I have been separated from the church for a long time, and the fulcrum of that split has always been my understanding of the sermon on the mount as the nexus of Catholic theology. I saw, from the vantage point of growing up in the church, a terrible paradox; on the one hand I learned a wonderful liturgy of social justice based on moral strength rooted in the lessons in the Beatitudes. It was my understanding that by putting those concerns at the core of our lives we will shine a light, as Catholics, for the rest of the world to see, and in the process make the world a better place, as we, individually embrace the very essence of God. But time and time again the church failed to overtly embrace the very thing that made it Catholic. By the time Reagan became president it seemed the church was so locked into it’s current paradigm of abortion/anti-homosexuality that I gave up on it as an institution; it seemed to no longer stand for the things that spoke to what I felt was catholic.
I studied religion as my minor at Seton Hall; and I am a devotee of Thomas Merton (The Seven Story Mountain was an eye opener, and Zen and the Birds of Appetite was a beautiful affirmation of what I naturally felt within me) and a passionate “fan” of Alan Watts. I have always held a certain pride in the Jesuit tradition, and the fact that the Catholics developed the modern university system.
When Occupy Wall Street came around I was naturally drawn, as it was pointing to all the social/systemic ills I have been talking about for a while. After being there for a while, I began to sense its spiritual dimension, and as I traveled around the country, that aspect kept speaking louder and louder to me. I was especially struck in St. Louis, my first occupation outside of New York, where I was initially repulsed by what I saw. In St. Louis, there were no television network trucks, there were no celebrities like Michael Moore or Susan Sarandon, there weren’t even any police around. The info table was manned by a toothless woman who gave me a big smile ‘welcome,’ and all around were homeless people. As I wondered around the encampment I met the people who were the organizers and realized that Occupy St. Louis was a core group of about 30 to 40 dedicated people who were servicing approximately 50 homeless people (offering the a safe place to camp, the most basic in health care, and three meals a day). As the day wore on I began to feel so ashamed of my initial reaction, this camp was such an honorable undertaking its nobility made me very proud to stand in their candle light vigil on the first night Scott Olsen was in the hospital.
By the time I got to Berkeley I was a seasoned Occupy traveler. Berkeley was another St Louis, all the students from UCB had been drained off to Oakland and San Francisco (Occupy Cal had not happened yet) but they believed it was important to maintain a presence in the town. So again it was a strikingly similar situation to St. Louis, where a handful of very dedicated people were providing services to the homeless. Chief among them was a guy named Charlie who asked me to deliver a message to the Rev. Rosemary at the 4th Universalist Society up on Central Park West. When I got back I went up there, met with her, delivered the message, and in the course of our talk found out she was born Catholic. We spoke about our separation from the church. I told her how my understanding of Christ was best summed up in the hymn “Whatsoever You Do To The Least Of My Brethren,” she smiled told me she hadn’t thought of that hymn in years…. and agreed on how we feel the church has moved away from that as its core overt message.
I have not bridged my gap with the Holy See, I do not know if I ever will. I am an American of Catholic decent, I see the Occupation as our best hope for a return to a universal understanding that this country is meant for We the People, and that’s human people, who guide it with the thought that what we do is for ourselves AND our posterity! I know there is a beautiful tradition for social justice in the Catholic Church which is currently being ignored, and I feel that there are so many people out there who feel the same way. I know that if we come together, demonstrate how we feel, we can unleash an awesome power for good in our country.
Democracy Now, Democracy Forever.