There is so much to Catholicism: philosophy, theology, sociology and then the PR arm of everything — the optics — and all of these “parts” of Catholicism have their own beauty and depth and problems. It has been an amazing part of my life to get to learn about philosophy and theology since my conversion. I love it. I can sit and read from the wells of knowledge of this 2,000 year old Church (and from the wells into which she dips).
Papal documents are my happy place.
All of the things I have learned from the Catechism, the Bible, my studies in Philosophy and Theology do help me in who I am and who I want to be as a Catholic human being in this world.
None of them help in real life situations.
When my child came out to me as gay, I did not go to a philosophy book or a papal document to see how to handle the situation.
When my oldest son died by suicide, there was not a section in the Catechism that laid out a plan for me to handle the trauma of that loss and how to be a mother to my children in the aftermath of it or how to help his oldest child — who was 4 — breathe through her panic attacks.
When my husband and I were in the depths of grief after Anthony’s suicide, there was no philosophy book that could tell us how to handle grieving him together. When we were on the verge of divorce, there was no manual by monks to help us navigate what we were doing or why we were doing it.
It is not that I think Church teaching only goes so far — I believe that the fullness of all Truth is in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and that is why I am Catholic — but negotiating the realities of life is not as easy as picking up a book and getting some kind of help from philosophy or theology on how to love the people in front of you when they are not living in ways of which you approve.
There are moments in my life where I am not living in ways of which I approve, like when I am flipping off people in traffic. I know that the person who got my one-fingered salute is made in the image of God, and yet I give them the bird without a second thought because I am a flawed human with anger issues.
So where does that leave us?
What I have had in my life for the last decade that I have been Catholic are good priests. Not priests who agree with me all the time or who I agree with all the time. Not priests who are perfect. Not priests who don’t challenge me or let me challenge them, but good priests. Priests who love me. Priests who see me as one of their sheep, not just someone with really bad opinions. They do not see me as a woke liberal or a far right extremist.
They see me as Leticia, the daughter of God, whom they love and have promised to care for.
These priests have sat with me, answered my questions, answered my call on the day that my son was found dead in my garage. They have blessed me, my children, my family, my home and they have guided me when I was at my lowest point in life.
All of the things I have learned from the Catechism, the Bible, my studies in Philosophy and Theology do help me in who I am and who I want to be as a Catholic human being in this world. None of them help in real life situations.
That is the role of the priesthood.
It is not to make a point in a debate on twitter. It is not to push a political agenda. It is not to make sure that the optics are good. It is to love, fed and care for the sheep that Jesus has put in their charge.
I am lucky to have priests who do that in my life but I know plenty of people who do not. I also have had encounters with priests who do not understand that is their role. It happened recently in the confessional when I confessed being angry at God for my son’s suicide.
The priest responded with: “Well, God did not do that.” As if I did not know. As if I was not in confession right then confessing that anger because I knew it was misplaced. But instead of seeing that and being an instrument of mercy, he decided that putting me in my place was the priority.
If I was anyone else – if I were me without the other priests I have in my life – I don’t doubt that I would have walked out of that confessional and out of the Church. But I was formed by good, solid, holy priests so I know that that priest does not speak for God when he says stupid things. I have a solid faith and yet, it shook me. What happens to people who do not have a solid faith and who find a way to enter into that confessional only to hear the priest be so callous?
Priests matter. Jesus ordained the priesthood for a reason. The laity need good and holy priests. We do not need good debaters or good defenders of political ideology. We need fathers. Be that to us.