On our trip Leslie mentioned I seemed to want to go into every church we came to, hinting that maybe I had yet to truly give up the Catholicism of my early years. I countered by talking about ritual and pageantry, western civilization, the incredible art and the role the Catholic Church played throughout history in fostering and sustaining those things. In that sense she was right. I was still tied to the church and was easily sucked in through the gilded doors where I could bask in the sculptures, stained glass and murals, and the omnipresent depictions of the crucifixion that I had studied and grown up with.
My grandmother took me to Italy in 1967. I was nineteen and just starting my fifteenth year of Catholic education. To say I had been a "good Catholic boy" and "model citizen" to that point would be understating things. I was ardent, and a believer, a grand knight of our church's altar boys, who had once pondered the priesthood. But that was a changing time and I, too, was changing, coming in contact with outside forces, and beginning to think more for myself.
That trip forced me to confront my belief in the Catholic Church, and ultimately, my faith. Faced with the spectacle of the church, its immense riches and control over people's lives, I was left confused and questioning. Quite simply, how could a religion that preached humility and openness and a commitment to the poor, lavish itself in such splendor? it's a question I've never been able to answer with any satisfaction, and, if anything, my views on the church have only grown more extreme and negative.
That said, I didn't tire of these churches and found myself making offerings in many of them. I lit candles in front of altars that especially moved me and sat quietly in empty side chapels. And I did want to go into most all of them. I told myself I was supporting the art, the history, the sheer beauty.
But I left those places with my belief intact.