Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace and cried incessantly: “I am looking for God! I am looking for God!”
As many of those who did not believe in God were standing together there he caused considerable laughter. “Have you lost him then?” said one. “Did he lose his way like a child?” said another. “Or is he hiding? Is he scared of us? Did he emigrate?” They shouted and laughed in this manner. The madman sprang into their midst and pierced them with his look. “Where has God gone?” he cried. “I will tell you. We have killed him — you and I. We are all his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Where is it moving now? Where are we moving now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we perpetually falling? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Aren’t we straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t more and more night coming on all the time? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning? Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we not smell anything yet of God’s putrefaction? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? That which was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet possessed has bled to death under our knives — who will wipe this blood off us? With what water could we purify ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games will we need to invent? Isn’t the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we not ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it?”
“There has never been a greater deed — and whoever shall be born after us, for the sake of this deed he shall be part of a higher history than all the history that came before.” Here the madman fell silent and again regarded his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern to the ground and it shattered and went out. “I come too early,” he said then; “my time hasn’t come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still traveling — it has not yet reached human ears. Lightning and thunder need time, deeds need time after they have been done before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars — and yet we have done it ourselves.”
It has also been related that on that same day the madman entered various churches and there sang a requiem aeternam deo. Led out and told to shut up, he is said to have retorted each time: “What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”
(The Gay Science, Section 125: The Madman, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche)
As I got ready to go out this morning, my early life flashed before my eyes. I thought that was something that happened before people died. You know, like someone is in a car accident or near car accident and right before that crash, there is their life, replaying in fast-forward picturesque-movie mode. They remember all the little people, the big people, the things they wanted to do, the things they wish they’d done differently…there it all is. That happened to me, today. It just didn’t happen as a result of a car accident, or any sort of trauma. Today, it happened in the shower.
For the first time in nearly twenty years, I visited a Catholic mass.
I know this blog has kind of lacked something the last few months…like content. The reason for that is simple: I kind of lost project mojo. I reached out to no less than twenty different places about visiting, and nobody, I repeat, nobody, got back to me. Then I finally found an occultist who at least had the dignity to respond to my inquiry, back in June. I got all ready and showed up, only to be the only one there. I’m not sure what happened, if they cancelled or changed things around, or what, but whatever it was, nobody was there. That made me reach a point where I was rather disgusted with everyone and just decided to take up residence as a temporary hermit. Whenever my mother would make suggestions as to where to visit, it sounded like places we’ve already been. Baptist services are all the same. Presbyterian services are all the same. Lutheran services are all the same. Everything sounded…the same.
Until my mom got a copy of the diocesan newspaper of the parish we used to belong to. When I say “we used to belong to,” I mean we used to belong to it twenty years ago. My mom has sent formal notices and even called the newspaper to state she is no longer a member of that parish, and now, she’s not even a resident of the state, but for some reason, the newspaper keeps coming.
There are obvious things we’ve noticed about the paper. For one, it’s significantly smaller than it used to be. For two, things are constantly closing in that diocese. Churches, schools, parish outreaches, and convents close, literally, by the month. Without getting into a long story, I have learned throughout the years that the diocese we belonged to was labeled a “trouble diocese” due to the bishop who was over it at the time (he has since retired) and many different situations throughout the diocese that were classified as “progressive” in nature. I’m not going to get into the details of that, because it was a very internal battle that one could only truly understand from watching it on the inside. Twenty years ago, the Catholic Church was wedged in between tradition and progress, between change and who it had always been, and the two weren’t reconciling real well. There were fights that got quite ugly, public brawls, newspaper ads, and mess of the like, all from people who didn’t like what was happening and where things were going. And, after looking over what we found in the diocesan paper, I guess we could say I understood where many of those people who were fighting to keep things the same were coming from.
The article we found that caught our attention was one that related to the parish were we attended all those years ago: the entire church was getting a makeover. It wasn’t just a renovation, however. Everything that was staple to being Catholic, to the look, structure, and feel of the church…was now…being removed. Marble and stone was being replaced with wood, they were adding rocking chairs to the back of the church, the altar was being removed, the ceilings were lowered, the candle room was gone, and everything that made it Catholic…was no longer there. They even changed the name of the church, to something that didn’t sound so “Catholic.’
I wondered what was going on. Of course something was going on. Just like when Pope Francis took his position, of course something was going on. After the controversy that was John Paul II and the public relations nightmare that was Benedict XVI, of course they picked someone who was going to convey a fuzzy, public-friendly image. Now it was happening with the buildings. So I said, what’s up with the Catholic Church? And today was the day to find out.
I should probably clarify why I am no longer Catholic…yeah, that would probably be good. It might help the observations of the day make more sense. The problem with this is that explaining why I am no longer Catholic is like explaining why I am no longer a toddler, or why I am no longer in high school. At the same point, those comparisons are a little too simplistic. We could say I outgrew it, but it isn’t that simple. Why anyone leaves a church, particularly the religion of their birth, is never something we can summarize in a single statement. It is a progression within an individual, probably something that started much earlier in time in their lives, that ultimately ends with the realization that what they have adhered to is no longer who they are. That’s a good way to simplify the reason I left the Catholic Church: it wasn’t who I was. I’m not sure it ever was, although it was a huge part of my identity, for a very long time.
The longer answer to why I am no longer Catholic is wrapped up in several different realizations that came to me from different sources as I went along in the late 1990s. To understand where I was coming from, I was born into the Catholic Church, as much as anyone can be born into anything. My mother was a Cradle, Pre-Vatican II Catholic, and my father was a convert to the Catholic Church when my next-in-line older sister made her first Communion. This means he wasn’t officially a member of the church until around the time I was born, which I actually did not realize until I sat down to write this. I never did the math before today, and the realization that my parents were married for so many years and my dad wasn’t technically of the same faith as the rest of us is one to shock me into a strange sense of reality. My experience in the Catholic Church was radically different than that of my sisters, and that of my mother, whose life-long membership was due, in large part, to our ethnicity. To be fair, some of the different experiences were due to the many changes the church had undergone, and is still undergoing, to this day. While my mother heard mass in Latin as a child and had an antisocial priest speak to a wall the whole service, I grew up hearing English masses and singing the same songs, over and over again. I also went to Catholic School for four years, which my siblings and mother did not, and while I, too, was very involved with the parish that I attended, our experiences were very different. My parents separated and later divorced, leaving us at the bottom rung of the Catholic hierarchy. We didn’t have a lot of money, so that meant the parish didn’t have a lot of use for us. Girls weren’t as highly regarded as boys. These were all factors in leaving, but they weren’t the only reason. I can say with certainty that if I believed in the church and its claims, I would have stayed in it, no matter how I was treated. How I was treated, however, is indicative of deeper problems the church has, and those, therefore, are part of the reason.
The more spiritual, and academic side of the issue, relates to what was going on in American Catholicism in the late 1990s and the literal direction realizations pushed me in that I could no longer ignore, or deny. While I learned later that my mom had doubts about the Catholic Church and its claims as “the only true church” for many years, I was nursing my own doubts, only on more of an academic level. It’s not a big secret that Catholicism isn’t the most Biblically-oriented of churches, and back in the 90s, we didn’t pretend to be interested in the Bible. I used to joke that every classroom in my Catholic School junior high had cabinets full of purple-covered paperback Good News Bibles, but we never used them. I knew a little about the Bible, but not anywhere near enough to stand against “Protestants,” as we called them (because everyone who wasn’t Catholic was “Protestant,” or so they were labeled). While studying the book of Isaiah in an Apostolic-Pentecostal setting, I came across Isaiah 2, specifically verses 19-22, which are a direct attack on the use of idols and on the result of what happens to those who will worship and follow the ways of idolatry. I was deeply uncomfortable with the way Catholics behaved around statues by this time, and seeing those words in black and white challenged me in a way that made me uncomfortable. The more I tried to find answers to these questions, the more I did not receive, and the more I came to study about Catholic and Christian history, inclusively, caused me to realize that this wasn’t the church I needed to belong to, for the sake of respect of history and truth. It also didn’t help that being so involved in the parish on an administrative level, attending Catholic School, and being up-close-and-personal with the parish leadership changed my view on all things related to parish participation and function. Things weren’t the way they might have appeared from the outside, and after embroiling in the battle between progressives and traditionalists where I lived, the response and result was either get out or shut up. You’ve read my blogs, so you know shutting up wasn’t going to work. The choice became simple. The results were hard.
I spent many years vacillating, at least internally: first trying to hold on to the identity I’d known, and then trying to abandon it, all together. It didn’t help that after leaving in 1999, I spent many years in churches and among individuals who were anti-Catholic just to be anti-Catholic. They couldn’t have told you the name of the current reigning pope or where there was a Catholic church in their city, but they knew they didn’t like the church. Sad to say, many of them had incorrect information that they were lax to correct, and I always found myself put in the position to feel like an outsider because of my background. I finally found a breakthrough in this area about three years ago, when a woman I barely knew said to me, “Well, I won’t hold it against you that you used to be Catholic.” I didn’t like her and I knew she had a long history of sleeping around, so I replied with, “OK, in that case, I won’t hold it against you that you used to be a whore.” Yeah, I know, probably not the best thing to say, and it did echo the great Cookie Lyon (who I had never even heard about at the time), but she did shut up and never spoke to me again, so mission accomplished. Her response was typical, typical of people who make judgements about a background they can’t identify with, so instead of learning, they shame people, instead.
It is a shame for me to say that was a situation that brought me to an understanding of my background and a reconciliation with it, but it took me fifteen years to get there. Fifteen years of wishing I’d been born as something else or had a different background, all so I wouldn’t feel so judged. Fifteen years of not embracing that, good, bad, or indifferent, that was my background, and it was there for a reason. Fifteen years of trying not to embrace a part of myself. It might not be who I am now, but it is who I once was, and thank God that most of us aren’t who we used to be.
So in setting out today, I wasn’t sure what I was going to find. The Catholic Church claims it is unchanged, an unbroken line, dating all the way back to the Apostle Peter. A simple investigation into history proves this to be completely false, yet it is amazing how many people believe it. I take issue with this kind of a statement, because it is said to verify something, when in actuality, it verifies nothing. It’s ridiculous. If we believe the Holy Spirit to be alive and active, that means God has already provided us with the reality of change, with the reality of adjustment that must come along in each and every generation of the church, right up until Jesus comes back. God did not invent the church to be static, to be “the same,” but to stand for Him in the face of each unique challenge that arises. I think I’d have more regard for Catholicism if they would just fess up and admit they’ve changed, not once or twice, but many times, and are changing, now. Change is not the enemy, but lying certainly can be.
I wasn’t born in the south, nor was I ever Catholic in the south, but that is where I live, now. The city of Raleigh, NC is the seat of the Diocese of Raleigh, which means it is home to the diocesan cathedral, where the bishop of the diocese presides. A diocese could be compared to a regional grouping of churches, all of which are under the oversight of a bishop, who oversees the churches, priests, and parishes in that area. In contrast with Pentecostal or more Baptist-style bishops, Catholic bishops are more involved in ceremonial rites than with day-to-day church involvement. You don’t see the bishop of a diocese very often, unless you attend the cathedral, which is the location of the bishop’s “chair,” a fancy throne-like seat which is considered a sign of the bishop’s installment. I chose the cathedral to visit for two reasons: one, I sort of knew where it was, and I don’t know where another Catholic Church is, down here, and two, I’d heard a lot about this cathedral, because it was new. It was a newly renovated construction, finished in September of this year, which made me curious about the construction. Since it was obvious Catholic churches seem to be getting a makeover, I thought it might be interesting to see how that translated to a southern cathedral.
The structure is grand, to say the least; expensive, a true statement piece, for those who attend, as well as those who drive by. There was almost nowhere to park. People were outside, taking pictures, walking in the church, and from the outside, the church looked immense, huge, and like it was going to seat the equivalent of the PNC Arena.
Inside, it was a different story. The only way I can describe it, is full…but empty.
The church itself was packed. There wasn’t, at least in appearance, a vacant seat in the whole cathedral. It turns out there were many visitors there to see it, because it is still considered somewhat new. But overall, for the way it looked outside, there was a tremendous amount of wasted space: a foyer that had a square footage larger than my entire apartment that was extremely empty, space for a “gift shop,” a small adoration chapel that was equally empty, and huge ceilings with wasted space, that added to the feeling of vastness and emptiness. It felt like being in a mausoleum.
But, it was obvious, it was what they call in fashion an “editorial piece.” The point of its grandeur was to make the statement that there are Catholics in the south, and they are going to have their big, huge church, and everyone is going to notice it. It doesn’t matter how confused it appears or how much God wasn’t in the whole project. They were going to be out, loud, and proud, and everyone was going to notice them.
Yes, I thought, how obnoxious. Then I thought about all the money that was spent on a building. On wasted space on a ceiling that would make it cold in the wintertime. On a building that was totally built, without acoustics in mind. On all the missions that could be sponsored, all the children who could be fed, all the ministries that could thrive. I don’t know a single ministry with a yearly budget that equated their weekly offering totals. And yet, we might not have much, but we still have more than they do.
To say the building was the focus is probably an understatement, because there isn’t a whole lot to say about the service, itself. Portions of the mass were differently worded, including in the creed and the responses. It was impossible to understand the minister who presented the homily (kind of like a sermon, only shorter, and not as cohesive), at all. I don’t believe he natively spoke English, but he also didn’t speak from the platform stand, with a microphone, so nobody in the back could understand him. People sat like they were paying attention, but I was waiting for someone to stop and say that they couldn’t hear him, which nobody did. Catholics aren’t any friendlier than they were twenty years ago. I feel like I could have dropped dead in the back, and everyone would have trampled over me to get to their cars. There was no feeling of reverence, or holiness. Everyone was just sort of there, and the draw to being there wasn’t God, or worship, but the building they all helped construct. They wanted to come and see the Southern Museum of Natural Catholic History.
Part of me thought we needed to wait for a tour guide to walk us through and explain all the displays to us. The statuary in the church was large, lifelike, and most impressive. They had international and historical figures from all over the world, at every walk and step of the sides of the church. Walking down the side aisles, you would find an array of expensive, huge (larger than me, or my mom) full-color, modern statues of saints, such as Michael the Archangel, Katherine Drexel, Theresa of Avila, and even Mother Teresa. It felt like walking past museum displays, complete with small plaques to state who the individuals were, as people took pictures in front of them. There was a time when doing such was considered a huge no, and would have been perceived as irreverent. Yet I suspect that the reason they house such life-like statues is to give a sense of pseudo-fuzziness while trying to echo tradition, and instead of being nice and appropriate to people, they are trying to make the saints of history more lifelike and feel real, like they are really there, walking among the congregants.
In keeping with the museum-like feel of the building, there was not a single book…anywhere…in the entire church. Not a missal, not a Bible, not a hymnal…barely even any paper. There was a small paper leaflet with some songs in it and a church bulletin, but otherwise…there was nary a book to be found in this church that had more money invested in it in a week than most people put down to buy a house. Apparently, while spending all sorts of money on statues and organs and pews, someone forgot to pledge some money for some books. When my mom asked a highly antisocial usher about them (he never once offered to find us a seat, or really anyone, for that matter, so it wasn’t personal), she received three answers: they don’t use them down here, then it was they ordered them and they weren’t here yet, and then it was also that he didn’t even know what they were. That man stood in church, with his usher pin on, and he lied in church. Then he told her if she wanted one, she’d have to go buy it, herself.
It was also notable that there was a general sense of inattentiveness among the attendees. People walked around, freely, came and went in and out, dipped their fingers in the large, white baptismal font in the back of the church (which creeped out the germaphobe in me, who could only think of how disgusting that was), and weren’t real subtle about making noise. This may very well be related to the fact that the cathedral is new and so many people wanted to come and go inside just to see it (not to mention you couldn’t hear what was being said, anyway), but talking during mass was another huge no-no that I recall from my childhood. There were large groups of people talking in rooms in the back of the church, paying no attention to what was going on up front. It felt like any other public building people come to observe, just with a public event going on.
I also picked up on the way that people were dressed…and shouldn’t have been. I recognize that Catholicism is a little more lax on attire than we are over here in Pentecostalism, but I will fully well admit that if some of the people in that church attended service where I preside, they would be sent home until they learned how to dress themselves properly. Don’t come to church dressed like you just mowed the lawn. Put on some clothes that fit. Don’t look like a slob. Don’t look like you are going to the museum for the day. At least over here in Holiness, we do know how to dress before God.
Of course, they did go to a museum of sorts…
What did I learn?
The more things change…the more they stay the same – This old saying rings true for me, in many ways, and it’s one I think of often, in different circumstances. Yes, things change. They always do. Even though the Catholic Church doesn’t want to believe it of itself, it has changed. It is not what it once was, and in its effort to try and change its image (which I will speak on later), it is not ever going to be what it was, once upon a time. Yet as it changes, things within it stay the same. It is different…but at the same time, what was underneath, what has now been revealed, what always will be there…is still the same.
Sing a new song of praise to God – Changes galore, they still sang a song that I remember singing…over and over again…as a kid. I can’t believe in thirty years, they haven’t come up with any new songs. I like the traditional hymns of our churches, but I also really like new songs of praise…and thank God for those words that echo what we see and desire to expound upon in our times.
The Bible is important – I can’t believe I went to a church that tries to insist it is Christian, and the guardian of the Bible, and there is no Bible within its ranks. The Scriptures are important…and if we try to take the Word out of our church, we are eliminating all of the one that are three and united: the Father, the Word, and the Spirit.
Bigger is not always better – We all aspire for bigger churches and ministries today, but it behooves us to step back and realize the original megachurch is, indeed, the Catholic Church. Its history is not simplistic, but reveals to us what happens and what we do when we start to grow far bigger than our capacity. That church might have been a spectacle, but that doesn’t mean it was a house of God.
Old doesn’t mean truth – Just because something claims to be ancient doesn’t mean it is any more truthful than something that is newer, or realized later in time. Satan is old, too, but that doesn’t make him truthful.
My sense is that the Catholic Church desperately wants to change its image. The sexual abuse scandals, different rantings from Protestant and departed Catholics alike, and overall negative media has hurt the church, in more ways than one. But we can’t pretend that changing an image, especially of a church the size of the Catholic Church, can happen without changing the church, itself. Whereas I might change my ministry logo or my domain name, change in the Catholic Church, of any sort, assaults its very identity of being the same. Catholicism is not the same; not since I left, not since I was there, and while yes, I have changed…it has, too.
Yet as I stood in that church and heard the words of Friedrich Nietzsche in my head, once again, I felt those words stir something within me that caused me to remember why they resonated, so many years earlier. I realized that in change, the heart of things stays the same: the coldness, the unfriendliness, the lack of feeling and spiritual presence, the lack of hope and personal interaction that I often wanted, but missed, as a Catholic. The issues the Catholic Church has always had, it still has, and no amount of trying to change its image will make those issues go away. The way the cathedral seemed to swallow up everyone who was there was just a picture of a bigger mire, a bigger spiritual reality that was, and remains, Catholicism. To me, it’s not as simple as debating as to whether or not Catholics are Christians or are saved (although I remember a time when we didn’t want to be identified as Christians). I believe that, throughout history, people have always done the best with what they have known and that yes, I do not believe the entire Catholic Church is gone to or is going to hell, as some might presume. To me, it is about a deeper sense of knowing God; of coming to a place where we know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the promise of His truth, having experienced Him and know that He is true, spiritual things are true, and living them are all things that I never found in the Catholic Church. And I don’t know, in my good conscience, standing in that church today, if I believe anyone today can find it, therein. There might have been a time when what one discovered might have been found in what existed back then, but in the midst of choices we have today, this is where we stand, now, and I don’t know we can truly find a sense of God in a mausoleum.
I remember when it came out that Mother Teresa felt a profound sense of emptiness for nearly forty years of her life, and she confessed, as such, in her diaries. Those writings were never intended to become public, but someone decided to capitalize on her, and published them, after her death, anyway. When I found out about this, I did what most people did: I judged her, too. I thought it was appalling for someone who was such a public figure to expound such feelings about God. Yet, after being in that church today (which contained a statue of her), I couldn’t help but wonder if part of why she felt the way she did was because of the church she was a part of. I have to admire her for sticking through what she knew and upholding it, to the best of her understanding, even in her vast emptiness and loneliness. Still, what she described, felt an awful lot like being in that huge building today, that was full of people, and yet profoundly empty. Now I wonder, who else is there who feels that way, and doesn’t know how to handle it?
Yeah, I have reconciled with my history; and a part of me has a funny feeling, as a nearly 36-year old person, that the history I have finally reconciled to myself is no longer there. The school I attended closed some years back. The parish church I attended has dwindled down in size, and now has been changed and renovated to the point where what I knew no longer exists. The church I attended no longer exists; it has been replaced by something else, that is different, and yet the same, all at once; and all I can say is that I am so grateful that where I once stood is no longer now where I stand.
© 2017 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.