MY CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN IDENTITY: Pat Carlson
I have heard through the years different people say I had my faith in my head but not in my heart. Well, I was different. I had mine in my heart long before I got it into my head. My Catholic education was eleven years of Friday afternoon catechism lead by a priest that had some kind of personality disorder. My love for the church came about from observing the faith of my parents and the members of my small parish in a village of 500. My mother gave me a message that has served me well all my life. She would tell me that the behavior of our priest was because he was human; it was not due to the teachings of our religion. This has enabled me to separate the actions of those in power, from what our church is all about. No, it wasn’t the Friday Catechism lessons that helped me love my faith, but rather observing the actions of my parents such as; seeing how important it was for my mother to get to the one and only week day mass we had each week and looking out of my bedroom into a dark living room and seeing my father on his knees for his nightly prayers. The love of the faith shown by my parents and the other adults in our parish, in spite of our clerical leadership, was very influential to me.
When I thought about describing my Catholic Identity all I could think of was the image of a coat. Let’s pretend I bought a coat when I was in High School. Imagine this coat was of the finest fabric and a traditional style that would never go out of style. Also imagine the way this coat fit me was how I felt about my Catholic Identity. In High School, College and early adult hood this coat fit just fine. I felt good about my church. The church told me what to do and I did it. I loved Mary and went to sleep every night saying the rosary and got up each morning and went to mass. I was happy and never thought of questioning my religion.
When I was first married and a new mother changes came about to my church because of Vatican II and my coat began to feel too large on me. When a piece of clothing feels too big one generally feels good about it and I did---- but with question. I liked being an active participant in Mass and the renewed emphasis on the importance of the Eucharist. I liked using my conscience and the idea that the people are the church. Belonging to a Bible study was a thrill for me, for the bible had never been read in my home when I was a child or by me as a young adult however, I was afraid Mary was taking a back seat in all the changes and I had such a personal relationship with her. I also felt we were becoming like most other religions (My gosh we were even singing the so called protestant hymns that our Newman Priest told us we were not allowed to sing at the college assemblies) I kept asking the same question over and over Why are we Catholic for we seem so much the same as other religions? No one seemed to satisfy me with an answer. I usually was told that being a Catholic is what was comfortable to them, that it was their heritage. With time I began to think of myself as a Catholic Christian. In my youth we never thought of the Christian part. We were just Catholic or Roman Catholic. So with much questioning and praying it felt good to be a Catholic Christian and my coat fit once again.
In my Golden years my coat is very tight and uncomfortable. I feel the word Christian now is often times misused in an elitist or separatist way that tends to promote judgmental behavior Once again I am asking the same question. Why am I Catholic, but I am not asking for the same reasons I asked at the time of Vatican II. Now I am asking it because I believe we are going backwards and leaving much of Vatican II behind. Again when I ask the question of others why are you Catholic? I get the same answers as I did so many years ago. “I am Catholic because it is my heritage and it is what I know and love”. So even though my coat is very tight right now I feel after much prayer and study this year in my CCCR group, my answer is the same as I always got from others. I am Catholic because it is my heritage, it’s in my DNA and I am going to work with groups who want to reform it to what we feel was Vatican II intent. I feel someday my coat will fit again------it might not fit me in my lifetime, but it may fit my children in theirs. Who knows, one of my Granddaughters may turn it in for an alb!