What Is Right
I take my seat in the last row of pews after I lightly dip my fingers into a fountain found at the entrance of the sanctuary. I look around to see faces just like mine. My mother sits on my right, my brother on my left, perfectly playing the parts of my conscience, sitting on my shoulders and telling me the goodness of being right and how entertaining it is to be wrong. My brother would crack jokes on what some parishioners wore, making me laugh until I cry while suppressing any volume coming out of my mouth to disrupt my motherÕs focus in prayer. She would pinch my arm to get me to stop.
The reason why I found certain observations hysterical was that going to church was so dull for me growing up. By far, it was my least favorite weekend activity. The sunlight shone through the gothic style windows, providing a warmth that my comforter at home gave me just hours before, and the priestÕs voice was soothing like a lullaby. If it wasnÕt for my mother, the whole congregation would have left before I woke up from my holy slumber. The songs werenÕt catchy, I didnÕt know anyone around me, and you couldnÕt get me to remember two words from the sermon even if you had a gun to my eleven-year-old head.
Jesus was the only thing that kept me there. I didnÕt know much about Catholicism, but I sure as hell knew the guy who made 100 loaves of bread appear out of nowhere. His miracles astounded me, and the only part of the religion I ever got was the love he had for others. That altruism he displayed, from birth to death, that stuck with me. He taught me what was right. I still agree with Jesus today, although I donÕt talk to him very much anymore. Because although I did understand when he taught our church about what was right, as I got older I figured out he didnÕt teach our church about what was wrong.
In our church, when you are seventeen, you go through confirmation, which includes a year-long class, a retreat with another parish, and at the end, the holy sacrament of becoming an ÒadultÓ in the church. So, in the spirit of being an ÒadultÓ, IÕd thought I would grow up a bit. No more would I sit in the pews with my mind wandering aimlessly, quietly disparaging peopleÕs clothes to stay entertained. I would apply myself, engage in the sermons, actually try to learn something. For a while, thatÕs exactly what I did. I went on the retreat and participated fully, and I attended church more than I ever have, sometimes without my parents. There, I could feel the words connect inside me for the first time, like God just found a loose light bulb in my soul and twisted it until it shined its light inside me. I felt that spiritual change that turned Francis of Assisi a saint, a change that seemed to come at the same time as my other friends in the class.
However, after all the spirit of God was bestowed upon us, we started to get into deeper, controversial topics. Gay marriage, womenÕs roles in church, abortions, just to name a few, were all brought up by our teacher, and all of us just sat there. She told us homosexuals couldnÕt have a Christian wedding, even if they were Catholic their entire lives. She told us that women will never be able to be a priest, whether we wanted that to change or not. You could see that even she didnÕt agree with these arbitrary rules, but still, we just sat there.
I should have spoken up. I shouldÕve done something. I just sat there, listening as my feelings about my faith began to polarize like never before. I remembered the miracle man who taught me about love and compassion when I was little, and I saw that same man breed a type of intolerance even my closest fellow Christians didnÕt truly believe in. I knew a few who believed that this was the way God intended, that people could be looked down upon in the name of the Lord. I donÕt associate with or even call these people Christians. However, there were a lot of people in that room, myself included, that began to just deny that part of the faith existed. In hindsight, that was probably worse.
I couldnÕt stay ignorant for long. I have plenty of women in my life, including my mother, that had a lot of problems of the churchÕs treatment of women and their right to choose what they want to do with their bodies. I have several people in my life, including my brother, who identifies as homosexual and have been told in newspapers and lectures that they are not welcome in the Christian faith. I have a friend who had been a devout member of our parish since he was six years old, and he decided not to get confirmed because as a transgender man, he was so offended by the churchÕs stance on LGBTQ+ rights that he felt it wasnÕt right. This polarization grew, making the holy rope of tug-of-war in my mind longer and longer each week. The rope starts to drag, and it gets harder and harder for one side to win. It makes you want to just give up and let the two sides of your brain agree to disagree.
I was seventeen when this happened. It is now three years since, and my views on Christianity havenÕt changed much. I disagree in almost every way in terms of social issues with the church, and the lessons of God and Jesus almost seem tainted. What good is a message of love when the leaders of those messages refuse to denounce hate? Even our bishop told our parish that within the marriage (between a man and a woman of course. He made that explicitly clear.), the woman was to create more life so that there are more to learn the message of Christ, and men were to at least seek the calling to priesthood. I was even recruited to attend ÒZ-clubÓ meetings that were about the calling to become a priest. It was like being recruited to be a part of a secret society. Or a cult.
But the most sickening thing about it all is that I got confirmed, and I still go to church with my family. I still pray to Jesus occasionally. I still hear our politicians tell God to bless the United States, our entertainment icons thank Him for everything they were given, and everyone around me use His name and His sonÕs name every single day, in hundreds of contexts. The biggest internal struggle I have with Christianity is that no matter how hard I try, I cannot ignore Him. God is everywhere. The most mysterious ways of his is how the hell a theological figure has turned into a secular figure for the miracles in life. The happiest moments of peopleÕs lives have been described as, Òan act of God,Ó whether they worship Him or not.
I really am back to where I started, but going down the path of finding my faith has taken a toll on me. It has made me question my morals. IÕd like to think I know right from wrong, but does my faith? Are they right, and am I wrong? If my faith is so right, how can the leaders of it, like the priests in Boston or the televangelists charged with corruption, be so wrong? I still do not know. I still talk to the angel and the demon on my shoulders, they both can be enlightening sometimes. All I do know, is that the guy in row three has a matching hat, tie, and suit coat, and it is the funniest thing I have ever seen.