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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My attitude toward "the church"

I’m a lousy Catholic.

Two of my kids are celebrating three sacraments this year and I’ve got MAJOR attitude about the institution known as the Roman Catholic Church. Oh how I wish I felt otherwise. Would certainly make encouraging my kids in the sacramental preparation a whole lot easier.

If I thought I had my negative feelings under control, I was sorely mistaken. Just returned from enrolling my children in PSR (known as Parish School of Religion) formerly CCD. The moment I pulled into the church parking lot, Chip, my old friend, appeared on my shoulder.

My whole body tensed and I began silently muttering all the distasteful things about “the church.” First of all I was pissed off about the cost of PSR. Last year it was only $90 for three children; this year is was $190 for three children. No letter of explanation for the $100 increase. Could you imagine the gas company raising rates by $100 without explanation?

I was preparing for the response: “It was in the church bulletin,” which I would then read to mean: “If you and your family would care to attend church regularly, you’d be in the loop with such information.”

Recess at the day school was in session as I walked into the administration building and a couple of kids bumped into me, clearly oblivious to my presence. “The Catholic Schools are known for order and discipline. Puh-leeze,” I think to myself. “There’s another bill of goods I was sold in 1998.

When I walk into the office no one is present. “He-llo-oh?” I say, with a note of impatience.

A woman appears, apologizing for not having heard the door. I tell her I have a PSR registration (nevermind that it’s horribly late and last night was the parent meeting, which I did not attend).

“Can you tell me why the cost of PSR went up $100 for three children this year?” I ask, again with irritability in my tone.

She cannot and suggests I talk to Judy in the upstairs office.

So I march upstairs to see Judy, who is your typical church office worker with a very pleasant disposition and engaging smile. But I am not to be deterred. I’m irritated and I’d like her and everyone else within hearing distance to know this.

She tells me that I should talk with the head of PSR, a woman I know quite well. When I ask, she tells me that the parish had under-funded PSR for the past eight years! D’oh! The Catholic Church misappropriating money is almost a cliché. I think (but fortunately have the restraint not to express) that perhaps part of the problem is the diocesan CFO was using the weekly collection as his personal savings account.

The director gives me the breakdown on costs ($5 per class for teachers, textbooks) and then tells me that the cost breaks down to $2 and some change per week, much less than most folks pay for babysitting, only they get the Lord, too.

I’m still irritated.

“You need to let parents know the reason for such a jump in tuition,” I say.

Remarkable, she says with wide eyes, I’m the only parent to have complained. I’m shocked and I realize as I’m walking back to my car that I’ve got to get past my anger at “the church,” specifically my church.

I feel let down, cheated and fooled by the experience of the day school. Never once did anyone bother to ask why we were pulling our children from that bastion of academic mediocrity. Had they bothered, I’d have been glad to share the story. But apparently, we weren’t valued enough.

And that has me pissed off at “the church.”

I vented in a parish survey last summer. Apparently, my wording was strong enough to get the attention of the development director, who asked to meet with me. I did and told her I’d be glad to do more than complain, that I’d be willing to take action to make things better.

But I was told our pastor didn’t want to hear people’s complaints, he wanted to focus on making things better. That’s fine and dandy, but you’ve got people who can’t get past certain things because they’ve never been sufficiently aired.

And so we fester in our indignation and we find ourselves pulling farther and farther away from “the church” and we point to all its mistakes as evidence of our righteousness. “See! See! I told you they are bunch of buffoons who don’t know their head from a hole in the ground.”

But the only person it hurts is me. Because I can’t sit there on Sundays and feel any sense of peace or contentment in my faith. I’m filled with all the negative feelings about “the church” that have nothing — and yet everything — to do with my faith. “Hypocrites!” I think to myself and my anger overwhelms me nearly to tears.

I used to be so confident in my faith, but my distrust of the motives and inner workings of "the church" has rocked my faith. I know there are people from my church who occasionally read this blog. I hope for your sake that things are better there. Not everyone is treated equal in the eyes of “the church” and I find that clashes with my notions of what it means to be Catholic.

I called my friend to tell her that I'm afraid I won't be able to raise my boys with the same Catholic goodness that my parents raised me. She said maybe it's more important that we just raise good kids. Maybe...

She suggested we try another church, ironically closer than our current parish. It doesn’t have a PSR program, so we still have to engage with this church.

But we’re going to give it a try. Maybe that’s the answer to reconnecting with “the church.” Sacramental years have always been very nurturing spiritually for me. Maybe I’m just feeling badly for myself because that sense of spirituality is missing from my life right now.

I miss it and at this point I'm willing to go elsewhere to find it.


Jill said...

Well, first of all, I think we need a club comprised of people who've been told that they're the only one who's complained (you know I'd be a member).

Second, you know how I feel about anger - I think it can be a great motivator, if you don't get stuck in it.

Like my Rabbi told me when I told him that I thought my ambivalence disqualified me from being able to lead anyone in a synagogue toward anything: just by asking the questions, you show your strength and faith. You don't want to give up, you want to find a way. They're just not making it very easy on you.

But maybe that's how it's supposed to be?

Lobo said...

Changing churches is one way to deal with your frustrations. I admire that you are a writer and seem to be successful. It doesn't mean you won't find people at the next church with limited competencies or who don't communicate with you like you want. Lots of announcements are made in church bullitens and not announced aloud in church (one of my pet peves). It's not misappropriation of funds - you got a break in price from what it really cost for the last few years. It just feels like a rip off since you did not know beforehand.

Your children will get an appreciation of the church, spirituality and the sacraments from your and your husband's opinion and comments about them even if others teach them the facts. How you plug in to the church and what it has to offer helps your kids feel the energy you find. If you don't find it, they can't see what's there so much. Good luck - give it another try - check the bullieten on the web if that is more convenient for you - call someone who you can talk to for updated info - you're a writer - you know how to reserach and ask questions - start asking - we all can't read your mind - God does but he doesn't always tell us.


P. said...

From what you write, unresponsiveness must be endemic in parishes with schools. I hear the same complaints about a big East Side church, too. But they tend to come from women on the fringes of the social core of the church, and -- this is an institutional thing, not necessarily a Catholic thing -- nothing much is likely to happen.
You did what you needed to in choosing another parish, and I bet PSR would be the same whereever you go.
Now, I don't mean to offend with this observation, because it reflects an unchurched person's lack of understanding, but for all the anger I hear, I seldom hear of families taking the logical step of moving to an Episcopal or Lutheran parish. They call them Protestants for a reason, after all. Why not?

Wendy Hoke said...

Thanks for the comments. This was really about my anger at myself for not being able to let certain things go. It's more about my own failings as a good Catholic and how I feel like crap when I go there. Not exactly the response you'd like to have at church.

Perhaps in my hurried and angered state yesterday I did not effectively communicate that this was primarily about my disappoint in myself.

As far as switching faiths, there are a whole mess of problems related to that. It's not my faith I have problems with, it's the institution of the church that raises my ire.