The fact that it was Ash Wednesday yesterday gave rise to another discussion about religion with a member of my family-- one that I don't see on a daily basis but who was visiting.
A lot of old ground was covered. What if you had a child who turned out to be homosexual? How could you accept them without approving of their choice of life-- how would that feel to them? Isn't it better that sexually active teens should be told to use contraception rather than simply ordered to abstain and end up hiding their activities from you? Why do Christians have to broadcast their faith, as with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday, rather than keeping their religion a private thing? Isn't religion just about living a good, moral life? Can't living a good, moral life be boiled down to kindness and not wanting to hurt people? Do you really believe in heaven? Wouldn't it be better to have no images of God or heaven since they are beyond human comprehension? Isn't it easy for a man to accept Catholic teaching as it affects women? Would human beings turn to religion if they had no frustrations or disappointments in their lives?
I did my best to answer all those questions, and I don't think I did too badly, but I always come away from such conversations with a sense of disappointment in my own responses. Why do I grope for, and often mangle, Gospel quotations that I have read a hundred times, and I have heard from the ambo so often? Why do arguments that seem so clear in my own mind come out so tortuously when I try to express them?
But the argument that I can't help taking to heart-- when it comes from a member of one's own family-- is the argument that religion is a crutch, or a kind of compensation for the things you lack in your own life. It does embarrass me that my own faith could be seen like that. I know how vain and prideful that response is. But I wish I had explained better that, in my own experience, I have felt the hunger for God most in my happiest and most magical moments, rather than in my darker interludes. In fact, when I have felt most alienated and angry, my bitterness has built a wall between me and God.
Perhaps my Lenten exercise could be to read nothing but the Gospels, over and over and over, so I no longer find myself straining for an allusion.