Last weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the annual CTA conference. Although it was my second year there, this year resonated with me on a much deeper level. Perhaps it was because I shared the experience with my best friend, or because it wasn’t so hard to find others who looked within 10 years of my own age (THANK YOU, CTA 20/30, for your work in making that happen!). Or maybe it was just that, in the two years since I’d last been, I’d allowed myself to get numb again inside, to forget how much my soul needs this.
During the closing Mass on Sunday, this thought went through my mind: “It’s like being at a UU Church, except it’s Catholic.” See, I’ve been attending a Unitarian Universalist Church on a fairly regular basis, maybe once or twice a month. The other Sundays I go to Catholic services. I have to admit that I feel more at ease at the UU services, even though it isn’t the faith tradition I grew up with. It also isn’t a faith tradition that urges me to forget who I am at the door–that I’m a woman, and bisexual, and young, and single, and a questioner, all things that the institutional church doesn’t seem to want to deal with. I feel as if I can really worship with my whole self there . . . except for with the part of me that still needs Catholicism, that hungers for the Eucharist and the structure and the touching of hands with the sign of peace. But to go to Catholic services, I must also be a little bit numb, tuck away the part of me that has been hurting since I was 10 and was told that it was “impossible” for a woman to ever represent Jesus the way a man could. Because if it’s impossible for us to be Christ to one another, what good are we at all?
And yet, at the conference, I didn’t leave a single part of myself at the door. It’s one of the few places in the world that every part of who I am is really okay, one of the few places where I really get a taste of the inclusiveness of God’s love. And it makes me weep. That’s when I know that the words, the message, the stories, the sacraments, really do mean something. And when that realization penetrates me, I can’t keep it together. I’ve cried through a couple UU services and at every CTA Mass I’ve attended. These tears of joy, of relief, of gratitude — of knowing that the Gospel message, that Jesus’ message, really are true — rarely make an appearance at traditional Catholic services.
And so, in comparison, these services can feel cold, impersonal, and mechanical. Of course, this is a result of the numbness I must invoke to get past the cognitive dissonance of continuing to stay in a faith that doesn’t always embrace the values of equality and justice and inclusiveness that I try to live the rest of my life by. I have to be numb to certain parts of myself to feed the part of myself that still longs for Catholicism. But gatherings like the one last weekend, rare though they are, serve as reminders that God doesn’t want me to forget who I was created to be. And although returning to traditional services will be hard, I’ll go with the hope that I can carry within me the love and acceptance I might not always find when I walk through the door, that I will remember that Church is not something I do or somewhere I go, but something I am.