For years, I've felt increasingly disconnected from the religion of my youth as I became a more staunch Christian progressive Democrat. But just as I'd come close to giving up on "being a Catholic" entirely, one little parish kept me coming back -- one renegade, ragtag, humble little parish right outside of our nation's capital, in Arlington, Virginia.
Yesterday's joyful celebration of inclusion at Our Lady Queen of Peace made me feel hope again in the intersection of my faith, my religion, and my politics for the first time in a long time.
I've spent years drifting away from the Catholic Church intellectually and spiritually but still yearning for a return to the religion that felt like home. Most of the Catholic Masses I've attended in the last 10 years have been disappointing - rituals that felt somewhat devoid of greater purpose and joy, homilies that focused on venerating the innocent "pre-born" or railing against the so-called attack on families and traditional marriage from those who believe in equal rights for GLBT folk. My faith and my religion were totally out of synch. More often than not, I felt more frustration and shame than inspiration when I heard Catholic leaders speak.
A few years ago, one of my colleagues in a public school where I was a teacher recommended his parish to me. He knew I was raised Catholic and felt that my liberal politics didn't fit in with the increasingly conservative American Church, but told me about this one haven for progressive Catholics -- an inclusive parish that welcomed GLBT members (and for many years was led by a beloved openly gay pastor) and had a very progressive, politically active parish community that focused on social justice.
This parish, tucked away in a simple little white chapel in a diverse working-class neighborhood, is dedicated to being living witness toMatthew 25:31-46:
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
Its pews are packed every Sunday with people from all races and cultural backgrounds. The place bustles with energy and children and music and joy. The bulletin is packed with information about getting involved in direct ministry to the needy as well as political action. The pastor urges parishoners to go to County Board meetings an advocate for budgets that have adequate funding for affordable housing and services to the needy and mentally ill. There is a true "pro-life" focus -- making sure that pregnant women, children, families, the lonely, the poor, the hungry, the elderly, the forgotten, the disabled, and the "least" of us are loved, accepted, included, and remembered. The money pours in and pours right back out into direct ministry to the needy. The chapel itself isn't fancy or adorned with expensive decorations - it's got cheap ceiling tiles, worn carpets, and peeling paint. Most money in the basket isn't spent on finery. It goes to a painfully poor sister-parish in Haiti.
Girls have been altar servers in all but one other diocese in the U.S. and in most countries around the world since 1994, but the bishop in Arlington was adamant in his opposition to the practice until this week. Parishoners and leaders from Our Lady Queen of Peace have been actively lobbying the bishop for a decade to change his ban on allowing girls on the altar.
As many of you know, after posting and writing diaries very regularly in 2003-04, I've been quiet on DailyKos for the past year because I'd moved back to CT to take care of my ailing elderly father, a task which consumed most of my time and energy and left little time for politics and blogging. My dad died three weeks ago.
At my dad's funeral Mass, I was honored to deliver his eulogy, and being part of the beautiful Catholic ritual made me sad for how much my dad grieved about my disconnection from the Church he loved so much. He was a very proud old-time Irish Catholic Democrat, and completely rejected the idea that you can't be a faithful Catholic and a proud Democrat. But as much as I hated to disappoint him in this way, I couldn't help feel wrong when I'd go to Mass at most parishes and sit through a homily that sometimes preached the exact opposite of my understanding of the merciful and abundant love of Jesus.
Yesterday, I brought my mother down to Virginia to get her out of the house and try to shake her a bit out of her depression. Without realizing what a happy occasion we'd be celebrating, I took her to church on Sunday. A lifelong Catholic, my mom was startled at how different Mass was at this Church -- a standing ovation and cheers for the newest altar girl, a lively African folk song to begin the Mass, holding hands during the Our Father, open references to the horrible immigration bill and to the county budget, politically-oriented prayers for the faithful shouted out from dozens of parishoners in the pews during the general intercessions, and - most meaningful of all - the priest's obvious joy at the inclusion of girls on the altar and his expressed hope for "full gender equality" in the Church in the future. When the priest adamantly said to those in the pews, "All who believe in Jesus are welcome at His table. Don't let ANYONE stop you" from receiving Communion, I felt welcome at to receive Communion for the first time in years. It felt like he'd personally kick the ass of anyone who tried to keep from including me or any other person of faith from joining in sharing the Communion. My mom loved it and said it was one of the most joyful Masses she'd ever attended.
What I saw in church yesterday made me feel joy and hope about being a Catholic Democrat for the first time in my adult life. Nobody is going to tell me I'm not a Catholic because I'm a proud Democrat. No Catholic League president (who is no more Catholic than me or any other Catholic) or Fox News pundit is going to go on TV and strip me of my religious identity because I fight for social justice for the poor, reproductive freedom for all, and equal rights for gay and lesbian people.
I know from experience that finding a parish like this one is rare in our country today. But I felt inspired to share this on DailyKos today because I know from reading and commenting here for the last few years that there are so many other Catholic Democrats who feel similarly and who'd love to know that there's at least one church out there where they'd feel at home. Have faith. Don't give up. And don't ever surrender to those who'd say you're not Catholic because you're a Democrat.