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Project 365 - Day 25: the prodigal returns

The subject isn't often broached, but when asked what -if any- religious affiliation I profess, I usually answer that I'm a Catholic, and try to leave it at that, even or especially if my interlocutor then wants to have a 'frank' discussion about contraceptives, the rights of women and\or gays, and paedophile priests. I recognise that these are extremely difficult and very sensitive issues, that have angered me and that I struggle with same as any non-Catholic, and that I deal with by differentiating between the faith, the Church and in the cases of abuse past and present, between the faith, the Church and the perpetrators of these heinous crimes. Maybe that's a cop-out, I don't know; but it allows me to still identify as Catholic.

However, in recent years, I have had to admit to myself that in truth I ought to describe myself as a lapsed Catholic - over the last decennium, I have somehow fallen out of the habit of attending Mass regularly. This has been a gradual process, from practising my faith before and after my conversion (I was baptised in Oct 1994), to Christmas and Easter Only, to the point where I am now, of being "of the faith chiefly in the sense that the church I currently do not attend is Catholic" (thank you, Kingsley Amis!).

There is no barrier to a lapsed Catholic such as myself to seek readmittance to the Church; one need only return to practising the faith (going to Mass or to what used to be called confession -which these days is known as reconciliation- or carry out other practises of Catholicism), but somehow, even once I realised I genuinely missed going to church and even while I recognised that in order to have a relationship with God, one doesn't have to go to church, I couldn't bring myself to take that step. Catholic guilt, perhaps?

But this morning I woke up and knew: I'm going back to church. And what's more, I'm going to tell people and set expectations, so that I can't back out of it next time it rains on Sunday morning. So I walked over to the nearest Catholic church in my neighbourhood, that I supposed must be my parish church (the parish I was confirmed and baptised in is in the town centre and I stopped going regularly when I moved into my current flat); and as luck would have it, even though it was a hive of activity, with lots of people milling about (the craft workshop, the liturgical committee, the secretaries in the office), the priest -who I caught in the middle of his preparations for the weekend's sermons- was all friendliness and more than willing to lend me his ear. Long story short: I have started on my way back to being a practising Catholic again, in the English Speaking International Roman Catholic Parish of The Hague Church of Our Saviour. I didn't know it was an English expat church when I barged in ;-)!

I didn't take any pictures today, but I went for a nice long walk with a friend of mine, and she took the following

which I think is lovely; and which she thinks shows me with 'a characteristic expression' on my face - her words, not mine! All I know is, I need a haircut again!


Mar. 17th, 2012 09:16 pm (UTC)
Trust you to find the English-speaking church! Someone (you) whose English is far better than so many of the native-speakers I know would automatically do such a thing.

If you are uncomfortable with the Church or its stance on some things, you can always try a different religion. Uniting churches in this country (as an example) have female priests and support gay marriage. I know it sounds drastic to say "try a different religion", but if it IS a relationship with God you are looking for and not a relationship with a church, it's something to consider. Also, the Anglican Church (if such a thing exists in the Netherlands) is very much like the Catholic Church, just with some different prayers and less Mary-worship (which is something that made me uncomfy about Catholicism when I was a church-goer). But my point is the ritual and sounds and incense remain, which you might find just as comforting.
Mar. 17th, 2012 10:41 pm (UTC)
you can always try a different religion

No, I can't. When I became a Catholic at the culmination of 16 years of study and serious reflection, I made a commitment to this faith and to this Church, because -although I'm not sure that I believe in God per se- I do believe in the Catholic tradition: this is the church founded by the Apostles, who were Christ's disciples...and I believe in the imitatio Christi as a guide to leading a moral life above all else. That doesn't mean that to me other faiths or denominations are anathema, but they do not offer me what I seek, and have found, in Catholicism.

I am a Catholic, and I can never not be one. I did not choose this faith for "the ritual and sounds and incense" - I would not have been allowed in if I had (contrary to what many people think, the process of converting is not a straightforward one and takes months of discussions, instruction, vetting and ultimately the approval of the bishop); I have a thorough grounding in and understanding of its theology, and the tenets of this faith are in my make-up.

If I struggle with the implications of certain encyclicals, it is up to me to find a way to deal with it within the context of the spirit of my faith; not run away from it or the responsibility to try to change things for the better from within!
Mar. 18th, 2012 07:50 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, I did not mean to offend with the suggestion. I was not christened as a child and was left to choose my faith, which I did as a teen, then abandoned it as an adult, when I came to believe that religion is more flawed than I am! (I am, for all intents and purposes an atheist now, and while I believe Jesus existed and was a great revolutionary who paid a terrible price for his beliefs, that's where it ends for me)

The main reason for my suggestion was that so many Catholics have in the past commented to me and in the media on the comfort of the rituals, even if they are not a fan of the Church itself, they go back for the ritual, because it's what they've known their whole life. They were born into it. I didn't twig to your choice and commitment to the religion and I'm deeply sorry if I offended you.
Mar. 18th, 2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
Sweetheart, don't worry about it! Honestly, I knew from the tone of your comment (and from the fact that it was you) that you meant no offense. Also, I figured you must have missed my post clarifying my religious choice - which is an easy thing to do, considering I only wrote about my conversion once, a few years ago.
I was just surprised that from my entry you could have deduced that I was unhappy in my choice and ready to move on...when all I meant to say was that I felt bad for not having gone to Mass in a while ;-)

Edited at 2012-03-18 12:54 pm (UTC)
Mar. 18th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
I don't know why I did either - I think it was a combination of "falling out of the habit of going", the troubles with the priests and the doctrine of infallibility, combined with your friends telling you that you aren't welcome in their home any more.

I obviously took a massive leap, I'm glad you aren't going to hold it against me though. :)

As an aside, that Pieta up there on your icon, I saw it in St Peter's back before they put a screen in front of it, and it's one of the most compelling sculptures I've ever seen (not that I'm much of a connoisseur!) - I do not know how Michaelangelo managed to put such sorrow on a stone face, but it is a thing of obvious skill and beauty.

That was actually the same day I saw the Pope (John Paul, not the new one) purely by accident. We entered St Peter's and were just kind of looking around, but as we got further into the building we did try to avoid the service that was clearly going on there. Until a commotion made me have a closer look at it.

Basically, all the people there were pretty much jostling to get closer to *something* (turned out to be PJP) and there was flashes going off and so on. I only had a chance to tell my brother to get his camera out because it was the Pope when he walked by in front of me! (good thing he didn't notice me, I'm such a Philistine I would have had no idea what to do if he'd decided to take an interest in me!) He wasn't well at the time (I seem to remember him having just had bowel surgery or something) and he did not look well either. Afterwards I spoke to an Italian gent who was there - he explained he'd received some medal of honour for some service he'd performed. He was very proud, said it was a prestigious award and a great honour (also to get it from the Pope himself). And then they turned the lights off in the basilica and I realised that all the beautiful light was only there because of the service. (I would later come to the conclusion that it was either too expensive or too damaging or both to light these ancient cathedrals as they are all dark and gloomy unless it's a REALLY sunny day, or there's some sort of service on)
Mar. 19th, 2012 03:51 pm (UTC)
Wow! That's amazing story about you bumping into the previous Pope. I mean, I've met his secretary, and I've met the Coptic Pope, but never the Bishop of Rome himself. Although there's always a chance of catching a glimpse if you hang around the Vatican long enough, a chance encounter such as yours is really special. Not that I would know what to say or do in such a situation, either; so perhaps it's just as well.

Michelangelo's pieta is my favourite one of all. It's just so eloquent, and gets you...right there ::thumps breastbone::
Mar. 19th, 2012 09:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, it *is* pretty amazing - I was just a couple of metres away from him. It is a bit of a pity it happened to me, as I'm not Catholic, and not someone like you, to whom it would have meant so much more.