"MASS HAS ended. Go in peace to love and serve the Lord." The response, "Thanks be to God," has been uttered with more relief than I care to admit the past few years. My faith has been shaken - by scandal, by political squabbles and by discrimination. The sacred trust that I established throughout all my sacraments - Holy Communion, confirmation, reconciliation - somehow seems tarnished. These struggles have been recurring in my mind as Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families draws nearer. In this statement of struggle, I am reminded of a particular verse, Romans 12:2: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
My first "test" is the Catholic Church's position on gay marriage. The Supreme Court's decision to legalize same-sex unions in all 50 states was met with relief and pride for many individuals in this country. But a representative from the Vatican immediately issued a harsh rebuttal expressing the church's extreme disappointment. The pastor at my local parish echoed their statement, and assured all those in attendance that the Catholic Church's stance is firm. Was I surprised? Not in the least. I was just disappointed that my suspicions had been confirmed - the world is changing, but the church is not. Critics would cite various Bible verses and historical references. But I come back to one simple teaching - God's love is unconditional. God's love is not intended to come with fine print labeled: "Only for those in heterosexual relationships." And to me, the debate ends there.
Yet another form of discrimination complicates my identification as a young Catholic: gender. The progressive nature of Pope Francis gave me hope. He denounces the wealth and indulgences that are customary in his position. Pope Francis cares for the poor, washes their feet and intends to reform the Catholic Church we once knew. I had hoped that Pope Francis would envision change in another aspect - the priesthood. I had hoped that Pope Francis would finally allow the inclusion of women, to end the exclusionary fraternity that has existed for centuries. But of course, that issue is where Pope Francis' progressivism and generosity ends.
Which brings me to my final struggle: scandal. As a member of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, we are all too familiar. A priest at my own parish was de-clothed, with no further explanation provided. As a young altar server, I had held the Holy Book for that very priest. How can one go on after that? How can one pray under the same roof and not question the integrity of future priests? I understand the actions of one do not represent the intentions of many. But the cover-ups and the lies committed by the Archdiocese to conceal these men and their crimes cannot be overlooked. The church is sacred. The holy house of the Lord is supposed to be the place that one can seek refuge from the many evils of this world. Knowing that evils took place inside them, especially to young children, is hard to shake.
You may be wondering what is tying me to this religion at all after my harsh criticisms. I can actually narrow it down to one moment. After I receive Communion and return to my pew, a feeling of calm passes over me. There is a perfect silence - a time to reflect, forgive, give thanks and let go. It is that exact moment that I feel a connection with God. It is that one moment that prevents me from letting go. I just hope that eventually God will hear my prayers for change, not just for me, but also for the many Catholics that are losing faith. Maybe the World Meeting of Families will produce something other than traffic jams. Maybe the World Meeting will offer an opportunity for open discussion and the possibility of change - but this Catholic isn't so sure.