|St. Stephens Catholic Church|
Yesterday, I attended Mass at St. Stephen's Catholic Church, up on SE 41st and Taylor, with my sister, Chae. (This is a year of great faith for me, apparently, seeing as I have now attended Mass twice in one year!) The priest is a man of Asian descent, Father Petrus. His sermon included two anecdotes, one humorous and one exemplary, both of which I enjoyed. He and the deacon were friendly and welcoming.
This was the first Mass I have attended at St. Stephen's church. Mostly, I attend the St. Philip-Neri Catholic Church down on Division Street (when I attend at all). The congregation at St. Stephen was older and not nearly as numerous as that of St. Philip-Neri. The church itself was spectacular, with its stained glass windows depicting various biblical scenes, and its vividly-sculpted (but not overly gruesome) Stations of the Cross.
In truth, although I am not a member of the Church, never having been baptized, I long to be a part of it. I find the ritual and tradition associated with the Church to be beautiful. I believe the Church can serve (has, in fact, served) as a vehicle to improve the lot of humanity. I yearn for a way to express the brotherhood I feel and the love I have (or wish to have, anyway) toward mankind. And, then, there is that my father, on his death bed, expressed his wish that I be baptized.
During the Mass, one of the congregation, a tiny, prim, elderly woman with her head bent down between her shoulders, and her chin only just reaching the top of the lectern, led us in a prayer for the priests of the Church. Of course, that got me to thinking...
The Catholic Church is currently enduring some (much-deserved) criticism. Over the years, for the last several decades, pedophiles have penetrated the priesthood and have sexually abused children within the Catholic flock. But, of course, pedophiles are everywhere in our society and there is no reason to expect that they would not be in the Catholic clergy any less than anywhere else. The issue that Catholics and others find most egregious is that there seems to have been a cover-up of this activity by the Church hierarchy, extending all the way up to the Vatican. Indeed, even the Holy Father is implicated in the cover-up.
The scandal is grievous. But there is no question that the Church will survive it. After all, the Catholic Church is the largest single institution in all of humanity, as measured by the number of people that claim membership. The Church has been shaped by some of the greatest minds that mankind has produced: Thomas Aquinas, Michelangelo, Pope John Paul II, and many others.
On the other hand, the Catholic Church is guilty of egregious sins. The pedophilia cover-up is not even the worst. How about the Inquisition? How about the slaughter and enslavement of indigenous Americans? Or how about the systematic murder of pagans in the early days?
Further, I am uncomfortable with many aspects of the Catholic creed.
I am uneasy with the concept of so much power resting in the hands of a single man (the Pope). As today's headlines so often remind us, any man can fall. Check that --rather, every man will fall. And the process by which a pope is selected is highly-political, which will make wary any but the most blind of zealots. So, why should so many people ever accept as "infallible" the words of a man, any man, who is capable of sin and who has attained his position as leader of the Church through political maneuvering?
Then also, I have doubts about my own motives. I can't say that I believe in the Virgin Birth, nor that Christ died for my sins, nor that He was anymore the Son of God than anyone else. Can I truly be a Catholic without believing these things? Must I will myself to believe them before I become baptized? And, if so, how do I do that? Do I simply accept them as true? I'm not sure that is within my ability.
I've appealed to the clergy for help with these questions, but the priest seemed impatient with my queries. (I don't blame him. Priests have a lot of demands on their time.) So, this time, I thought I'd appeal to the laity. Are there any Catholics out there who have wrestled with similar questions? How did you deal with them? How do you reconcile your misgivings and your doubts?
In all sincerity, I'm asking.