In February 2010 I attended the AWP’s National Conference in Washington DC. The AWP stands for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. I love this conference; it’s the second one I’ve attended. Meeting my poet friends in person – people I’ve corresponded with, have been Facebook Friends with, those with whom I’ve interacted at the West Chester Poetry Conference over a number of years – they are all there!
The panel presentations are worthwhile, too! But this year I went to one called “The Rosary Effect : The Challenges of Writing from a Catholic Perspective” One fellow said that he was “still Catholic” but the other four writers were “fallen away.” However, they all said that they were “raised Catholic.”
This must be the same for Jewish writers. It must be that the Catholic culture has permeated their unconscious even when they no longer espouse the practice of the religion. However, I fervently wished that I had been invited to be on that panel, so that I could speak from the vantage point of one who was “raised Catholic” but who, in adulthood, had made the choice to be a practicing Catholic – and not only that – to enter a religious community – and to remain both in the community and in the Church --- in spite of everything.
In the last few years, really getting to know my Mennonite first cousins and Amish second cousins, I’ve come to realize how their history is filled with their persecution by the Catholics, and I am glad they don’t hold that against me. I’m glad to be united with them in the Gospel.
I have had conversations at poetry gatherings with other writers who ask me that question: how can you stay a member of this Church when women are treated as second class citizens? When the authority structure is medieval? When the clergy abuses have been made public and have scandalized so many? Good question.
I don’t have a practiced apologetic answer. All I can say is “This is my Church. I love Jesus, and find his presence here, in the People of God.” My Catholic culture perfumes my writing, for sure, in so many images and attitudes - that attitude that , as my friend Hopkins says,
“the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” The sacramental inscape of things and persons.
In my opinion, self-righteousness is one of the most dangerous sins – the sin of good people – the sin of the Pharisees.
As my friend Eliot says, I’m here to kneel where prayer has been valid… and humility is endless.