Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Weekend 2009-Some Personal Thoughts



I don't often get into religious topics on this board, and that's by choice. Religion and belief in God is a personal matter, and it can be divisive. Yes, the sub-heading of this blog says "for your inner iconoclast". But religion is always a hot button issue, particularly with Americans. We pride ourselves with having freedom of worship, a constitutional right- but all too often we become intolerant of the beliefs of others. The rest of the world looks at Americans like we're a little bit crazy because of this duality. And I do tend to agree with the onlookers. Thomas Jefferson wrote in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence that we are "endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights", yet this nation that was born with the concept of religious tolerance often allows itself to be torn apart by religious differences.

I have written in my profile, which you can read if you wish, that I am a "proud Cafeteria Catholic". There are some who would use that term as a pejorative- but I won't, and can't, because that is who and what I am. But I'll back track a bit.

I grew up as a pretty religious middle class Roman Catholic kid in the transitional period from LEAVE IT TO BEAVER to THE BRADY BUNCH. We went to Mass every Sunday, confession at least once a month, religious instructions on Saturday mornings-with an extra two week dose in the summer when we turned 12, in preparation for Confirmation. Everything went according to schedule until The Sixties happened.

First we watched a young and beloved president murdered in Dallas, and then we watched his alleged murderer killed on live TV less than two days later. Then the Beatles, the British Invasion, Watts, Newark, Detroit, Vietnam, Tet Offensive, murdered RFK, murdered MLK, Haight Ashbury, The Fillmore, and sex, drugs, and rock n'roll (in no particular order).

I won't dwell on the details- but let's just say I was indulgent in those long ago days, even to excess on more than a few occasions. Perhaps that's part of the appeal that TV shows like LIFE ON MARS and ASHES to ASHES have with me; every once in awhile I ask myself "Did I really buy it in those days, and is all of this really an illusion?"....and then I become lucid again.

Religion and Catholicism became less a part of my life until middle age. I never stopped believing in God, I just explored other avenues, like Eastern religion, Islam, and pantheism. But strangely, I never really stopped being Catholic, at least deep inside. When I decided to give organized religion another shot, it was a brief flirtation with the Episcopal Church. That was kind of like Catholicism minus the guilt and angst, and to the untrained or unchurched, a Episcopal Eucharistic service and a Catholic mass seem to be 98% the same. But for whatever reason, that didn't stick....and I went back to using Sundays for sleeping.

There were health issues involving my parents and my grandmother, and after two decades spent primarily in Colorado and Florida, I returned to New Jersey for good in the early 1990's. Ten years ago last Thanksgiving my dad started to experience chest discomfort. We rushed him to the cardiologist- he needed a triple bypass. The surgery lasted about six hours, and was successful. However, on the day Dad was to be released from the hospital, he started to experience wild fluctuations in his heart rate- I was in his room watching his monitor; he'd go from 60 beats a minute to 110 in a matter of seconds, and back down again. The doctors told us he'd have to stay in the hospital until his heart rate stabilized to a normal rate. Needless to say, the stress on all of us reached a higher level- it was really difficult to see him hooked up to a monitor, and wonder if and when he'd have a stroke from the fluctuations in his pulse.

I excused myself, and walked to the hospital chapel on the ground floor. I sat in the pews, but didn't pray. But I did talk to God. I said, "Can You just get him through this?. That's all I'm asking. Just give him a few more years with us".

There was a King James Bible in the pew. I opened it up, randomly. It opened to John 2:1-13, the story of the miracle of Cana. I read of the wedding feast that ran out of wine. Jesus was told by His mother of the situation, and He ordered the servant to fill some jugs with water...and then jugs became filled with wine.

Then the thought filled my head....its already done. All you had to do is ask.

That same night my father's heart rate stabilized, and we took him home the next day.

A coincidence? No God sent miracle, but a miracle of modern science? Maybe. Or perhaps a combination of the two.

These two incidents marked my return to the Church. It didn't signal my total acceptance of the whole plate of Roman Catholicism. I still have problems with its dogma, and how it relates to our modern world. For instance, I still shudder at the denials and the "shoot the messenger" mentality of some of the church hierarchy during the deplorable and shocking sex abuse scandals of the past decade. The attitude of "the church must be protected at all costs" was the paramount of hypocrisy. So little regard was given to the victims and of the damaged lives that too many of them have had to live. And the worst part is, I question to this day, how far up the chain did the knowledge of the abuse go, and who knew what and when?

And that brings me to the doctrine of "Papal Infallibility". We are told that the Church considers all human life to be sacred, and that the Pope's judgement, in matters of the faith, is infallible. Therefore, if the Pope is infallible in the 21st century, the Popes of the 15th century must have been infallible in matters of faith as well. Infallibility is defined as "freedom from liability; perfection". Infallible is defined as "incapable of errors; reliable".

But didn't these infallible pontiffs of the 15th century create and sanction Inquisitions that arrested, imprisoned, tortured, and burned alive tens of thousands of Jews,non-believers, and "heretics"? Were their lives any less sacred? Or were these particular Popes any less infallible?

Its difficult to reconcile these conflicts I have with the Roman Catholic Church, some of its doctrines, and some of the actions of some of its hierarchy. To an outsider it might appear to be an almost irreconcilable thing- but its not. Because no matter what has happened to me over the years, and what has changed in this world, I never stopped feeling deep in my bones that I am a Roman Catholic...maybe an unconventional believer, and a somewhat rebellious one, but a believer none the less.

And all I can say to those who may question me, or my beliefs, all I can say to them is....please don't wag your finger at me. Because this is my church, too.

Have a Happy Easter....or Passover...with your family and friends.

"Hugh Jee"

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