Mother of the Lapsed

Sometimes it is hard to be _______________________.

Take a moment to fill in the blank. We all have something that fits.

For me, sometimes it is hard to be Catholic.

Growing up, we have all been told stories of heroes with an all or nothing mentality. Whether those heroes were Catholic saints who fought for their faith, persons from our own American History who strove for freedom and equality, superheroes from comic books, our grandparents, you name it - we all had our idols growing up. These idols did whatever it took to achieve their goal or to be a part of something greater than themselves. It is no wonder then, that upon achieving adulthood, we are often disappointed in our own accomplishments. We look at our shortcomings, preferences, flaws and mistakes and allow these things to tarnish who we are and what we strive to be.

Sometimes, it is hard to be Catholic.

How can I be Catholic if I sleep with my boyfriend?

How can I be Catholic if I am divorced?

How can I be Catholic if I am gay?

How can I be Catholic if I get drunk on Friday nights?

How can I be Catholic if I am not speaking with my parents?

How can I be Catholic if I doubt or question aspects of my faith?

How can I be Catholic if ___________________?

We all have something to fill in the blank.

This is why we are a Church that is more than 50% lapsed. We all ask ourselves these questions at some point or another, and the answer is difficult to find. Like my heroes, I am an all or nothing type of gal. There is an old saying, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Why would you try to be anything if you don’t intend to be good? If I’m going to be Catholic, I’d better be a good one, and if I can't, perhaps I ought not to be one at all.

Though it is a natural tendency to think in this way, sometimes it is best to shed the all or nothing mentality. Sometimes you just need to take things day by day, or hour by hour. Take a moment to read, listen to a song, go for a walk, or pray, and find yourself in what you are doing. What is needed is a different perspective, and this new perspective will often lead us back to ourselves and our identity in Christ.

To illustrate my point, I would like to share a little bit about a book I recently read entitled The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Though neither a Catholic piece of literature nor the work of a Catholic author, Sue Monk Kidd depicted the Virgin Mary in a way that shed light and wisdom on our relationship with Mary and our faith.  The most notable conversation about Mary takes place between August, a strong mother-figure in the novel, and the young female protagonist, Lily, as August relates:

Our Lady is not some magical being out there somewhere, like a fairy godmother. She’s not the statue in the parlor. She’s something inside of you [….] She’s the one inside you saying, ‘Get up from there and live like the glorious girl you are.’ She’s the power inside you, you understand? […] And whatever it is that keeps widening your heart, that’s Mary, too, not only the power inside, but the love. And when you get down to it, Lily, that’s the only purpose grand enough for a human life. Not just to love – but to persist in love.
— The Secret Life of Bees, 288

Sometimes what is needed is to persist: slowly, deliberately, intentionally. Think back to the images you know of Mary. What does she do with her body, and what does she tell you in this silent speech? When I look at Mary, there is always an openness. Her arms are outstretched, her body bent and graceful.

This Mary I’m talking to you about sits in your heart all day long, saying, ‘[…] you are my everlasting home. Don’t you ever be afraid. I am enough. We are enough
— The Secret Life of Bees, 289

In Mary we see so much vulnerability and fragility, but also a steady strength and persistence. All of these things lie in the spread of her arms to us.

Sometimes it is hard to be Catholic. But as we open our arms, our hearts, and our minds rather than fixate on our perception of perfection, we can find ourselves and our faith once more.