Memorial Day: Remembering my Distant Cousin, David I. Briggs (1947-1968), Soldier in Vietnam (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

David I. Briggs, U.S. Army Service Photo, 1968

David I. Briggs, U.S. Army Service Photo, 1968 (Retrieved May 25, 2015 from http://www.virtualwall.org)

David I. Briggs, a distant cousin of mine, was a man who I never knew, but whose pain for his loss I felt through the hearts and spirits of his family – his mother, father, and sisters.  David was the only son of Ivan Francis Briggs (1907-2000) and Louise (Gullo) Briggs (1915-1997) of North Collins, New York.  He was 21 when he and most members of his battalion (C Company, 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division) were killed in heavy gunfire in Tay Ninh, Vietnam on November 23, 1968 (Small, 2001).

It is my understanding from having read an article in the Hamburg Sun, that David’s battalion invaded an opposing forces’ base camp, but underestimated their strength (Gordon, 2012).  David and his captain were the first to have sacrificed their lives in that invasion (Gordon, 2012).  Thirteen men of the battalion were killed on that November day (Small, 2001).

Vintage Memorial Day Remembrance (Retrieved May 25, 2015 from www.crazywebsite.com)

Vintage Memorial Day Remembrance (Retrieved May 25, 2015 from http://www.crazywebsite.com)

I met my distant cousins, Ivan, Louise, and one of their twin daughters, in my early to mid-teens while visiting them in North Collins, New York.  Louise was a wonderful cook, and it is said that it is one of the reasons that Ivan married her.

From what I observed, Ivan and Louise also had a love for family.  Anyone who knew them could sense the pain and loss they carried with them due to the death of their son, David.  I remember after having first met Louise and Ivan that I asked my parents about the sense of deep sadness in them that I felt, and discovered that they still grieved the loss of their son, David.

Funeral Card of David Briggs, North Collins, New York, 1968

Funeral Card of David Briggs, North Collins, New York, 1968

At that time, I was astounded to know that Ivan and Louise still grieved for David after so many years, and realized that he was very much loved by them. I believe they carried that sense of grief and sadness in themselves from the time that David was killed until their own deaths.  When I met them, nearly 20 years had passed, and they were still hurting from his death. Family said that it broke Louise’s heart when David was killed; she was never the same after that.

So, while I never knew David, nor, I believe, any men who have been killed during the course of duty in war, I know that they will always be remembered for their bravery and for giving the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. May we remember and honor all those who have gone before us, who have given their lives to make this world a better place. May God bless you, David, and may you rest in peace.

References:

Gordon, C. (July 13, 2012). Traveling Vietnam wall coming to Eden, Briggs remembered. Hamburg, NY: The Sun. Retrieved May 25, 2015.  http://www.thesunnews.net/news/916-Traveling_Vietnam_Wall_coming_to_Eden,_Briggs_remembered.html

Small, L.R. (2001). David Ivan Briggs. VirturalWall.org. Retrieved May 25, 2015. http://www.virtualwall.org/db/BriggsDI01a.htm

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How to Sacrifice More for a Chapel? What about People?

Virgin Mary Image (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from kofc1349.org)

Virgin Mary Image (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from kofc1349.org)

My church has recently been raising money to build a chapel, to be attached to the main church sanctuary. This chapel has been an integral part of the original plan ever since the new church was built a few short years ago. The head priest at my church has been campaigning during Masses to encourage parishioners to contribute, to make pledges to the building campaign for the chapel. The priests of my church are sensitive and caring men of good hearts. They are positive-minded and see the goodness in others, always promoting and proclaiming God’s word. They are men who people look up to, men who are leaders, men who have the respect of the followers.

However, sitting among my fellow parishioners in a relatively new church that was desired by and created for the parish community, it strikes me that the building we already have is more than enough. Why is it necessary that a chapel be built? We can gather, worship, and pray in any location. Must that location always be a church, a chapel, a sanctuary that looks fancy, costs much, and makes us feel good to attend?

One of the concerns regarding costs of the church includes the amount of money it takes to heat it – and likely air condition it, as well. Monies can be saved by applying energy-saving actions to prevent the heated and/or air-conditioned air from escaping. In winter, the set of doors beyond the main entrances should be closed at all times. The same can be done in summer. Side doors to the church sanctuary could be designated for emergency exits only. This will further prevent energy – and money – from exiting the building. What also could have been accomplished – and it may still be able to be done – is to better fortify the church roof with high-quality insulation. Insulation is not something many people think about here in the South, however, it saves $100s to $1,000s in the long run.

Picture of Virgin Mary (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from turnbacktogod.com)

Picture of Virgin Mary (Retrieved on March 15, 2015 from turnbacktogod.com)

Why do I care about all of this? Sure, I am a member of my church; I am a parishioner. I have been a follower of my faith – despite some disagreements with overall leadership and policies – for my entire life. There are things I like about my faith, and things that I don’t like. However, I also see that other faiths have similar issues. I further care about this issue because of the environment. I wonder how we, as parishioners, can enjoy the best energy-savings and value for our money. I ask what steps can be taken to best accomplish and continue that?

But, even more important, the main issue regarding why I care about this issue is about myself. Why, you ask? I love my God, I am a faithful follower, and I am a supporter of the leadership of my church, however it strikes me as being out-of-touch when parishioners are asked to make more of a sacrifice in our lives so that this chapel may be erected. As one who sacrifices just to come to church, just to attend church services, and just to give what little support that I do to my church, to be asked to sacrifice more is asking far too much. One cannot sacrifice more when there is no more to sacrifice. If I sacrifice more, I would be selling the clothes directly off of my body.

So, tell me, how can those who have no more to sacrifice give more? How is it that many of my fellow parishioners around me pledge $2,000,000 to build a chapel when there are those in their midst who cannot sacrifice more? Why aren’t they inquiring about the well-being of those who cannot sacrifice more? Why aren’t they asking about what happens to those who are unable to sacrifice more? Why aren’t they offering food, work, hope, support? Overlooked are the invisible poor.

They must believe that God will fulfill the needs of those who are unable to sacrifice more – by building a fancy $2,000,000 chapel in which we can worship. Certainly, they must believe that God will provide. Personally, I don’t need a $2,000,000 chapel to attend when there is no more that I can sacrifice. We already have a church, so why do we need a chapel? Perhaps some kind soul could sacrifice a burial plot for me when I am unable to sacrifice more – just as was done for Jesus. But then again, maybe not – they might still be paying off their pledge for the $2,000,000 chapel (that was a joke). By then, it will be too late anyway.

Survival (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Survival means different things to different people.  Survival may be a concept that many believe applies only to animals or creatures living in the wild.  Of course, there are those “survival” shows on TV, as well, in which people place themselves in risky and dangerous situations for the sake of money, fame, and entertainment.  Being smart about survival when outdoor temperatures are too hot or too cold, or when natural disasters occur, saves lives.  But, there are additional meanings to the word, ‘survival,’ as well, to be explored here.  For people who experience traumatic situations, survival means applying ways to protect oneself in order to continue living, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

To many people who are without work, shelter, and/or food, survival means doing what is needed to live for another day, week, month, year.  To families where this is the case, survival means sacrifice, sometimes doing without life’s comforts, cutting back on food, doing as little as possible in order to spend as little money as possible.  For people who have lost jobs, homes, incomes, marriages, savings, credit standing, and more, survival means sacrifice and doing the best one can to survive every day.

What I have experienced in each of those situations is that most people turn away from those who are in need.  Most folks are unable to believe it and really cannot stomach it to hear about other’s woes of poverty.  When people are so poor that they turn to doing things that are illegal, it does not surprise me, I don’t wonder why.  I would not reduce myself to such a level, however I understand why it happens.  Most people who “have” keep what they have.  There is an incredible level of blindness by the haves toward the “have nots.”  And, with the economic woes our country has experienced over the past several years, I, personally, have not experienced improvement.

The holidays are the toughest time of the year.  One wants to provide for their children for these special times.  Thankfully, there are others in my extended family who have more means to provide than I do since I must now live within the bare means.  But, it is always saddening and disappointing when folks such as myself are overlooked, even in a basic need for food.  No one ever expects to see someone who is Caucasian to be begging, and even if they do, they don’t believe it and are in denial, typically seeking something illegal rather than simply being a good Samaritan.

So, this year, I didn’t beg.  Instead, I lost weigh by eating less.  Cutting out the fattening food and just eating less won’t hurt me.  One has to live, or rather, survive.  One is not living when each day, week, month, year is a financial struggle.  Being a step away from walking or riding the bus instead of having a vehicle, or being a step away from making a home out of the vehicle is not living, it’s surviving.  I don’t know how people do it.  I don’t know how I’ve survived, but where there’s a will, there’s always a way.  I have less, but I am blessed because I have learned to survive with it.  Survival of the fittest.

The best part about survival is that I have learned much from it.  I’ve learned that I can survive on nothing.  I can survive on a shoe string.  I can use what I have, and when I don’t have anything, I can go without.  I will always go without so my family has what is necessary.  So, survival has also built my character, my persistence, my perseverance, not that I needed any more of that, however.  But, the worst part about survival is that it has also eroded my faith and hope in people.  Basically, life is a struggle, so one must be thankful for the good that there is.

Sacrifice.  Survival.  Those are my two words for today.  What do they mean to you?

Being Most Thankful for Family (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

Happy Thanksgiving! (Retrieved from http://www.vintag.es, November 27, 2014)

On Thanksgiving, what I am always most thankful for is my family.  My family is always there for me in thick and thin.  My family has weathered many storms and enjoyed sunny days together; I can count on my family for love, compassion, and support, and I provide the same to them. I don’t have a very large family, nor do I have much money, but I have a big heart, full of lots of love. My love is shared with and among my family, for whom I am most thankful on  Thanksgiving and every day.

Other things for which I am thankful include food, faith, community, freedom, education, technology, career, and health.  I am thankful for food, though it is not easy to get by from month to month with food prices continuing to rise.  I appreciate my faith because, if it was not for that, I would not be where I am today, and things would likely be much worse.  I am grateful for community, such as organizations that provide fellowship, to my family.

I am always thankful for freedom and I remember my grandmother’s stories about when she lived in Communist Poland, with people fearing for their lives when homes were raided in the middle of the night and people were never seen again.  I am grateful for education, though the large debt required to pay for it is a hardship.  I appreciate technology that makes life easier.  And, I am thankful for career in many capacities, including that of being a mother, as well as for the potential of a stable gainful and enjoyable employment in a workplace with decent people, if that is ever attainable.  I am thankful for my good health so I do not have to pay out-of-pocket to see the doctor as a result of being without health insurance.

So often, organizations such as colleges, churches, and charities have fundraising drives to help give to those in need.  When I am asked to donate, I reply that I could benefit from some assistance, myself.  As a poor single white mother, so often such places overlook people such as myself, as has occurred again this year.  People in my shoes are reduced to begging for even a little bit in return.  People may maintain the perspective that whites have privilege and that is definitely a stereotype that hurts poor white single mothers such as myself because the majority of any aid, as I observe, goes to people of other races.

I am also thankful for the holes in some of my shabby clothes and worn-out shoes, the place that I live even though it is not my own, the student loans that provide opportunity, my nearly decade-old vehicle that is still in great shape, and that sacrifices that I am able to make for the benefit of my family.  I am thankful for the $15 haircut that I get every two months instead of going to a salon and spending loads of money, and the $3 bottle of fingernail polish that I can use for a manicure or pedicure instead of going someplace to have it done for me.  I am grateful for the free lunch that I eat twice each week at my apprenticeship, and for the store closing sale at the local KMart where I can save a few dollars on Christmas gifts for my son.  I am thankful for what little I have because more is always spent than saved.

These are additional reasons why I am thankful for my family, particularly at Thanksgiving.  Every so often, there is that rare person who comes along who might be caring and/or supportive, but with my family, I know they will always be there, in good and in bad, in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer.  People should be more important than money and possessions, and indeed, my family is most important to me.

So, on this Thanksgiving, I invite you to think about family, values, and people in need.  Think about and be thankful for people who are close to you.  Think about people whom you see at work or in church every week who have little or nothing, and who are usually overlooked in their need.  Take action on what you can do rather than what you cannot.  Open your heart and mind to see what you do not want to see, and take action for what you otherwise would not have done.   A little bit goes a long way, especially for folks who don’t have much.

Happy Thanksgiving!  Remember what you are thankful for!

[Author’s Note: Within one day of posting this article, I was solicited by a man on LinkedIn, out-of-state, to contact him by whatever means necessary.  People really need to get their heads out of the gutter, and be open to simply being helpful to those in need without being offensive and/or wanting something (inappropriate) in return.  Solicitation is so offensive, degrading, and dehumanizing to me; is nothing that I have ever done; and it is incredible to me that so many men (I’ve experienced this many times on LinkedIn) do it.  It is unfortunate and tragic for humanity that there are those who attempt (and succeed) in taking advantage of people in need in a sexual manner.]

Remembering American Military Veterans on this Memorial Day (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

American Flag at Snellville, Georgia, May 26, 2014

American Flag at Snellville, Georgia, May 26, 2014

My son put out the American flag today, in special remembrance of America’s military veterans and in celebration of Memorial Day 2014.  Putting out the flag has become somewhat of a tradition for him throughout the past few years, particularly since it was a requirement for one of his achievements as a Cub Scout.  Today, he put out the flag as a new Boy Scout.  Last evening, my family also watched the Memorial Day tribute celebration on television, as broadcasted by PBS.  That has also been a tradition in my family for many years.  This year is the 25th anniversary of the annual Memorial Day broadcast.

In remembrance of military veterans in my family, I have authored this article, having arranged photos and/or memorabilia of all of those known family members and/or ancestors who have served in the American military.  I am thankful for those who have risked their lives and/or who have given their lives for the freedoms that I enjoy.

One important issue to keep in mind, however, is that our freedoms may be our right, but should also be practiced with appropriate reason and rationalization.  I stated this, particularly due to interpretations of the Second Amendment of our country’s Constitution, in regard to the right to bear arms.  We should all keep in mind that while we have a right to bear arms, that does not mean that we have the right to take another’s life, unless circumstances absolutely warrant it in matters of self-protection.  Let us not allow the right to bear arms, as well as monetary-backed interests to that aim, to remain more important than protecting people’s lives.

May we all strive to live together in peace and harmony.  Let us all remember the sacrifices of those who serve and who have served in our military forces so that not only our freedoms are maintained, but so that the spirit of democracy may infuse those in other countries, as well.  May our military forces stationed in Afghanistan soon return home, and back to our wonderful democracy!

Memorial Postcard in Remembrance of the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Memorial Postcard in Remembrance of the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Grand Army of the Republic Veteran's Medal from the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Grand Army of the Republic Veteran’s Medal from the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Fred Henn, Civil War Veteran, Hamburg, New York, Circa 1870-1890

Fred Henn, Civil War Veteran, Hamburg, New York, Circa 1870-1890

Harry H. Gale, Member of American Military in New York State, , Hamburg, New York, 1880s

Harry H. Gale, Member of American Military in New York State, Hamburg, New York, 1880s

John Briggs, North Collins, NY, Soldier in World War I, Circa 1917

John Briggs, North Collins, NY, Soldier in World War I, Circa 1917

John Hintermister (the Elder), American Military Veteran

John Hintermister (the Elder), American Military Veteran

Funeral Card of David I. Briggs, North Collins, New York, 1968 (Killed in Vietnam War) (Wentland Funeral Home, North Collins, New York)

Funeral Card of David I. Briggs, North Collins, New York, 1968 (Killed in Vietnam War) (Wentland Funeral Home, North Collins, New York)

Funeral Card of David Briggs, North Collins, New York, 1968

Funeral Card of David Briggs, North Collins, New York, 1968

Henry Curtis, World War II Veteran

Henry Curtis, World War II Veteran

Eugene Spires, World War II Veteran

Eugene Spires, World War II Veteran

James Kibbe, Korean War Veteran

James Kibbe, Korean War Veteran

Peter Krakowiak, American Navy Veteran

Peter Krakowiak, American Navy Veteran

Arnold Bennett, Vietnam War Veteran

Arnold Bennett, Vietnam War Veteran

John Nice, Jr.,  American Military Member

John Nice, Jr., American Military Member

I am also aware that one of the Tomaszewski men (formerly of Gowanda, New York, and now of Chicago, Illinois), a cousin to my mom, was a pilot in the Air Force, possibly in the Vietnam War.

These photos, information, and memorabilia represent all those known individuals within my family, and from my family ancestry, who have served in the American military.  I salute you for your risks, sacrifices, and in the case of David Briggs, his ultimate sacrifice, for the freedoms and protections of others.  While I have taught history, and honor and appreciate our military veterans, I am not one who has the will to risk my life in possible sacrifice in the military.  You all are a credit to our country for your service, and to the preservation of democracy.

“On Being a Reluctant Catholic” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

Female Praying Hands with Rosary (Retrieved from http://rachelhelie.com/?p=404 , December 23, 2013)

For the past few years, especially, I have been and would consider myself a reluctant Roman Catholic.  There are many reasons for this, as I will reflect upon herein; and these are thoughts and feelings that I have personally encountered and coped with in the past, as well.  While I do have my own internal, personal struggles with being Roman Catholic, I have always returned to the same realization after much introspection and contemplation – to remain Roman Catholic.  I am sure that the internal struggles that I feel about being Roman Catholic will not just go away, and in fact, they seem to increase with time.  However, for now, I continue to remain Roman Catholic, whether more or less involved as I have been in the past.  My religion and spirituality are a strong part of who I am as a person, and are not things about myself that I take lightly.  And so, serious understanding, thought, awareness, introspection, and consideration are concerns that I bring to my own table in contemplating what being Roman Catholic means for me.

I was born, baptized, and raised Roman Catholic in the Greater Buffalo Area of New York State.  My mother is of purely Polish descent, and was born and raised Roman Catholic.  When my parents married, my dad converted from being a nonpracticing Quaker to Roman Catholicism.  My mother, especially, and my dad, often, attended weekly mass on a regular basis even before I was born.  Therefore, it was a sure thing that I would become Roman Catholic, being indoctrinated in the ways of Roman Catholicism.  It was an expectation that, as the offspring of my parents, I would be Roman Catholic.  My mother made sure that my brother and I received religious education.  We attended public school, and so, took religious education classes every Sunday before going to mass since religion is not taught in public schools.  We both attended religion classes at my hometown church and school from our ages of 5-16.

Even at a young age, the thing that struck me the most about Roman Catholicism was that there were few female role models in my church, and even fewer who were visible, appreciated, or recognized in any way.  Certainly, in the parochial school in my hometown, there were nuns who were principals and teachers, however I did not attend Catholic school and did not regularly experience women’s leadership involvement in my religion.  I attended religious education classes for one hour each Sunday, and went to mass for one hour each Sunday.  Therefore, it was the men in the leadership positions of the church whom I always saw, and who were always prominent in speaking, performing mass, and being at the forefront of the faith.

As a young girl, these experiences caused me to feel that the male leaders of the church were out-of-touch with children.  Of course, they spoke about God, Jesus, His family, and His followers, and how we should love Jesus, however their words always seemed so far away.  They seemed to preach about what they did not practice.  Jesus showed the example of being caring and compassionate for children, but I did not observe any of them being that way.  They did not know how to interact with children, how to appreciate children, how to respect children, how to relate with or reach children.  They were – and, often, still are – out-of-touch.  There was alot more spiritual need that I had as a child that went unrecognized, unnurtured, ignored.  As a result, I felt invisible and unappreciated by the male leadership of the church when I was a child.  They did not know, understand, or care about me.  They preached what they did not practice.  How is a young girl supposed to gain respect for those who are so distinctly separate from her?

When I was five or six, I had my weekly religion class with Sister Mary.  Sister Mary was a very young nun who always dressed in her habit, and who was a role model for me.  She was kind and caring to children, especially to me.  I was one who wanted to stay after class and help Sister Mary clean the chalk boards.  I had alot of questions for Sister Mary who probably thought I was more of a chatterbox.  She seemed to look for reasons for me not to remain after class to talk with her, however I ignored and overlooked her hints, and asked more questions.  Always, she was very kind, compassionate, and understanding.  To me, she always had the right answers, could relate with me, and placed me at ease and at peace.  The next fall, it broke my heart to learn that Sister Mary had been relocated.  I never saw her again.  Sister Mary was like an angel to me – and worse, an angel who had been ripped away from me.  I cried over the loss of my relationship with Sister Mary.  I needed a female role model to look up to, and to whom to ask all of my curious questions, and she was gone.

I never got that feeling back about anyone in a leadership position in the church even coming close to understanding me, as a person, until I took my Confirmation classes with the deacon of my hometown church.  Deacon Louis was extremely knowledgeable, and also very upbeat and enthusiastic about Roman Catholicism and people’s individual spirituality.  I told Deacon Louis that I was interested to learn more about the Rosary, and that I wanted to pray the Rosary but did not know how.  Deacon Louis provided me with a beautifully-pictured and colored pamphlet about how to pray the Rosary.  Wow!  For once, someone who actually listened to me – amazing!  As time progressed, I learned that Deacon Louis was very understanding and respectful about individuals’ faith and spiritual development.  Again, I privately spoke with Deacon Louis and let him know that I was contemplating a few saints to be my patron saint at Confirmation.  He made photocopies of a few pages of a book for me that he had about the saints that I had identified to him.  Based on that information that he provided to me, I chose my patron saint, St. Joan of Arc.  I had a great respect for Deacon Louis.  He was a man who was married and who had three daughters; he understood me and my need for faith and spiritual fulfillment in my religion.

Throughout my life, I have always tried to reach out to priests in the churches that I have attended and/or those in which I have been a member.  In most cases, I have not had good experiences in that the men seem unable to relate with or understand my experiences as a woman.  Most priests are extremely uncomfortable in speaking with me, as a woman, about women’s issues and traumatic life experiences, for examples.  Even less so, most are unable to understand and relate with me about relationship, marital, divorce, children’s, and even career and financial issues.  They often seem to feel threatened by or unable to cope with such topics.  One expects to go to a priest for support and guidance, and when it is not received, it may lead to one questioning his or her faith.  It makes me wonder if they are simply like most men who, when faced with a problem, want to “fix” it; or if they are truly unable to relate with or understand the issues that women, children, and families face.  Certainly, fixing problems is good, however there are often times when women simply want to talk out and vent their concerns, seeking emotional support; most priests seem to be unable to understand and provide that.  For these reasons, I have learned that it is often better not to approach priests with such issues because they are typically unable to understand about and relate to them with me, at least on a personal level.

In my mid to late 20’s, I seriously contemplated becoming a nun in the Roman Catholic Church.  As a person with a strong religious faith and who was single with no committed intimate partner in sight, I thought that religious life might be suitable for me.  I sought to understand whether or not I had “received a call” from God to become a religious.  I was a member of two Roman Catholic Singles groups in Western New York State, and had opportunities for interactions with many religious, both women and men.  In this capacity, I also learned more about religious life and took several opportunities to go on religious retreats with my peers.  I participated in one weekend retreat at a convent in Cheektowaga, New York.  I also personally interviewed with a nun at the convent in Athol Springs, New York.

While both of these experiences increased my faith and spirituality, they did not convince me to pursue religious life.  In fact, they did the opposite.  At the first convent that I went to, I saw women who appeared to do much praying and sitting.  Most of the women were older or elderly, and many did not have the medical assistance they needed.  It seemed that the convent was more like one big dormitory building for women of the same faith who prayed alot.  I did not see their good works, but only saw them living amongst each other in lives that caused them to be excluded from society at large.  I similarly observed and felt this at the second convent where I interviewed.  The elderly woman who interviewed me did so in her small bedroom.  She appeared to have no family, no nothing.  To me, she appeared to have lived an empty and solitary life, and was very much unappreciated.

After more thought, I realized that I did not want any of what I observed at the convents.  I felt sorry for these women, and angry at the Roman Catholic Church for requiring them to make such huge sacrifices in their lives.  I was also upset that the Church required priests to be single.  I did not believe that was fair, or took basic human nature into serious consideration.  It seemed to me that the Church wanted fewer people for which to pay simply by requiring that religious did not have families.  Conversely, I desired the opportunity to be married and have a family.  I also realized, after more thought, that I was pursuing religious life for some of the wrong reasons.  I had experienced a traumatic experience at college as an undergraduate, and pursuing religious life was a way of escaping from it.  I realized that, and decided to deal with it – and did.

As a woman in the Roman Catholic Church, I also realized all of the limitations on and misjudgments about women that it practices.  The Roman Catholic Church is often extremely rigid and insensitive toward people and understanding the basic needs of people.  Certainly, there are many wonderful things that the Catholic Church does in helping and supporting people throughout the world.  I have also received assistance and support from the Roman Catholic Church, but this has only begun being received after having been a member of the faithful for 41 years.  Most people cannot wait 41 or more years before some of their basic needs are met; they would be dead, otherwise.

The Roman Catholic Church is also extremely patriarchal.  Women are excluded from high-ranking positions in the church.  Women are not allowed to be priests or deacons, bishops or cardinals, or popes.  Even if a Roman Catholic woman becomes a priest, she is often not recognized or supported by her followers.  Women – often but for the Virgin Mary – are viewed in a negative light in Roman Catholicism.  After all, followers are typically taught that it was Eve who led to Adam’s downfall, and the resulting exit from Paradise.  There are different versions of this story that place equal responsibility on both Adam and Eve for being removed from Paradise, though those are the stories that one does not hear and that are not taught in the faith.  Whether consciously or unconsciously women are, therefore, blamed and condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.

Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church is also sexist.  In viewing Jesus’ mother, Mary, as a virgin and placing her virginity on a pedestal, the Roman Catholic Church has elevated a woman to a position in the natural world that is unrealistic for all other women.  Certainly, virginity and chastity are important for women, however they are also ideals that are not realistic.  Often, for example, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold the same ideals for men, and this leads to a sexist double standard.  Such standards are biased and unfair.  Further, the many prayers and recitations in the Roman Catholic Church are sexist because they are not gender neutral, therefore excluding and purposely ignoring the need for increased rights, equality, and freedoms of women within the Church.

The Roman Catholic Church is also sexist in regard to its views regarding abortion.  I am a Roman Catholic for whom the choice for life is extremely important, however I also understand that it is important to provide choice, as well.  As a person who has only had one pregnancy, and who has never had any abortions or miscarriages, I believe in the value or life, though I also support the importance of choice.  It must be understood that there are situations and experiences that girls and women have that may be traumatic, out of their control, and/or life-threatening.  The are other situations in which females simply decide against continuing their pregnancy.  Women and girls must have opportunities for choice in whether or not to give birth to children.  It is wrong when the Roman Catholic Church preaches about life, but then, does not provide support or assistance to girls or women who are in need of it.  And, what about the male who has caused a pregnancy to occur?  Typically, the Roman Catholic Church does not hold males accountable to a role of responsibility when women and/or girls whom they impregnate obtain abortions.  Again, the responsibility is usually all upon the female, and the male is absolved of responsibility.  The female, again, is often blamed, stigmatized, and lacks support she needs in the very place that should provide it.

In marriages in which there is difficulty, abuse, or domestic violence, Roman Catholic priests are not consistent in their views regarding what steps should be taken to either maintain or dissolve the marriage.  Such views contribute to confusion and increased sexism in the Roman Catholic Church.  Some priests maintain the view that the wife and children must be subservient to the male, whom they view as the head of the household and the absolute, all-powerful leader of the family.  Such a view is harmfully patriarchal, and in fact, can contribute to a worsening of the situation in which the victims continue to be victimized, blamed, and unsupported.  Men should not necessarily be believed or obeyed at all costs, or it could cost one her life.  (Then, of course, people will ask why she did not just leave the marriage.)   On the other hand, there are priests who encourage marital counseling for a couple who is in trouble, however none of those with whom I have ever interacted are qualified to provide it.  First, they are not licensed counselors, nor do they have experience in marriage, or in having a wife and family of their own.  Then, there are those priests who say that if counseling does not help and if the situation is so bad, then divorce is the best option.  Wait, I thought marriage was supposed to be forever.  Sometimes, however, no matter how much a woman may try to improve and maintain her marriage, divorce is the only viable alternative that remains, whether it is initiated by her spouse or herself.

There is also the issue of homosexuals in the Roman Catholic Church.  I am an individual who is and who always has been heterosexual, though I recognize that there is a need in the Roman Catholic Church to provide support and equality to all peoples, including those who are homosexual.  I am also one who believes that marriage should be – notice that I said “should be” – between a man and woman, though I recognize this as one of my values because this is what I was taught.  I also take care not to impose my values about this issue onto others.  Therefore, I maintain the view that marriage should be between two partners who love and are fully committed to each other, for the benefit of themselves and their families, if they have them.  Therefore, I believe that the Roman Catholic Church should not exclude or condemn individuals who are homosexual, nor create guilt in them or cause them to feel sinful simply because of their sexual orientation.

Further, there are many experiences that I have had in the Roman Catholic Church – a church that promotes Jesus and Christianity – that have been extremely unchristian.  Within individual Roman Catholic churches, schools, groups, and/or organizations affiliated with it, there have been a great number of situations I have had in which people who contend to be Catholic and Christian behave in decidedly unchristian ways, in ways of which Jesus would not approve.  There are many Roman Catholics who are basically hypocrites because they preach about and say they believe what they actually do not practice.

As an example of such hypocrisy, a number of Roman Catholic men throughout my life (both as a child and as a woman) have been sexually harassing (or worse) of me, and have outright wanted to have an affair with me, even though they are married and/or we were both married to other spouses at those times.  I am a person who has never – I repeat, never – had an affair with any man.  Even in a difficult (to say the least) marriage in which there were temptations to be unfaithful, I remained faithful to my then-spouse.  I have also turned down every man who has wanted to have an affair with me.  I understand that he is seeking something temporary and for his own gratification, and does not understand the seriousness or implications that having an affair would create on himself, his wife, and his children.  The Roman Catholic Church and society must teach men to be faithful to their wives and families, even when times are tough.  When times are tough, it is taking the easy way out to throw in the towel regarding one’s marriage and commitment.  More instruction and better role models are needed for Roman Catholic men (and all men) in regard to maintaining and developing healthy marriages, at least from my perspective.

Another major issue in the Roman Catholic Church is abuse and sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and/or harassment by priests toward female and male congregants, particularly those who are younger and/or who are in positions of vulnerability.  In churches and dioceses throughout the United States, in Ireland, and elsewhere, there have been numerous instances of sexual abuse by priests.  While I have not personally experienced sexual abuse by any priests in the Roman Catholic Church, I do know of those who have and those who have perpetrated abuse that was unrecognized by the greater congregation and not at all addressed, corrected, or resolved by higher level diocesan church leaders.  Such abuses have ripe ground to occur in such a closed, structured, hierarchical organization of men who all too often have ignored, overlooked, and not considered the seriousness of the situations.  Instead, and all too often again, abusive priests are ushered along to different parishes where they continue and/or escalate their abuses, and/or continue them unrecognized.  Certainly, there are many good priests, and those who perpetrate abuses give a bad name to those who do not.  And, the Roman Catholic Church has implemented serious steps at preventing future abuses, as one good thing that has come from these situations, however they do continue to occur.  Such abuses by priests have caused many followers to leave the faith, and to lose hope in the very people who are supposed to be Christ-like.  I personally know of several people who have left Roman Catholicism because of these issues – such issues that should never occur.

Because of all of these experiences that I have had as a Roman Catholic, and more, I have become a reluctant Roman Catholic.  In the past couple of years, I have actively sought out and have considered other faiths.  All of the faiths that I have considered are still within Christianity, though they have been either less Catholic or more Protestant than Roman Catholicism.  In these faiths, however, I have found many issues that are similar to those I have encountered in the Roman Catholic Church.  Certainly, in some faiths, women have higher positions of power and might actually be the highest leader of their faith, however I observe that being practiced to the most minimal extent in the area where I live around Atlanta, an area that is mostly Baptist and thus, also highly patriarchal based on related religious and cultural views.  Also, in other faiths, the Virgin Mary is not held in nearly the same regard as she is in Roman Catholicism.  While Roman Catholics may place her on a pedestal and view her unrealistically in regard to virginal expectations of women in society, she is completely absent in some other faiths, leaving me with a feeling that I could become a member of such a faith, but that is the only thing holding me back – that faith’s exclusion of Mary as the Mother of Jesus.

So, I always return to the same crossroads – do I remain Roman Catholic or do I convert to another faith?  While there are many things in Roman Catholicism with which I disagree and do not support, I always reach the same answer – to remain Roman Catholic.  The most important part of my decision always includes that I am a faithful follower and believer in Jesus.  I might not agree with many of the practices of Roman Catholicism, however I do believe in the teachings of Jesus.  I have always come to the conclusion that I can pray for myself, and my friends and enemies.  I can pray that the eyes of those who have sight but who are blind can be opened.  I can work to do more to bring awareness about the importance and value of women and children in the Church, rather than support the male leadership’s exclusion of them.

I recognize that I am one who is not content to simply accept the rigid, patriarchal, and sexist nature of the Roman Catholic Church, but who is one who strives to bring increased equality and support to marginalized groups, including women and children.  While Blessed Teresa and Pope Francis, for examples, are excellent role models within the Roman Catholic Church, and have brought much compassion and support to people around the world, I, personally, continue to experience much rigidity, patriarchy, sexism, and inequality in my faith.  I doubt that the Roman Catholic Church will ever provide full equality, understanding, or acceptance in the Church for women, and while I am intolerant of that, I do accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  Thus, I continue to remain a reluctant Roman Catholic, and will likely revisit this issue at many points throughout the remainder of my life.  I place my faith in God that He will continue to guide me on the path that is right for me.

“In Celebration of Spring and Easter” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Easter Chick with Easter Eggs, Easter 2013

Easter Chick with Easter Eggs, Easter 2013

Spring has sprung, and Easter is again upon us!  There is much to be thankful for in celebrating another Easter – Christ’s ultimate sacrifice in giving his life for us, dying a horrible death beyond words and resurrecting his spirit for us.  Jesus is the God who continually forgives our sins and is our ultimate savior, unable to be replaced by anyone or anything.  And, though there are many things in our world by which we may attempt to replace our Creator, what it all comes down to in the end is that God is the ‘be all and the end all,’ the first and the last, the alpha and the omega. 

So, while many of us are spending additional time at church during this Easter season, reflecting, praying, and meditating on Jesus and his life, death, and resurrection, we must always remember that we are all His children.  With that in mind, those of us who have children of our own must be mindful of not only teaching them about our religious values, but also participating in fun Easter events, such as getting pictures with the Easter Bunny, going to Easter Egg Hunts, or enjoying other fun Easter or Spring activities, including something as simple as walking in the park and viewing the flower blossoms on the trees.

Easter Egg Hunt at St. Oliver's, Snellville, Georgia, March 30, 2013

Easter Egg Hunt at St. Oliver’s, Snellville, Georgia, March 30, 2013

I hope that everyone enjoys a beautiful, wonderful, rejuvenating, and refreshing spring.  And, regardless of the religion that you may or may not practice, hopefully, you will take time to reflect upon and be thankful for all that has been bestowed upon you in your life.  For me, as a Roman Catholic Christian, celebrating Lent with the culmination of Easter in spring is a wonderful time of reflection and renewal.  I hope there are events and celebrations in your lives in which you experience the same!  Happy Easter!