Have you ever heard someone say they were “raised Catholic?” or were you raised Catholic yourself? Me too. There’s a lot of us, “raised” from birth as “cradle Catholics”. Strangely, you hear these descriptors far less among people of other faiths. I don’t often hear about people who were “raised“ Jewish, or of “cradle” Protestant Christians or Muslims. The idea of being ‘raised’ in a faith or philosophy seems to indicate an end point; you’re raised in a childhood faith and when you’re grown, it’s done.
Comedians like Mike Birbiglia and John Mulaney speak hilariously about their childhood Catholicism, and the many disconnects they experienced as adults which caused them to leave it behind. The priest sex abuse crisis comes up in their stories, of course, but more emphasized are the particular cruelties and lack of charity they see from clergy and church people, the hypocrisy, the simplistic and poorly explained theology, and the rigidity that tells a very different story from the good God the church professes. We’d do well to listen to what they have to say.
We who were raised Catholic all have our stories about individual priests and religious people who didn’t measure up to the standard they declared, whose judgmental homilies made us seethe in the pews or stand up and leave. We’ve all seen posts or teachings or articles that made us question whether we belonged any longer to the church of our youth. In the wake of negative experience, some who were raised Catholic walk away. Some stay on the perimeter. Some sit in pews wondering if this is all there is.
The very lucky ones can reference encounters with good and holy priests or religious whose example brought color and context to the Catholicism of their childhood, helping it grow and flourish into an adult faith they can step into and own. They may have explored beyond the borders of Catholicism and found meaning that brought new light and depth to the truths they had been taught as kids. They may have had personal encounters with God, vibrant community, and personal study of Scripture that helped all of those childhood faith puzzle pieces come back together into something that makes sense, lifts their eyes, and leads them forward.
I’ve been fortunate to know a number of these Christians of all denominations, and they’ve helped me craft the lens of my own faith. They’ve helped me experience Jesus and with Him, they’ve lifted the experience of my faith beyond the borders of what I had been taught as a child. They’ve raised me higher.
I don’t know a Catholic today who’s not struggling, conflicted, or divided. Whether we’re attending mass in person or not, American Catholics are finding a disconnect between the God they’ve experienced and the messages they receive. The stress of the pandemic, divisive politics, and racial inequity have brought a new reckoning to the American Catholic Church. In this challenging time, I believe the Holy Spirit is working to lift our eyes toward something new. Pope Francis’s encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, presents a way in the wilderness in the midst of so much confusion. With his words centered on the story of the Good Samaritan, Pope Francis is giving us clear examples and direction about the self-sacrificial love we’re intended to receive and express as Christians. I believe God is working to raise up a new and authentic experience of Christianity, making clear and visible the vines which bear no fruit and raising our eyes to the experience of a love for each other as brothers and sisters, reflecting the love of a kind Savior.
God knows we need Him now more than ever.
As children, we were raised in the faith that professes a God who dies and is raised to new life. Since that time, we may have wondered if such a Savior can really impact our lives in our everyday. And maybe in these dark days, He’s the only one who can. In such a time as this, Lord, raise our eyes to see.
You can find the encyclical in its entirety here.