I wrote this for America Magazine while I was volunteering with a Catholic retreat Centre (Tobar Mhuire) in the north of Ireland (or if you prefer, Northern Ireland). It’s not really good enough or Catholic enough for them. It also has nothing to do with what I was doing in N. Ireland. It is not the beginning of my journey, but for the Just Be God’s project, I thought it a nice starting point.
January 19, 2012
Not Quite Catholic
Every weekday morning at 8 a.m. there is Mass at the Tobar Mhuire Retreat Center in “the heart of County Down” Crossgar, N.Ireland. On a good day, there’s maybe fifteen people attending, and that’s including the five Passionist priests who live here. I’m a full-time volunteer at Tobar Mhuire, red-headed (not Irish) Italian, and just recently finished graduate school at Boston College studying pastoral ministry and mental health counseling. During the Advent season the Magnificant was read, and one of the community, Fr. Mel, gave a homily about Mary’s obedience.
He said, “Mary wasn’t Catholic, but she did the will of God. She embraced her history and her spirituality, and was obedient.” I couldn’t help but feel as though the non-Catholic comment was for me. Perhaps that was a selfish thought, but let’s be real, I am the only one not receiving at these Masses, and I am quite the obedient “non-Catholic.”
After all my Catholic education, my continued work with the Catholic Church, and my not quite being Catholic, I’m struggling to decide whether or not to “convert.” I put this in quotations, because I do not feel as though I am converting. But I am wondering, where am I going? What do the Catholics want with me? Is this spiritual growth? At first, it was funny, “Paige, ha. Become Catholic, ha.” In my first semester of theology school at Boston College, one of my Catholic friends created a Facebook page called “Convert Paige Cargioli to Catholicism.” I had a few friends (and family) who were slightly uncomfortable by the joke. I thought it was clever. The Catholics evangelize to the evangelical. I even dressed as a Catholic for Halloween one year. Don’t all Catholics wear rosaries and carry mini statues of Mary in their pockets? Three years later, my thinking seriously about “converting,” or as I like to think of it, being initiated, to Catholicism was not in the plan.
I am still very unsure. There are all kinds of issues surrounding the Catholic Church, but just to clarify, I’m fine with transubstantiation and the Pope. No, the issue that holds me back, and draws me in, is exclusivity.
I’m trying to reconcile the inclusivity I feel with the Catholic communities I love, and am so deeply involved with, but also not really being a part of the community. If I was raised Catholic, or could just be Catholic without RCIA and big loud statements, this would, of course, be much, much easier. But alas, there is this process, this initiation, this ritual. To me, being from an evangelical background, it feels exactly the same as when you’re a kid and they put all the pressure on you to “accept Jesus” or get baptized, or yada yada in order to become “saved.”
For me, to properly do the Catholic ritual to become Catholic does not feel like conversion at all. I ask myself, “If I become Catholic, what sort of statement would I be making?” It would not a statement of “we’re right” and “you’re wrong.” It would not be a statement of “now I’m saved.” It would not even be a statement of “I feel more comfortable in this community” or “I really want to be a part of this community” (even though I do). I would just feel more included, and I’m not sure if even that is the right attitude to have—because I’m angry.
I’m angry about the exclusivity of most Christendom, and specifically, I want the Catholic Church to simply be inclusive. Many, in and out of the Church, simply wait for her to change and shift as she does occasionally. Whether you’re in or out, you’re always waiting for change, or angry at change. Unfortunately, I cannot make Holy Mother Catholic Church change or be inclusive, except by doing the exclusive rituals to be included. It is the paradox I live in.
And it is still a difficult decision to make because, what’s the point? I’ll still be pigeonholed as a convert. Another one bites the dust. God, please, not another question about transubstantiation, the saints, or the Pope from an ill-informed evangelical.
Right now, because I haven’t been officially initiated, I feel comfortable and out of place at the same time. I don’t know where I belong. Similarly to Dr. Stanley Hauerwas in his memoir Hannah’s Child, I feel homeless. A past religion professor of mine, said to me, “Just be God’s.”
I thought I wanted to become Catholic and I even feel as though it is inevitable, but the real challenge is finding meaning and being patient while in spiritual chaos. Regardless, I imagine I will become Catholic, and I imagine someone will ask, “Paige, why did you become Catholic?”
And I’ll say, “Because I already was,” but I haven’t performed the ritual yet. Like Mary, I’m simply trying to be true to my history and my spirituality.