CONTENT WARNING: Religious themes and mention of child sex abuse
Crisises often have a way of reminding us about what is important to us and what we want from our lives.
I am slowly recovering from a personal crisis at the moment and, while I take the time I need to recover, it has made me reflect on some things that were important in my life the last time I went through something like this and what may be missing this time. Reflecting while recovering is hard, but it is also a helpful process and it was actually a friend who inspired me to turn deeply inward.
One of my friends from EP is taking time at the moment to connect with God and her Instagram post a couple of nights ago caused me to think about my relationship with God and his importance in my life. I am a person of faith (I wrote briefly about it here) but I haven't turned to God in a long time and I've had trouble recently reconciling my faith with the actions of the Catholic Church.
I chose, as an adult, to be baptised a Catholic and attended a wonderful church in St. Albans. It was a close knit, welcoming community, I was deeply involved in many facets, and truly felt I had come to know God there. When I moved away and went to a different church, I felt a true disconnect between what I had felt and come to know and what was being taught in this church. The second church was a large, cathedral type building, very lavishly decorated, that had obviously had a LOT of money spent on it and continuously spent to keep it looking good (the paint was never scratched, the pews were never chipped, there was never a speck of dust), and the disconnect between the church and the community was total. As a newcomer, I was shut out of involvement: I would put my hand up to do things, only to be passed over and so, after a while, I stopped putting my hand up. The priest was also very different and had a much more dogmatic and literal interpretation of the teachings of the Church than the priest in St. Albans. I will give you an example.
During my time attending church in St. Albans, the state I live in (Victoria) was engaged in a public vote on whether to decriminalise abortion. The Catholic Church teaches against abortion, but I am firmly in the pro-choice camp and believe that it is up to nobody but the woman in question and anybody she chooses to involve. During mass one day, the sister at the church stood up and spoke about how, as Catholics, we should be moving to protect the unborn and that our faith should move us to vote against the proposal. The priest waited until she had finished speaking and said that, yes, the Church did teach against abortion, however God gave us the freedom to form our own beliefs and make our own decisions, and Jesus taught us to follow the path we believe is right and He loves us whichever way we choose to walk.
It was the first time I had ever heard a priest speak, not exactly against the Church, but on a slight divergence from it. It helped me feel closer to God, helped me form my image of Him as a loving father who respected the choices of His children.
At the second church I attended after I moved, however, there was no deviation from the Church's teachings and if we were good Catholics we would act in the way the church taught us to act. I can clearly remember the priest at that church standing up during a homily and saying that, while we should love our homosexual brothers and sisters, we should also pray for them to find God and turn from 'unhealthy practices'.
I walked out of that church - turned my back on a priest in the middle of a homily - and never looked back, or attended that church (or any church) again.
Because, here's the thing: I don't know how God feels about homosexuality, or abortion, or anything else... but neither does any person in this world, even a priest. Just like me, they have faith and that is personal and between them and God, just like my faith is between me and God. No one person, be they priest or not, is an absolute authority on God, because the experience of faith is different for every person and the teachings of a church are the teachings that human beings have prescribed to God. They have come to these through their own faith and this is neither right nor wrong, but it is wrong to demand others follow their way or claim that their way is the only way or that it's God's way. They cannot know that; they may have come to that belief through their faith in God, but, at the end of the day, He gave us free will and we choose what we will believe and how we will act upon those beliefs. He is not a master or dictator, but a father, and He is mysterious - we cannot know Him in His entirety, only our experience of Him, and that experience will be different for each individual.
But I won't deny that my faith was rocked by the unveiling of the terrible extend of child sex abuse, and cover-ups, within the Catholic Church. The behaviour of these many paedophile priests, the disgusting abuses they perpetrated against the vulnerable and innocent, the actions of their superiors in covering them up and moving these men to other parishes are heinous and intolerable crimes. It drove me away from my faith for a long time as I grappled with how - HOW - God could have allowed these terrible things to happen and why He had allowed innocent people to suffer at the hands of those who were supposed to be His ministers.
What brought me back, in a small way, was the realisation that there is a separation between God and The Church. I am a Catholic, so I speak from a Catholic perspective, but I realised that the same epiphany I had regarding a priest's knowledge of God as compared to mine held true here: The Church was an entity set up and controlled by men - and it was the men who failed to stop these terrible things and then hid behind God. The Church, as an institution, has strayed (I believe) and continues to stray. But God is separate from this catastrophic failure; He is not the bricks and mortar of the churches, He is not the hierarchy that allowed the abuses to occur unpunished and He is not the one perpetrating the abuses. These terrible things were done by men, and I do not believe, for an instant, that their desire to abuse children came from a place of faith or love, but from sin and a lust for power over others. It was not God who led these men to make the choices they did, but the men themselves who made those decisions.
And so, with this in mind, I slowly started to come back to God. But it was my friend's Instagram post from a few nights ago and then my own crash and crisis that really had me turning around and realising that, one thing I had last time I was going through this was a strong faith. That faith has lapsed of recently, it's been shaken, it's been clouded by outside influences and the cruelty of those who claim to preach it has driven me away from it.
Because the truth of it is, when I peel back the layers, that I miss God. I miss that feeling of faith, that quiet space within where I knew I could find Him. Of course, He was always there, always ready for me to turn to Him, but I never quite gave myself permission to find Him again. However, with the help of a friend, I am rediscovering His love and reaffirming my faith. I have always believed, but I am working now to cultivate that sense I had in the past, where I could find the quiet within myself where I knew He was there, that I could reach out to Him, talk to Him and simply be with Him.
This thought, that I am inviting Him back and returning to Him, has been very comforting as I grapple with recovering from my crisis and moving forward. I will never be a church-goer again, the church is a broken institution, too wrapped up in its own power and wealth, but I do believe in the Lord and I will take this opportunity to rediscover and reaffirm my faith and rebuild my relationship with Him.
I respect that there are those out there who do not believe and that is perfectly OK - I'm not going to try and make you see things my way and I only ask that, in return, you don't try to make me see things your way. My faith, my relationship with God, is personal: I'm keeping it between me and Him and won't be stuffing it down anyone's throat or shouting it from the hilltops. However, I will be sharing some of it here. If you don't want to read about it, if it's not really your thing, then that's fine, there will always be a content warning for religious themes attached to posts like these, so you can make an informed decision about whether to read it or not.
In closing, I really want to give a shout out to Shaz from EP, for giving me the inspiration I needed to turn inwards and reconnect with my faith. You are a beautiful soul, my friend, and thank you for helping me reconnect with God's love.
You don't have to like me. I'm not a Facebook post.
Me With No Apologies.