One Sunday per year, maybe two, found the back right pew at Saint Anthony’s Church in Weiner without me (or Dad) in it. We would get a special dispensation to miss Mass to go deer hunting.
I was there whenever the church doors were open, and not just out of habit. I believed in the church. While most folks didn’t like confession, I found great solace in it because we had a phenomenal priest, Father Michael Preske. Only his undeniable spirituality matched his understanding and advice. If only all priests were in his mold, the church wouldn’t be in nearly the trouble it is today.
It was only when I went to that destroyer and challenger of religion — college — that my questions about the church began.
Popes in the Middle Ages had been political figures, handing out indulgences and granting wrongful annulments to the wealthy? A seat in heaven went to the highest bidder? I’d never heard that on Sunday mornings.
Then later, the sex scandal cover-up filled the news. Forgiveness is one thing; shuffling pedophiles to another parish is another, at least in my small mind.
And so over the years, my relationship with the church became more than strained.
Obviously, the Catholic Church isn’t the only religion with its issues. Pick one, and you’ll find big, ugly warts from origin to present day. Swaggart, Bakker, Haggard. On and on and on.
Make no mistake, though — religion and faith are not the same thing. Often, they have little in common.
Now and then over the years, from somewhere inside, a calling would come to revisit the church. That feeling seldom lasted long, and I mostly resisted.
Then a friend, a devout Catholic friend, came into my life. She encouraged me back to Mass, rewarding me with a bit of her time and a cup of coffee afterward. We often talked about all the church’s “rules” and “laws,” which she has a much different take on than I remember from my upbringing.
Of course, no good deed goes unpunished, and in her zeal, she gave me a book to read, The Shack, by somebody I’d never heard of.
If you haven’t read it, I’ll spare you most of the details. It’s a book about a guy who was struggling with his faith after a tragedy until this miraculous thing happened and pretty much everything works out about as well as it could.
Who woulda thunk it? I mean, I was pretty sure the guy wasn’t gonna turn out to be a satanist going around burning down churches.
That’s the problem with “religious” books — everything works out great.
That’s not the real world, though. Miracles don’t often follow tragedies. Complete and peaceful closure doesn’t always come after an untimely death. Bad things happen to good people, with no rhyme or reason.
We’re supposed to pray about it and go on — pray to the same God who let the bad thing happen in the first place.
That’s a tough pill to swallow for me and even for some folks a heckuva lot more religious than I am.
But that nagging feeling is there again, like there’s somewhere I’m supposed to be going, but I’m not getting there. Independence Day evening, I was kinda bored and had read online all the news I needed to read. Went over to the bookshelf, odd because I don’t read many books. I started looking for a book Father Preske gave me upon my confirmation. It’s supposed to answer the questions that we have as we grow up in the church.
In my line of work, I’m supposed to verify everything, find the proof. That’s a tough thing to do when trying to prove who or what or much of anything about God.
But that book, one that I suspect doesn’t have a neatly tied up narrative, might be another place to start.
Rick Fahr is publisher of the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.