We all have families that are a little crazy, and nothing brings that out like the holiday season. But in true New Year’s fashion, it’s time to reflect on the progress that has come out of the last year. And for me, that progress is the result of one guy who’s managed to soften my family’s unique craziness. So cheers to you, Pope Francis!
To offer a bit of context, let me start by listing the True Life Roman Catholic things that have happened to me in my life.
- When I was 17 a priest told me, “Now it’s not specifically in the Ten Commandments, but as far as French kissing goes, I think there’s something wrong with you if you want to stick your tongue in someone else’s mouth.”
- I attended Catholic sewing camp for three years in middle school (but I can embroider handkerchiefs so what now bitchez).
- I aspired to be a saint, or at the very least, a nun. (But now I’m writing for Sherman Ave so I think we can throw that one out).
- Every time I say “God” around my parents I get grounded, because that’s taking Our Lord’s name in vain. So no “Oh, god” or “OMG” if I ever want to see my friends from high school.
- I attended a philosophy program at a Catholic Liberal Arts college and a girl there explained to me how she could disprove evolution. -__- smh
- My parents never gave me the sex talk so I didn’t know what a vagina was until 7th grade…welp, still don’t know tbh
- But they did let me know that condoms=sin, premarital sex=disownment, homosexual actions=repulsive
- When I found out that you have to have sex to have kids, I was an absolutely traumatized 12-year-old. Sex!? That’s the worst thing a person can do! The ultimate sin! I cried a little because that meant lots of people I knew had had sex but then I realized something…Mary must have had sex to get pregnant with Jesus! Okay. It’s okay. If Mary had sex, then it must not be so horrible.
- A few years later I realized what “virgin mother” and “immaculate conception” meant.
That’s the short list, and that’s an extreme list. Obviously, I had an unusual experience growing up in a starkly religious family, and to most of my generation raised as Catholic, these events must seem absurd.
But there are many people who grow up close-mindedly, pledging themselves to whatever doctrine the pope professes. And I didn’t realize how extreme that doctrine was until last winter, when I spent two weeks traveling around Italy with my family and sleeping at inns operated by nuns (I called them “nunneries”).
I was at the Basilica of Santa Maria Del Fiore, aka the Duomo, when an English-speaking priest pontificated about the three things that Pope Benedixt XVI said are destroying the world, the things that we Catholics must fight against: Abortion, Contraception, and the acceptance of Homosexuality.
The worst things in the world, he said.
And my heart sank.
At this point in my life, I hadn’t been religious for 5 years, but I kept up the outward appearance to please my strict family. The priest’s homily (which encouraged us to persecute others) enraged me. The rest of my family though, my parents and three siblings, loved the mass. They soaked it up. And afterwards we went out to dinner in Florence, and they all clamored over how great that homily was, how we really need to fulfill our purpose as Catholics and take a stand against abortions, contraception, and “the gays.”
Meanwhile, I got drunk off of red wine and cried myself to sleep that night.
A week before, we were at the Vatican, at the famous Christmas night mass. And I was sitting in this place of history, Pope Benedict XVI right in front of me, surrounded by Catholics from around the world, thousands of believers who were treasuring this holy moment.
And I wondered why I was there. I didn’t deserve to be there. I didn’t want to be there. I’d been raised by a religion that told me I was wrong, wrong for loving my gay friends just as they are, wrong for believing that abortions aren’t atrocious, wrong for thinking that contraception is important.
And I didn’t identify as Catholic anymore. As I’ve told friends before, you can only have something shoved down your throat for so many years before you spit it back up.
Flash forward to today.
Today, we have a badass new pope, a guy who’s bringing the Catholic community away from persecution and redirecting them to helping the poor. In less than a year the church has opened its arms, softened its stance on homosexuality, and refocused its humanitarian mission.
Pope Francis is working to reform the church’s financial situation. He’s done away with elaborate decorations and given employee bonuses to the poor instead. He took a papal selfie. He regularly interacts with people, breaking down the class barrier that existed with his predecessor. He’s scolded the church on its obsession with social issues (ahem, see story above). He said, “Who am I to judge?” in regards to homosexuality. He called to cancel his old newspaper subscription, instead of giving the task to an employee. He appeared in person to pay his own hotel bill once he had been chosen as pope. He’s reached out to the Muslim community. He’s an environmentalist, speaking out for protection of the Amazon rainforest. He said that atheists can actually be good people, in contrast to prior church attitude. He laughed and played along with that kid who ran onstage to greet him.
I mean c’mon. SARAH PALIN THINKS HE’S TOO LIBERAL.
Although there has been no official reversal of church law, Pope Francis has single-handedly, and in less than a year, shifted the hierarchal attitude of a church that claims more than a billion followers. There’s still work to be done, but significant progress has been made.
So take this from a girl who once aspired to sainthood.