I try to avoid watching too much television – it feels like there are so many other things I should be focused on; but I was quite engrossed in the show Big Love during its run on HBO. Its concluding season was by far my favorite because of its focus on women and faith. In one of the final episodes the character Barbara Hendrickson struggled with whether or not to be baptized into a new church and it was a struggle I identified with greatly. Although her faith had changed and she no longer felt connected to the doctrine of her previous church, moving on to a new community that fit her beliefs meant abandoning her family.
I was raised in a very traditional Italian/Sicilian Roman Catholic household, attended Catholic schools, and was married in the Catholic Church. As a child, being Catholic offered me a sense of pride; however growing up I began to question the Church as I recognized the many ways it is abusive to women. Becoming a graduate student of religion led me on a roller coaster journey that allowed me to further explore my religious identity.
Over the years I’ve been impassioned by the many feminist theo/alogians I’ve read and have attended services in multiples faith settings. I’ve been to Islamic mosques, Buddhist temples, Hindu temples, synagogues, as well as a variety of different Christian churches. I’ve explored the Goddess tradition and at times identified as agnostic. However, I’ve always come back to the Catholic Church.
A few years ago, I found an Episcopalian church that I fell in love with. The rituals were beautiful, the music was stunning, and the language was gender inclusive. It was an LGBTQ friendly church and no person was excluded or judged. It seemed to be exactly what I was searching for – I had finally found a religious community to claim as my own. My husband and I decided to officially join the church and began to attend classes to become members of the community. We were two classes in when I realized that we were going to be baptized into the Episcopalian Church, and thus registered as Episcopalians. I would no longer be Catholic. Why this had not occurred to me sooner is beyond me, but that was my “Barbara Hendrickson” moment, and I ran from the church in an absolute panic and never returned.
As unhappy as I am with Catholicism, it also feels like home to me. It is part of my identity, where my roots are and to leave the Church in some ways feels like leaving my family. I am still unsure where I stand with my faith, but I do know that Catholicism is a very strong part of my heritage, and so as of recently, I have started to identify as a “Cultural Catholic.” The term makes sense to me, at least at this moment. I think it acknowledges my struggles with my faith while also recognizing that it is part of my identity. While I continue to grapple with ultimate questions and my spiritual beliefs, Catholicism will remain a part of my cultural heritage. While I do not agree with Vatican teaching and consider myself to be very progressive, I also feel at heart to be a Cultural Catholic, and I am not sure that will ever change.