The Other I

December 27, 2015

Am I still a Catholic?

Filed under: Catholicism and other questions of religion — theotheri @ 4:25 pm

Several weeks ago, I received a comment asking several questions on this blog post of June 19, 2007  “The night I left the convent.”  The questioner asked if I was still a Catholic, if I believed in God, and if I’d felt a “desire to serve Jesus” when I’d entered the convent.

The questions might sound simple, but the answers aren’t.  “Am I still a Catholic?” doesn’t have a black & white Yes or No answer.  It depends on what being “Catholic” means.

I do not think the essence of being a Catholic  or a Christian – by any definition Catholic or Protestant – lies in doctrine.  It is a tragic mistake to think our salvation is based on what we believe and has led to centuries of religious slaughter.   The fundamental Christian message is one of love.  Nothing can replace it.  And love can make up for all – all – the other deficits which might afflict us.

And so no, I am not still a Catholic by the demands of those who insist that I agree with the decrees of the Catholic hierarchy.  I do not believe in  the doctrines most traditional Catholics would accept as essential to Catholic belief.  I have no doubt that by most standards I would be excommunicated.   I would not even try to partake in communion.

In fact, I do not believe in what most believers mean when they use the term “God.”  By definition, I cannot see how “God” can possibly be as human as most people conceive this concept.  But more profoundly, I  emphatically reject the concept of an all-powerful, all-loving creator who is prepared to send his creatures to an everlasting hell fire should they step over the mark and not manage to get to a priest for official forgiveness before death overcomes him.   I was taught that even so much as eating a single bite of meat on Friday was a mortal sin, an act so evil that it would dam me for eternity if I didn’t get to confession and receive forgiveness.  I won’t go on further at how hideous I experience this God to be.  Yes, we live in mystery.  We do not understand our universe in any ultimate sense.  But I do not give “God” as my answer to those ultimate questions.

Yet there are other ways in which I am still a Catholic.  The version of Catholicism I was given taught that all humankind are brothers.  We are called on to love all of our fellow mankind, and to care for all living things.  For me, the core of Christianity is “the greatest of these”.  That, as St. Paul said, is love.

That really does mean, though, that we cannot divide the world into “us” and “them.”  The important distinctions are neither Jew or gentile, male or female, Black or White, Muslim, Buddhist or Christian, believer or non-believer, the saved or the unredeemed,  the right and the wrong.

We are all incomplete.  We all need each other.  We all need both to love and to be loved.  And none of us are 100% right.

There are other ways as well in which I am still culturally a Catholic.  I still like right answers, a preference which to some extent was reinforced by being socialized as a member of what I was told was the “one and only true church.”   I was quite good when I was young at explaining and defending those “right answers.”  I have found this tendency in general has often been useful in solving practical problems.  But an attitude like that can interfere with creativity, and I have often failed to distinguish between rigid rules and principles.   It was only in my later years that I have come to fully understand that rules are valuable suggestions that may be useful in achieving ones goals.  But disobeying a rule or even a law isn’t the same thing as committing a sin.

I have never felt any particular passion to “serve Jesus.”  Most of my life I have found great pleasure in helping others.  I loved teaching, for instance, with a passion.  And there was a time when I thought I was wise enough to construct a world that would eliminate injustice and unfairness and suffering.  I wasn’t, and I am hugely grateful I was never given the power to demonstrate my ignorance.

So am I still a Catholic?

Depends on what that means.

Now I have to stop or I will end up moving this post to trash in sheer embarrassment.







  1. I’m not sure what to label myself, if anything. I was a Catholic. I once believed some of those things, good and bad. I like to think that I can learn good lessons from many religions and cultures without the labels.


    Comment by rayvoith — December 27, 2015 @ 10:39 pm | Reply

    • Ray – I realized when I read your comment what had made me so uncomfortable about writing this post in the first place. I was trying to recognize not only those things in my socialization which I now utterly reject but also thosefor which I am still deeply grateful and underlie some of my deepest values. But it’s the labels, isn’t it? It seems almost as if the minute we start labelling ourselves in religious terms, we have already set up a potentially contentious US and THEM stand off. Like you, I have learned a great deal from many different religions and especially from different cultures. That’s the essence of what I want to remember.

      Thank you for the insight. Terry

      On Sun, Dec 27, 2015 at 10:39 PM, The Other I wrote:



      Comment by Terry Sissons — December 28, 2015 @ 2:51 pm | Reply

  2. Mohatma Gandi said “I like your Christ, I do not like you Christians. You Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This sums up why people are so disenchanted with Christians today. I try to be more Christ like, but I always fall back to my old ways of being jealous, greedy, selfish, gluttonous, and so on. Being a Christian is work, and I wish it was easy, but like everything in this world, it’s a struggle. Please have patience with my writing so badly, what I am trying to say is: Give Jesus a chance to enter your life, He loves you and I want you to go to Heaven. God Bless you this year and I enjoy reading your posts.


    Comment by barbarahorutz — December 28, 2015 @ 3:39 pm | Reply

    • Barbara – Thank you for your best wishes as well as for your comment. I couldn’t agree more that being Christ-like is work. My biggest difficulty with Christianity is not greed, jealousy, selfishness, and so on. Those are difficulties shared by all human beings. What I find so terrifying about Christianity (and many other religions, although not all) is that it seems to make so many of us think we are better than everybody else. And that we therefore have the right – indeed, the God-given duty – to impose our values on everybody else. Like the extreme Islamists today, Christians for centuries believed they had a divine authority to torture and murder those who disagreed with them. That kind of overt behavior greatly moderated with the end of the religious wars and the loss of political authority by religious institutions in Europe. But that tendency to believe in our intrinsic superiority has by no means disappeared. It’s blatant even in my own country of America – our great land of freedom.

      Again, thank you for your comment. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts.


      Comment by theotheri — December 28, 2015 @ 4:42 pm | Reply

  3. thank you so much for answering my questions, sister.

    maybe you would be interested to know how i found your blog.

    i was reading a lot about Mother Teresa and i thought, “what a life! hers is a life lived to the fullest!”

    then i search google for blogs about life of nuns and similar keywords and i found your blog.

    i read all entries under category “life as a nun” and i thought, “what a life! what an adventurous life!”

    i think you have a beautiful life and my impression is that you are also living life to the fullest.

    your life is so eventful and that makes it more meaningful.

    for some reason, i feel glad that in a way you still consider yourself a catholic.

    to be catholic means you acknowledge that you came from God and you will return to God.

    the reason why i asked if you’re now a protestant was because i thought you are now one of those people who say that catholics are not christian.

    it makes me cringe when people say they are children of God and look down on other people.

    and that’s the reason why i chose to remain catholic.

    i want to belong to a universal church. i refuse to belong to an exclusive group where everyone thinks they are the only children of God.

    i actually have a mishmash of thoughts while reading this blog post.

    for me, having no label is like having no identity.

    if i can’t call myself a catholic or a muslim or a bhuddist, who am i?

    the way i live my life is primarily based on catholic teachings.

    nobody taught me that i’d go to hell if i ate meat on a friday.

    i was taught that my pride will send me to hell. if i insist that wrong is right or my sins are not sins, then that’s pride.

    the priest said nobody knows who is going to heaven or who is going to hell. God is the judge.

    rules (God’s law) are more than your own definition. if you haven’t experienced terrible injustice, you might not understand.

    as i’ve said i have a lot of thoughts while reading your blog.

    you seem very intellectual.

    i would love to read more of your entries.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


    Comment by The Manang — December 29, 2015 @ 12:01 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for responding to my post responding to your questions. It is quite interesting to hear how you found my blog. I must say I would never have guessed that searching to learn more about Mother Teresa was the path that got you here!

      I think the way in which I recognize Catholicism in myself is rather different from yours. But then one of the things Pope Francis is demonstrating is that what people – what even bishops – mean by Catholicism varies quite a lot. As I said in my post, for me the only thing it means to me is that we are all brothers & sisters. Which is why I don’t really feel comfortable applying the label “Catholic” to myself. Because it means too many different things to so many different people. I’ve met so many “Catholics” who think – unlike you – that Roman Catholicism is an exclusive group who think only they are the true children of God.

      But in truth, labels are not the real issue, are they? It is how we live, how we manage to live lives of love that really matters, isn’t it?

      Again, thank you.

      On Tue, Dec 29, 2015 at 12:01 PM, The Other I wrote:


      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Terry Sissons — December 30, 2015 @ 5:19 pm | Reply

      • I agree. Love is the greatest. At the end of our lives, we will all be judged by love. And love is action not just words.

        Maybe the problem is people who give meaning to labels. Maybe the problem is people who introduce us to the Church, not the Church herself. Again, maybe the problem is our desire to be understood instead of to understand.

        I can learn from this. Would love to read more of your posts. Thank you so much!


        Comment by The Manang — January 2, 2016 @ 9:50 am

  4. It sounds as if we are on the same page in relation to what we think is the most important thing in life. Thank you too for your continued comments. They are the kind of thing that keep me thinking too.


    Comment by theotheri — January 3, 2016 @ 9:40 pm | Reply

  5. Hi Terry, This is really interesting…I was just looking at a Post you wrote from 2012 that I had reply too. I had saved it. It’s been awhile since I follow your Blog and after reading your old Post I thought I would check and see how you are doing. Was very happy to see you are still blogging. Sorry I’ve been away…but life happens. Always enjoyed your thoughts and way of living life. I will try to keep up but wanted to wish you the best in 2016. djc1


    Comment by Donna Czajka — January 16, 2016 @ 2:41 am | Reply

    • Donna, I was just thinking about you the other day and wondering how you were. It feels like touching base with an old friend to hear from you. Yes, “life happens”! I know exactly what you are saying. For the same reason, I’m still blogging, but not nearly as often as 3 years ago. Thank you so much for touching base.

      Best wishes for 2016 to you too. (Can you believe we’re already into the second half of January? I mean, you know, January 2016.) Terry


      Comment by theotheri — January 16, 2016 @ 2:04 pm | Reply

  6. Hi Terry, This is not a post reply but just a personal reply…YOU do not look like a 75 year old! It was nice to see your photo it’s nice to have a face to fit the name.
    My grandaughter is graduating in March from college and has excepted a job in London. I’m very excited for her but also sad because I will miss her terribly. I think she’s like you…very intelligent young woman and ready to experience life. Maybe we will get to London to see her…I will let you know. Maybe we can share a cup of tea and continue the dialog I’ve enjoyed over these years. Take Care….Donna


    Comment by Donna Czajka — January 17, 2016 @ 1:14 am | Reply

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