By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com June 10 2014 5:40 AM ET
The last time I had been to Catholic Mass was a decade ago. After a childhood of fairly devoted following, I decided I wouldn't go to another Catholic service again, unless it was for close friends or family: baptisms, funerals, or weddings.
Well, it's wedding season.
My husband, mother-in-law, and I pulled up to a beautiful Catholic church in the suburbs of Las Vegas for my cousin-in-law's wedding. I had not thought about how I was going to deal with the fact that I was attending a Catholic Mass and not a protest until about 10 minutes beforehand. And even then, I still wasn't sure what I was going to do.
Once we got inside I rolled with it, making up my personal rules as we went along. Fortunately, all of the motions that were drilled into me by those oh, so nurturing Catholic nuns of my childhood helped me figure out my plans ahead of time. Sitting? Obviously. Standing? Sure, out of respect. Kneeling? Nope. Singing? I've always been more comfortable singing at karaoke, than church. Apostles' Creed, even after being so proud that I knew it by heart and still could blurt it out at the drop of a hat? Fat chance. And communion? No question — that thin wafer would probably lodge itself in my throat.
Religious awkwardness aside, I enjoyed the ceremony. Besides, this wasn't about me, it was about my cousin's wedded bliss. It was peaceful, and my cousin-in-law and his new wife looked so incredibly cute and happy. So I was happy.
Then the priest started talking about marriage. I mean, that's normal. This is a wedding, after all. But then he started describing what marriage is like. You know, stuff that was like "men don't do dishes" and "women be shopping." While it is true that my husband will only do dishes when he knows his parents are on a Los Angeles-bound plane, and I can spend three tedious hours in a Shoe Pavilion or craft store, it felt like this priest's only exposure to marriage was that he once binge-watched Everybody Loves Raymond and Married With Children for a weekend.
It made me question how Catholic priests, who have taken a vow of celibacy and can't marry, are able to talk about the intricacies of marriage so comfortably. Well, comfortable to them, at least. Meanwhile, I was doing everything in my power to prevent myself from noticeably cringing.
There's no doubt that anyone of the cloth should be able to speak about being humane to each other and to have compassion for other people. To me, that's the point of organized religion in the first place. It creates a guideline for people to learn compassion, whether we're talking about two kindergarteners in a squabble over who gets to use the cerulean crayon or a couple arguing over the correct shade of blue for the living room.
This is why I'm terribly confused as to why Pope Francis recently felt the need to warn couples who don't have children that they'll experience "the bitterness of loneliness" once they're old and childless.
So, friends? Hobbies? An identity? Who needs those things when you've got offspring!
By the way, you know who's also old and childless? Mr. Vatican himself. This is the same guy who asserted "Who am I to judge?" when it comes to LGBT Catholics. It was a welcome start, but uh, hello? Judge much, Pope Frank?
I'm on the cusp of 30, and I know that eventually I'll pop out a couple of rugrats. I have to say this because my mom and mother-in-law are conspiring to replace my birth control pills with Smarties if I literally don't get on it. In the meantime, I simply show them photos of my boss's epically adorable daughters to appease them. True story.
But I just don't buy that all couples are in it for the kids. Some people get married because they like each other. Not all couples can even have children, whether they're gay or straight. Some don't have the physical capabilities. Some are too old to get preggers by the time they get hitched. Some just don't want them. For some, the financial strains would be too difficult to handle (because here in 'Murica, we don't have free universal child care or paid parental leave. USA! USA!).
And some couples are much happier with raising a basket of kittens or a playful bulldog than an actual human child.
And some parents are terrible people who don't have relationships with their kids. So those people are lonely for their own reasons.
But Pope Francis said that not having children was counter to (childless!) Jesus's role in the church. He said the lives of couples who don't have kids are "more convenient, to have a little dog, two cats; and the love goes to the two cats and the little dog" instead of a kid. He added, "It is not fertile. It does not do what Jesus does with his church: He makes it fertile."
Wait, what — Jesus makes it fertile? Is he running around, working with my parents to replace other people's birth control pills with Smarties and poking holes in condoms? Is he secretly slipping folic acid into women's lattes?
At that same Mass, for a group of married couples, Pope Francis said a lot of great things about being persistent with love. I feel like that sort of thing is completely appropriate from any person of the cloth. Marriage is wonderful, and it has certainly made me a better human, as much as I hate to admit it; you don't want to think it changes your relationship, but being married is so much more than a signed document and two rings.
But I will never find it appropriate that some guy in a funny hat who has never been married, will never be married, and doesn't acknowledge my right to possibly marry a woman is talking about the physical mechanics of my marriage while waving a Bible around. It does make me wonder, though, whether he also means that same-sex couples should also have the right to adopt or raise kids. Certainly, he doesn't just mean that only straight people can't be lonely when they've hit their Golden Girls years.
Modern marriage (thanks to same-sex marriages, I truly believe) is becoming less of a patriarchal institution where feminism and individualism goes to die. The modern marriage is indeed a partnership based on love and not a woman's dependence on her husband or a church's dependence on creating future churchgoers. And as more people can make the choice as to whether they indeed want to follow the teachings of any church, I hope they too feel that they can choose whether or not they can have children, no matter what the guy in the hat says.
MICHELLE GARCIA is the managing editor of Advocate.com. Don't worry, Rita and Patty, she already has baby names picked out. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia.