Saturday, September 8, 2012
Fighting with Faith
As a child, I was an attentive student in my Catechism classes, but our teachers were so focused on getting us on to the next stage that they didn't have time for my questions. I diligently memorized my prayers and did my homework every week, but I was inquisitive and always wanted to know why we were saying certain responses, or what our practices meant. Peers, and especially my cousins who were in class with me, rolled their eyes when I asked a question, knowing class would take that much longer because of my curiosity. At the end of the day it always seemed the stuttering explanations were not much more than, "That's just the way it is." By the time I was 18 I became convinced that being Catholic wasn't much more than being a puppet for the Vatican, an old, patriarchal institution that was just trying to oppress me and keep me in line by asserting that it knew what was best for me and I should do it, because "that's just the way it is." And I, I was a free thinker who wanted to do what she wanted to do and not be bound by rules that wouldn't be enforced until an afterlife that, at the time, seemed so far away.
Like many reverts to the Faith, I was drawn back to the Church by a traumatic event. A simple statement, in a not so simple time, convinced me. The afternoon that I found Sean's body, after a police officer had gently prodded me as to the circumstances surrounding my last meeting with Sean, he asked me if I had a religion and if I wanted him to call someone. I nodded and said, "I'm Catholic." When a priest I'd never met before responded I wasn't really sure what we were supposed to say to each other. He must have been even more unsure than I was, because he just sorta rocked on his heels and asked, "So, uh, how did he do it?" and I was relieved when my dad arrived moments later to get me out of that place. The police still had questions for me, I still needed to talk to the bar manager at work, but when the business had been squared away my dad asked, "Would you like to go see Father Ralph." He took me to the little mission where he and my mom had been married, where my brother and sisters and I had all been baptized, to see the man who had seen me through all of my Sacraments. Father Ralph sat in the upholstered pews of the church bathed in the colored light filtered through the stained glass windows and said simply, "You need to go back to church."
I didn't know what else to do, so I did.
I was plagued by questions about the status of Sean's soul, and guilt ridden that I hadn't saved him. Even now, seven years later, I want to believe that there was something I could have done, I CHOOSE to believe it, because if I can shoulder some of that blame I can allow myself to believe that Sean hasn't had to suffer for his choice. I wanted to take his burden from him. I still want to. I became obsessed with Purgatory, prayers that promised to release 1,000 souls from Purgatory every time they were said. I thought frequently about how that whole system worked, about whether Purgatory is painful, if it's dark and cold like Hell is, or if it's simply knowing that your loved ones are within reach but we're not quite there yet. Do we have to face all of the people we've hurt over the course of our lifetime? From his place in Purgatory, could Sean how much we missed him?
Slowly, weekly Mass attendance went from something I did because I didn't know what else to do, to part of my Sunday routine, to something I needed to get through the week. During my first year of law school I unwittingly signed up for Catholic Match, an online dating site for Catholics, hoping to meet the man of my dreams. I am still shocked, and blessed, by the many Catholic matches that I found there. Through the tight-knit CM forums I started to learn more about my Faith and about myself and my place in the Church. I became active in the pro-life movement, still unaware of how my life would come together and how much I would need my fellow CMers down the road.
Catholic Match policy prohibits married people from being on the site, so I left in January 2010 after I married my non-Catholic husband, but by then many of us had reconnected on Facebook. Naturally, I turned to them first when I learned that God had come knocking on my door, asking me to be a walking billboard for the pro-life movement by carrying a terminally ill child.
As I was carrying Gabriel, I was sincere in my belief that I had been trusted with a gift, that I had been asked to do something very special, that I was carrying a would-be saint, and that God was carrying me through it all. I still look back on those days, from the time we announced Gabriel's defect to the time he died and beyond, and I am in awe of what I was so fortunate to be a part of. Anyone who witnessed Gabriel's life, whether it was through pictures on the internet or face-to-face, must have felt it too. It was like the world stood still for Gabriel Michael Gerard Cude. If you know my son, in real life or virtually, you have been changed by him and I couldn't be more proud.
Which is why I was so horrified when Ben said to me, "Stop trying to make him into some sort of martyr." Of course my son is a martyr, of course he is a saint, because I refuse to believe that he is not here with me today for any reason short of providence. I couldn't let go of my son's memory, and Ben couldn't face it, and so we were at an impasse, and so the story goes. For so long my heart was broken for my son, because I felt that he deserved a father that could look at his pictures and smile instead of turn away, and who could talk about him with pride. It frequently escaped me that I could have been a better Catholic wife, and that losing our son wasn't any more a part of Ben's life plan than it was a part of mine.
I was angry - I'm still angry - at God for placing this man in my life who refused to be the husband I wanted and the father I wanted for my son. In my angriest moments I felt that God took my children from me just to make a point, that I wasn't meant to be with Ben.
If there was one plain answer that sufficed for me as a child and that I've carried with me into adulthood, it's my mom's explanation that we are supposed to go to Mass every week because God has given us so much and the least we can do is take an hour a week to visit Him in His house. She's right. I have a roof over my head, food when I want it, friends and family who I can lean on. . . More than a lot of people have. I try to never forget how very blessed I am. But I sit angrily in Church, stubbornly defying God, refusing to eat at His table, refusing to follow His rules, thinking to myself, "I did things Your way, and I'm alone. I'm alone. Your rules, Your way, suck. And I don't want my son to be Your saint anymore. I want him back."
For all the times I have thought about how lonely it must be to not believe in God, I wonder if I'm lonelier now, having all the confidence in the world that there is a God and there is a Heaven, but feeling like He's turned His back on me.
And that's why I made my way to RCIA class last Sunday. I needed to be around people who are excited about their Faith, people who love God and trust that God loves them too and that He never abandons us. Maybe if I hear it enough times, I'll believe it again. Maybe I'll find the words to tell Ben someday that I didn't "let" the Church tell me what to do when it came to Gabriel, that I did it because good things come when we do God's will. "Seek ye first," and all that. Maybe even though some days feel like the end of the world, good things are still to come.