Having been raised a Catholic or as my Grandfather always insisted, a Roman Catholic, it has been a very considered decision that I have come to in choosing not to Christen Bella. One of the biggest misconceptions about me is that having turned my back on religion, I too have turned my back on spirituality. In actuality, I take them both very seriously. For this reason, I can’t in good faith (sorry, couldn’t help it), christen Bella knowing that I wasn’t 100% convinced it was the right path for our family.
In the past couple of days I have found myself thinking about this more and more as the new Pope is elected in Rome. Despite the fact that I no longer intellectually identify as a Catholic, the ceremonious grandeur of the robes and the smoke and St Peter’s Basilica has had me yearning that just like Santa, I still believed. I’ve even had a sudden urge to ring my family and ask them about it.
It’s a hot button topic, I’ll give you that. I too feel the sting of criticism when it’s not coming out of my own mouth when aimed at the Catholic Church. Unfortunately for me my own religious education was entrenched in so many misunderstandings, rules and anxieties about not knowing “the next line” in church that I’m pretty sure I missed the point. Ritual after ritual we were asked to complete, knowing little apart from the fact that we all “loved God”.
And that’s nice in a way because it makes you feel closer with those around you and it’s lovely to be part of an in-group where everyone knows the same language (think Hail Mary). I was even an Alter Girl which was fun I suppose but had to give it away because I couldn’t get my head around when to ring the bell. Especially because I was the type of little girl who wanted to get all these things right, I’ll admit this probably caused more anxiety in me than others. But still…
So about ten years ago, I decided the church wasn’t for me and stopped thinking about it. I got married (civil ceremony) and carried on with my life. But then a funny thing happened. I started coming back and talking with people who identified as being Christian. More and more, this idea attracted me. My husband and I tried a few different churches of different denominations with the main theme being Jesus himself. This appealed to both of us.
Being a Catholic and a Christian can go together…or they cannot. Certainly not all Catholics are Christians and vice versa. When the child sex abuse stories started leaking one after the other and I began talking with people who had been abused in the church, I pretty much closed the door. It’s very difficult for people to hear what I am going to say next because as Catholics you have invested your whole life in this religious belief or practice but I truly believe that the abuse within the church of young people has been systemic and that if the same practices occurred in any other organisation, it would be likened to a cult. This is especially upsetting and sad for the dear Christians who have dedicated their life to the Vatican.
Having this all pretty clear in my mind it surprised me that after having Bella the old beast started raising its head. At one point I actually wondered whether Bella would go to hell if she wasn’t baptized? The Toolman and I started seriously talking about a baptism. Therefore, we were also considering what it would be like to go to Church regularly. And for Bella to attend a religious school. If one thing was made up in our minds, if we were going to do it, we were going to do it. No fair weather Catholics in this house, otherwise what the hell (sorry again) is the point?!
Well the point for many is that the Catholic Primary schools are often the best, have the most opportunity and are notoriously better than their state counterparts. The idea has even been introduced to me that I should just get over it and christen Bella so I can give her a superior education. This really concerned me. Of course I want the best education for her. Maybe we should just do it.
And then Tim said something that hit me sideways. Out of the blue he said, “If Bella isn’t a Catholic, can she go to a Catholic school?” (Bless his hippy socks)!
“Umm, no honey”.
“Doesn’t seem very Christian to me. I don’t want her to go to a school where all kids aren’t allowed to go. Doesn’t seem like a Jesus thing to do” he remarked casually.
I think it’s fair for a group of people who share religious beliefs to want to be educated under the same roof but my husband was making a good point and one I couldn’t ignore. As much as I want to want it for Bella, want her to feel the same as her cousins (because what kid wants to be different?!), and some Italian Roman Catholic part of me wants to put her in her Holy Communion dress, it still doesn’t mean that the Catholic ethos is right for our family.
And most of all I don’t want to be a Catholic simply when it suits me. For some it suits them in the night when they have a chat to God and it suits them at the dinner table when they talk to their family about Him. Or for some, it’s just because they want to be Catholic. Who knows? But we’re not really prepared to do any of that, so lets face it, it would just be about the school.
It needs to be said it has been difficult coming to this conclusion. There’s a psychological idea referred to as cognitive dissonance. Basically, it occurs when you hold two opposing beliefs, values or ideas that oppose each other. Often this is obvious when someone has held a belief all their life and in old age, when they have to face a new idea or reality, they become angry and just continue on with the old idea without examining it.
This is how I often think about religion. I truly want to be part of the group but I can’t put the abuse, the anti-same sex marriage and the dogma to the side to suit my desire to be part of an old tradition for traditions sake. And if Bella ever asked me about all this I’d find it too hard to explain away.
For these reasons, I truly resent it when people just brush my spirituality aside. My relationship with the church is complex and most importantly considered. I’m a Christian but no longer feel Catholic so am not really sure wher to turn? Who knows, I may return to it and sometimes, I even attend (always an Anglican church though) because we are all still searching for something. At the moment, as a family we are watching from afar.
Bella doesn’t mind. Tim doesn’t mind. And I’m convinved neither God and certainly not His Son would turn any of us down at the gates of Heaven. It’s the little Catholic girl in me that’s scared and imagining rows of women yelling Mia Colpa at the shiny gates.
Some habits die very hard.