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How I overcame my Irish Catholic guilt

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I’ve just kissed my daughter on the cheek after drilling her on her Confirmation questions; I was shocked at how many of the answers I remember from my own Catholic rite of passage 31 years ago.

I’ve also never felt so distant from my faith. In fact, the last time I felt this way was about a year ago, when I was cradling my godson in my arms at the baptismal fountain. It seems these joyous times of marking significant events of our faith in my family’s offspring forces me to tell the truth about myself and the unworkability of my personal relationship with the Catholic church.

Sure, the scandals that have shaken our church to its core and my own inappropriate relationship with a clergy in my teens have taken their toll on the faith I put into my faith. When I peel back the visible scar tissue, however, I see how my animosity goes much deeper than that.

Being Irish and Catholic meant a double whammy that produced but a trickle of joy in life during my formative years. If you were lucky to get your hands on a decent girl in high school, there was hell to be paid in hell if you died before confessing the sin that next Saturday. Thanks to years of heavy-handed threats spun from misinterpretations of the Baltimore Cathecism in the 70s by repressed clergy, you had barely lit the proverbial post-coital cigarette before you looked up in the heavens and pleaded for your Maker not to strike you down with a bolt of lightning before you were able to scrub the blackness of your soul.

As I get older, I move further away from the notion of living my life under constant threat of eternal damnation and as the head of this Catholic household, I wish a life for my kids that is not shackled with guilt as a constant way of being.

When you’re not so busy making Mass some Sunday mornings, you can tune into what other faiths are offering these days. There is a part of me that is insanely jealous as I witness the inspiration, perspiration, and transformation emanating from the pulpits of the black churches on BET. Large women in silk hats waving handkerchiefs over their ample chests as they burn in their faith while men in mustard colored suits whip the worshipers into a sweaty frenzy--who doesn’t want in on that juicy conversation with the Lord? When was the last time a Catholic Mass galvanized you like that?

You don’t even have to go that far over the edge to find peace and inspiration. Turn the dial and you find any number of these mega-watt mega-church pastors that preach the power of positive thinking. Like lawyers, they make their case for a happy life by deftly weaving spiritual passages into sermons and presenting them as irrefutable proof that God wants us to be happy.

Against my better judgment, I can’t help but stare at Joel Osteen’s televised ministry in awe, like a deer in the headlights of a semi. He’s slick, sweet, and shiny, like the meniscus of jello, but I like what he says.

“God never created us to endure life,” Osteen chirped from the stage recently. “He made us so that we enjoy life. He made us to be the happiest species on earth. Some people go around with a long face. They go to church like they’re going to a funeral!”

Wow! Did he nail the Irish Catholic church experience! If our priest runs his mouth and keeps us past 57 minutes, there is a palpable contempt in the pews that stops just shy of an outright palace coup. When you look at Osteen’s crowd, you get the sense that they could hear his lighter than air sermons all day about the patient and loving father anxious to bestow heaven’s bounties upon us.

I’ve also become a fan of Joyce Meyer, a more butch version of Osteen. A drill sergeant with sensible low heels that clack as she paces the stage, she seems mildly annoyed that we’re ignorant of the scripture and that God has cursed her with helmet hair. Like Osteen, she preaches positive thinking in a common sense style that I just cannot get enough of.

She walks the walk as well. Fair play to her, she went through the mill: she talks about a tough childhood and has risen from the ashes to generate a ministry and speaking gigs that routinely fill hockey arenas each Sunday.

“Do you know you have a relationship with yourself?” she asked on an old homily I picked off of youtube. “You have a much more active relationship with yourself than anyone else. I mean, everywhere you go, there you are! Romans12:2 says it clearly: ‘do not be conformed to this world, this age, fashioned after its external superficial customs.’ If you don’t change your mind, you are never gonna change your life. Proverbs 23:7 says, ‘as a man thinketh in his mind so is he.’ Amen.”

Just when I “thinketh” I’m going to trade my Catholic hair shirt in for something else, I am stopped. Like a ring of scum in the bathtub, a certain Christian smugness has lined Conservative culture on places like Fox News and Tea Party rallies that just turns my stomach.

I don’t see myself as a promise-keeping kinda guy; I know a few of them and I hold their “Abercrombie & Christ” look in utter contempt. You know the type: he of sensible cardigan, soft serve yogurt hair, WWJD wrist band, JC and the Apostle sandals, and that certain pithy way he thinks the world should go according to Matthew, John, Paul, George, or Ringo.

Speaking of Beatles, I’ll leave you with the Gospel according to Paul:

“When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.”

Despite the internal turmoil over my distance from regular Catholic communion, I still say a decade of the Rosary most days and I go around the beads many times during long car trips. I continue my prayers for the Blessed Mother's intercession to help me figure how to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

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