Last weekend, my husband suggested that we try a Catholic Church in our neighborhood that we’d never been to before. Although we’ve both enjoyed attending a UCC Church for the past few months, I wondered how long it would be before one of us began feeling “homesick” for Catholicism (we started going to the UCC Church regularly with the new translation of the Mass).
At the “new Church,” we were treated to a homily on “What the Church says about homosexuality.” (You, too, can be treated to the convoluted homily here. It’s fascinating to hear the priest compare GLBTQ people to pedophiles at least twice while saying that we still must treat homosexuals with “respect.”) To his credit, he DID remember BOTH sides of the Catholic teaching, which is that homosexual people must be treated with compassion and respect, although I’ve never been able to figure out how lobbying to take away their rights is compassionate or respectful (and no, it’s NOT for “their own good” — these are grown-ups we’re talking about, people, who certainly don’t need US making or enforcing rules for them.) (As another aside, our own Phillip Clark speaks to this duality with MUCH more eloquence than this priest does; make sure to watch for his essay about it in the upcoming book, Hungering and Thirsting for Justice, due out in September.)
No matter how many times I’ve heard the rhetoric about the “Church’s stance,” it just won’t roll off my back. I felt my disappointment and anger mount throughout the sermon, and I thought, “Well, we’ll never come back to THIS church.”
As soon as the sermon ended, my husband leaned close to me and whispered, “When do you want to leave?”
I was taken aback. Despite the fact that my mom often “threatens” to leave if a priest says this thing or that thing, she’s never actually done it. In our family, you didn’t leave church early — you ranted about it afterwards instead. So I said, “I just thought we’d stay until the end and not come back.”
He said, “I assumed that you’d want to leave.”
I waited a couple minutes, digesting all this. Then I said, “Do you mean it? Would you really leave with me?”
He said, “There are exceptions to every rule.” [a reference to the fact that both of us agree it’s not OK to leave church before the final song is finished.]
As we left the church and emerged into the sunny, still parking lot, I had a much different feeling in my heart than I usually experience after these types of services. Usually I felt anger, disappointment, and ultimately, despair that this divisive, unloving message was STILL being embraced by religious leaders. But last Sunday, I felt a sense of freedom. I really COULD leave. And stronger than that, I felt gratitude.
I felt grateful that God had blessed me with someone who was willing to stand up and leave with me, despite a bit of self-conscious discomfort, despite a few dirty looks. I thought, That’s what love really is — a willingness to walk with someone, yes — even if that means walking out with them.
Ultimately, I think the fact that I could leave that service without feeling totally charged with negative energy far outweighed any “Catholic guilt” I may have harbored in my subconscious about leaving before the Eucharist. I think the absence of that negative energy does a lot more good for the world than fulfilling my duty to stay till the end of service, no matter what the cost to my psyche or my relationship with Catholicism.
Luckily, my husband isn’t the only one who reminds me I’m not alone. This blog and this community of progressive, thoughtful Catholics does, too. So do posts like this one, from an eloquent Evangelical who is fed up with the unholy union between Christianity and Bigotry. I definitely recommend reading it, especially if you listened to the earlier podcast and need to neutralize the sour taste it left in your soul.