The comments on yesterday's post reveal that I hit some neuralgic spots for us Catholic Christians. I've been thinking about it.
There have been several moments in the journey of my baptism when I have found things very different than what I expected. These experiences have almost always left me confused, and sometimes quite scandalized. My entrance into religious life was one of the hardest; so hard in fact that I needed to quit and start over.
Another, not unrelated crisis of expectation and experience, deeper and more seminal for who I would become as a Catholic, came upon me almost immediately after my sacramental initiation. I found, to my surprise and confusion, that one had to decide whom to listen to when it came to Catholic teaching and practice. I had entered a church that seemed to be full of conflicts. Liberal vs. conservative, progressive vs. traditional, radical vs. restorationist, the "spirit of Vatican II" against the continuity of ancient tradition, those who were derided as "70s priests" vs. those equally derided as "neocons." Being innocent and somewhat ignorant--as well as very scandalized by the whole thing--I hardly knew what to think.
It was even hard to know what was the genuine Catholic doctrine. One priest said one thing, and another priest something else. One confessor identified something as a serious sin, another as a minor sin, and a third as not a sin at all. One spiritual director would advise you not to believe anything you read in National Catholic Reporter, while another would warn you not to believe anything you heard on EWTN. When rubrics or parts of the Mass delineated in my hand missal were not included in the liturgy I attended, I would ask the priest about it. One priest would tell me that certain parts were optional, while another would assure me that they were not.
Fortunately, I found a solution to this confused and frustrating situtation, one that I now recommend to others: I empowered myself. I picked up a copy of the Catechism, which was new in those days, a Code of Canon Law, and an enchiridion of doctrine. (For this last treasure, read this and then buy this.) I read it myself.
Catholic teaching on faith, morals, and practice is not a secret. You don't have to wonder what it is, or if the priest or whoever trying to tell you something is trustworthy or knows what he is talking about. Be empowered and read it yourself. It worked for me.