This is the day I will remember as the day I finally broke up with my parish.
We’ve been together for decades, but I just can’t pretend anymore that our relationship is healthy. I’ve stuck with my parish through corrupt pastors and absent pastors, through Prop 8 banners and the Latin Mass, through substandard youth programs and uninspired homilies, but today’s Mass was it. I have to be the one to leave.
The breaking point: today’s admonition from the pulpit to vote for the candidate who will ensure, among other things, marriage between one man and one woman, prayer in public schools and keeping Christ in Christmas. Really? (The deacon compared our fight for these issues to Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of Moses in order to assure God’s help in defeating the Amalekites.) These are the sort of social issues that Pope Francis has advised us not to focus our energy exclusively on, but my parish is not exactly all about Pope Francis. My parish harbors a palpable suspicion of his agenda. It’s another point of incompatibility between us.
My parish and I have been in a classic dysfunctional relationship. We have tried for some time to act as though everything is normal between us. It isn’t. It hasn’t been for ages. Sometimes it’s easier to stay together than to break up, but this painful misalignment has gone on for way too long. I’m ending it. My Catholicism is too important to me to lose it over a mismatched mate.
I admit that other denominations have flirted with me, and to be honest, I have looked them over and found them attractive. But if I am going to be true to myself and my God, I can’t leave my faith for a better-looking one. I am a cradle Catholic, a battle-tested Catholic, a true-blue Catholic, a lifelong Catholic. I know myself well enough to understand that, after a brief mourning period, I am going to have to find another Catholic parish.
I mourn the loss of my partner because of our many memories together, like the baptisms of my children, their first Communions and Confirmations, the weddings and funerals of many friends, the years of prayer and community and, most of all, Eucharist. My parish and I have had some good times, and we used to be as tightly bonded as any couple. Over the years, though, we both have changed. Our priorities have diverged. We have grown apart and lived as strangers. At times we have been hurtful to each other. Now that I’ve made this decision, however, I don’t even feel angry anymore. I’m a little sad, but that’s it. The inner numbness I’ve gotten used to is actually being replaced by a warm flood of peace.
At the end of that fateful homily today, a calm came over my soul. I took my donation envelope that I had prepared at home and ripped it, slowly and deliberately, in half, and in half again. The four pieces, envelope and check, are still in my pocket. I realized that I couldn’t fund what I don’t support.
Now that I’ve made the decision to leave, everything seems so simple. I’m breaking up with you, my parish. It’s a new day, and I’m turning over a new leaf. I’ll always remember what we had, but it’s over.
Valerie Schultz is a freelance writer, a columnist for The Bakersfield Californian and the author of Closer: Musings on Intimacy, Marriage, and God. She and her husband Randy have four daughters.