Tuesday, October 15

Why a ‘good Catholic girl’ lost her faith


Why a ‘good Catholic girl’ lost her faith

Roxane Marquez

When I was about 8 years old, Catholicism was a very special
part of my life. Each Sunday my mother would load my sister Raquel
and me into her brown Audi 5000 and whisk us away to the St.
Felicitas and Perpetua Church in San Marino. The incense, candles,
organ music and stained-glass windows continually held my
attention. Toward the end of each Mass, my mother would instruct us
to "wait here" while she would get in line to partake in the bread
and wine. Once, when we were driving home, I asked my mother why I
couldn’t go with her. "You will, once you make your First Holy
Communion," she told me.

"Is that when the girls and boys dress up like they’re going to
get married?" I asked.

"Yes."

"I’ll get to do that?"

"Yes. Next year. First you have to go to catechism classes to
learn about the church."

And so for months I looked forward to my First Holy Communion. I
didn’t even pay attention to what the elderly nun said in catechism
class. All I thought about was that snow-white dress I would get to
wear and the shimmery veil and fake pearl tiara I would place on my
head.

"A long dress, please, mommy! I want to look like a real bride,"
I pleaded to my mother when she finally took us shopping for our
communion outfits. We had the option of wearing long or short
dresses and most of the girls I knew were getting short ones,
including Raquel.

Two weeks later, I walked up the long aisle of the church, the
white satin of my dress softly brushing the marble floor. It was a
sunny day. Light streamed through the stained-glass windows,
casting colorful spots on our dresses that made us look like little
Harlequins.

I approached the grey-haired priest. "The body of Christ," he
said.

Not really knowing what he was talking about, I responded "Amen"
as I had been instructed. I opened my mouth and he placed a little
bland wafer on my tongue. Then a younger priest to his left held a
gold chalice to my lips and whispered, "Just a little." The wine
struck my tongue with a zing.

After the elaborate ritual was over, I walked outside into the
sunshine to meet my relatives. Even my extended family had attended
and they were all smiling.

"Mija!" It was my grandmother calling me. She ran up to me,
overjoyed and practically in tears. "Sit on your father’s lap, I
want to take a picture," she instructed.

I did. When I think back on it, I can see from her eyes what she
must have been thinking. My father, who was once an altar boy but
now never went to church, displayed a disgusted countenance when my
grandmother reiterated various church sermons. When it mattered to
her most, however, he had come through for her. He would still
"Vaya con Dios" ("Go with God"). That picture is her proof.

* * *

Ten years later, I found my communion dress hanging in the
hallway closet, the one in which my mother stores things no one
really needs but that she doesn’t have the heart to throw out. When
I saw it, I felt nothing.

It took me many agonizing years to get to that point. For much
of my life, Catholicism was the one bond that held our politically
charged family together. Some of us might have been liberals or
conservatives, outspoken or silent, educated or apathetic, but to
one degree or another, we were all Catholics. The kids all received
their First Holy Communion, knew what a confessional was, could say
the Hail Mary backwards and forwards and the women all owned
rosaries.

But with some members of my family, it didn’t last forever, and
that included me. And I know that some of my relatives believe that
my mother is to blame, since once I reached high school, she made
going to Mass a voluntary thing. "I don’t want you to go because
you have to," she’d explained to me. "I want you to go because it’s
what you really believe."

And subsequently, I began to lose my faith. First I learned of
the Inquisition and other medieval horrors instigated by the
Catholic church. I learned of current dictatorial regimes around
the world that much of the church, especially the higher-ups,
supported … or at least didn’t vehemently oppose.

And then there was the controversy that erupted in my hometown
over Father Junipero Serra. He administered the building of the San
Gabriel Mission and converted thousands of "Indians" to
Catholicism. And now the church was considering making him a
saint.

What they didn’t mention was that he’d shattered the native
culture, practically enslaving the native people in order to get
those adobe bricks properly baked and assembled. "But in the end,"
the priests would explain, "Father Serra gave the Indians
salvation."

Salvation. Hmph. That was always the sacred end that justified
the suffering that the church told its parishioners was just a
"fact of life." During Saturday Confessional or Sunday Mass, images
of suffering ­ and in particular, images of martyrdom ­
abounded.

The message was clear. Look at the altar during Mass: there was
Jesus on the cross, suffering. Look at the little altar set aside
for la Virgen. She suffered. If even the most revered people in the
existence of the world (according to the church) had to suffer, how
can anyone avoid it? But if you just do what the church says,
you’ll suffer the least.

Well, in 1988, my little cha-cha friend Rosemary did what the
church said. Now, she’s suffering. She became pregnant. The church
certainly didn’t tell her to have sex, but they adamantly opposed
(and continue to oppose) birth control.

And so when we were freshmen, Rosemary and her boyfriend didn’t
use any protection because "he didn’t like to." And besides, in
church they said it was "wrong" and "unnatural."

Not natural? That wasn’t the first time I’d hear that one.

Homosexuality, according to the church, isn’t "natural" either.
Tell that to my gay Uncle Leo, who accompanied my sister and I to
church throughout junior high and high school. To the church, it
didn’t matter how much time, energy and loyalty he displayed ­
or how much money he contributed. Homosexuality wasn’t "natural"
and he wasn’t wanted. Period.

So much for a loving church. In fact, the only love the church
ever seemed to advocate was love for the church. The church
stressed respect for their authority and, above all, obedience to
it. And because men officially run the church, the silent but very
well understood message conveyed is that women must ultimately
defer authority to men.

Make no mistake about it. It is this emphasis on patriarchy
­ mandated from an institution that Catholics are taught to
view as infallible ­ that factored heavily in the degree of
physical and mental abuse my grandmother endured from her husband,
abuse that lasted for decades. It contributed to the sick rationale
my former boyfriend used to keep me on my toes and himself in the
driver’s seat.

And believe it or not, it is the subconscious reasoning why the
women in my family still wait hand and foot on the male members of
my family during Christmas and summer get-togethers. They’ll rush
to get the men a bottle of Corona and a plate of tamales, hurry to
serve the niños tortillas, rice and beans … and then serve
themselves whatever is leftover.

Well, to hell with all of that. Unlike my father, I just can’t
come through for my family in this area anymore. Maybe it’s because
as a woman, I have more to lose.

Regardless, I see now why my father couldn’t accompany us to
Mass when I was a child. It’s because incense, stained glass,
rosary beads, statues of la Virgen de Guadalupe and Christ bleeding
on the cross … they only go so far. Their ritual value diminishes
quickly in the face of real life consequences.

* * *

"Bless me father, for I have sinned."

I was 19 years old. I couldn’t believe I was here after so many
years.

"How long has it been since your last confession?" he asked
me.

"Um … about three or four years, I can’t remember," I
answered. I was thinking of other things anyway, like how it was
really uncomfortable kneeling like this.

"Three or four ­ why has it been so long?" Judging from his
tone of voice, the priest was clearly exasperated.

I frowned. What was I supposed to say? That I had almost no
respect for his institution anymore? That the idea of confessing my
"sins" to a screen seemed ridiculous? That the only reasons I was
here at all was to appease my ridiculous boyfriend and his even
more ridiculous mother, to assure them that despite my "radical"
ways, I really was a good girl inside? O-kay …

"Hmm," I began. "Well, I guess I’ve had a religious crisis and
now I’m back."

That seemed to satisfy him. He asked me, in grandiose words, to
spill the beans on my private life of the last four years.

I didn’t know what to say. That I’ve been smoking? Drinking?
Swearing? Fornicating? Rebelling? None of these were a sin to me. I
wasn’t sorry. And I didn’t think this was any of his business
again.

"Well, child?"

I stood up. "I have to go now," I said as I darted out the door
of the confessional booth. As I walked down the main aisle toward
the door, I saw the statue of la Virgen and the tiny lit candles at
her feet. We had nothing in common.

Marquez, the Viewpoint assistant editor, is a fourth-year
student majoring in history and English/American studies. Her
column appears on alternate Thursdays.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on Google+Share on Reddit

Comments are supposed to create a forum for thoughtful, respectful community discussion. Please be nice. View our full comments policy here.