Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What kind of Catholic are you if you...go to *confession*?

Mike and I had an interesting discussion last night. He happened to mention to a family member (also Catholic) that he was picking up a book for me at the public library so that I had time to stop off and go to confession on my way home, since the parish where Hank goes to school has confession on Tuesday afternoons (odd, but true). He said that the family member looked quite surprised and said:

"Tiffany is going to confession? *Why would she need to do THAT?!* I don't believe in confession."

In the conversation that ensued, the family member also mentioned that she doesn't believe in papal infallibility, or the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

So this got me to thinking. It does seem to me that often, Catholics who regularly go to confession are viewed with suspicion:

(1) What on earth do they do so horrible that they need to confess it so often?!

Or incredulity:

(2) They go to confession? In one of those creepy little wood boxes with a priest? FREAKS.

I don't mean to imply that all people who are averse to the idea of confession are mean spirited, certainly not. But in my opinion, the sacrament of reconciliation is the least understood, by both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. And it's definitely underused.

So, as Mike and I were talking, he gave me his analysis:

"I told her that you shouldn't be a Catholic just because that's what you've always done. If you don't believe in the major tenets of the faith, it's not right to call yourself a Catholic and badmouth it's main beliefs. She should realize what I've thought she was for a long time now: an Episcopalian."

I had to laugh at that. :) I mean, I appreciate what he's saying. You should align yourself with a religious faith because you believe it to be the truth and take pride in it. Your faith should be your own and not simply something you call yourself because you never really thought too deeply about it. And if you feel very strongly that you cannot accept certain teachings of that church, maybe a different worship community is right for you.

But on the other hand...what about healthy doubt? We're not all robots without minds of our own to think things through and analyze them. And what if you're struggling with a particular teaching, but you continue to study and to pray about it? Certainly, there's a place for you in the Church. I wouldn't want it any other way. But where does that line come into play that a person, via their words and actions, actually disengages themselves from the Church? This family member attends Mass every Sunday. That to me says that she feels strongly about her Catholic identity.

So...what makes a person a Catholic? It certainly isn't up to me to decide the answer to this question, but I think it's interesting to ponder. I certainly don't like conversations that deteriorate into what makes a person a "good" or a "bad" Catholic. None of us is perfect, and all one can ever do is try their best to live out the faith and be a good example.

Confession was awesome, by the way. And this parish actually had *2* priests hearing confessions, practically unheard of nowadays. And a decent number of people came and went. I always feel so good after I go to confession. It can be intimidating, but it certainly is cleansing.

Food for thought. :)


  1. Interesting stuff!

    I think different people "use" religion in different ways, and at the end of the day, I try to respect their personal interpretation, which I assume is tied to their personal needs, even when that interpretation and those needs differ from mine (which they almost definitely will.)

    So for me, at least (says the semi-Jew-with-Catholic-leanings), "cafeteria Catholicism" is OK, because while those people might dislike or disagree with or even be actively in conflict with some teachings, the Catholic Mass still resonates with them, and brings them closer to God as they understand (or want to understand) Him. The bottom line is that your relationship with God is yours to define, manage, and negotiate, and not anyone else's, and I wouldn't want to tell someone who wants to be X but who has differences at points A, B, and C that they're truly a Y. (Though I might suggest they look into Y sometime.)

    Maybe similarly, I got into a discussion the other day about whether or not LDS members are Christians or not, and I basically said "it's not for us to say; if you believe you are, then you are, no? Maybe it's a Christian sect, but even if you think it's a flat-out cult, its members believe they're Christian, so they are, even if they do it much differently than Catholics or Methodists or what have you.

    But that might just be me!

  2. I agree, the Church has room for doubts, no problem! that said I agree with Mike, calling yourself Catholic implies belief in and agreement, to the best of ones abilities, with the basic tenets of Church teaching. The church welcomes all who seek truth, because She is the gaurdian of truth, if She didnt have requirements/ standards for membership She would be inherently unable to guard truth!!.
    BTW I am one of those Catholics who go to confession, and Tues afternoon sounds fabulous!!


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