Dominus Vobiscum

If this Sunday is like other Easters, my father will greet me on the telephone with, 'The Lord is risen, alleluia.' I'll ask him how Mass was, he'll ask if I attended Mass, I'll remind him that I d

If this Sunday is like other Easters, my father will greet me on the telephone with, 'The Lord is risen, alleluia.' I'll ask him how Mass was, he'll ask if I attended Mass, I'll remind him that I don't go to church anymore.

Then we'll move on to more comfortable topics, like how the grandkids did at the Easter egg hunt and if our favorite baseball team will win this season.

I stopped arguing with my parents about religion long ago. We're all too old for the debates to sway anyone, and with so few years left together there's no time for acrimony or hurt feelings.

I honor my mother and my father every day, and I will until the days they die — and beyond. I learned that commandment during grade school catechism class, and I don't have to go to church on Sunday to know it's still the right thing to do.

I dropped the Catholic Church when its political and corporate maneuverings finally wore me out. The priest abuse scandal in particular revealed the church to be no better than Enron or the Bush adminstration — secretive institutions hoarding power and money simply for the sake of power and money.

I believe that my faith is too precious to waste on morally deficient institutions, and after all, deep down, what do we truly own as human beings other than our faith?

It's faith — individual and collective — that makes society itself possible. You have faith that everyone will stop at the red light. You have faith that you can buy food with small green pieces of paper. You have faith that the baseball games you follow are played by the rules.

You have faith that tomorrow will be better than today, that friends and family will always love you and that there is some meaning in this crazy world.

Some have faith that God created us with a purpose in mind, that good is inherently better than evil, that our actions and decisions on Earth count toward some larger goal. Others put their faith elsewhere.

Ultimately, I'm talking about the difference between faith and religion. Some people think they're the same thing. I don't.

Faith is what allows you to hope and to love and be loved. Faith helps you set a course for your life and ideally gives you the strength to survive the inevitable bumps along the way.

Religion invites you into a community of like-minded believers and ideally provides support, belonging and a sense of structure.

Faith leads you to give yourself to another person and to know that the two of you together will be better than you could possibly be by yourself. It prods you to make and keep commitments you never thought you'd be able to do.

Religion can elevate that commitment to the higher plane of marriage; Catholics consider it a sacrament. Religion can also deny you legitimacy because you happen to love someone of the 'wrong' gender.

Faith gives you the strength to make decisions for other people — your children, your life partner, your parents — and know that you're acting in their best interests.

Religion provides cover to idealogical politicans who cynically try to 'save' Terri Schiavo despite the expressed wishes of her legal guardian, her husband. It seems that the 'sanctity of marriage' concept is a bit more flexible than Republicans make it out to be.

Religion also gets worn like a badge when President Bush, seizing the stage during the Schiavo controversy, declares his intent to protect our nation's weakest and neediest citizens while simultaneously signing a bill to make it harder for ordinary Americans to get out from under crushing debt and stonewalling meaningful health care reform.

Faith can sometimes take a wrong turn into delusion. Just because you have faith you're going to win the lottery doesn't mean it's going to happen. Just because you have faith that God exists doesn't mean He does.

Religion has, does and will continue to take wrong turns. In the hands of politicians, schemers, charlatans, con artists, exploiters, nabobs and moneychangers, religion can even shake your faith.

I can't deny that my departure from the Catholic Church is due in part to my distrust of organized religion — organized anything, in fact.

I also can't deny that Catholicism introduced me to the basic elements of morality that have served me well throughout my life. And I certainly embrace the historic role the church played in my ancestors' lives in Ireland and Scotland, where religion was about the only decent thing any of them had.

Ultimately, I trust myself and my own morality more than I trust any priest, minister, rabbi, politician or televangelist. And I trust God more than any human who claims to speak for Him.

The Lord is risen, indeed. I just hope He doesn't take a look around at the awfulness being perpetrated in His Name and strike us all down.

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