Monday, December 21, 2009

For Rosa, Who Loved Jesus So Much She Had to Leave His Church

Posted by Webster 
Living where I do, outside Boston, I am surrounded by Catholics. Being Catholics of our times, many of them, born into the Church, have left it. This is a strange burden for me, only two years a Catholic, to bear.

By what lottery was I called to this faith now, nearing the age of 60? By what turn of the wheel have these Catholics, who adored the Church of their childhood, fled it like a frightening memory behind a door they themselves have locked and lost the key? I have never prayed to St. Jude, patron of lost causes (left), but if I meet many more of these people, I may begin doing so.

I have written previously about “my friend who has fallen away from the church.” More recently, I wrote about a cradle Catholic who values my passion for Catholicism but somehow can’t find the way back to his own. Let me take a moment to tell you about a third friend, “Rosa.” This friend recently came upon one of my blog posts, and she was offended by what the post implied about people in her situation. But as we talked I realized, and so did she, that the blog had actually opened up inner territories for her to explore. I even dared to think it may have reopened a door she had closed so long ago.

I have known Rosa for many years now. She is bright, well educated, upstanding in motherhood and citizenship, and—I think even she would admit—extremely talkative. I am not so talkative—except in your blog, I can hear Katie saying with an eye-roll, and she is right, of course. Because Rosa is talkative and I am not, and perhaps for no other reason, we may not always have understood each other as well as we might. Talkative can look superficial to the non-talkative; and I know how self-absorbed I can seem.

Rosa may be talkative, but as I learned in a recent conversation, superficial she is not. She told me of her extreme devotion to the Church as a child. Of praying on her knees on a hard wood floor while other children were playing. Of the countless rosaries, novenas, and other devotions she applied herself to until—when was it?—her late teens, early twenties? Then, a disastrous series of encounters with a priest soured her heart. This was no sordid story of abuse like those that have made news in recent years. It was just a case of lousy advice from someone who should have known better. At a time when she was growing from adolescence to womanhood, when it seems that even virginity was still an option for her—when her life could have taken so many good turns—Rosa turned away from the Church.

As a mother, she has tried to find her way back, but again, maybe ten years ago, she asked for pastoral guidance and received just the wrong answer. You can say, but maybe Rosa is wrong, maybe it was the right answer. I've heard the pastoral answer she was given, and, let me presume to say this: It is the wrong answer. I am not sure what the right answer is, but Pope Benedict would have known, and so would Father Barnes, I'm sure.

I am sorry to be so indefinite about Rosa's story, but I must not violate her privacy. What's more, I am just finishing Michael O'Brien's extraordinary novel Island of the World, and I have underlined the following words regarding the short biography of a poet, who is the central character:

Before going to press, . . . he insisted on the deletion of any significant biographical data. He maintained that while such matters are important “for the soul” of a man, the understanding to be gained from them is for the man himself, and not for anyone who, from idle interest or “more perilous curiositas,” as he called it, presumes to enter into the realm of another’s private memory.

I wrote Rosa’s initials in the margin beside this quote. And I have written this post with the quote in mind. My interest in Rosa is not “idle,” but Rosa herself will have to arrive, perhaps with the help of the Holy Spirit, at a renewed understanding of her own biographical data. I feel honored, though, that, during a brief conversation that shattered all my preconceptions, Rosa gave me a glimpse into the realm of her private memory.

What else can I do now? Keep blogging and getting in trouble with my blogging. Keep talking. Keep praying. Joan of Beverly would advise me to add Rosa to my prayer list, and so I have done so. St. Jude, pray for us.