“I only know one thing: when seduction ends, we will also have ended ourselves, because logic and reason signify the end. But, as long as a poor woman needs to kneel in search of hope or comfort, my little church will remain standing.”
La piel del tambor – Arturo Pérez-Reverte
It’s enough to go to mass to realize that logic and reason are not there. It’s not that I’m an atheist as such, nor do I know how to define myself. The thing is that, normally, I loathe going to mass. I do not understand what I am supposed to take away from it and, instead of tranquility, it leaves me with more internal conflicts than when I entered. However, sometimes I go, especially in the company of my grandmother and in places like Cartagena, because I like to see the people that go to mass.
I like the little old men and women that attend mass to release themselves from the weight of an entire life, in a place that’s older than themselves. I like their tranquility and, in some cases, the lack thereof. I think they go to church because they know they have more yesterdays than tomorrows, and the idea of a life after death gives them peace. That’s why they go every day – to be absolved of their sins, to receive communion, to be close to God.
To see these aged men and women is to see another Catholic religion, one I was never taught. Perhaps, had I been taught that religion, I’d be a fervent believer, but that’s a life that never was. The Catholicism I’ve grown up with isn’t the same. It never brings me solace to go to a place brimming with people, to listen to a homily that, rather than bringing me closer to God, makes me feel farther and farther away, with priests that act like politicians and places where I don’t feel the presence of God in any crevice.
Holy Week could be the opportunity to struggle with our problems of faith, given that it’s the epicenter of Christian belief –the resurrection of Christ. Since Catholicism is the major religion in Colombia, I assume that most Colombians were raised, to a certain extent, in the dogmas of Catholic faith. Yet, for me, Catholicism has many structural issues. First, priests haven’t been able to reach young people with the turn of the century. I don’t understand the message they intend to impart, and I think their attempts to modernize have been failures. The religious TV channels are not attractive and the idea of a priest as my friend is even less appealing.
Second, I can’t objectively reconcile many things that are considered sinful with my own moral compass. How could I go to confession for taking the birth control pill? This seems an absurdity to me, and what I truly believe to be sins – killing, theft, lying, and not loving your neighbor as you love yourself- get lost in other debates that are not central Catholic dogma. Today, we think more about the church’s position on contraceptives and abortion – matters of undeniable importance – but we forget that, behind it all, there is a message: a man died for us so that we could love each other and treat each other as equals.
I think even priests forget that this is the central tenet of Catholicism: “love thy neighbor as you love thyself, and God above all.” The second part of that commandment proceeds to emphasize tolerance and love for everyone unconditionally. I don’t know when this principle got lost, or when fervent Catholics stopped practicing it, but it’s a fundamental principle. Catholicism is more than what I think about abortion or gay marriage, like certain politicians would have us believe.
The first thing the Bible says –or one of the first- is that we have a duty to tolerate others. It didn’t say that we have the right to edit the Bible in case we disagree with lifestyles different from our own. If you don’t believe me, take a moment to look at who the twelve apostles were, and you’ll see that not one of them was a saint – rather everything but. Consider all of this without taking into account poor Mary Magdalene, who I think has taken enough heat as it is.
I suppose this is the principle that doesn’t allow me to renounce my Catholic faith completely. It’s such a simple idea and, if everyone who claims to be Catholic applied it, things would be different. I think that’s why I like the little old men and women in mass because, to see them there, is to see this principle in action. These men and women live beyond the good or evil in their lives, and instead look back on their lives objectively. They stare death in the face and give accounts of a life well or poorly lived. And in the end, the only thing that counts is the love they leave behind – the rest will vanish in their absence. This is the religion in which I wish to believe…the same that they believe in: one that forgives easily, understands everything, and gives real comfort to people, especially to those who have run out of second chances.