Recently, I read Barbara Brown Taylor’s Leaving Church, which is a memoir about her journey away from the clergy. When she stopped pastoring her church, she found it hard to go back as a congregant. She wrote this about her experience:
Mother Church had little interest in the things that were interesting me. Her job was to take care of her family. Why should she get into discussions that might cause them to lose confidence in her? Why encourage them to raise questions for which she had no answers? Even more important, why waste valuable time rehashing things that had been settled centuries ago when there was so much to do around the house right now? I understood her reasons, I really did. I was just looking for some way to stay related to her that did not require me to stay a child.
I immediately reached for my page flags and marked the passage. She is writing about the Episcopalian church, but her observation hits even harder for Catholicism.
Perhaps this is to be expected in denominations that require parishioners to refer to their pastors as “Father.” Perhaps that is where this pervasive infantalization of the laity originates.
The first time I returned to Catholic services after I stopped attending regularly, I thought I would feel a sort of nostalgia, or yearning, or even comfort at being in my spiritual “home.” I thought I would feel some ambivalence about my decision to join another church. But I didn’t. Instead, I felt impatient with having to say what I was told, believe only what someone else had instructed me to believe, and listen to a single voice while hundreds of people of diverse ages and experiences and ways of interpreting the world remained silent in their pews.
I wish I could still feel a part of something sacred when I return to my spiritual home, but instead I feel phony and constrained. Now that I attend a church where a little bit of questioning or doubt or anger or irreverence are welcomed as part of the religious experience, I’m not willing give up that sense of wholeness and independence.
Catholicism still makes me want to scream, “I am a grown-up, and you can’t tell me what to do anymore!” like some sort of belligerent teenager.
Except … I am not a belligerent teenager. I am an actual adult. And if I can go to war, pay my mortgage, vote, get married, have a baby, and hold down a job,
Why can’t I make my own choices about birth control?
Why can’t I make my own choices about how to express my sexuality?
Why can’t I decide for myself what resonates as true from the Bible, or from Church teaching, and what is just cultural baggage?
I’m a big girl now, but my Church experience has hardly changed since the day I received my first communion — except that as soon as I hit the double digits, the anger started, and it never went away.
When I was a child, I was the one among my sisters who never wanted to leave home. As a little girl, I told my mom that when I got married I would bring my husband and my kids to live in her house. (I’m sure both my mom and my husband are relieved this didn’t happen.)
For much longer, I thought I would never leave the Church, either. And although my grandma’s rosary still hangs above my bed, I’ve also come to a point when I had to move on.
Much to everyone’s surprise — including my own — I was the only one of my sisters who never moved back home after leaving for college. I liked freedom. And I liked being an adult.
I love to visit my parents’ home, which is the house of my childhood, but I don’t want to live there again. My parents did their job well in raising me, so that I now prefer to take care of myself.
This is what good parents do. They let their children grow up.
Perhaps if the Catholic church ever learns to let go, I will find a way to go home.