Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Faith Testing/Dogma Threatening/Soul Searching

I was raised in a Pre-Vatican II, Roman Catholic world. I received an outstanding education over 12 years, thanks to the dedication and discipline of two different orders of sisters. Elementary school was spent with the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. My high school years were navigated by the Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg, Maryland. I am blessed in both experiences. I found mentors and challenging women in my educators. Like anyone, there were some I loved, others I would avoid at any cost. And, now I can guess that they most likely felt the same about their students.

I am from a tradition of going to Mass every Sunday unless you were half-dead. I was made to go to confession regularly. I participated in First Friday services. We ate no meat on Fridays. We observed giving up things for Lent. We marked the passing of the year through Church holy days and Saints days. May processions. Adoration of Mary as the Blessed Mother. Little girls being dressed as tiny brides to receive their First Holy Communion. Choir practice and statues. Incense. Palm fronds. Prayer books and personal missals. Church was open all day and any could stop in to sit in the quiet of contemplation close to the God who made you.

As I grew older, I began to question my religion; I think most of us begin to question the rightness of continuing in a religious tradition that has been handed to you by your family. Sometimes the robes of religion fit you just fine and other times, well, you find that try as you might, you just can't make it work for you. At this point, some people just walk away from it totally as just, "not for me," but others begin a pilgrimage to discover what does speak to them. Learn what other faith path continues to allow a clear recognition of the soft whispers of the creator.

Post Vatican II, with much of the ritual and ceremony removed from their lives, many Catholics became disenchanted with the Church. Angry, too. The Latin was removed. Nuns habits were abolished or significantly modified. Priests left the priesthood. Sisters left the convent. Many beloved saints were demoted. It was a hard time for many. Some never recovered. I was young enough that all of these changes left me bewildered, but didn't really impact my sense of home being SS. Philip & James parish. That came later.

I began taking classes in comparative religions. I started studying the bible as a text, perhaps divinely inspired, but maybe not. I began to look closely into the history of the early Church and how it all started. And, when I was a young woman who was becoming sexually active and beginning relationships, I still thought of myself as fundamentally Catholic, even though I was searching for answers.

It wasn't until I got into college and my early 20's that I decided that the Catholic Church wasn't my faith path any longer. I couldn't abide by the notion of being against birth control of any form and at the same time, being anti-abortion. I couldn't abide by being put in a totally unrealistic situation with a no win option.

But, most importantly, I couldn't as a female, find a lasting home in a religion where women were treated as second class citizens. A religion where women could not hold a leadership role. A religion that even in the 20th century viewed women as hand maidens to the ceremony; to the life of the parish; to the ability to be recognized for their work and efforts. And...

...I couldn't buy into a religion that was Paul based in its theology. Because, let's face it, Paul did NOT like women. At all. And, the Roman Catholic Church as it exists now is centrally Paulian in its dogma and doctrine. They like to brush over the obvious dislike of women, but it's pervasive.

So, because I couldn't follow the rules, I stopped being a Roman Catholic.

And I started looking at other Christian religions. For awhile the Episcopals were deeply interesting to me because they had begun to ordain women and seemed much more reality based when it came to walking the path of Christ in the real world. But, that too, went away when I realized that somehow, it still left me feeling, "There has to be so much more in terms of being in relationship with My Maker. This is simply not it for me."

While I was sampling other forms of worship, I was fortunate to get my first real job out of college with Saint Joseph Hospital in Maryland. Coincidentally, it was founded by the Sisters of St. Francis and I was overjoyed over my 11 years there to see some of the sisters who taught me years before. I basically grew up there. And, when I left, it was as a member of the middle management. I had input to decisions and direction of the hospital. But, none of us could impact or change the over-arching premise that this is a Catholic hospital and driven resoundingly by its mission and vision as a Roman Catholic institution.

We celebrated high holy days. Mass was said at every major hospital event. New areas or new departments received a blessing ceremony. A crucifix hung in every patient room. A statue of Mary welcomed visitors who came into the lobby. And, for many, its being a Catholic hospital made it their hospital of choice.

As an employee, we were told that our personal religious beliefs would not exclude us from being part of the St. Joseph family. But, as employees, we all had to abide by the premises and tenets as taught by the Church. The physicians on staff understood that abortion procedures would not be done at this hospital. Birth control and other forms of contraception were not distributed through the hospital pharmacy. And, birth control was not on the list of medications that were covered through the prescription plan for employees.

Like any other religious based organization, when you come to work at a Catholic hospital, you understand what you are signing on for; it's a place that accepts all who come for care, regardless of race, religion, and ability to pay. A place where social justice is expected from the performance as each other and to patients and families. The same can be said of Catholic schools and other missions.

St. Joseph is not singular in this regard. It is the same at all of the Catholic hospitals. It sets them apart. Perhaps it makes them better. Maybe it holds them depends on each person to interpret this for themselves.

I just know, that while I did not consider myself a Catholic any longer, as part of the hospital staff, I went to Mass; I participated in the various services; I crafted our communications around the mission and vision in every brochure, newsletter, message my office sent out. One of the things that I admired about one of my bosses, now close friend, Carole is that she is Jewish and was always at every celebratory Mass and service. Certainly it was not her religion or faith views, but she believed that, when she made the choice to work there and be part of management, she needed to participate in those things that her organization believed to be important.

When you work for an organization, you are there by mutual choice. And, if you're going to be there, you must play by the rules as set forth.

This brings me to the issue that I have been struggling with for days. Because I find that I am increasingly angry. And, that's odd to me because, after all, I'm not Catholic any longer, so many might think that I shouldn't care...but I do care...

...I care a great deal. And, I'm angry.

With the new Obama Health Care initiative that is starting soon, upheaval and argument has really bloomed. It has divided us as a nation in many respects. I'm not going to discuss whether I am for it or against it. Let's just say as it currently stands, I think we're stuck with bad legislation. It may be funded in a passionate desire to help people, but I'd say as it is written right now, 'The road to hell is paved with good intentions.'

The health care legislation says that all places of employment must have birth control on the list of those medications fully covered under employee prescription plans or pay significant fines. And, that's a huge problem for Catholic places of employment. Let me remind you: BIRTH CONTROL IS IN DIRECT CONFLICT WITH ROMAN CATHOLIC DOGMA.

The White House glibly says, "Institutions can get waivers..." but that's not exactly true. Because in order to qualify for the waiver, an organization can only service those who share the same belief. And, Catholic hospitals; Catholic schools do not discriminate or turn any away. Trying to operate in such a fashion would be anathema. So, they won't qualify for the waiver unless they collapse their services to only Catholics. Or hire only Catholics.

My problem with this? You do not have to work at a Catholic institution. You have choices. As it stands right now, if you are employed by a Catholic institution and need abortions, birth control, or other services along those lines, there are many more options for those services.

As a female in the work force, your birth control should not be my issue and why should I, as a citizen, have to pay for the services required by an active sex life? Birth control is not a right! It's an individual's responsibility. Do we really need to tell religious organizations that they must pay for it or be fined? It is not that expensive and easily accessed, so what is this administration really saying?

If you are an employee of a Catholic institution, buy it, and put the costs toward your flexible spending account. Or get it for free from Planned Parenthood or the area health department. You have options. You are not restricted from getting the care and birth control you might need, you simply can't have it paid for by your Catholic employer!

Really? Is that so hard?!

I hear women saying all the time, "I don't want the government in my bedroom or my sex life!" and I also hear them say, "I should have total access to choice!" YOU HAVE IT! But, you can't get it everywhere....most particularly, you can't go to religious outlets for employment and tell them they must forget their fundamental belief just so you don't have to go another 30 feet down the road to another source. And, if you don't want the government in your sex life, you can't applaud it and support it when they try to force religious organizations to pay for your contraception! You can't have it both ways.

If you don't want the government telling you what to do in your personal life, why would you ever condone this current situation?! If it doesn't absolutely alarm you, why not?

This is an unbelievable stretch. The current administration is over-reaching and now moving into areas that brush up against Church and State dramatically. If you let this one go, what will be the next? Which is the next religious organization that will be forced into something? When do we say, "That's far enough!"

A recent poll of Catholic women showed that about 73 per cent of them think that they should be offered birth control. But that's not the point!

Like most women, I would agree, the Catholic Church needs to change their standing on the issue of birth control, but until they change, it's their doctrine; their rules; their dogma. You don't ask the Church to change, you abide by their teachings or find a home that suits you.

The truth here is that the average, reasonable person will say, "I'm not concerned about this, because I don't have a problem with a Catholic institution not doing these things. It never crossed my mind to think they should."

But, the problem is, your Government does! It is attempting to force their thoughts on care whether you think it makes sense or not. We can't just let them do what they think is right for us. They're not our parents! We can think for ourselves! We should be taking care of ourselves and those around us who need it, not the government. And even more critical, we should not have a government that believes they have the authority to tell a religious organization to forego their history and doctrine because they say so or pay a fine for holding fast to their guiding principles and values. HELL no!!

So if you think that the Obama administration is correct, let's be clear about what you're really saying: You would rather Catholic organizations deliver less health care; less education; less social services to the general population and restrict it to only Catholics in order to avoid being severely financially penalized. Does that really sound like it's a good idea when access to contraceptives is really not an issue for employees of Catholic institutions? You decide.

Render unto God what is God and unto Caesar what is Caesar's, was The Christ's best advice on how to live in the world that needs to give weight to both the state and the church. But, the ability to do this is becoming a perilous ledge that we are all dancing on at the moment. And we should all be very afraid of how far down the drop is below.

Namaste' Till Next Time,
Holly aka She Who Is A Woman In Conflict


Miss Robyn said...

while I don't understand what is going on over there.. but here, we have a Prime Minister who doesn't believe in God. at all.

I love the piece where you say: Sometimes the robes of religion fit you just fine and other times, well, you find that try as you might, you just can't make it work for you. - I am forever, changing robes.. taking off.. putting back on.. altering a little to fit.. and on my journey goes !!

Anonymous said...

Thought provoking indeed. The whole thinking of Big Brother, once again foisting its jaded propositions upon the masses, sticks in my craw.
Again allowing others to opt out - that in itself speaks to me that they recognized that they have stepped in one more time.
It delights me that there is public hue and cry re this latest debacle.
How much more do we have to have shoved down our throats?

Just Stuff From a Boomer said...

I converted to Catholicism in the mid 70s, after Vatican II. Part of what I liked was the ritiual and the strong foundation. For years, I too had misgivings on how females were treated. (Personally, I believe Mary Magdelene had a much bigger roll than she is given credit for.) I don't believe the government should dictate insurance..period. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

Rocky Creek Scotties and Rocky Creek Ramblings said...

Holly, this has been on my mind all week - and I still don't know where I stand on it, but I do know that I don't want the government telling me what I can do with my body, nor do I want them involved in my health insurance issues. Thank you for putting it "out there" for us to ponder.

gayle said...

I completely agree with you!! This was an awesome post!!

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