I’m taking this Lent off

Posted by on March 12, 2011 at 10:47 am.

I have been struggling with my faith for the last year.

I am a Roman Catholic and have been since birth. I never really stopped being a Catholic, though I have stopped practicing almost completely.

When I was 19 or 20, I did go through a very serious exploration of my religion and spirituality in which I actively considered other religions, but none of them really stuck. It came down to the fact that, spiritually, the Catholic Church and the community that comes with it was something I was not willing to give up.

The idea of a different faith was not new to me and I didn’t feel like I’d be letting my family down by changing. My mother is not Catholic, she is a non-denominational Christian. When I was growing up, our family belonged to two churches and all four of us attended both of them each week.

I’ve never been told by anyone I respected that a certain faith is really required to get to heaven, and I was not raised with that mentality. When I was old enough, I even looked it up in the Bible and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (basically our rule book) and found nothing to suggest that being not Catholic was a grievous sin. Anybody who tells me otherwise isn’t worth my time.

But there are other problems I have, and most of them have to do with the way the church operates as an institution. And my switch to a lowercase “c” there is important, a distinction that I was taught during my 13 years as a student of Catholic schools. And it’s that difference, between a big and little “c,” that makes it possible for me to hang on to my faith.

For a long time, I’ve been able to ignore the problems I have and differentiate between the size of the “c” and be a happy enough, though often guilt-stricken, Catholic.

I used to rationalize it by saying that since the church basically operates as the world’s largest government, and goes through all geographic borders, including those in which Catholics (and people of all faiths) are attacked and even killed. And because of those dangers, I tried to accept that it was impractical to allow women to be priests because it might inflame some anti-Catholic violence. And I thought it was fine for the church to discriminate against all gay people for the same reason so long as they weren’t actively trying to harm them.

But this is not acceptable.

These are church “rules” that are based on social customs that are not right. Some will quote the Bible as the reason for these kinds of traditions, but the Bible also says that we shouldn’t ever eat pigs and that if our wives can’t have children for us, it’s their responsibility to offer one of their slaves as a concubine. Last time I checked, the Catholic church no longer condones such behavior.

I don’t mean to demean the word of God in the Bible, I really do believe in it, but I also believe that it cannot be read as a strictly literal or even a strictly spiritual document. The Bible was written by people and for people who lived in a different society that had very different concerns, and some of those cultural and survival concerns are represented.

This past spring, when I got tired of hearing about leaders of the church reaffirming these archaic beliefs, I began to lose my faith. The faith I had held so strongly for so long started to wither away because if God could allow these men to “lead” us, then I wasn’t sure that he existed or that he cared.

I was as low as I could go, and the rock that was supposed to be waiting for me at the bottom was a figurehead I could not accept.

And so, where Church and community had helped me before, I turned instead to the Bible. I began to read through it cover to cover, including the footnotes and cross-references that are used in The New American Bible, which is the preferred version for American Catholics.

It was here that I finally found solace. Perhaps my greatest failing as a man of faith was that I have not read the entire Bible. I have read large portions of it and been exposed to a large majority of it, but I had never been required or felt inspired to read the whole thing. I’m going slowly, still in the Pentateuch, but it has certainly helped me feel better about where I am — but probably not for the reasons you might think.

I have realized that the early leaders of the religion that eventually became Catholicism were bad people. They lied, cheated, stole and killed. And yet God forgave them and kept his covenant moving forward. And honestly, that makes me feel better about what’s happening now. It could be worse, Jacob, called Israel, could be the pope. Or Abraham.

And so, instead of having a traditional Lent and giving something up, I’ll keep spending time, and maybe spend more time, reading through the Bible in hopes that something is revealed to me before I finish the last book. Even though I’m still not eating meat on Fridays, I doubt I’ll make it to Mass and I’m not sure I’m ready to begin praying the Rosary again. For now, I’m going to put my soul on the “injured list.”

One Comment

  • Sarah says:

    Honestly, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a “traditional” Lent. I rarely actually give something up; mostly because I don’t think anything I do is actually harming me or the people around me, so it’s not really going to make me a better person to give it up. I’ve rarely been so into something like soda, dessert or chocolate that it would have been difficult to give up. This year, I’m only eating out once a week. We’re in week 2, and it’s probably the hardest thing I’ve done for Lent in a long time. I don’t think the point of Lent is to necessarily give something up, but to address some part of you that needs a little help. To me, it sounds like you’re doing that, and I’m proud of you.

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