Almost Holy: Confessions of a Bad Catholic

My First Confession

As it’s a good mantra of the Christian journey, here’s to new beginnings.

With its daily focus on the arcana of all things Vatican and what happens behind the sacristy doors, some of you who know the chaos that is “Whispers in the Loggia” might’ve thought that its humble author was a jaded, seen-it-all-before type who holds court in shadowy corners of cavernous churches, trafficking in ecclesiastical scuttlebutt.

Thanks to the series of interviews published recently by BustedHalo, many of you were surprised to discover that what I call my “Whispers voice” is quite different from my own. The response to that series was overwhelmingly positive and through this column, I’m hoping you’ll get to hear a bit more of that voice.

Acting My Age

Basically, for the first time in my writing life, BH has asked me to act my age, 23, and be myself. As one of my priest-friends likes to say, “It’s another victory for Jesus.”

Calm down—I’m kidding. But I am keen to have fun with this.

In so much of church life these days, too many people seem to have forgotten the value of fun—or, to use its theological name, “joy.” Given the challenges and the dynamics of our culture, it’s often all too easy to think of faith and the path of belief as overpowering, or burdensome or, worse still, an inhibition. Believe it or not, joy is a Catholic response. And on that one, I’m not kidding one bit. Not for nothing is Jeff Buckley’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” my favorite hymn.

But faith—that is, composing the “Hallelujah” for ourselves—isn’t something we master on Day One. Nor is it supposed to be—at least, not if it’s being done right. As with any community, finding a place in the church—not to mention the often-difficult task of learning how to live with the church—is always a work in progress, it’s always a journey. And after two thousand years, the way to do it right remains the same: not having ambitions of being the expert or the professional, but always the seeker, the amateur, the eager student, trying to eke out all the guidance we can, both of God and the people He’s put in our lives.

Remember Two Things

At the outset, keep two things in mind. First off, contrary to some of the hype, this is your church just as much as it is anyone else’s. In my journey, there have been some very difficult moments when it felt as if the church was being taken away from me, or I was made to believe that I didn’t have a place in it. Thankfully, those moments have passed, and in the words of some of the most uplifting people I know, I’ve come this far by faith.

It’s often all too easy to think of faith and the path of belief as overpowering, or burdensome or, worse still, an inhibition. Believe it or not, joy is a Catholic response.

Second, when the church projects a face that isn’t the face of Christ, it’s got some work to do. We’re only human, of course, so whatever we try to accomplish will always fall short and be subject to our whims, our limitations and our failings. However, in this communion, the magic and the meaning isn’t so much in the destination as it is in the journey.

A Cameron Crowe Catholic

Some of you may be asking why on earth is this column called “Almost Holy?” A wee bit brazen for a self-described “horrible Catholic,” eh?

Of course it is. But if anything, it’s a testament to one of my favorite movies (Almost Famous) and the fact that, these days, I find myself playing the role I always wanted but never expected: the Cameron Crowe of the Holy Roman Church. (If only I had scripted something as genius as holding up a boom box of Gregorian chant to the Pope’s window, I’d never need to write again.)

But instead of experiencing a rocky flight with a B-rate band over the Great Plains, I spend my days covering longtime Church people who, though being totally human (and everything that comes with that), are tremendous examples of faith, hope and love. In a culture that thrives on the empty thrill of celebrity, these unsung heroes remind us that the call to actually live what we believe cannot be placed aside or seen as too difficult, a brass ring beyond our abilities.

The good news: doing that isn’t hard. The bad news: it takes a willingness to try. It hasn’t always been easy, but with all its twists and turns it’s the journey that has made all the difference.

The Bachelor

Over the coming weeks I’ll be scribbling some about these people, these experiences and, to boot, some of my own: fellow-travelers, their stories, my stories, and the perils of being the Church’s Most Eligible Bachelor. (And I apologize in advance as you’ll hear way too much about that last one.) I do this in the hope that, as a very young person schooled in some very old things which only get more true and beautiful with the passage of time, we all can find that no matter where we are, what we’re doing, or how far along the seeker’s path we are, that this is but one church, and we need to keep an eye out for and take care of each other. When we do that, we do God’s work.

So hopefully you can all just sit back, enjoy and find these words a fun and uplifting read. And as nothing says lovin’ like hearing from all of you, know that I’m looking forward to your stories, your comments – and, of course, your ribbing. Send them to me at:

You can’t have faith without joy, so as we kick off this small adventure in a big church, let’s just make a great time of it. To do so together would be the best new beginning of all.