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Confessions of The Original Online Junkie – Series Debut, part II

As I mentioned in the debut post of this series, my oldest was five years old, enrolled in kindergarten, and not enrolled in religious education. Not my finest parenting moment, of course, but I use it as a launching point to illustrate that you can know exactly nothing and still have some hope of raising children who are knowledgeable and quite possibly passionate about the Faith. I soon realized it wasn’t about how much I knew – not much – or didn’t know – lots of that; it was about letting go of the pride that goes along with “mom and dad know everything” and committing to learning alongside my children. Humbling? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely.

It was the middle of that kindergarten year when the all too familiar Catholic guilt set in.

Your child should be enrolled in religious education.

You don’t even know what you believe or why – how are you going to teach her what you know?

You knooooooow kids can smell fear and hypocrisy a mile away.

Do you really think “just because,” “it’s tradition,” or “it’s just what we do” will fly when she asks the tough questions?

I brushed the nagging thoughts to the side and went in to our parish office and registered my kindergartener in the parish religious education program. Despite my lack of knowledge, passion, understanding, and even at times desire to know more, I clung to the guilt. It was through the guilt that I was more convicted to do what was right regardless of how I felt. It was like walking down a pitch dark hall.

Where was I going? Where would I end up?

I would later learn from our parish priest that a healthy dose of guilt is our internal gauge for right and wrong – like ripping off a bandaid, you expect to feel pain. It was only when you didn’t feel anything or all-consuming pain that something was off. Many times I would question various things the Church taught only to have Father Fasano give a homily precisely about what it was that I currently struggled…and if I didn’t know the Holy Spirit all that well, I would say He told Father Fasano to hold his gaze in my direction to underscore his point. As in, this homily is for you, MARTINA!

How did this affect my time online, you might be wondering? Well, I started to turn my internet time toward searching for things that were Catholic so I could learn from home. With a kindergartener, an infant, and a husband who worked six days a week, I was not in a place to take classes outside of the home, so I searched for a way for education to come to me. I found some very interesting websites. They laid claim to being Catholic and, taking the site at its word, I started to dig around. Then the true colors emerged. They touted women’s ordination and pushed for acceptance of homosexual unions. I thought to myself ok, I know I don’t know much, but I’m pretty sure this is wrong. As in, the Church does not teach this. And if you had asked me at that point why it was wrong, I wouldn’t have been able to answer with anything other than “just because.” How compelling, right? You would have converted if you heard me say that, right? Still, it intrigued me that some wanted to call themselves Catholic while clearly misleading uneducated people, such as myself, away from Church. I genuinely wondered what the appeal to Catholicism was if they disagreed with the core teachings? With thousands upon thousands of Christian sects for every flavor and set of beliefs to choose from, what could be the reason to be openly dissident? More importantly, it became imperative to me that I find accurate Church teaching. But where? How was I to know what was a legit website and what…well…wasn’t?

I was starting to emerge from my spiritual laziness and apathy. If nothing else, I knew there must be some plausible explanation for any question I had or had heard about. I started my faith journey not rooted in blind faith so much as I felt there must be some logical answer. Logic is rooted in truth, not emotion. I liked that.

I remembered a website I had joined in the fall of 2000 – it was the largest parenting website around and I had signed up for the weekly pregnancy updates, read a couple of articles, but never really investigated the board side of the website. In 2003, I explored the rest of the parenting website and searched specifically for Catholic. I don’t recall how it went down exactly, but I’m sure I must have been grasping for straws at that point. I was pleasantly surprised to find there was a whole community of message boards, including one called Catholic Families! I immediately jumped in and asked eleventy billion questions. I quickly found out that there were others like me who had a similar upbringings. We were all struggling with various Church teachings and yet, there was this desire to put aside our own notions for the sake of learning more. I noticed a lot of the time, answers would come in the form of a response followed by links to various sites that encouraged further reading. So while I was enrolled in what I affectionately referred to the group as “Catholic bootcamp,” I was also visiting external sites such as Catholic AnswersCatholic Online, and the Vatican’s website to name a few. I decided if nothing else, I would make myself a student of the Faith and trudge along, hoping that that feeling of liking it would eventually surface. As I got to know some of the ladies over the years, I noticed a trend among many of the questions from the new users – many had the same questions I had about the Church’s teaching on contraception.

Humanae Vitae – what is that?

Natural Family Planning? Never heard of it! 

There are different KINDS of NFP? Mind blowing!

I don’t HAVE to use NFP? Shut the front door!

There was definitely this feeling of the Church’s teaching on the life issues when it came to conception as being a hidden gem of sorts. I started to share with the group that we needed a grass roots movement to really and truly empower women. That would first start with our taking the Faith seriously, which meant lots of prayer, support from friends, family, and acquaintances, both IRL {in real life} and online, and seeking to nurture each other through it all. For me, that spiritual stretch involved a period of time where I went inward for a time, losing my sense of humor and scrutinizing everything because I sincerely believed it was what good Catholics did. A lot of the growth meant trying new spiritual things on and seeing how they fit and then trying something else on, all the while studying, reading, trying out my evangelizing “skills” and conversing with people online. It was now 2008 and my time studying the Faith only online was coming to a close. I was about to get pushed out of the nest. I had gotten a little too comfortable in my online environment “cocoon.”

In my next post, I will talk about how the Holy Spirit placed it on my heart to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Truth be told, I liked being online. It was safe. It was an introvert’s delight. But it was time for a new challenge. Until next time, friends.

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Practice What You Preach! Believe What You Profess!

The Diocese of Arlington, Virgina recently announced that, as part of the world wide celebration of a Year of Faith within the Church, they would be requiring a Profession of Faith for all catechists and teachers of the Faith.

It’s hard to imagine that something like this should even be necessary. Why would anyone want to TEACH or be in a role of AUTHORITY in a faith that they didn’t wholly believe to be true? Yet, this new requirement is already causing some to be upset.

We all know there are plenty of Catholics who struggle with Church teachings. There is nothing wrong with having difficulty understanding or following what is right in every way. We are all sinners who fail miserably to live up to our aspirations of holiness and morality. But therein lies the crux of the issue.

How do we know what holiness and morality are?

Isn’t this why we turn to the Church in the first place? We put our trust in those who teach the faith to be a model and an example, to help shepherd and guide others along the way of our faith. If the catechists who teach us the Faith are not following the same moral compass as the Church, confusion arises and souls are not properly formed.

I’ve witnessed a former Director of Religious education write public letters to the editor of the local paper about her personal frustrations over the Church’s teachings on the male priesthood and contraception. I have known Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion to rant and rave against the Church’s pro-life teachings and stance on Holy Matrimony. It’s mind-boggling that these things can even happen! How are people who are so torn about the teachings of the Faith even drawn into positions of authority and leadership in the very institution that they, themselves, have publicly questioned and condemned?

My mind twists and contorts to understand their motivations. Our faith and the morals of the Church are not enacted by some sort of democratic vote, as if the Bishops of the Church even have the ecclesiastical authority over these sorts of issues! It’s almost humorous to watch the fruitless ranting.

From an article in The Washington Post:
Arlington’s Diocesan spokesman Michael Donohue said, “I can’t imagine there are many [teachers] who have issues with the Church’s teachings on faith and morals,” Donohue said. Asked about polls showing that the majority of American Catholics use artificial contraception, forbidden by Church doctrine, he said he “found it hard to believe” that anyone who had concluded that a Church teaching was wrong would want to teach it.

It IS hard to believe. But evidence proves otherwise.

So I find it extremely comforting to see a diocese make this a requirement, despite how shocking its necessity even seems. I hope this becomes standard practice for other dioceses, so that we can rest knowing and trusting that those who shepherd and guide others through the Faith are themselves adhering to those same beliefs. Without this foundation we would be a community of hypocrites.

Yesterday’s First Reading (Jeremiah 23:1-6) may be all too timely…

“Woe to the shepherds who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture, says the LORD. Therefore, thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, against the shepherds who shepherd my people: You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I myself will gather the remnant of my flock
from all the lands to which I have driven them and bring them back to their meadow; there they shall increase and multiply. I will appoint shepherds for them who will shepherd them so that they need no longer fear and tremble; and none shall be missing, says the LORD.”