Martin LeFevre: Catholic or Universal?
Catholic or Universal?
I had an aunt that was a nun in the Catholic Church. Even as a kid, I never saw her as religious person however. She was a career woman in a black habit, at a time when there were two choices for Catholic women: marry a man and have kids; or marry Jesus and live within the Church.
She happened to be staying at my parents’ house once quite a few years ago when my companion and I were also visiting. One Sunday, after I had gone out for my daily walk and meditation in a spot of nature along the infamously polluted Saginaw River, she asked where I’d gone.
My father said, seriously, that I’d gone out to commune with God in the woods. My companion, a woman not raised with a religion, vividly recalls my aunt’s disdain. Disgustingly, my aunt said, “you only worship God in a church.”
Not having been around nuns before, and still having a bit of the awe that non-Catholics often display around them, my friend thought, “What kind of religious woman are you? You’re not.”
Growing up Catholic, one soon learned there were two kinds of nuns in school—those you feared, and those you loved. My aunt belonged to a third category however—the career nun. This is the type that runs hospitals, as my aunt did, or retreat centers, in the days before they become a big business.
I knew both the feared and loved nuns in a formative year, when I was in the 6th grade. I was in the class of Sister Theresa, a young and beautiful woman, even with hair fully covered, layers of woolen habit, and blinders.
It was the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and I remember Sister Theresa, shocked but calm and present, telling us that something terrible had happened, and then turning on the TV (a device that was rarely used the classrooms in 1963). Her sorrow and compassion that day imprinted themselves on the boy as much as the event in Dallas.
Sister Theresa taught me that ‘catholic’ could also mean ‘universal.’ Sister Clementia was a precipitating reason that I walked downstairs one Sunday in my junior year, and announced to my stunned parents that I wasn’t going to Mass that day or ever again.
The Mass was still in Latin then, and though we had to go everyday before school, it was a mortal sin to miss on Sunday. That’s hellfire forever baby.
Back in the 6th grade, an incident occurred which ordained that the altar boy the priests of St. John’s Parish had marked for ordination would leave the Church.
One school morning I was serving Mass with a boy who was an early learner in the art of flirting with the girls. At the most serious and sacred moment of the Mass, Communion, when the priest places the consecrated wafer (which has become, literally for Catholics, “the body of Christ”) Russ crossed the line with Sister Clementia.
As people are being served Communion, the altar boys (I think they have altar girls now too) stand on the either side of the priest with a golden plate held beneath the chin of the recipients, to catch the host if one should fall. Russ was flirting with the girls in line.
Later that day, I was walking down the hall with another boy in our class, who looked something like Russ. Sister Clementia, who was the terror of the poor suckers in the other 6th grade class, came barreling down the hall. When she reached us she began to beat Russ about the head, while yelling something about Mass that morning.
When I recovered from my shock, I told her over and over that this was not the boy who was serving with me that morning. My friend, Danny, who was a little tough guy that nobody ever saw cry, was bawling. And Sister Clementia kept pummeling him.
Finally I got through to her, whereupon she stopped, turned on her heels without saying a word, and walked away. Though I didn’t realize it until I was out of high school (having seen that priests and nuns are as human as anyone and not intermediaries of Christ), I began questioning Catholicism at that moment, which culminated in a defining moment one Sunday as a junior.
Protestants I know often have a smug, prejudicial reaction to this story. But my enquiry into organized religion went all the way to the root. I saw that organized religion has little or nothing do with authentic spirituality, much less mystical experiencing.
There is an old joke that goes: A man spends 20 years searching for the truth, and finally finds it. He is greeted immediately by the devil, who says, “Here, let me help you organize it.” Organized religion has no place in the transmutation of human consciousness.
- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: email@example.com. The author welcomes comments.