Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Off the beaten path

Since my introduction to the Catholic way of worshipping God, through Ricardo, I have set out on an unexpected journey of question and discovery. I grew up in a Christian home and God has been very real to me throughout my life, but my experiences in the church have been vastly different from the Catholic experience. It's not been a comfortable journey for me. I don't agree completely with the doctrine and theology of the Catholic church, but the same could be said of other churches within the umbrella of Christian faith. Some teachings of the Catholic church I know I do not understand very well, and some of them, I merely disagree with. It can be a challenge to differentiate between which teachings or beliefs are no more than differences in style preferences, which teachings I disagree with, and which are more complexly cultural.

I have noticed in myself that it can be easy to dismiss or reject someone else's way of relating to God because it is not as familiar as my own. I hate to say it, because I try so hard to be open-minded in a way that still holds to my own convictions, but different can too often be internalized as bad, without even trying. I have had to wrestle with this tendency in myself continually in not only the obvious cross-cultural differences (Mexican/American) between Ricardo and I, but also in the spiritual component of our cross-cultural relationship. At the very foundation, we hold to the same faith. I get frustrated, honestly, with the terms Catholic and Christian, as if they have to be two separate entities, as if they are automatically at odds with each other. They can be, but they certainly needn't be. For at the core of Ricardo's Catholic faith and my Christian faith is this shared faith in Christ. And we both agree that this is the central, most vital component.

So, after many conversations about not only the role of the Virgin Mary in our faith, but for Mexicans, the Virgin of Guadalupe, it is still not clear what I think of her. My background and the teaching I've grown up with culturally leaves me unsettled toward her, moving uncomfortably in my gut, leaving doubt that I could ever really accept her the way Ricardo does. I admit this. After studying more about how the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most popular cultural symbol in Mexico, and not only among practicing Mexican Catholics, I see how deeply embedded she is in Mexican culture, and therefore, in who Ricardo is.

It would be foolish of me to try to change that in him, as it would be foolish for him to set about trying to change my own deeply embedded cultural influences. What I know is that he doesn't worship her; he does not believe she holds the same place as God. For some, she may easily become an idol, but for Ricardo, having her image is more a testament to his Mexican makeup. Mexicans are very visual people, preferring to communicate face-to-face, and since they know this cannot happen in actuality with God, it helps to have symbolic face-to-face means of communication. Paraphrasing the words of Ricardo's close bishop friend and mentor, Catholics do not need her, but they like to include her in their prayers. In a way I struggle to relate to, the Virgin assists Catholics in their prayer lives.

I can agree or not agree with this practice, but in the end, I wonder if these preferences really matter to God as much as what's in a person's heart. Admittedly, I cannot really know what's in another person's heart, but I can be accountable to God for what's in my own heart. At some point, I have to not only choose whether or not I will accept that someone else's heart (in this case, Ricardo's) is, in his own beautiful, imperfect, personal and yet profoundly cultural way, seeking God the best that he knows how, just as I am doing the same with the same human limitations. The question then becomes, can we journey together in love and mutual respect, as both student and teacher, toward God, or will our differences divide us? As I said, it's not an easy, clear cut path, but challenging as it's been, I believe it can be rich and fulfilling, humbling at the very least. For which of us really peers at the fullness of God but through our tiny, human peepholes?

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