Are the Recovering Catholics Back?

When I first heard that the Pope was coming to NYC, my thoughts were dreadful. How am I going to be able to get to my work meeting near Madison Square Garden on Friday? How am I going to be able to get to the airport to fly out to California for vacation? To me at that time, the Pope visiting was a traffic nuisance. It was another thing to plan around like when the President comes to town or fancy UN officials. Typical New Yorker. What I didn’t realize was that the Pope vehicular nuisance would instigate a complete reflection of my faith, where I am from, and where I am going. For the past decade, I have considered myself a recovering Catholic, Pope Francis is make me reconsider.

Like many American Catholics, I have considered myself a recovering Catholic for the past decade. What does that mean? In short, I was raised in the Catholic faith, that is I was brought to church by my parents every Sunday (regardless of the fake sickness I played), got baptized, got confirmed (my confirmation name is Mary, how original), and did the obligatory community service and church holidays.

At some point though, namely, at the time I entered my first Catholic school, my path diverged, though not at first. At first, I glommed onto it. After years of Jersey public school pride ala Bruce Springsteen, I was at the University of Notre Dame where Catholicism is embedded in every fiber of the collegiate experience, from the weekly masses in the dorm chapels, to the influential righteous readings in even economics class, to the singing of the alma mater after every football game. “Notre Dame, our Mother, tender strong and true.” I was taken. It provided community, direction in a confusing time of becoming an adult, and a higher level of spirituality that I wanted. I participated, like a champ. I joined the dorm liturgical choir (despite my average karaoke voice), I volunteered with the Sisters of Charity at the women’s homeless shelter in Boston, and made the holy basketball team.

But as quickly as I glommed onto this new sense of a higher purpose, I quickly fell off. I realized that I only saw older men delivering sermons that I should follow — why should they dictate what was right and wrong for me? I was told that I did not have any say in decisions about my body. I was also told that I was doomed to go to hell because of the person I loved. I couldn’t reconcile this. How could this community of faith, a community so deeply entrenched in social justice, reject me and my will?

For years, I stopped going to church but the roots of my religion has continued through my work. As the founder of a social enterprise, I am often asked why I do what I do…..that moment of obligation. I used to brush off the idea that it came from my Catholic upbringing. Why would I give credit to the same community that rejected me?

Pope Francis has reminded me of my roots and for the first time in over a decade, I am proud to be raised as a Catholic. It grounded me in social justice, serving the poor, equity of opportunity, and most importantly, empathy.

But there is still a long way to go. Just because the Pope ascribes to certain ideals, doesn’t mean the entire church and its satellite branches very far from the Vatican will reflect that.

My mom, who grew up with parents from Ireland who walked to church every day, reminds me that the institution is not the main reason you to go church, God is. But for me and my generation that is not enough to keep us going. We need a church and community that embraces our earthly differences, but brings us all together with our common goals for the world to prosper that the Pope has communicated this week. It is only then, that the Catholic religion and its true social justice roots will regain its worldly presence and influence. And for that hope, maybe the traffic isn’t so bad this week in NYC after all.