An Open Dear John to the Catholic Church
As we celebrate this very special holiday, and before we ring in another New Year, I would like to make a final peace.
For many years, when queried about my religious affiliation, I have referred to myself as a lapsed, former or recovering Catholic. Often times these qualifiers that I employ to reference our strained relationship are accompanied by a sly smirk or some exaggerated eye rolling; facial markers I use to imply irony, or to add a dash of levity in an attempt to defuse the awkwardness of what in reality is a highly personal and somewhat painful revelation.
Yes. I said painful, CC. Does it surprise you to learn that I am still hurting after our many decades of spiritual estrangement? Well, I confess that I am. Hurting. You have that power. Although that, I expect, comes as no surprise to you at all. You continue with prideful righteousness to wield an intoxicating persuasion. Centuries old. A power that has, for me, a somewhat parental nature. It is special, pervasive and potentially crushing. And, yes, I remain susceptible.
You see, CC, I came to you very young. My nascent, spiritual underpinnings were put in place by you. Through Baptism, Communion, Catechism, and Confirmation you laid the foundation upon which we were to build a relationship. Those impressively weighty stones were laid just so. Their placement specifically arranged to support only one religious structure – yours. The only issue with that? Well let’s be frank, CC. Not the only issue. However – if I may be allowed to respectfully reference 2 Corinthians 12:7 – it was certainly the most noteworthy thorn in the flesh of our developing spiritual relationship. I am referring, of course, to the blossoming of my homosexual nature. In very short order, I came to realize that you would offer no mutually acceptable contingency or alternate blueprint for a spiritual structure that might amicably accommodate a big, holy power like you, and an insecure, lowly mo like me. So, there I was. Spiritually abandoned on your cold, hard, Catholic slab.
And, yes. That hurt. And I confess that often times the lingering pain caused by our ongoing separation made me angry. That anger sometimes even incited me to blame you, or to lash out by speaking ill of you. Specifically, on some occasions, CC, I have even tried to challenge those who continued to successfully remain in your good graces. For that I apologize. To you and to them. I am sorry.
Now, I am finally ready to put my pain and anger aside. I think we both deserve some long overdue closure. But for that kind of healing to take place, I feel like I need to say a fond and definitive farewell. Yes. One last Catholic rite of passage. The passage out.
Before my final leave-taking, however, I want you to know that I will be taking a few things with me when I go. That is to say, I will not be leaving empty-hearted. For example, many of your basic tenants are certainly worth holding on to: don’t kill, don’t lie, treat others as you would like to be treated, etc. Those are definitely some keepers. Also, you taught me much about the benefits of settling one’s soul, the importance of having something to believe in, and philanthropy. Thank you. I want those too. And let’s not forget how you nurtured my appreciation for great art and skilled artisans. No one can deny that you have historically been responsible for – oh, lets see, how do I put this diplomatically – “encouraging” so many of the masters. It’s staggering to think that the world might be without so much breathtaking art, if it had not been for your very zealous “encouragement.” You see there, in spite of my pain and anger I have managed over the years to excavate some of the very precious gems that run in deep marbled veins through those foundational stones that you provided me. I think we should both take pride in the reassuring knowledge that our often tumultuous time together was certainly not without its rewards.
And finally, there is one last thing I will be taking with me. I will be leaving with Jesus.
Now, wait. Before you get all wrathful – and you know how that gets me going – just hear me out. You see, for so long I thought that Jesus belonged to you. Solely. I believed that to be true, because for as long as I can remember you told me that Jesus was yours. My bad. But in my defense, I was young when you and I met and you always claimed your ownership of Jesus with such convincing vehemence. I always assumed that if you and I could not find a way to work things out, I would would have to live without Jesus forever. After all, Jesus was there when I arrived. Nailed-up on that big cross behind your alter. And yes, you would always claim to everyone who came into the house that others had put your Jesus there: the soldiers, the Jews, the Romans, Judas, Caesar, Pontius Pilate, and yada yada yada. But honestly, you are the one who left your Jesus hanging. And my bad again. I did nothing. I never even suggested that we might want to change things up a bit. We could have reclined your Jesus in that big, stone font by the front door. That would have been a refreshing change, not to mention a playful surprise for guests. Or we could have seated your Jesus in the warmth of some stained glass sunlight on one of our countless, glowing window sills. I guess that’s all just holy water under the bridge now. Anyway, there your Jesus hung. Battered and bleeding for a lifetime of Sundays. The son of God. Dead, or nearly so. Empaled. Emaciated. Immovable. Make no mistake, that is your Jesus. Have no fear. Rest assured. That particular Jesus will remain with you.
You see, after being away from you for a while, I began to believe that possibly I could have a Jesus of my own. If so, I knew that I wanted a Jesus somewhat different from yours. I fantasized about a Jesus more open and accepting. A Jesus more cognizant of the true etymological roots of the word Catholic. Catholic: from the Greek word kata ‘with respect to’; and holos ‘the whole’. Kataholos. With respect to the whole – now that would be the Jesus for me, I thought. In addition, I knew that I would prefer a Jesus who was not quite so long suffering. Not a dead or dying Jesus. Not an inert Jesus left out to hang as some sad, lifeless symbol of fear or martyrdom. No, I knew that my dream Jesus would need to be a living and breathing son of God. A Jesus who would endlessly inspire me and others toward joy, hope and connectivity. Also, I dreamed that my perfect Jesus would have a good sense of humor, delight in his imperfections, and enjoy long walks on the beach. I am in Los Angeles after all, and if I am going to spend a lot of time bending Jesus’s ear – and I am – the Pacific’s California coast is the perfect place to walk and talk.
And so, CC, you may or may not be happy to know this, but during our decades of mutual disaffection I did indeed find my Jesus. The very Jesus that I will be taking with me when I leave you once and for all. Understandably, you may not care to hear about this other Jesus or where we met, but I implore you to listen. It’s part of the healing process for me, and Lord only knows how many hours I spent listening to you go on ad infinitum about your savior. So, I think it only fair that you cut me a little preachy slack here.
First, I want you to know that I did not find this Jesus while trolling the internet, or on a street corner, or even in another church. And it was definitely not while I was intentionally seeking out the company of another Jesus. I hope you will find some small, conciliatory comfort in knowing that.
No, I met my son of God in a place and at a moment that caught me wholly off guard. Ironically, it was in the sleep-deprived, delirious days following the birth of my own son. I was standing outside, cradling my newborn child in the soft breeze and dappled sun spatter of early fall. I watched his face as he strained to wake up from yet another nap. And all at once, in the dark pools of an infant’s eyes, Jesus was there. Yes, logically I knew that what I was holding was the result of a laboratory assisted biological process; a cascading division of microscopic cells. In addition, I had not forgotten that my son was the gurgling, suckling and pooping culmination of months and months of bureaucratic and deceptive hoop-jumping. But in his eyes I also saw something unmistakably extraordinary. Beyond, the logic, beyond the biology, beyond the bureaucracy, there it was. The miraculous. What I saw was without question the work of God. And I was holding it in my hands. And as glorious as it was to comprehend that I was actually cradling the son of God, I immediately understood that my son was not remarkable in this way. For reflected in his eyes, was my own distorted visage. And there, in my own dumbstruck image, I recognized the presence again. Jesus.
Like in a bright flash of lightening, so much became clear. You had actually said it. We are all the children of God. I give you credit for that, CC. But, in that moment of revelation. Holding my son. A safe distance from you. Divorced from your archaic and ungodly exclusions. Your words, CC, rang with a new and sacred truth. They made perfect sense. My son, me, my father, and on, and on, and outward, forever. Every child ever born. Every life. Everywhere. Every single one of us – without exception. We. Are. Jesus. All of us. Even Christmas took on a new relevance, because it celebrates the birth of Jesus. A man who symbolizes the universal connection that we all have to each other through the miracle of God’s creation. And you cannot dictate selective connection. You cannot deny that gift. It is inherently ours. And that is certainly worth celebrating.
With all that said, I am ready to take my Jesus and go. And I know that as I walk away, I will hear you rumble about how things can change with you. You will make flimsy protestations about how you are better now than you have ever been. You may even promise that our best years together are still ahead. But let’s be real, CC. You have thousands of years ahead of you to hem and haw, and I have markedly less. And at the end of the day, I want to die in a spiritual house where I am loved, respected and accepted without reservation. When you think you can offer that, send me a Teleflora and we’ll chat.
Finally, if it’s OK with you, the next time someone wants to know about my religious affiliation, I will simply respond – without qualification – that I am Katholic. Yes, with a K. In my verbal response, of course, the slightly altered spelling’s secret nod to the original Greek will go unnoticed by my inquisitor. And that will suit me just fine. But if they question me further about you, CC, I promise that I will do my best to speak of you with respect and kindness.
Goodbye, and God bless.
All my love,