Back in Boston, I was on the cusp of graduation; I had reached a point, three quarters through the year, when I’d begun asking myself, ‘Am I done? Is there any way I could derail myself?’ I’d spent a goodly amount of time asking myself: ‘Is there any conceivable way I could sabotage myself, or is this the end? Precisely how much effort would it take to nose-dive my academic career?’
The closer the finish line, the more tempting I find it to quit. This is something of a universal axiom as far as I, personally, am concerned. I am a dilettante. I am incurable dabbler. There is almost nothing in the entire world that I feel a lasting passion for; I am in love with falling in love. I am the kind of person who is burning for beginnings, but tepid at middles; I am someone who lets things drift away once my passion for them has left me.
For a long time when I was young, I went to church. Enforced by Mother Landers, from the beginning, there was something illogical about it; after all, Father Landers didn’t go to mass, why should I bother? We were Catholics, but barely. What they call ‘buffet Catholics’; take what you like, and leave the rest. And as the years wore on, I felt more and more distance from the Church experience while feeling at the same time more and more drawn to the abstract theology. Somewhere along the way, I became fascinated with the character of Jesus, with select aspects of the religion.
Just before my sham of a Confirmation1, they brought a theologian into the Confirmation class, and he explained that everything we’d been taught to believe, all the stuff about Heaven being a literal place, and Angels being real and present and interfering constantly with human affairs; all nonsense, all a metaphor, a way of seeing or believing; faith above all, faith above the universe, which was God, and God, who was the universe. The creator was the created; the created the creator.
Now there is some religion I can believe in. I was hell-bent on becoming a Priest or theologian at the time; but soon enough I was confirmed, then I stopped going to Church. And that solved that quite nicely. But before I was confirmed, and before I left the Church, I had a series of dialogues with my parish priest, Father James Scahill, who was delighted that I took an interest in joining the Church, but who wanted to direct me to the parish priesthood, to a vocation that was rapidly dwindling. At the time, I wanted to be a Jesuit.
It was amazing how quickly I fell back into the habit of saying things like ‘we Catholics’. A lot of use of the word ‘us’. Later, I found myself confessing, entirely unprovoked, that I inexplicably felt more drawn to the Church in its time of crisis. It was one of those things, a feeling I hadn’t really been aware of that until I had made the statement. Not that I had made it up on the spot – rather, it was as if I was making spontaneous discovery. I’m not surprised to hear myself identifying much more strongly with my Catholicism – I’ve been thinking much more spiritually in the last year and a half, and also, identifying with elements of my upbringing.
For instance, as I previously related, my mother raised me as a Catholic. It was my father who raised me as a Democrat. I’ve found that when we were at the very height of the primary season and a vicarious sweat was creeping over the nation, brought on by the furious stride of the Democratic primary, I found myself talking about what ‘we’ had to do in November to win it.
The viewpoints offered by Father Scahill found me nodding, agreeing – smiling, at one point, as he related his views on same-sex-marriage – and then again, after he cited a Biblical reference to Simon Peter’s ‘mother-in-law’; meaning Peter, the first Pope was married, an argument for married priests, a little something to shake up the Archdiocese.
There is something in his character reminiscent of the muck-raker tradition; Father James Scahill is not a self-righteous goody-goody. There is something upright about him that despises the stink of hypocrisy instinctively. He speaks of the ‘pay, pray, and obey’ Catholics with something akin to revulsion; he bemoans the lack of parishioners who will speak out as much as laments a crooked, wicked, out of control priesthood.
Moreover, despite the unkindness shown to him by some of his fellow priests, despite the cold shoulder from the Diocese, there is something joyful to the weariness, the joy that comes from giving one’s all for a cause one believes in.
1 By this time I was beginning the inevitable fall away from the Church. My mother urged me on to complete Confirmation before I quit entirely; in her mind, it was my decision to make (whether or not to be a Catholic), after I had Confirmed my Catholic faith, Confirmed the decision my parents had made for me to be Baptised. If you ask me, it was putting the cart before the horse, and I damn well said so, but there is no reasoning with mothers, and besides, she made the compelling point that it was one less hoop to leap through in the event I choose to marry a Catholic; moreover, that not getting Confirmed would break my grandmother’s heart. (By that, she meant my grandmother would never stop rebuking her for letting me fall into sin, which, really, doesn’t make much sense anyway, because my grandmother is an Episcopalian.) Nothing about it makes any sense. But it happened anyway; I was Confirmed by a child-molesting Bishop whom I had never met before.