Pope Francis is TIME's Person of the Year: One Rusty Catholic's Thoughts
[Editor's Note: TIME Magazine named Pope Francis its 2013 Person of the Year for his message of compassion and healing in the church. Here's a letter that sums up one blogger's complicated relationship to the Catholic church and how Pope Francis might just be a step in the right direction. --Grace]
Hey there Pope Francis,
I'm not sure how I'm supposed to address you, so forgive the informality. It's been quite a while since I Catholicked. I'm a bit rusty on the when-to-kneel part right now.
But that's what I wanted to talk to you about. See, I lived in a Catholic-laden town, was born and raised Catholic, got all my sacraments, and even did my first year of undergrad at an all-girls Catholic college.
When you're a kid, you don't know any better, you know? You trust the adults around you. You believe what they say because they know things. And they say those things with authority. And you love and respect them.
So that God and Jesus existing as these beacons of light and life was just a given as a concept. I couldn't imagine a world without that.
One day, walking through that Catholic campus, I looked up at the chapel, and I didn't feel God anymore. I know that sounds silly, but pretend this image of Him was like a blanket covering me in my youth, and suddenly, for no discernible reason, it disappeared. I was pretty pissed. It felt like abandonment, in an equally silly way. But I carried on. I started doing some research, asking some questions, poking some holes. I ended up switching colleges and majoring in evolutionary biology. (Yeah, you heard me.)
There were several times I tried to go back. When life felt too hard, or something was lacking. I held onto the hope that God may yet return. I went back to church a few times and didn't find Him. I worked for the Church, and found the opposite of Him there. In the Church's infrastructure lies a great evil, a bullying, narcissistic, abusive presence. Literally the opposite of all the Jesusy things I'd been led to believe as a young girl. It was heartbreaking.
That's not to say there wasn't some good, there. Our Archbishop was an incredibly kind and gentle man and the former bishop of the area nearby was perhaps the most compassionate man I've ever met. There were priests fighting for families, immigrants, the poor. There was love and happiness. But the good up top was manipulated by middle management, and the good below was stifled by that same middle management.
I began to think I hated the Church, it's manipulation, it's trickery. I moved far to the left, supporting abortion rights, birth control, gay marriage, human rights. (And I will continue to do so, regardless of all else).
But it wasn't that I was against the Church. It was that I was for goodness. Goodness as I understand it. Goodness as charity without strings, goodness as kindness without judgement, goodness as unconditional love and compassion for all people.
I didn't believe goodness was some guy in a ridiculous hat and robe, riding around in a "Popemobile." I still don't.
But you don't even use the Popemobile!
I used to say my kids didn't know who God was. And they didn't. They went four years of their lives never hearing his name. Because I wasn't going to do that to them. I don't know anything about this stuff, and I wasn't about to mess them up by telling them the wrong thing, leading them the wrong way. Slowly this year, we've introduced some of the old bible stories. When they ask if God is real, I tell them He's a story that some people believe. When they ask me if I believe it, I say I don't really know. They still don't know about Jesus.
I got them baptized, "just in case." Because, you know, the Church has some scary-ass stories, like Original Sin, and I didn't want my preemies burning in hell just because I didn't symbolically wash away that sin. Which is ridiculous. These are the ridiculous things, you know what I mean? Well, those things, and the scandals, the sex, the money, the generally bad apples that can get to the top (in life as well as in the Church, it's across the board).
Anyway, the point of this ramble is that kids believe in things because they like and trust the adults telling them those things. I haven't liked or trusted the Church in a long time. But maybe it's not cynicism, maybe it's hidden hope.
It's too early to say yet, but you seem to be doing a lot of things I can get behind. Not as a believer, but simply as a human being. You seem to understand religion's place in the world today, and you seem to understand the goodness at the heart of all the dogma.
I mean, this is some yes, we can shit right here, am I right?
Suffice to say, if we ended up at the same party, I think we'd get along just dandy. I mean, you are lacking in hugely important areas to me (mainly that women are actually equal human beings), but I understand we can't just change everything all at once. We'll just steer clear of talking about my vagina. I'm pretty sure you'd agree to that, anyway.
I wrote a Facebook status saying that if you were actually for real, I might consider going back. Because if Catholicism is going to do goodness and kindness right, I can get behind that. I can teach my kids that. I can give them a framework that may well be a story, but at least not worry that I'm telling them to trust corruption and 'sin' masquerading as truth and goodness.
As a friend of mine said, in reply to my status: "If we were doing Christianity right it would be irresistible. Because, truthfully, Christianity is sexy, dangerous, challenging, and bad ass."
That's the Christianity I want to be a part of.
In essence, perhaps it's not so much that I'm a non-believer, that I hate Catholicism, or anything like that. I thought I would side-eye the Church for the rest of my life, no matter what they did. But now, in just a few months, I'm tilting my head rather than squinting. Perhaps I just needed to be shown a little bit of hope, a little bit of humanity. Perhaps I wanted to belong all along, and needed just the slightest sign that you all were at least trying.
I'm not going back yet, and I can't say I ever will. But I am paying attention. And I'm starting to give you (you the Pope, not you the Church. That will take much longer) the benefit of the doubt. Which I never thought would happen. I'm starting to smile a little when I see your picture. I'm starting to allow you to represent the Christian ideals I thought were at play when I was a very little girl. Those ideals that I soon found were nowhere in the Church at all. I'm starting to hold out hope that one man can make an institutional change.
Basically what I'm saying is, you've got the potential to bring a lot of people on board. If not as true believers, as helpers to the cause of goodness.
It's goodness we need, and goodness we're after, regardless of what God, if any, you believe it.
Please do not fuck this up. You're giving yourself an awfully big task, but you're also making people believe you might possibly be able to do it. And if not do it, at least try without falling to dogma, pressure or wealth of station.
I don't want to be crushed again. I don't want to have played the fool. Twice, after all, is shame on me.
So, Pope Francis. Go. Do it. For all of us. Make it happen. Good luck.
PS: I hear you have the direct line to God, or something. Tell Him "hi" for me. And Merry Christmas (or Happy Holidays, whichever you prefer).