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Wrestling with Politics and Catholicism

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

The views expressed in this blog post reflect only those of the individual writer, not those of the BRCC as a whole.

My journey with religion and politics has always been more about how my politics

influence my Catholicism rather than how my Catholicism influences my politics. I was raised by a conservative Irish Catholic father and a Not-Really-Anything, liberal mother—it’s an interesting combo. The way I learned to practice was always more about rules than it was about any spiritual connection with God—We said our prayers every night. We went to church every Sunday without fail. We bowed our heads whenever we said “Jesus.” Plain and simple. My parish never got into politics, at least not in a way I noticed, and even though I knew the church didn’t agree with a lot of things I believed to be true and right and just, I just let them be separate. Church was just a thing we did. I didn’t think of it as that large of a piece of my identity. Being a liberal was more important, so I focused on that.

It wasn’t until I got to Brown that I started thinking about what being raised Catholic was actually going to mean for me—in my angsty teen phase I assumed it would mean nothing, and I’d never go to church again once I didn’t have to. (I didn’t go once my freshman year nor do I go regularly when I’m at school now.) I would find myself in conversations where the worst practices of the Catholic Church would come up, and I would fess up to being “one of them” but write it off because it wasn’t important to me at the time. I wasn’t sure it didn’t mean anything to me though. I’m still not sure why, but when I saw the Christian Union tabling on campus, I stopped and signed up for the listserv. I even went to an event with a friend. I had a conversation with the woman who runs the CU about my questions about my religion—questions that weren’t fully formed yet. They still aren’t. I kept in touch with her but didn’t spend a lot more time with the CU. I got busy, as college kids do, and it got pushed from my priorities. Months later, seemingly out of nowhere, I decided to go to Ash Wednesday mass with some girls from my sorority. I went, I participated, I received ashes, and I, of course, informed my father for the Brownie Points. It wasn’t a huge spiritual moment for me, but it was nice and centering to be back in old habits, and I liked the atmosphere of a chapel filled with my peers. I meant to start going on Sundays. I got busy. You know how it goes.

At the same time, I was becoming more and more fervent in my leftist views, becoming more angry at injustices I saw. We went to mass at the church we go to at my grandparents’ house, the church I always liked and saw myself getting married in, and the same priest who always says mass there gave a speech at the end of mass on how it was our duty as Catholics to vote against a bill that was being passed to protect access to abortion in the state. This was the first time I had my politics clash with my own experience at church. I left fuming. The funny thing is I was so mad, but it didn’t change anything. This happened before Ash Wednesday, before my sudden urge to go to mass, and I still went. As much as I want to sometimes, I still don’t fight my father about going every Sunday or other practices I don’t agree with because it doesn’t feel worth the fight—maybe it should be. Maybe I should be standing up more for my views. I definitely should be. I’ve started to fight back a bit but not enough. I don’t know if it’s right to claim to be a Catholic with socially liberal views when the church condemns so many people for just being themselves. I like to think that it is, but I’m just not sure. Doesn’t choosing to be part of an organization attach us to their views, whether they match our personal ones or not?

All of this really comes to say that I don’t have an answer to how my Catholicism

influences my politics. I’m sure one day I’ll sit down and figure it out, or maybe I’ll have an experience bad enough to push me away from the church, or I’ll find a parish that’s openly accepting in my adult life and learn to practice there my own way. Or maybe it’ll never become that clear, and I’ll keep getting pulled in two different directions and just kind of dealing. Until I figure it out, it will keep coming down to little instances of discomfort and internal conflict, and that’s as decisive as I can figure out how to be right now. It doesn’t feel quite right, but for now, it’ll have to be ok.

Hannah McFarland is a junior concentrating in Physics and History of Art and Architecture.

The views expressed in this blog post reflect only those of the individual writer, not those of the BRCC as a whole.

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