Freedom of Religion?

I saw the sign outside of the church as we pulled in last Sunday and immediately knew that I wasn’t going to like whatever it was about.  “Fortnight for Freedom”.  At first I thought it was some sort of right wing, tea party movement.  But why would my church allow a political sign in front of it?  No, it couldn’t be that.

And then I remembered.  The whole thing about “religious liberty” that’s been bubbling and brewing for the last several months.

As we walked inside my church, our priest (of the three, my favorite) was giving a little intro to the Mass.  He does this from time to time, usually on holy days when most of the attendees aren’t in the know about the stand ups, the sit downs and special prayers.  But then I could hear he was saying something about “this time in history” and how our “conscience is being threatened” and that there was a special prayer we would be saying today during the service.

I sat down, flipped through the hymnal to find it, and nearly walked out of church right then.

I looked around, and didn’t see any such dismay or horror displayed on the faces of my fellow parishoners, so I tried to play it cool, instead.  After all, I was with my husband and my kids.  I teach religion at this church, have for five years.  I volunteer in the Eucharist, Reconciliation and Vacation Bible School.  This priest, my favorite, uses my first name when he puts the Communion wafer in my hand.   This is my church, my safe haven, my refuge from all of the crazy that bounces around in the world and in my head.  It centers me, it gives me focus.  I love my church and I have tried to live out my faith as much as I can.

But I knew, in that moment, that I wasn’t like most of the people sitting there in the pews.  For one, I’m not a born Catholic.  I converted when I was eighteen, when I was looking for more clarity.  It was an odd thing to do, most people thought, converting as a teenager, when most run away from religion.  But I needed my God, and I didn’t know where he was until I went to Church.

Since I am a convert, the Church was a choice, not a requirement.  And when I went through my classes, most of the “extra rules” were barely even discussed.  Not the biblical stuff, but you know:  the stuff about homosexuality, contraception, premarital sex, etc.   The bottom line, I was told?  If I felt something was wrong, and chose to do it anyway, that was the real sin; but if I felt like something wasn’t truly wrong (even if perhaps some people wearing vestments said it might be), then I was free to make a choice.  At the end of the day, I was told by nuns and lifetime Catholics alike, my choices were between my God and myself.

It’s how I’ve always functioned in my faith and how I’ve been able to take what is good and leave what is bad about the Church.  Even when they stood up in front of me and talked about how civil unions were bad (I don’t agree), even when they ask people to march in January against Roe v. Wade (I am fiercely against abortion but do not feel that it is my business to tell others how to proceed in such an awful situation), even when they don’t adequately address the situations going on with some priests and some children.  I know that’s all in there, but at the end of the day, I have always been able to leave those disagreements outside of my faith and my life.

Until I sat in that pew on Sunday.  Here I was being asked to pray for the people who are “fighting for religious liberty”.  To pray.  To my God.  Something that is so sacred and so fundamental and so personal.  I was red hot angry, and I couldn’t do it.  It was all I could do to stay in the pew and not bolt out of the Church.  I found the thing so distasteful, for so many reasons.   Mostly because I find the argument flimsy at best; I don’t think anyone is threatening my Church or my faith by trying to provide health care to women.  There has to be a way that this can be settled without everyone digging trenches and declaring war on each other.  And even that?  That would be fine with me, as long as they don’t ask me to pray about it.  If I want to pray about it, that’s one thing.  But to put it in as part of the Mass, to be recited word for word.  That’s a powerful, sacred ritual.

Maybe it’s because I chose this faith that this bothers me so much.  Because all of it has been my choice, and I’ve always felt comfortable, as if I had a choice in what to believe and not to believe.  But this?  Putting this prayer in the Mass?  Telling me, not asking me, to recite it?  I had no choice, and it felt just like that.  Like my beautiful, sacred, peaceful place had been violated by some fight that has little to do with God and much to do with politics.

I felt violated, and angry.

And now I have no idea what to do.  I love my Church.  But during this “Fortnight for Freedom”?  I might have to exercise that free will that I have spent the last five years teaching children about and stay home.

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