Dad would be furious with me at the moment if he knew.
Yesterday, he was in at a Kaiser Permanente hospital in Fontana, Calif., getting treated for the another malady that naturally happens as we age. I’m the oldest sibling and I work in healthcare. I see things such as advanced cancers, blood clots and aneurysms on a daily basis. Dad, God bless him, has faced off with his health problems like a champ.
That was yesterday — Saturday. Today, he is most assuredly back in a Catholic church somewhere in Southern California’s so-called High Desert.
And I am not.
Today, the Catholic Church repulses me. It doesn’t make me question whether there is a God. It makes me wonder how best to appreciate and worship an omnipotent being, because dropping money into a collection bin that on some level financed sexual abuse makes me ill.
If I listed the number of recent discoveries in the church, it would simply take too long. The most damning is a grand jury report about 900 pages deep released in Philadelphia in August. It asserts more than 1,000 children were abused by about 300 priests.
Moreover, sex abuse cases have popped up in Latin America and Australia.
Full disclosure: my uncle was a Catholic priest who served around the world — including in Houston, Salt Lake City and Connecticut in the United States. I will not entertain any jokes about the man. Truth be told, having him visit our family when I was a child was pretty convenient. On Sunday, we could sleep in and he would hold a private family Mass in our house.
In later years, I learned that in many countries having a priest in the family is considered a status symbol, looked at with the same reverence that we Americans look at relatives who are doctors or professional athletes. To a degree, it makes sense. What’s left if you live in a country that doesn’t revere wealth or pop culture? Would it not be a relative who has dedicated his life to Christ and has the pedigree to prove it?
Because you have to be intelligent to be a priest. You have to be a college graduate before you begin seminary, preferably majoring in philosophy. If you didn’t major in philosophy, you probably have to go back to college for yet another year. Then you go through four more years of intense theological study in seminary. After that? One more year serving as a deacon.
Side note: I was a philosophy major at Cal State San Bernardino, but I digress.
The reason for all of this study is a good priest will spend the rest of his life serving a being that millions of people do not believe exists. You’re also about to be the last line of defense for people who are considering turning their back on Christ, or children who do not comprehend how evil exists in a world with a benevolent God, or taking positions against war. And all that study, which you could have used to become a doctor with a trophy wife? Nope. You will live a spartan lifestyle to serve your fellow men and women on a path to that God.
You better know your stuff.
Only none of this justifies a damn thing that I have seen.
While I am not questioning my belief in God, I have no choice but to question the church. Better stated, I’m furious.
Because where am I supposed to go now, Pope Francis?
Before anyone reading this makes a suggestion, rest assured I have been to a number of different churches. I think they are populated by mostly nice people. Others, highly judgmental folk. Greg Laurie of Harvest Crusade fame — and by extension, a Calvary Chapel near you — is a highly judgmental man. I have conversed with him repeatedly. Joel Osteen just looks slimy.
I once went to a six-hour Pentacostal service where exactly one Bible verse was read, but more people collapsed in the aisles than if a plague had broken out. Bring your dancing shoes and plenty of blankets. Your Bible? Maybe not.
I enjoy the structure of a Catholic Mass — which attempts to take a chapter in the Old Testament, one Psalm, a third biblical chapter and the Gospel and weld these passages into a unified message of hope. That is not a simple task. There is a gap of about 500 years between the old and new testaments. We spun from Barack Obama to Donald Trump in one day. How much did society change in 500 years? Yet, if you pay attention, a Catholic Mass led by a dedicated priest can be an enlightening experience.
I’ll give an example. One Sunday in Lake Elsinore, I’m at this run-down church and the Old Testament chapters are from Leviticus, an extremely boring book of Jewish laws. The Gospel reading was about Pharisees who rebuked Jesus for helping the poor on a Sabbath. After all, it’s against the law to work on Sabbath, right? Jesus’ reply was how you can’t ignore helping desperate people to obey a law.
The priest gets up. I am wondering how he will make a coherent message out of that. “I spent a month in Central America this year. I saw people dropping dead in the streets because they starved and we had no food to give. … I know many people do not give a shit about people in Central America. I also know many of you are more concerned that I used the word ‘shit’ than helping starving people in Central America.”
And then he sat down. He made the point in less than a minute.
But I can’t accept a message of hope if I think it is from a criminal pervert.
And so I sit here in a fast-food restaurant, ranting about what the hell I’m supposed to do next.
Because I still believe in God.
Hopefully, Dad is OK with that for a while.