand the desire of many cradle Catholics to stay in the church, despite their disagreements with much of what comes out of the governing body. My struggle is how I can as a new convert say yes with so many buts. Am I saying yes to just enough so I can (legitimately) partake of Communion at the Mass?
I am looking for answers. This has not been an easy journey. But I also cant turn around on this road I am on, nor do I want to.
NETTIE VAN DUINEN
How interesting are the stories of two women, Moni McIntyre (Theology professor removed from post after ordination, NCR, Feb. 2, and Professor, university reach compromise, NCR, Feb. 9) and Sue Birnie (Confessions of a Catholic feminist, NCR, Feb. 2) who traveled the road between Canterbury and Rome, one from Rome to Canterbury and the other from Canterbury to Rome. I can see why each took the journey she did.
However, as an Anglican, I was surprised at some of the statements that Sue Birnie made to support her journey to Rome. For example, one is not baptized an Anglican. And what on earth is the faith of Henry VIII? And what Anglican, outside the British Isles, recognizes Elizabeth II as the head of the church? She may be the supreme governor of the established Church of England, but she is just another Anglican to Anglicans in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the United States.
I have always been amused at the Protestantism of the claim that Christ built his church on Peter. It is claimed that the Methodist church was built on Wesley, the Lutheran church was built on Luther, Presbyterian and Reformed churches were built on Calvin -- and then we are told the Roman Catholic church was built on Peter.
The apostle Peter confessed to our Lord, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is on this faith and this conviction that the Christian church -- entered by baptism -- is built. On what other foundation could the Christian church be built?
Thank you for the parallel stories of these two courageous women.
(The Rev.) GEORGE H. BRANT
National Catholic Reporter, March 9, 2001