My heart is so heavy right now, I’d swear it was causing serious damage to my other internal organs. I feel like I can’t quite catch my breath. It’s not quite that I can’t breathe, but that I can’t seem to be able to breathe deeply enough, like if I could just get one giant gulp of air in my body would feel better, normal, not so tight, not so heavy.
Do Catholics who leave the Church always feel like this? Like they can’t breathe, like their heart is simultaneously going to burst and turn to lead in their chest? I confess I envy people who speak of being an ex-Catholic with an air of lightness in their voice. I wish it were so easy. Is it really easy for them? Was it easy when it happened? Did it really just “happen,” like one moment they were Catholic and the next, nope, they’d made up their mind, they were done? Because it’s not working like that for me. Several times these last weeks I’ve pronounced that I’m done – actually said those words, to my wife, to my mom, to my sister – and yet I don’t feel done. I feel like I’m still trying to make some decision, standing at the edge of the pool trying to work up the nerve to jump in, not being able to decide which is more terrifying, jumping in or chickening out.
You’ll have to forgive my overuse and overlap of metaphors here, but I’m having a hard time thinking in linear, straightforward terms. But I’m feeling these days like I’m in the midst of a breakup, you know, the really horrible kind where you know it isn’t going to work but you want it to so badly that every fifteen minutes you manage to get yourself entirely convinced that it actually can work, only to remember five minutes later why it can’t, only to repeat the cycle over and over and over until it makes you crazy and you can barely remember who you are let alone the reasons why you’re breaking up. And all the while you feel like you can’t catch your breath, because even while you’re certain you can’t keep living like this, you’re almost equally as certain that you’ll suffocate without them. Almost.
I wake up in the morning to the sounds of radio news reports, new reports every day, of the abuse perpetrated by priests and covered up by the hierarchy (in order to save the Church from embarrassment?!) and I just want to cry and go back to sleep and forget it’s happening, in part because I feel complicit – this is my Church, we’re all one body, when the eye suffers does not the hand suffer too, and when the hand reaches out and abuses another does not the whole body participate in that abuse? – and in part because it reminds me that this is the end for us, that gulf between me and the institutional Church has widened too much and has reached the point of irreparable damage, and that sooner rather than later I’m going to have to deal with it. This is what the term “irreconcilable differences” means, I guess. I no longer look to the Church and see any of my values, my priorities, my convictions reflected back at me. Sure, it’s in the teachings, oh the teachings that I love so much, the social encyclicals, the preferential option for the poor, the stuff that has inspired those who have inspired me, the liberation theologians and Dorothy Day and well, if the Church was good enough for them perhaps I can still make it work? But I’m deluding myself if I think that the teachings of the Church are the Church, for there is nothing, nothing, NOTHING of the preferential option for the poor in this scandal, there’s not justice in the hierarchy’s response, there isn’t even the slightest display of concern for the powerless and I just can’t find Jesus anywhere in all of it, not anywhere at all. And I’m actually crying as I write these words because there is so much about this tradition that I hold so dear, and I feel like I’m abandoning the real Church, the people of God, my fellow sisters and brothers, but at the same time I’ve had enough. Enough. Enough.
I’m just too worn down. I’m tired of explaining how one can’t ever stop being Catholic and of talking of my formed conscience and the terrible beauty of holding in tension one’s love for the Church and one’s distaste for certain teachings because it’s getting harder and harder to convince myself, let alone others. I’m sure I believed it once, that I could remain a Catholic despite the institutional Church, but my ever-tenuous conviction has faded fast these last few weeks. This place has become too foreign to me, and I can no longer call it home. And I’m so, so sad about that. My heart is so heavy it feels like it’s crushing me. I can’t catch my breath. But I won’t be able to catch it if I stay. And I might be able to, if I go. So, standing at the edge of the pool, I jump.