I’d like to thank Pope Francis for the most productive day I’ve had in a while.
I had the day off of work today. A random Wednesday off isn’t something I look for until around January, when the snow drifts in. But, and this is a secret now, the Pope is in DC today, and so my school closed to allow everyone to go down to the Mall and have a peek.
I stayed home.
I’m not big on crowds. I don’t mind them as much as I used to, but they are not something I seek out. I’m especially not big on Catholic crowds. When I said this to co-workers the last couple days I received looks ranging from mild horror to gentle puzzlement. Is she serious? Or in the case of new people who joined this year and I’ve only known for a few weeks, is she Catholic? I’m both serious and Catholic. After an unfortunate experience at a canonization I sort of soured on large-scale religious events.
And this saved me from having to explain to anyone that when it comes down to it, I just don’t want to see the Pope.
I am what is called a revert. I left the Church for a time. About 4 years, maybe 5. It’s hard to remember. I didn’t go join another church, unless you count my trinity at the time: Vodka, gin, and whiskey. In fact, I didn’t have any theological disagreements with Catholicism. I didn’t really change my position on hot-button social issues, and I never stopped believing in the tenets of the Faith. Honestly, I just didn’t want to do what God wanted. I had come to see God’s will as a lifetime of misery for me that would provide happiness for others and I was real fucking tired of it, so I decided to stop. It’s a common problem, plenty of people face it. I had simply come to believe that God hated me. Of course, God didn’t hate me. And in fact, God wasn’t really asking all that much of me at the time. Now, I kind of wonder what I was really bitching about, but it isn’t dreadfully important. Funny enough, a life-saving conversion experience will mellow you out about some of the pettier shit.
A few months into my sobriety I made the choice to return to the Church. It has been a rocky path to say the least. I managed to rejoin just at the moment when they decided to change all the prayers in the Mass, so I didn’t even have the familiarity of habit to ease me back into it. More troubling, it didn’t seem to matter which parish I went to, either out of geographical proximity or hour of convenience, I seemed bombarded by people happy to tell me how I should think, and feel, and speak, but without very much to say about, well, God. Three and half years of soppy, emotive, self-indulgent sermons, exhortations on boutique charisms offering “community,” and seemingly endless capacity of holiness one-upmanship has often left me with the feeling that as I am is as holy as I will be, the dampening sense that my soul will not grow, because no one is talking about souls.
Sobriety is a struggle. Not always the late-night-sweating-staring-at-a-bottle struggle you see in movies. More often it’s a struggle of the is-this-worth-it? variety. But there is a common phrase in AA: “don’t leave before the miracle happens.” And, sadly, I find myself in a similar struggle in Mass sometimes. Not, is God worth it? Rather, can I do it, can I keep myself in this seat through one more long-winded, poorly organized, tent-revival stump speech everyone else is calling a homily? Can I make it to the miracle? Can I keep myself from running screaming into the night (or on occasion, early morning) when well-meaning idiots try to peddle to me social status and Catholic cache wrapped up in the words of religious education? Can I keep the ultimate salvation of the human race through the sacrifice of the Almighty Creator in the forefront of my mind when it seems like that is the last thing anyone wants to talk about?
That which is cared for by humans is subject to the environment it inhabits, and the Church in the metropolitan DC area is no exception. The Church is the Bride of Christ, and Christ is Christ, but the people in the Church are just people. And the people of DC have a strong tendency to be competitive, snobby, vain, and dismissive. I sat through a homily on Sunday during which the priest railed against another priest in the diocese for upholding basic, run-of-the-mill, practices as an example of a lack of love and understanding on the part of priests. The horrifying act for which this (thankfully) unnamed local priest committed, for which he should be publicly castigated? Telling a young woman that to be married at a particular parish one needs to be a member of that parish. And she was sad about that, because it made getting what she wanted harder. Boo fucking hoo. Even if this had been an appropriate anecdote to relay in a homily, which it isn’t, and even if there was not a bit of a logic-problem using a single, out of context, example to condemn an entire institution as lacking love and understanding (dude, it’s almost like I’m talking about race right now!), the priest giving the homily GOT THE WRONG MORAL LESSON OUT OF IT! He stood in front of a large gathering of blithely affirmative people and told them that the Catholic Church is around to pander to the desires of each and every individual because no one should ever get their feelings hurt. I could almost hear the John Stewart-esque self-satisfied musing that accompanied the right-on head nods: “oh man, he just DESTROYED that mean priest!” So then he talked about Pope Francis’ visit for 15 minutes. I tuned him out.
The Pope is the dually appointed head of the Catholic Church. He is infallible on matters of morals and doctrine. On matters political, scientific, and cultural, he is as fallible as the guy before him, and the guy that will follow him. My personal feelings about him, one way or another, are essentially irrelevant. It doesn’t matter if I am a “fan” or not.
But, when Pope Francis speaks, my soul is not lifted to God. Maybe that’s me, maybe that’s him. Maybe if I had gone downtown today I would have experienced something that would have changed my mind completely and helped me to understand why other people are not so upset to see the authority of the Church squandered on trivial issues and terrible misunderstandings of basic economics. Or maybe it would be exactly as I assume: the Catholic version of DC social jockeying, just on a larger scale. I guess I will never know.
What I do know is that I paid my bills today. I brought in the garbage can and recycling bin from the street so that my housemate didn’t have to do it when she came home. I cleaned the bathroom and ran laundry. I took the time offered to me to put my life in a little bit better order than it was before.
Hey, look, dignity of work! Pope Francis should be proud of me.
(4 Years and 3 Days Sober)