Being a catholic in this day and age can be a tricky thing, especially when you are a warm blooded male, as I’ve read many a time on many catholic fora, after all, it is said that the man armed with testosterone, is unable to keep his ammunition inside his pants. This is conditional Catholicism, that frowns upon celibacy and venerates sex to the point of over-glorification, contemporary to the widespread belief that man (and to a lesser extent, the woman) are sexual players and predators during their summer and only when they have practiced their suave and svelte moves on the opposite gender do they finally surrender to one being for the rest of their lives. This is both the mantra and the motto of an adult, catholic or otherwise. Catholics too fall under the same umbrella, after all, very few 18-40 age group lay men and women who go to church, practice celibacy as a mainstream way of living.
For me, being a catholic, means that sexual discipline is an important endeavor in life. Sexual discipline is intimately linked to the true romantic in me, who believes that only when love bangs you at the door knob, would you open your door to sexual activity and being catholic ensured that love was never enough and that marriage would be the only sacrament worthy of sex, in my “in other ways” fulfilled life. After all, by the age of 30, I had almost completed a PhD, had many a friend from many eras of life, had practiced my wanderlust in the new and the old world and had many prospectively beautiful women, who could have easily fallen for me, if I had presented the right words, in the right sequence, at the right minute. I was complete in more ways than one, and I had an almighty god who looked upon me in grace and helped me along, not necessarily answering all my prayers (if so I would have been married to a lass fluent in French) but giving me enough compensation for the negatives that I have endured in life.
Being catholic meant I also had to be charitable in my unfolding life. Although I was no charity worker, I had a soft spot for some areas of charity, namely chastity and mental health, two areas of importance to me. I have been charitable monetarily during my time in Australia and the Philippines, funding the construction of a school in the Philippines (a project that was brought to my attention by a tall catholic girl) and I had sent some money to appeals from the Bam Earthquake, Nargis Cyclone and a similar typhoon that devastated the Philippines. Although these are mere breadcrumbs to what charity workers and priests and nuns do, I was doing this while pursuing a Ph.D. and working for the development of food security, which were equally important goals in my career. So, I had only been charitable in sporadic bouts and not being consistent in my donor power, after all, there would have been more events that needed my attention and I would have turned a blind eye to them. Still charity is an important element and a mainstay in Catholicism for any practitioner.
I strongly believe in the power of catholic living, and setting an example by our actions and not by our words. Teaching is a vocation that I believe can have a lot of positive impact on a student’s life and now as a lecturer in university, I am doing my level best to blaze the flame of learning inside each and every student and inspire them for their future lives. I am very much discouraged to hear sermons who base the catholic faith on forgiveness – although divine and beautiful, softening the basis of forgiveness diminishes the magnitude of sin and contrarily makes the righteous, a prude or like the elder brother of the prodigal son. Grace is a beautiful deed, but grace when given freely and abundantly, makes the sinner more at ease with his or her lifestyle choices. This divides the church, the holy and the unholy, the traditional and the liberal, the deep-rooted and the progressive, after all it is sin and forgiveness that divides the catholic church more than same-sex marriages, the celibacy of priests, the patriarchy etc. After all, some people do not want to sin and others are of the opinion that sinning is human imperfection that can coalesce with absolution, in the hands of god. Yes, god is forgiving, but not for repeated offenders in the absence of true penance.
The next dimension is the overly female-friendliness of the catholic church. More and more men are staying away from the church due to the child-sex scandals that have rocked the catholic churches especially in Ireland and parts of the USA. Men are now staying away and most of the roles in the catholic churches are filled with females due to the uneasiness of males to walk in to church due to the legacies of a few “bad apples” among the clergy. Until recently I have stayed on with the church, although since I married an atheist, I have chosen to stay away and only go to church sporadically to reinforce my belief to god and my commitment to the church. The church may be a hen house but there is obviously room for some combs in there, to ruffle some feathers and maybe even make an unholy match.
I remember talking to a priest at the seminary and telling him how I would love to open up priesthood for females and giving priests the opportunity for the sacrament of marriage if that is their calling, on an option basis. These sort of issues will divide the church even more and although merely a conversation, I still believe that some reform is needed for the church to be more applicable in the 21st century and further. Still, the foundationary basis of the catholic church – charity, fellowship, marriage, humility, discipline and love, should not be ignored at whatever cost. After all, these are the cornerstones and the hallmarks of Catholicism.
There’s a poem by T.S. Eliot which calls the Church a Hippopotamus, an ugly creature that is becoming less and less significant in time. Yes, the church is big, has that water hole attitude – after all without the congregation there is no church, plus, wine is at the center of all celebrations – and it is after all a water hog, who will eat anything that the times throw in. This should not be the ethos of the church. The church is the spiritual lighthouse that guides the catholic soul away from tempests of sin to the arms of goodness and benevolence. There are timely actions which are needed – like making amends for all the scandals – but the church should always be rooted to the traditions of Jesus, who showed us the power of inclusiveness and the beauty of charity. Hippopotamus means “water horse”, and the church too is a horse that will run its course to time, where the only membership requirement is being a human being, to be given a baptism of water and entry to her sacraments. The church has always been inclusive, and will continue do so. Hippos may have reduced in number with time, but they are far from extinction.
God is like Prometheus, who brought fire to this world and gave it to mankind, and asked them to use it practically yet with freewill. That fire – the source of warm-bloodedness – will always be the basis of the paradox living inside a catholic – the war inside and the peace above.