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Michael Bayer @mbayer1248
, 20 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
Met with a rabbi friend today, and he said something that darn-near broke my heart. He said, "The majority of our converts are former Catholics who tell me they're relieved when they get here, because they were never allowed to question anything about God or Church teaching."

That was certainly my experience in 13 years of parochial schooling. We weren't encouraged to question anything, because Church teaching, we were told, contained "the fullness of truth" and any answer could be looked up in the catechism.

All of this changed when I attended a Jesuit university, and questions were encouraged. Demanded, even. To take the faith seriously meant to wrestle with it. And to live, not infrequently, in an existentially uncomfortable ambiguity about ineffable mysteries.

People who never foot on our campus would tell me, derisively, "Georgetown's not really a Catholic school." But our Masses (we had 9 Sunday liturgies on a campus of 6500 undergrads) were standing room only, and the best theology seminars were tough to get into.

What's more, my faith grew and matured exponentially in those 4 years, as I listened to our rabbi, imam, and Protestant chaplains offer reflections following the homily at all-school liturgies. Being intentionally interfaith helped us cultivate a deeper relationship with God.

I learned more about fasting from my Muslim peers than I ever learned in a Catholic school textbook. I understood far, far more about the relationship between charity and justice because of my Jewish friends, than I did from any high school youth ministry experience.

All along, I had devoted spiritual guides—wo/men of great faith—who encouraged me to keep questioning. To grapple with things that didn't sit well. I learned conversion as a lifelong, arduous, messy process, rather than a single act of contrition and a penance of 5 Hail Marys

And it was tempting, at times, to look back on my childhood experiences with indignation or disdain. As though I'd been liberated from the shackles of shallow piety, rigid legalism, and inflexible moralizing. But those same guides insisted that I not do so.

The same mentors who taught me how to question religion from a place of honesty, humility, and charity, made sure that I did not come to view my previous catechetical formation with contempt. They helped me see its distinct significance and beauty.

So I am grateful for the years of memorization and regurgitation. Of a Catholic education that was basically the Baltimore catechism with newer language and nicer pictures. But I also recognize, as an adult, its intrinsic limitations and pervasive perils.

Of the 220 students who graduated in my class from a diocesan high school, I would be shocked if more than a quarter are still actively practicing the faith. Because the neo-scholastic manualism in which we were imbued, by itself, wasn't adequate to living as an adult.

People went off to state schools and liberal arts colleges. They rushed frats and joined clubs. They started realizing how disconnected were all of those abstract catechetical formulations we'd memorized for religion exams... from the realities of post-adolescent life.

And, too often, when people showed back up as adults, either for marriage prep or baptism class, they were/are greeted with the same abstruse theological statements and inflexible manualistic approach. So they think, "This faith just doesn't have anything to offer me."

Often, it then only requires one bad pastoral experience, and they're gone for good. A pre-marriage instructor who says they're going to hell if they use contraception. A pastor who says that their lesbian sister can't serve as a lector at their mother's funeral.

Add in the current moment of catastrophic scandal, and we've permanently estranged more than half of an entire generation of Catholics. Because the people we weren't allowed to question... as it turns out... weren't who we thought they were.

So I don't blame people when they tell me they've left the Church. My heart aches. My soul laments. But I don't blame. Frequently, I hear stories of such deep hurt that I vacillate between intense sympathetic suffering and righteous outrage at those who've done the damage.

And then, I recommit myself to my own vocation, as I understand it. A lay minister of no particular renown who has the single most important job in the world: trying to model to those I encounter a different way to follow Jesus and live the Gospel.

I rededicate myself to the mission: to build up a community of believers who offer a powerful witness to the world of what it looks like when the Catholic Church gets it right and lives, however imperfectly, as the communion of disciples that Jesus intended for us to be.

And I emphasize to both cradle Catholics and RCIA folks that it's absolutely okay to question and struggle and be in-process. That teaching the truths, as we understand them, is essential... but that the Catholic faith can't be reduced to a manual.

So if you're ever in Chicago, and you're looking for a church, I'd welcome the chance to meet with you. Even if you're not totally sure you want to be here. *Especially* if you're not totally sure you want to be here. You will be embraced. Honestly.

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