Terzah's Reviews > Practicing Catholic

Practicing Catholic by James Carroll
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Oct 17, 2009

really liked it

Warning: this review may be a bit long. This book was thought-provoking, and I want to get some of those thoughts down, because the question I was hoping to answer by reading this book is a big one for me.

That question: should I leave the Catholic church? The reason side of me says an emphatic yes. After all, if I were given a choice to join an organization that openly discriminates against women in several ways (among other--let's face it--really big sins), would I choose to join? Nope. Do I worry that growing up Catholic will saddle my children with unnecessary hang-ups? Yep. And I have no quibbles with the beliefs of many liberal Protestant churches out there that would welcome me with open arms. But the emotional side of me just can't seem to see myself as anything other than Catholic.

In this book, James Carroll, who left the priesthood in the 70s but didn't leave the church, and is appalled by many of the same things I am, does his best to explain why he has stayed a "practicing Catholic." And his best is really good. "Catholics," he writes, "are well known for organizing their religious practice around sacraments, which are defined as outward and visible signs of an inward and invisible grace.....In the Catholic imagination, the very stuff of life, in its visible, touchable, smellable ordinariness, is the mode of God's presence: water (Baptism), bread and wine (the Mass), oil (Anointing of the Sick), sexual intercourse (Matrimony), words (Absolution in Confession), touch (Imposition of Hands in Confirmation and Ordination)....Creation itself is God's great self-communication."

As for the Church's sins (anti-Semitism, concealing pedophilia, etc.)? Carroll writes, "...To be a member of this community is to stand openly in need of forgiveness...But now it is clear that instead of isolating us under the unbearable burden of individual guilt, this community, respsonding to the Father's prodigal love, the antidote to judgment, invites us to put that burden down. That the Church is sinful is why, finally, each of us can feel at home in it."

Carroll is an idealist--an articulate, literate and passionate one--but an idealist nonetheless. And I admit that idealism in almost any form pushes me toward cynicism (his description early in the book of how, as a new campus priest in Boston in the late 60s, he dismantled the old-fashioned chapel with its candles, icons and pews and replaced all that with red carpeting and sitting on the floor elicited a Gen-X snicker from me--ah, what a ridiculous decade that must have been in many ways). And I can't quite share his faith that the mass of Catholics in the U.S. who believe as he and I do will be able to make changes given the obstacle posed by the backward-looking clerics who have held power in the Church since John Paul II and continue to hold it under Benedict XVI.

But then my own emotional devotion to the church intervenes again, fortified now by Carroll's arguments. I do love the sacraments and the ritual, the smell of incense, the feeling of belonging to something truly transcendental that I got when I entered the Sistene Chapel. I love what Carroll has to say about the difference between ethics (especially compassion) and dogma, and how the choice should be clear when one conflicts with the other (think about the condom ban and AIDS in Africa). He also offers a cogent philosophical basis for openness toward other Christian traditions and all the non-Christian faiths as well, which would do away with inhospitable (and embarrassing) practices like not sharing Communion with non-Catholic visitors at Mass. So though I can't say I've answered my question about whether I'll stay in the Church (every Sunday homily that mentions the Great Sin of living with one's spouse before marriage pushes me another inch away), I can say I'll be staying a little longer.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Widget (new)

Widget Terz, This is a book I'd like to read. Ma

Terzah I think you'd enjoy it! The guy writes really well.

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