Tuesday, May 10, 2005

how do you know?

Today I went to the funeral for a dear friend's grandfather. She grew up in the same house as him, so it was a terrible blow for her and her family when he died. I don't know that anyone can quantify whether it is harder or easier for someone to deal with the death of a family member, but I know that people are close to their families in different ways. Suffice to say that for her, I think it was almost like a parent dying because they are so close.

As I sat in her Catholic church listening to the mass, I kept staring at the cross hanging above the altar and trying to examine what I believe. You see, I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic elementary, high school, and college, was incredibly active in the Catholic church for the first 20 years of my life, and then I met and married a Jewish boy.

Meeting and marrying that Jewish boy didn't break my connection to the Catholic church, but it allowed me to bring my doubts to the surface. I had been feeling conflicted about my church and its beliefs, and all of a sudden in front of me was someone who clearly disagreed with everything I practiced. And I could really question and challenge my religion without anyone arguing back.

In middle and high school, I loved my church. I spent most of my hours outside of school doing church activities and helping to run the youth group for the high school and junior high. I was a lector and eucharistic minister, and I think deep down I wished I could be a priest. Well, I know that deep down I wished I could be a priest, and it was a little heartbreaking when I realized that the church didn't want me. And that there was no real place for me in the Catholic church, except as a nun.

Added to that my differing views on divorce, abortion, homosexuality, and a host of issues, and I had a problem on my hands. My mom subscribed to the don't question, just believe mentality, but it wasn't working for me. So I would try to delve deeper in order to come to some peace with myself. My minor in college was a program combining faith, social action, and justice, and I ached for a congregation that would allow me to disagree with all of these major (at least for me) issues, while still being engaged. Most of my college friends and roommates felt the same way, but we continued to attend mass because it was our history and our upbringing. We might disagree, but there was no consensus about what to do with that disagreement.

Meeting the Hubs allowed me to take a break from being Catholic, so to speak, and question what I believed. There was one thing I knew without a doubt: I could not, and did not, believe in a G-d that would condemn the love of my life for being born into Judaism, while I was saved because I was Catholic. I even told my Catholic priest that if G-d was such a person, it wasn't someone with whom I wanted to spend eternity. I still believe that.

Before going forward, though, I want to make clear that I am not criticizing anyone else's beliefs or thoughts on these issues, just putting my own down on paper.

Today I sat in mass and asked myself whether I really DON'T believe in a Christ, that died on the cross, born from the virgin Mary and saints and all the rest. And if I do believe, how can I say that I will raise my children Jewish (as we are planning to do)? How could I let my children believe something different?

I think I can do this because while I definitely believe that there is a G-d, I don't believe that any one religion has it right. I don't believe that G-d will pick and choose which competing religion has the idea and thus treat that religion better than others. I know loads of people, disagree, but I just can't believe that.

I want my children to have faith, to have something to hold on to, just as I did, but I will not teach them that one is better than others, or that Judaism has it right. They will be born Jewish, just as they will be born Argentinean and American. I won't keep it a secret that I am Catholic, but I plan to practice Judaism with my children, in my home, and I plan to be wholly involved in their teaching and religious upbringing.

But no, I can't really say that I don't believe in everything I was taught as a child. I find the Our Father and the Hail Mary comforting. I love the notion of angels and saints, and I certainly believe in heaven. But I don't exactly believe either. Maybe I am just afraid to say that I don't believe, maybe it is the Catholic guilt kicking in.

I know that I see G-d all around me. I know that I try to be a better person all the time, and I feel a debt for all the blessings that have been bestowed on me. I believe in love and forgiveness and kindness and I have no doubt that those are key to whatever G-d wants from us.

Beyond that, I don't know that I will ever be sure about all the rest. I don't see how anyone can be sure.