Both my parents were raised Catholic, but only a couple of my mom’s siblings still attend Church. I asked my mom whether she would have continued to go to Church if she hadn’t married my dad (who comes from a more strict Catholic background), and she said yes. Hoping for some insight into my mother’s spirituality, I asked her what would have made her continue attending Church while the rest of her family fell away. She said, “Well, I’ve always had a high propensity for guilt.”
I admit it: I was disappointed. Nothing about God. Nothing about the beauty or history of Catholicism. Just guilt. (To be fair, I know my mother’s spirituality goes much deeper than that; the foundation of my faith does indeed come from her teaching).
I’ve challenged the guilt-centric view of religion multiple times over the years, but I find myself falling prey to the same types of thinking. Recently, I’ve begun exploring a new, non-Catholic church. Because I’m often out of town in the summer, I looked forward to my next Sunday in town so that I could attend once again. But the next Sunday that I was in town happened to be Pentecost.
As I drove to “the new Church,” I agonized over my decision to go. It was one thing to attend a non-Catholic church on an ordinary Sunday . . . but on Pentecost? How could I abandon my Catholicism at such a time?
Incidentally, the new church had changed their schedule for the summer, and I ended up arriving just as service had ended. By that time, it was also too late to attend my regular Catholic service. There was a moment of dismay when I thought I’d miss service altogether that Sunday, and I wondered for a moment if this was a punishment from an Angry Catholic God. But then, I relaxed when I remembered that one Church in town does evening Mass on Sundays. Phew!
I don’t think guilt is a particularly helpful emotion, and I’m disappointed by how often my own religious decisions are tainted by (or motivated by) guilt. But I’m also curious about other perspectives on this. Is Catholic guilt a damaging throwback, or is it a manifestation of our conscience? The result of brainwashing from authorities hoping to hold on to their power, or God’s voice in our hearts? I personally believe it’s the former in both questions — but I have the feeling the institutional church would work hard to convince me it was the latter. And I just might believe them.