My Big Fat Catholic Family

So maybe borrowing the title of the 2002 hit film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” is a little old and over used, but it came to me when I recently heard about another small group choosing to break from the Catholic Church. One of the reasons I am still Catholic, aside from the Catholic DNA running through my veins, is that I love that we are a global church. I have really struggled with certain positions of the hierarchy (do I really need to name them?), but I am reminded over and over again that my struggles, that is our struggles, are not new. There has been someone fighting for a better Church in one way or another for 2000 years beginning with Jesus himself.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of Paul that there have ALWAYS been feuds in our Christian family. Even among “The Twelve” there were arguments of arrogance over which disciple was “greater.” We must not forget the first ecumenical Council of Jerusalem with the trouble of initiation rites (must gentiles become Jews before they become Christian?), followed by a litany of heresies in those early centuries including Marcionism, Gnosticism, Arianism, etc…which all caused breaks in some form within the early church community.

Then came the “Great Schism” of 1054 where the Eastern and Western Churches used the Holy Spirit as an excuse to part ways. Though no one then, or now for that matter, could really point to a major theological problem that was not reconcilable if they had wanted to find common ground, it seems that they just could not stand being in the same church anymore. This break in the “Church family” has always reminded me of my mom and her younger sister who really never got along at any point in their lives even though they were the two youngest siblings of nine and the closest in age. Everyone clumped them together and just assumed they were content being each other’s best friend in spite of the real tension. They tolerated each other for years and followed the fictional expectations for the sake of the “family.” Certainly they loved each other, but they really just did not like being with the other. When my grandmother died, they decided to use the distribution of her stuff as a reason to finally break ties. Certainly, they could have gotten through the great charm bracelet/china hutch debate of 1995 if they had wanted to, but it was easier to throw 40 years of harbored animosity into those two stupid objects and use them to keep the walls up for 13 years now.

In the 16th century, the dysfunctional family of the Christian church finally broke wide open with the biggest divorce in history: the Protestant Reformation. There were certainly problems on all sides of this schism, and each definitely was also at least partially right. Today we talk about the presence of Truth in each denomination as we slowly strive for some form of reconciliation through the ecumenical movement. Yet while many of us keep working for unity, more people are, often for good reason, alienated, oppressed or hurt by the Catholic Church. Some stay and harbor resentment, others leave religion all together or find another denomination that has resolved that “issue,” and some even set up a “new” church of their own. For some it works, and if they are being fed spirituality and are closer to God in that place, I am quite happy for them. At the end of the day for me, however, is my connection to a truly global church that keeps me tied to Catholicism. Not only does it have missions, hospitals and relief services in all parts of the world making our earthly community better for all of its members, it has traditions that go back centuries and millennia while also maintaining flexibility to adapt and dialogue with the modern world. It is a church which always preaches hope in the Good News, and no matter where I go, whether it be a prairie in Wisconsin, a rural mountain community in Guatemala, or a beautiful fairytale city in Austria, I know that I will find members of my Big Fat Catholic Family there to offer thanks and praise to God in liturgy and partners to work for a better world in Christ’s love. The church is much bigger than a single parish or a hot button issue; it is both a “home” to find comfort and the place that nourishes us by providing companions for the trials ahead as we work for the Reign of God.

Becky Schwantes, a Minnesota native, is currently a Master of Social Work candidate at Washington University in St. Louis. She earned her M.A. in Theology from the University of Notre Dame in 2008 and has worked as a parish faith formation minister, social worker and in college campus ministry. Becky also holds a B.A. in Theology and Social Work with a minor is Social Justice and Peace Studies from the University of Portland, Oregon. Her primary areas of interest are Christian Social Ethics, Eco-Feminist Theology, Mental Health and issues of Aging. In her free time, she enjoys traveling the world, walking labyrinths, singing, and laughing with friends. Her favorite saints are Francis de Sales and Jane de Chantal.

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