Catholi­cism is in me; in my bones, in my blood, in every breath I take. It is not a gar­ment I wear, a hat I pull out at appoint­ed times. I real­ly feel that it is who I am, or at the very least that I am who — and what and how — I am because of my Catholic upbring­ing, and I trea­sure that real­i­sa­tion. I do not think I could be any­thing else even if I want­ed to.

Yet the world does not stand still, nor does any­thing in it. The faith I had as a child was already evolv­ing as I grew into a pious young man whom peo­ple looked to as part of the future of the Church they loved. Through four years of sem­i­nary train­ing and expe­ri­ence, that faith of mine grew, flour­ished, and expand­ed. But I also found that the world, and the peo­ple in it, were far more com­plex than I had pre­vi­ous­ly sus­pect­ed. The lines between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ began to blur, as did those between ‘lib­er­al’ and ‘con­ser­v­a­tive’, the prin­ci­pal labels by which I had defined my faith up to that point. By the time I left for­ma­tion I saw the label-sling­ing polar­i­sa­tion in the Church as a dev­as­tat­ing source of ongo­ing tur­moil and con­fu­sion for count­less souls, and I no longer want­ed any part of it.

But my faith, or rather my expe­ri­ence and expres­sion of my faith, depend­ed in a large part on pre­cise­ly that polar­i­sa­tion. With­out labels to guide me, I stum­bled along in a con­fused world of doubt, utter­ly alone.

For I was also bereft now of a faith com­mu­ni­ty, some­thing I had vast­ly under­es­ti­mat­ed my depen­dence upon. ‘Com­mu­ni­ty’ is a word I retain a cer­tain ambiva­lence towards. Out­side of my fam­i­ly I have very rarely felt a sense of com­mu­ni­ty in my life. I was with­drawn from the com­pa­ny of my age-peers when I was six years old. When I was nine we moved from the small town where my par­ents knew every­one to anoth­er small town where they knew no one. Two years lat­er we moved again, to yet anoth­er close-knit rur­al com­mu­ni­ty in which we could nev­er live long enough to hope to tru­ly feel we belonged.
Our fam­i­ly was active enough in the parish, but not enough for me to think of it as a com­mu­ni­ty we were a part of. (Remem­ber that whole small town thing I just men­tioned?) For me, church was always some­thing I was good at, not some­thing I was a part of. I knew my prayers, I knew the litur­gy, I excelled as an altar boy. Yet my very involve­ment at church quick­ly did more to set me apart than it did to draw me in. And before long I became ‘the sem­i­nar­i­an’ and all the oth­er kids (and many adults) just sort of gazed at me on my pret­ty pedestal more than they got to know and accept me as a person.

Sem­i­nary was all about com­mu­ni­ty. The con­cept was crammed down our throats until we choked on it, every offi­cial sen­tence built pon­der­ous­ly around it. But despite that catch­word over­load, it real­ly was a com­mu­ni­ty for me. Of course it was a com­mu­ni­ty of faith, but even more than that it was a com­mu­ni­ty of men, thrown togeth­er by their pur­suit of a com­mon goal. The men there were the largest, clos­est com­mu­ni­ty I have ever been a part of. Those nine­ty-odd souls includ­ed my friends, my boon com­pan­ions, my con­fi­dants, my men­tors, and even my adver­saries. We were a com­mu­ni­ty of young men on a com­mon jour­ney, a deeply per­son­al jour­ney down a path fraught with doubt, sur­round­ed by back-stab­bing, swirling with Byzan­tine polit­i­cal intrigue, lit­tered with false prophets, rid­dled with unfore­seen ago­nies; a bewil­der­ing labyrinth of alter­nate routes that all seemed eas­i­er than the one being trod. Many of us fell along the way; some were missed, oth­ers were not. It was a far from per­fect com­mu­ni­ty, but it was a very real one for me, and one I felt deeply attached to. When I walked out that door for the last time, I was tru­ly out in the cold, cold world, very much alone.

1 Comment

  1. You so TOTALLY have to read “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Ger­ald May. Seri­ous­ly. Like now. You’ll love it, I promise.

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