Well isn’t this a kick in the pants.

I decided that I’d try Mama Kat’s writing prompt this week, and loved the Instagram option: “Open Instagram (if you have an account) and scroll down to the 4th photo shared by a friend. Share the photo, link to the person who posted it, and let it inspire a blog post.”

Then I opened Instagram and saw the fourth photo. The photo itself isn’t kick in the pants; it’s a lovely shot of a Mary statue in a garden, taken by Leslie Sholly. Certainly a familiar sight to me as a Catholic. The kick in the pants is the timing.

I often joke that I am a “bad Catholic.” I’ve lived up to that moniker of late because our attendance at church has been less than consistent. We’ve had such disappointing experiences at our home parish time after time that I started looking for another place to attend Mass with the kids. I know that’s not a very ‘Catholic’ thing to do; I have a feeling we’re just supposed to ‘suck it up’ and go because, well, just because. Kinda like not knowing much about Catholic history or catechism; people ask me why we believe whatever it is we’re talking about, and my response is ‘we just do. We’re Catholic.’  But I digress.

For a year we attended the church across town. Then summer came, and schedules got even crazier, and I started feeling increasingly more and more guilty that we were no longer weekly attendees. It doesn’t help that as the kids have gotten older, their protests over going to church have increased. They fight, they mope, they pout and they slam doors when I announce it’s time to go. I know that I’m the mom and I can make them go, but sometimes I didn’t.

This past month I received a survey from my home parish; they are trying to raise money to build a new church across town, and they were asking for feedback. I gave mine, and it wasn’t complimentary. After I dropped the envelope in the mail, I thought that perhaps I should give them another chance; maybe, I rationalized, things had improved during the time we’d been going elsewhere.

So last Saturday we returned there for Mass. Lucky me, the gospel was Mark 10:2-16; the passages that denounce divorce. Last year at this time I left that church in tears after hearing through the homily what a horrible person I am for being divorced (no, the pastor didn’t literally say ‘divorced people are horrible’. But that’s how I felt after listening to his homily). That homily was one of the main reasons my stomach would churn when I’d walk into that church, even when the homily or readings had nothing to do with divorce.

Because the same pastor stood at the front of the church this time, I knew what the homily would sound like. I took a deep breath and secretly prayed that both kids would ask to go to the bathroom. They didn’t.

So we all sat and listened to him say that divorce is the result of selfishness, hardened hearts and egocentricity. I met my son’s gaze when the pastor said divorce was ‘giving up’ and being cowardly. I squeezed my daughter’s hand when he said that Moses should have never ‘given up and given in’ to the repeated requests for a divorce doctrine.
I found myself angry, fighting the voices in my head that chimed ‘who is he to talk about marriage and divorce? This man who took a vow of celibacy and does not know the dynamics of marriage except for from the outside looking in?’ I found myself angry that he spat at the concept of same sex unions by saying that they have nothing to do with love but everything to do with entitlement and selfishness. I was angry that he seemed to be doing what  I thought Jesus didn’t; he was judging, damning and ostracizing instead of welcoming everyone. Even sinners.

My kiddos moved closer to me and nuzzled in. I hoped–prayed, even–that they’d already tuned him out and were thinking instead of what was for dinner, or what they’d play on the Wii later or, really, anything other than what he was saying.

Because to listen to what he was saying is to hear that if we are not perfect, if we don’t squeeze ourselves into the confines of what others think is “right,” we are not “good enough”. What if one of my children comes to me one day and says ‘I’m gay’? What if one of them marries then divorces? What if they decide to never go to church once they no longer live under my roof? What if….? Those questions are hard enough for me to think about, and I’m well past the age of reason. What must go through their young minds?

After the homily, of course, comes the collection. And the song during the collection. I almost laughed out loud as we sang ‘gather the people, enter the feast, all are invited, the greatest and least….’.

I looked for the asterisk that would lead me to the disclaimer ‘but only if you’re not divorced. Or different. Or fill-in-the-blank-here’. All of that must have been too tough to fit into the melody.

I’m not sharing any of this to get into a political debate or an argument. I’m only sharing because, to me, faith is faith. While I may not agree with much of the doctrine of the Catholic Church, I still believe in my Catholic faith. Some think we can’t separate the two. I do.

And I find hope in Leslie’s photo. Because no matter how much I struggle with the words during that homily, and no matter how ostracized I feel by the church I was raised in, I find comfort in Mary’s quiet strength. And I find comfort in the Rosary. In fact, October is the month of the Rosary, and I’ve been finishing each day by praying the Rosary. Just me, Mary and my beads. No judgment there.