Kyrie Eleison*

Another Sunday.

Another day that this family is not going to go to Mass. I wake up every Sunday with the same thought: “Ugh. Sunday. We should go to church. But I can’t do it. I just can’t.” At the risk of running afoul of two sets of grandparents, we are not going to go to church again today. And though I’d like to say that I’m good with that decision, Guilt is a weekly visitor.

We are not atheists. Both my husband and I were raised Catholic, being dragged driven to Mass every Sunday until we went to college — a Jesuit Catholic college at that. But like many teenagers turned loose at college, neither he nor I attended Mass with any regularity for most of those four years, although Husband did — in his senior year — complete the sacrament of Confirmation (which had, I believe, been left incomplete because of a family move from Brazil to the Unites States). We were married in the same Catholic church that I had attended growing up, and attended various parishes in the towns that we lived as young marrieds/young marrieds with young children. I know that I had a growing dissatisfaction with The Church for many years, but I really didn’t articulate it to myself — or out loud — until the months after September 11th.

For me, there was foreshadowing that my relationship with Catholicism wouldn’t be simple or rewarding. My parents, for example, drove for miles outside of our normal parish when I was a child — and although I don’t recall hearing the reasons why as a child, I understood that there was something “not good” about our local parish (later confirmed to be the nut of a pastor, who would do things like lock the doors after Mass had started to reinforce the virtue of punctuality in his flock). (Also, years later in order to get married in my adopted childhood parish, I had to get documentation from my local parish (with Father BeOnTime) that “released” me from this church. “Ridiculous” doesn’t even convey how stupid this requirement was.)

Mass with one two three four small children isn’t easy, and for many years my husband and I did it as a weekly performance (at least that’s what I felt like it was). Nothing spiritual could happen in our pew, because we were consumed with keeping the Baby quiet and the toddlers content. We didn’t pray along with the congregation, we prayed that Mass would end soon and we would get out without someone having a breakdown (namely, Mom or Dad). It was stressful and exhausting, instead of peaceful, restorative, recharging — which is what I wanted it (needed it) to be.

During the weekend Mass immediately after September 11th, in my small suburban NJ church (which had lost parishioners, by the way), the pastor or someone made the insane decision to allow a deacon to provide the Homily during the 10:30 am service (a deacon is a lay person {man, of course}, who serves as an assistant to the priest). This man had the chutzpah to stand on the altar and discuss how — 5 days from the event — the US had brought this upon herself, because we were a nation of pornographers and abortionists….I was dumbfounded and turned to my husband in the pew and said, in a normal speaking tone, “Is he serious?” I’d like to tell you that we stood up and left, but the truth is I don’t remember (recall the small children in the pew with me, and the stressful exhausting characteristics of Mass for us).

I do know that I called the parish office the next day and withdrew my offer to teach Kindergarten CCD. I told them that I could not stand at the front of a classroom and teach doctrine to small children when I was horrified by what had happened the day before, dismayed that My Church would somehow endorse that viewpoint by not retracting his statements somehow. We had baby #4, born in May of 2002, baptized at a different parish….but our (my) insistence on Sunday Mass waned considerably.

Of course, that was 9 years ago and I’m older and less naive these days. That deacon was just a symptom of a larger institutional arrogance that continues to dismay me. The Catholic Church is in the business of preaching and liturgy, and yet in parish after parish after parish men are put on the altar to speak to us of God’s love — and they can’t string a coherent sentence together. (If there were performance reviews in the Catholic Church there’d be no one left to preach. Mediocre would be a huge step up, honestly.) And the music? While not uniformly horrible, you can’t get through a Mass without including music from c. 1750.  (And, hello? How about a hymn from the 20th century? How Great Thou Art, Amazing Grace and Ode to Joy are lovely but 1,000 years old. Ugh.)

I do want to go to church, but I want to go to a church that values everyone — the way Jesus did. I want to go to a church that doesn’t hide behind statements like “if the Holy Spirit wants women priests, there will be women priests.” (Yes, a priest told me that.) I want to go to a church that accepts responsibility for the actions of its principals (call the police about a pedophile priest instead of a moving truck, for crying out loud). I want to go to a church that functions as a source of helpfulness and healing — that understands that AIDS and overpopulation can be helped by condoms and contraception, and that these two C’s are way less evil than human beings becoming disenfranchised because of disease, poverty, and discrimination.

I want to be a part of a church that values me, my daughters, my gay neighbors, and my neighbors of different faiths. I don’t want to hear about what makes us different or wrong or less than, couched in language of “scripture” or “canon law.” I am happy for those, like my mother and my in-laws, who find comfort, strength and community in their parishes. Perhaps we will too, when the kids have grown and I’ve mellowed a bit.

But for now, I just can’t. So I’m having Guilt again today with my morning coffee.

*Greek, Lord have mercy.

Oops — in my zeal to get this post up, I neglected to note that it’s also part of Word Up, YO! Join in the fun…

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13 Responses to “Kyrie Eleison*”

  1. Cecelia Winesap Says:

    So glad you posted this! I feel this way every single Sunday. I should go…but I so don’t want to. I really don’t know what stops me.
    Cecelia Winesap recently posted..Roll Bounce

    Alyson says:

    Sometimes, when we do go, I look around and try to guess how many people are like me — not wanting to be there. I think it’s probably way more than half. And, in this case, I think the “fake it til you make it” attitude doesn’t work. God knows I’ve tried!

  2. Alyson Says:

    I admire your ability to leave. I feel like we’re in limbo (although I think the Church gave up on limbo, right?). I once described it to my mother thusly: it’s like it’s a part of me, like family. You may not like them, you may not understand them, but they are a part of you and you can’t cut them out.
    However, I think that often people do leave their families when the relationship becomes draining or otherwise toxic (ooph. That’s a strong word there.)

    I wonder what it would feel like to go to another church….

  3. liz Says:

    now i want to know where in jersey! my cousin & godmother/her husband live in Leonardo but attend catholic church in a different town. and the town where they attend is very, very near to the water and lost members in Sept 11.
    liz recently posted..Lizzy Picasso

  4. Shell Says:

    Very thoughtful post. I went to a non-denominational church for a long time, though now we attend a Baptist church. My kids are all in their own classes while my husband and I are in church- if they had to be in the service with us, I don’t think that we would ever go. Our church is very open in the message that we are all screw-ups. The only difference is that we are forgiven.

  5. Roxy Says:

    Amen to that! I agree completely.

    I’m sick of hearing everybody preach about love yet openly and quite harshly denounce those who chose to love people of the same sex. It is absolutely hypocritical.
    Roxy recently posted..rah rah- ooh la la

  6. Cousin Tom Says:

    Hi Cousin,

    Love your writing. Long-time reader, first-time poster. Honk honk.

    This post has stuck in my brain for the past 24 hours, and I know I want to respond at least briefly. (Apologies – it’s not brief.)

    I’m one of the ones who has stuck with it. It hasn’t been hard for me to stick with it; I’ve been lucky to have good parishes and priests. You’ve had some bad experiences. At least two of them should be (or should have been) reported to the bishop in writing. Locking the doors, blaming America for the terror attacks, and (like another relative’s parish in NJ) requiring the purchasing of supermarket “scrip” (gift cards) are localized incidents that are out of line. Moving abusive priests around was a wider practice that was outrageous (genuinely, and I hope obviously) and I hope is in the past along with selling indulgences and saddling up to attack the Muslims.

    When you say that you want to attend a church that values you and your daughters, I think it’s important to be clearer, since they’re reading this. In my parish, women lead the religious ed programs, the RCIA program, the search for a new church building site, the peace and justice program, and the music ministry. Do you mean that it’s important for you to attend a church where they could grow up to be priests and lead the Sunday liturgy? This may come in time, but it’s a big ship and it steers slowly.

    I usually TRY to bring one of my kids to mass. At 3.5 and 1.5, it’s hard to handle / entertain / feed them, and I’m lucky that Father Jim has repeatedly mentioned that he is happy to see and hear so many youngsters at mass. I brought John this weekend, and he did pretty well entertaining himself with matchbox cars. For now, I want him to be comfortable with physically going to church, and to get used to the people and the space. When the boys are older, I hope they’ll be interested in seeing the people, hearing the music, and lining up for communion, but I know it’ll still be boring for them.

    I’m going on too long, especially because this is my second draft and I’m at work. But one more topic.

    We need you back – you’re a good smart egg. I teach Rel Ed to eighth graders and see it as a great opportunity to make sure they’ve got it straight – God loves you. My topic is Church History, but I make sure that they know about the love thing.

    Twelve years ago, a kid in class asked me, “Doesn’t God hate gay people?” I put the evening’s lesson aside to make it clear that God loves, and that’s all that God does. Buried in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a great but small section on homosexuality, where it says (paraphrasing) that some people are attracted to members of the same sex. Then, “Homosexuals are called to chastity.” “Who else is called to chastity?” I ask my eighth graders. Eighth graders are called to chastity. And all unmarried people. Priests and nuns. Who else? Married people who (like you and me) maybe don’t want to have kids right now. Okay, so pretty much everybody. Regardless of whether we hit the mark on this one or not, we are all loved and should all be welcome at mass.

    Okay, I have to work…

    Cousin Tom.

    Alyson says:

    Wow! Wonder who else is lurking out there??

    Thank you for your response — I will return the favor and respond back to you once I’ve given it some more thought and written a draft or two.

    But most immediately, I want to add to my post:
    I know that my experiences are parish-specific, and that there are really wonderful things happening in *some* parishes all over the world. I guess where I get hung up is that some of the insanity that I object to personally is justified — when I ask people personally and specifically the “why” of whatever is troubling me — by some silly answer (“If the Holy Spirit wants women priests, there will be women priests.” This from someone who I was really respecting {a Dominican priest} up until he said that.)

    As for my daughters, I know that women are an active and vital presence in many parishes — like in many families, we women do a LOT of the heavy lifting of keeping things moving forward, everyone healthy and nourished. But I guess what really gets me crazy is that for as much work as women do for The Church, there is still something exclusionary about the Church’s position on women. Yes, ladies, go ahead and teach CCD and be euch mins and coordinate all our parish committees, but no — you can’t be on the altar in a substantive way because…’re a woman. (But let’s be clear, God knows me well — and knows I don’t want to be a priest.) I don’t think Jesus would buy that “women can’t” line.

    I love your statement about God is Love and that’s all….but it seems to me that this message is diluted, corrupted, and forgotten as it gets down to us humans. Certainly it is diluted, forgotten and corrupted by more than the Catholic Church, but it’s the Catholic Church that requires my presence at Mass and it’s the Catholic Church that’s been making me crazy for years.

    Having said written all of this, and that post above too, I still have some reckoning to do. My children all attend Catholic schools. I love their schools; I love the messages of love and inclusion that are taught to them. I recognize the hypocrisy in myself, I really do. (And then again, when our former Governor Christine Todd-Whitman is invited to speak at a Women’s Leadership Forum, and then DISinvited because the Diocese doesn’t approve of her position on abortion/women’s right to choose {even though the school is NOT Diocesan, but the Head {a religious} says it’s not worth the fight with the Diocese} Glorious Mother Church makes me crazy all over again.

    I’ve got more, but I’ll contemplate it in the silence of my heart and craft the rest to you in an off-line email.

    Your boys are adorable — more sunscreen, please — and I was happy to see A’s picture post the other day!
    Thanks for reading. Come on down in December and have a beer in our basement bar so we can really hash this stuff out….xoxo

  7. joann mannix Says:

    I was all ready to comment on the post above this one. I was going to tell you it was so great to see I wasn’t the only mother who realizes in horror one evening that summer has gone by and it’s more than likely that the kids’ teeth have not seen a toothbrush in all those days of summer.

    And then I read this post and I had to come down and say, Amen, Amen, again, I say Amen.

    I am a Catholic girl as is my husband. I was raised in the Catholic Church. I raised my girls in the same tradition, going to Mass every Sunday, sending them to our little Catholic school. And along the way I just ignored all those archaic, nonsensical laws of Catholicism, a religion so mired in traditionalism it has stunted its growth. As the world progresses, so should we.

    We have not officially left the Church, but I finally pulled my youngest daughter out of school in the middle of the school year–the school I helped build, the school I was actively involved in, the school my other 2 girls went to for their first 8 years.

    For me, it was a combination of things. And sorry, but I think I’ll be hijacking your blog for a minute here.

    It was this consistent, Let’s Bury Our Head In The Sand mindset that seems to pollute every hierarchy of the church. They might claim they are sorry for the abuse that was covered up for so many years. They might claim they are righting things. But, there is still little sense to be found in the way they seem to be righting the wrongs.

    In our state, every parent who sends a child to Catholic school is required to take a 4 hour workshop on safeguarding our children. Now, I’m sorry, but this? is your answer to the grievous abuses of certain priests? To train the parents how to look for abuse?

    How about cleaning up the priesthood? How about weeding out the priests who are pedophiles instead of just transferring them from parish to parish? How about allowing priests to marry because I’m sorry, but asking a man to give up his sexuality, one of the strongest, most primal instincts God gave human beings is just wrong? And with that sort of restrictiveness, I believe not only do you draw in men who are confused about their sexuality or perhaps trying to fight certain urges, you also create an unhealthy climate. How about owning up to this awful, awful hidden history of abuses that make me want to hide my head in shame?

    And here we are in 2010, still sending the message to women that they are not as worthy or capable of having leadership positions within the church.

    I am still not even close to why I took my daughter out in the middle of the school year. Bear with me. The first time I began to really question my staying was the day my friend was asked to pull her son out of our school. My friend was and still is a devout Catholic, going to church every Sunday, volunteering at both church and school. Being an accountant, she volunteered every year at our annual auction to chair the finances, an enormous undertaking for a fundraiser that raised a great deal of money every year. She was everything a church would want in a devoted parishoner, except for the fact that she was gay. She is a lovely woman, a devoted partner to a woman of 15 years and a loving mother to a wonderful little boy. What part of asking someone to leave because of their sexual preference is the Christian thing to do?

    And yes, let’s climb on board when it comes to condoms and the spread of this malicious disease that is wiping out Africa instead of once again, just spitting out archaic dogma that no longer has any sense of realism in this day and age.

    Oh, and I won’t even begin on the ex-religious who took over for our lovely, lovely school principal when she retired. She turned our once happy little school into a place ruled by fear and intimidation and control, a lot like the old Catholic schools I had attended.

    The last Mass I attended our priest fell asleep while giving his homily. A good old man of 83, he should have retired years ago. His sermons though, were more stimulating than our other priest from Poland. He is learning the language through his sermons. It is a painful thing.

    Sorry. I don’t mean to sound so angry, but I am, sadly. For almost all my life, my Catholic church has been my second home and after far too many chances and after trying to pretend I could overlook some pretty big things, I’m stepping away. I’m not sure if this is a break or a break up. Time and prayer will give me the answer.

    Thanks for letting me rant.
    joann mannix recently posted..What Dreams May Come

    Alyson says:

    I am so appreciate of the healthy, respectful sharing that’s happening on this page!

    It never really occurred to me that this would strike a nerve (although in retrospect, of course it would). I wrote this post because, “Ugh, it is Sunday again and I feel really bad that I’m not going to church…and more than that I feel bad because I don’t WANT to go to church.”

    Thank you, Joann, and to all who have put their $0.02 on this comments page– it really does make me feel better to know that I’m not being overly sensitive or critical or that I should just “get over it.”

  8. Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points Says:

    Very, very powerful post.

    I am an agnostic, leaning towards atheist. And I think you have highlighted beautifully the many reasons those who want to maintain the embrace of the Church struggle, and why it has often not compelled me any closer.

    I can only say that a church (or religion) that entertains divisiveness or supports discrimination could never hold my faith.

    I hope your own struggles find a peaceful solution.
    Lori @ In Pursuit of Martha Points recently posted..BloggyBootCamp San Francisco- and a Lesson in Imagination

  9. Sherri Says:

    Powerful post! So much is crazy about religion in general anymore, but I guess it’s really always been that way. We are just so much more aware when we become parents, I guess.
    Sherri recently posted..Who Moved my Cheese

  10. Bobbi Cecio Says:

    Well… You know me well and know that I think you are far from crazy on all things, but “Amen, Sistah” on this!!!

    We left the Catholic Church after realizing how absolutely insane it was to race home every week to get my kids to CCD on time only to have them come home and share some thought about Fearing God or How they risked being damned to hell for one thing or another and then needing to spend the time to undo everything that they had just been taught.

    Ultimately, I think the common message between most religions is to “Be kind to Yourself and Be Kind to Each Other” and if we could all just stay focussed on that, it would be great. But for whatever reason, most religions feel the need to be superior to one another, to create separation and dishonor. We are ALL born in the likeness of God – not just Catholics or Jews or Pretestants, but ALL of us! I believe it is our God-Given right to be celebrated and honored for our innate magnificence. I am certainly not of the mindset that every behavior is good or acceptable, it’s not! But I do believe that the only thing getting in the way of me operating from my birthright (in the likeness of God) is Me and I am who can return myself to that not the threat of being damned to Hell, of not being saved for not belonging to “one holy and apolstolic church” or any other reason. The Church could be a great resource if only they weren’t so busy forgetting.

    Anyway… I think the best thing you could do, is be kind to yourself… Treat yourself as Jesus would, honoring your Journey and not beating yourself up for not going to Church or feeling like you should be doing it differently. You are made in the Likeness of God and that doesn’t change whether or not you go to church. You Rock!

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