A few months ago, I was on here proclaiming that I wasn't going to read anything religious unless it was from a Catholic source. No Protestant apologetics, no atheist blogs, nothing. I thought it would help my doubts. It didn't, of course -- the problems were never something from outside, but from inside the teachings themselves. Too many things seemed to be glossed over with the sort of vague explanations that people would use if they wanted to convince themselves they weren't experiencing any cognitive dissonance.
So I gave that idea up after a few months, and I read all kinds of stuff now. I hang out a lot on Patheos -- Catholic, Progressive Christian, Atheist, and Spirituality channels. Because it's all of interest to me, and the different perspectives help to construct a clearer whole.
However, I'm beginning to feel maybe I'd do better to stop reading the Catholic stuff, just because it upsets me.
First, there's the old outside-looking-in problem. When you're in a group of people who fervently believe something, and you don't, it's uncomfortable. There's this strong urge to either join the group or leave. That was the main reason I joined Regnum Christi -- because I wanted to be friends with those people, and there was nothing more uncomfortable than feeling like I didn't fit in.
Second, there's the beauty of it. Every once in awhile a Catholic blogger gives some glimpse of what drives their love for the Church, and I can't help but admire them. Take Mudblood Catholic's vision of nonviolence, inspired by Jesus. It's beautiful stuff. As a celibate gay Catholic, he sacrifices a lot to stay in the Church, but it seems to be worth it to him. And I daresay if I felt a deep connection to God, it wouldn't seem too much to do the same, even if, like him, I didn't understand why God was asking so much of me.
But most of all it's the suffering that I hear from people. I'm not directly quoting or linking, because people often share their suffering in places where they can't be seen by too many people, but maybe you've seen the same sort of thing.
It's the woman who feels called to be a priest, who wonders why God is saying one thing to her inside her heart and another through the Church. Which one can be trusted? Never her heart.
It's the gay Catholics, bearing the burden not just of celibacy, but also of general loneliness (because our culture doesn't really know how to do friendship or extended family very well). And if they handle those okay, they still have to deal with being treated as suspect by other Catholics for something they didn't choose and can't help.
It's the mother of a gay child, who is torn between wanting to empathize with her child and wanting to fix him. Trying to get him back in the church, while sad she can't admit she sees a lot of goodness and love in his relationship. Trying over and over again to convince herself missing his wedding the right and Christian thing to do.
It's the divorced-and-remarried couple that tries to live in celibacy, knowing that there is no fixing their situation, ever.
It's the woman who stays with an emotionally abusive husband because it beats a life of loneliness.
It's the woman who practices NFP despite her husband not being on board, as her priest told her she was morally required to do, and her husband leaves her. When she tells her priest what happened, he blames her for not keeping her marriage together.
It's the mother who's overwhelmed with many small children, suffering many small health problems from repeated pregnancies, but none of them seems like a sufficient reason to use NFP. After all, what can compare to another soul in heaven with her for eternity? So she gets pregnant again, and the difficulty of dealing with her children is compounded by months of fatigue and vomiting.
It's the woman with a serious medical reason to avoid pregnancy, but her signs don't make sense like they are supposed to. A single misinterpretation results in a life-threatening medical complication.
It's the couple whose marriage is on the rocks. They decide it would be madness to get pregnant right now, considering the strain on their marriage. They go to counseling and the counselor suggests that it will help to have sex more often. No can do, not with NFP.
It's the scrupulous teenager who can't seem to give up masturbating, but also is too embarrassed to say so in confession. For years he worries about dying suddenly and going to hell.
It's the priest who finds himself alone, day after day, night after night, because there are too few priests now to have several in a rectory, but the parishioners are too much in awe of him to ever invite him over for dinner. God's company is supposed to be enough, but somehow it isn't. Soon he takes up drinking, just to numb his feelings of isolation.
It's anyone who dearly loves a non-Catholic, wondering if they will be able to see their loved ones in heaven, and whether it will really be heaven if they can't. Is it possible that they are more merciful than God is?
It's the mother who loses a baby before birth. The church tells her emphatically that her baby has a soul, but doesn't know if that soul gets to go to heaven without baptism. She can hope, but she doesn't want to hope, she wants to be sure.
None of these stories is made up -- some of them have happened to people I know more than once. And there are so many more.
I hear people's stories and I just want to cry. It's hard to be Catholic. I appreciate that most Catholics don't gloss this over -- they tell it how it is. No one gets a free pass; every state of life comes with suffering. Some suffering is unavoidable and some comes directly from trying to follow Catholic teaching. But either way, it's really hard and God doesn't swoop in very often to fix things.
A part of me thinks: these people should seriously reconsider their religion. Odds are, they're not really sure it's true. And shouldn't they have a high level of certainty that something's a good idea before going for it -- all the more so when it causes pain and suffering for themselves, and sometimes for those around them?
Another part just says: I hope it's true. I hope God is keeping their tears in his bottle, like he promised. I hope he will one day wipe away every tear. I hope that, even if the Catholic Church isn't 100% right, that God is the sort of person who will accept their gifts to him in the spirit in which they were meant -- acts of love which they did for him.
Because the thought that all that suffering is for nothing, will earn no reward, is very distressing to me. I hope it is false. And I have been paring down my readership of Catholic blogs and my participation in Catholic groups, not because I dislike the people or their ideas, but because that thought haunts me.