The journey to spiritual maturity...
As I wondered about "the" questions, following on from last weeks take, I tried to think of the MANY, MANY, questions about our faith beliefs that I have now and how long have I had them.
Questioning – even as a tot...
It seems to me that I've had them pretty much all my life, even before I could even put them into a sensible sentence. From my childhood I had questions and yet I knew they were unaskable. My religious instruction, from Mercy Nuns, throughout all my years of schooling, gave no quarter to such questioners. Even as a 6-year-old asking a question about who did Cain marry which just made sense since there wasn't anyone else around, I knew from the answer … which didn't exist and wasn't given … that I should never, ever ask such questions.
I didn't know then that these mostly, good women, didn't know the answers themselves or that they didn't dare to ask them themselves. I now pity poor Sr. Magdalena, who wasn't such a nice old girl, that she had to face that question from a child.
The Biblical stories and the tenets of our faith were given to us and we accepted them as they were given. If they aroused any questions in our minds we quashed those questions immediately. Questions were unimportant in the scheme of things, knowing what the Church said was enough. I ALWAYS came first in Religion tests. I knew that green Catechism word-for-word! The numerous contradictions and questions were, to be left alone.
High school years...
In my first year of high school, again with Mercy Nuns, (mostly) good women with good intentions and no teaching qualifications to speak of with the exception of one, and two then three female lay teachers … even then they were starting to have trouble finding enough vocations to fill all they needed … I was a good little Conservative Catholic. I remember vividly when the Mass changed from Latin to English and at school the following day our Religion Class teaching Nun asked who liked the Mass in English, everyone in the class (at least half of whom hadn't even gone) put up their hands except me! Then she asked who didn't and this lonely little hand went up. She called me a "radical" and I asked her what that meant and she told me "it was someone who didn't like change!" Some time later I found out what radical actually did mean and wondered at her ignorance. Now I wonder at her prophetic propensities!
The teenage years post-school – "Did God listen and, if so, why didn't God answer?"...
I did the very common thing of teenagers after I left school, considered all the people in "Church" hypocrites, I knew the sort of people some of them were outside of Church, and stopped attending myself. I often stopped by the Church when it was empty though to commune with God. I knew God was there, in the Church, but through my education I never knew God was anywhere else and I wanted God to know I cared but I wasn't going to associate with the hypocrites on Sunday. As I did my nurses' training I found myself praying for patients who were terminally ill. It always seemed to be the "nice" ones and I'd beg God to make them better. God never did and I started to wonder about why bother to pray at all. Did God listen and, if so, why didn't God answer?
The news this week that Theresa Pirola, (now if there is a name within the lay church that EVERYONE must know it is the Pirolas), has come out and said she has discerned a call to the priesthood. This woman has been preaching the Gospel for years. The front of most of your church bulletins are probably written by her (although now she'll probably find herself a pariah and many churches will stop using her resources). Her parents and her dedication to the Church are legendary. She isn't saying she MUST be ordained but discerning this call means she now has to live with the questions of why she cannot fulfil God's call to her and why would God make such a call on her at a time that she cannot respond as she most certainly would, and has done to other calls God has put on her such as celibacy.
As I thought about all this my eye fell on my bookshelf — the one with all the "religious" books on it — and in particular an old friend "Called to Question" by Joan Chittister. It is called a "Spiritual Memoir". In the prologue of this book Joan tells about the time the questions surfaced for her. She, like me, had had heaps but they had never been asked. After all she was a nun, an obedient and loyal Religious of the Roman Catholic Church. Even as intelligent as she was and is she never asked "the" questions. But this defining day in her life she started to keep a journal and write the questions down.
In light of the Diocese of Newcastle-Maitland's decision to use a bandaid solution to the priest shortage by "importing" foreign priests, even after the majority of feedback from people in the Diocese in the consultation process and the proof from other dioceses of the disaster this often can be, Bishop Malone has decided to go ahead with this plan. I know several of Bishop Malone's close relatives, I also know priests who know Bishop Malone, and I know quiet a few, including Angela from our own forum, who are parishioners in the Diocese. Every single one of them from his relatives, to the priests who know him to the parishioners said he'd never go for it! None of them agreed with it either and they knew he wouldn't. One has to wonder what pressure was put on this good Bishop that he has adopted such a plan. Anyway, this "pericope" from Joan's book seemed to beg the question even more. What can I say Joan, sheesh as if I didn't have enough of my own already!!!
"If there is one thing that we have all been taught to fear, it is surely questions. There are some things, we learn early, that are never to be challenged. They simply are. They are absolute. They come out of a fountain of eternal truth. And they are true because someone else said they are true. So we live with someone else's answers for a long time. Until the answers run dry. I know that because I myself have been caught in the desert of doubt and found the answers to be worse than the questions could ever be." [My emphasis]
She goes on to say:
"Then one day, after years of training in all of the religious certitudes of the time, I ran headlong into a situation that led me to realize that the spiritual life is not at all as clear as the books had led me to believe.
Returning to the faith...
After my teenage rebellion with the Church when I finally did return I was a very "good" Catholic. I'd been a bad one and there were too many of them so we didn't need any more. So, as is my nature, it was boots and all. I continued in this way for some time until one day I had a very similar experience to that which Joan describes whilst amongst a group of "Church" women friends, one of whom was re-iterating what a priest had said in a letter to the Catholic Weekly that weekend. The priest said "that the souls of all the aborted babies were in heaven crying out before the face of God for Vengeance on their mothers" and these women all agreed! I felt sick. These were women I thought I knew, belonged to, and believed the same things as. I remember thinking "hang on … if that's what heaven is then I don't want any part of it." Unfortunately I didn't only think it … I said it. It was then that I knew that priests got things wrong. Imagine being so grown up with a couple of kids and not knowing that before! That was the first time I started to question. I think it was the first time I actually started to "listen" to what was being said and realised how often it didn't speak to "me" and it didn't make sense. It was the gradual start of asking all the questions I had never dared to ask.
So Joan goes on in the book and continues to ask questions. Maybe I'll share some with you another time. Or you could read the book, I'll even lend you my copy if you can't afford to buy one and want to email me with a snail mail address and a promise to return it.
Old Chinese proverb:
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