The notion that grace perfects nature forms the basis for the uniquely Catholic idea that all finite things in creation are capable of revealing truths about what is infinite or eternal. Catholics have a sacramental view of the world. That is, for a Catholic, all of creation is good, and everything in our finite world can be a vessel of God’s presence and God’s transforming grace. This idea provides the foundation for Catholicism’s rich mysticism and spirituality, its unparalleled social justice doctrine, its care of the poor, and its exquisite legacy of artists and writers.
These traditions keep me calling myself Catholic. But I separate the Catholic tradition from the institutional church, namely its governing body. Because I see so much harm done to women, to those dying from the AIDS pandemic, to American nuns under scrutiny, to victims of pedophilia, to divorced people, to women who have had abortions, and to gays and lesbians. I do not currently trust that the hierarchy of the church is acting with integrity toward the people of God. I struggle to believe that the hierarchy’s intentions are centered in the desire to be a beacon of the healing, reconciling, challenging love of God. Rather, I wonder if they aren’t motivated instead by the drive toward self-preservation rooted in the fear of engaging the people of God where they are in all of their very real struggles and questions.
For me, there is nothing to “leave.” I cannot leave my Catholic tradition any more than I can leave my Italian tradition, which also formed my vision and imagination, my way of seeing the world, my way of relating to others. One can argue that I have left the Catholic church since I no longer accept the authority of the hierarchy. However, I feel equally left behind by the institution. As a woman and lesbian, I have no voice in this institution, and I am denied the ability to make a substantive contribution to it. Rather than speaking about leaving the church, I believe is time to call the institutional church to accountability for how many people it has left behind.
Unlike many of those fighting for reform in the Catholic church, I’m not aiming to “take back my church.” I’m not sure that the institution and its endless tomes of rules, its privileged priesthood, and its propensity for uninviting people from the Eucharistic table is something worth re-inheriting because I’m not convinced these functions were ever conceived or practiced with God-centered intentions.
I don’t wish to reclaim this church, nor do I feel like I have to in order to call myself Catholic. Rather, I am attempting to take all of the riches of the Catholic tradition with me and share them with others in the hope of finding communities that share this common Catholic vision: that we are all unequivocally called to have a preferential option for the poor, that contemplative prayer and meditation is a path to greater wholeness, and that ritual, symbol, image and word can make real the life-giving power of God’s love in our world.
To read Jamie’s commentary in its entirety, click here.