This reflection was sparked by a recent conversation with my good friend and sister in the faith, Sadie Stone, regarding a position I applied for and the question of being Catholic enough for the job. As I reflected and re-reflected over catholic identity, I realized that I have wrestled with these questions for a long time…these are some of the thoughts that came to my mind and my heart. My reflection is longer then I initially expected, I can be long-winded and tend to get carried away. Oh well, there is a lot to say and a lot of unpacking to do—much to simmer with. This is my catholic testament and living treatise of faith, I am sure G-d and I will tweak it as life goes on. In the face of a hierarchy and many fellow pilgrims who undermine and devalue my catholicity, my response to them (with much sacred sass)…I’m delfin and I’m catholic, period!
I’m delfin and I’m Catholic
What does it mean to be Catholic? Is it possible to be Catholic enough? What is Catholic? Am I somehow less Catholic, are others more Catholic? When did living Catholicism become a proving match? What does a faithful Catholic look like and live like? These are just some of the questions that myself and many others have wrestled with as we sort out our faith and place in the Church and church—a wrestling match that has been filled with much pain but also much liberating insight.
At a time where who I am and who I love have been questioned and criticized…where the lives and rights of women have been undermined…where survivors of sexual violence, men and women raped by both perpetrators and by an unjust legal system, are re-victimized by a perpetrating church hierarchy as well as the “faithful”…where more focus is placed on the importance of not holding hands during the Our Father rather than the radical message of G-d’s kindom thriving within and among us…where doctrine and narrow orthodoxy no longer help us embrace G-d’s mystery and awesomeness but rather restrict G-d…where social justice, compassion, empathy, solidarity, Jesus widening the circle are all forgotten and left out for being too “progressive”…more and more this is becoming my experience of Catholicism. Mass is not a place of communion with the Divine and each other, an opportunity to become one with the Body of Christ becoming one Eucharistic familia—more so it is a place where homilies criticize those who are different, where regulation trumps devotion, and where communion means texting and gossiping rather then embracing the sacramentality of becoming living tabernacles figuratively and literally. The sign of peace is quickly forgotten in the parking lot and the spirit of the shared agape meal broken over arguments about after mass plans.
One would think that this would drive me away from being Catholic, especially given the realty that my personhood is condemned rather then celebrated by certain circles within the Church. As much as others may tell me that I’m “not Catholic enough” or that I’m “not the right way of being Catholic”, I’m not giving up and I am not leaving. I have faith-filled hope that transformation and evolution and reformation has been happening, is happening, and will continue to happen. I was brought up with the terms reformation and evolution dubbed as no-no words and something that those d*** protestants do. I believed this for a long time but G-d has a funny and quirky sense of wisdom that challenged me to consider and reconsider this perspective.
I can pray all 20 mysteries of the rosary with the best of them and can even do it on my knees with no cushion…I can tell you saint and patronage like letters in the alphabet…I can match charism to religious order…cite dogmas and catechetical teaching associated with Marian apparitions. Where I get a little rusty is with papal order, I get all my Pauls, Pius’es, Bonifaces, and Benedicts mixed up. Perhaps this is the reason I’m a “bad” Catholic, lack of papal chronology!?!? As my faith and identity have blossomed and evolved through life’s kicks in the butt, divine revelations, answers to questions that lead to even more questions, and heartfelt conversations as well as passionate arguments with others, I have come to realize that my catholic identity is not based solely on being able to recite all 7 sacraments and all the acts of mercy and why Joseph went missing for after Jesus’ adolescence—there is something deeper and more profound to being Catholic.
What would Jesus do in this situation? It’s a tough question to figure out; Jesus can be a tad bit difficult to relate to because of the whole Son of G-d thing…I could ask myself what would the Virgin Mary do, but she has the whole Immaculate Conception phenomenon going for her. And so in looking to the communion of holy people for inspiration, I am led to the Apostles; a rag tag dysfunctional but well intended group of men and women, who like me, were trying to figure out this whole Jesus ministry thing. Like today, they too got caught up in debating policy: the need to be circumcised first to belong to this new tribe of Christianity or evangelizing to the Gentiles or putting periods where perhaps Jesus had meant to put a comma when it came to documenting his sayings and teachings. While the boys hashed and bashed it out, women like Mary Magdalene were out in the trenches ministering and evangelizing, not getting caught up in the creation of politics and religious bureaucracy for an emerging movement. Mary and others continued the work of the kindom and re-membered Jesus through actions and words, embodying the Gospel of their teacher, mentor, and friend. Did Mary get it right all the time, probably not, I’m sure she made mistakes along the way but her conviction to follow in the steps of Jesus was not somehow less than that of John or James—she strived to live out the prophetic and radical message of “follow me” and “love neighbor as self.” Though I don’t necessarily always like binaries, perhaps Mary’s embodiment of Jesus’ ministry and the debates between Peter and Paul complemented each other and needed each other…two halves of the coin of a forming and emerging community trying to make sense of their rabi…perhaps both are needed in balance and our challenge today is to make sure one does not overshadow the other? Maybe the Church has become too focused on rules and regulations and has become neglectful of the pastoral call to solidarity with those who are marginalized? Perhaps we need shift some things around in order to bring harmony and balance, stop being administrators of religious bureaucracy in order to live into and become pastors and nurturers of faith.
And so here I am with Mary as a guide and with so many like her whom certain circles within the Church have tried to neglect and devalue but who refuse to be forgotten—I add my voice inviting and pastorally nudging Catholics to truly embody church—a family in which all are welcome at the table as celebrated equals. A church where we honor tradition and the significance of the context within which it was birthed, while also leaving room for new ways of living into their meanings today. A church where its okay to discern whether the teaching of the Immaculate Conception can be used to remind ourselves that we are created in G-d’s image and were knit in the womb with a purpose. A church that does not get lost in the divisiveness of pro-this and anti-that rhetoric, but that supports systems of governance and society that respect the complexity of our livelihood and personhood through life’s messiness. A church where disagreeing with a bishop does not get one excommunicated but where questions are opportunities for introspection, genuine reflection, and an invitation for growth, even when its a little uncomfortable.
As Catholics we honor tradition, revelation, reason, sacraments, biblical authority, devotion, grace, movements of the Spirit, the voice of the people, and holy objects like relics and icons (the kitchier and more bedazzled the better). We also have a history of people who challenged ecclesial authority and called for change—people that we honor today as saints and doctors of the church. If this is our history, if this is what has helped the roots of our faith blossom—why is it that those of us who raise questions in the spirit of Teresa , Catherine, Romero, Dorothy, and Jesus himself, why are we viewed as “less” catholic? I am mindful that many of those we honor like Teresa and Dorothy were not always welcome (then and now), but it baffles me that we have not learned from our own history. If we have a tradition of rebel rousers, why are we so scared of the Teresas and Dorothies of today? Why do we get caught up in labeling people faithful and heretical, in and out, acceptable and excommunicable?
For a long time I tried to prove my catholicity…kneeling and sitting and saying everything to keep up the appearance of what was narrowly defined as a good catholic. Despite the show and “approval” I felt very empty and alone. Through prayer and study, I realized that what Jesus often criticized in the Pharisees was the empty or mindless following of rules without recognizing the spirit or meaning at the core of teaching or ritual. Today, during the Eucharistic prayer I sometimes sit (preferably on the floor if possible) trying to immerse myself in what’s happening and cherish the sacredness of the moment—is this wrong? Will the Almighty Creator of the Universe smote me because I am sitting instead of kneeling in a pew not made for full-sized individuals? Is it better to kneel but not really pay attention to what is going on or complain that the priest is taking too long? Also, if we believe that G-d is beyond our understanding of gender, shouldn’t it be okay to pray and honor G-d as mother and as she? Would it really offend G-d if I prayed “our mother who art in heaven” or perhaps even referred to G-d as G-ddess?
Some say to be Jewish is to wrestle with G-d…I believe that we have inherited this same trait from our older siblings in the faith. To be catholic is also to wrestle with G-d; to struggle and question and challenge the institution, bishops, each other, and even ourselves. To ask tough questions is how we come to truth: Mary mother of Jesus asked a question to better understand what was happening at the Annunciation, through her questioning came deeper understanding—questions are one of the roots of our faith. Mary’s question of “how can this be” did not criticize or reflect her disbelief, rather she sought to make sense of mystery and vocation in order to better embrace it. To be Catholic is to…raise questions, grapple with answers, listen and share G-d’s voice that is continuously revealed in Scripture, to remember early practices like Eucharistic meals performed in the intimacy of our homes, to honor the testimony of our foremothers and forefathers while also finding new ways for their witness to be relevant today, to remind our leaders that Jesus often lifted up as examples of faith those on the margin, to remember that Jesus was in the streets with the people and not locked away in a pope-mobile. To be catholic is to find meaning in paradox and contradiction, to revel in mystery, and to realize that there is not one way to be Catholic for there is richness in a diversity of devotional expression. To be catholic is to honor the tenants of our faith while also infusing them with our own unique sabor (flavor) so that faith is something real, personal, authentic and grounded in our lives (not just abstract concepts that don’t make any sense). Just like G-d cannot be boxed up and limited by narrow doctrines, so to are our Catholic identities—we cannot define or limit Catholicism for it changes, evolves, grows, stretches, dances, and is constantly being reconstructed through deconstruction, just like us.
I’m done proving, I’m done with trying to live up to “enough”…I’m going to strive to simply be. I no longer want to get caught up in comparing myself with others or feeling guilty all the time due to not living up to some imagined bar of catholicity. Being catholic is not about being more or less or enough, its just about being Catholic, with its contradictions, confusions, radicalness, and amazingness. I’m not a “certain type of Catholic”…my queerness, latino raices, social work training, activism, ministerial and practical approach to theology, my wonderfully dysfunctional family and quirky friends—these aspects of my life inform, challenge, enrich, and enliven my faith and understanding of Catholicism. I no longer want to fall in the pit of labeling myself and others as better or worse, progressive or liberal, faithful or questionable. I’m delfin and I’m catholic, period. Que asi sea…Amen!!!