Have faith: Keeping the faith

Connie Berry, right, and sister Carol around 1980. Connie was involved with the Newman Society while in college. - Connie Berry

Every other week, Connie Berry reports on the news, events, and people at Martha’s Vineyard’s various places of worship.

Even though I currently write a column about faith, I have no ties to any of the Island places of worship. Maybe that’s the way it should be; I can go place-to-place and see the best in all of them. I like to tell people I’m taking a sabbatical when they ask what church I attend. It’s been a long sabbatical though.

When I lived in Syracuse, going on five years ago, church was the central element in my life. I was editor of the Catholic newspaper there for almost 16 years — that’s a lot of church. My job and my personal faith were all meshed into one back then, but faith or spirituality has always been important to me.

Prayer has always been an integral part of my life — I’ve prayed for everything from white go-go boots when I was in second grade to having enough strength to face obstacles like unemployment and parenting now-grown children to constant prayers of gratitude. Prayer definitely helps me; it makes me slow down and think with my heart and head at the same time. It probably does for me what meditation does for others.

I found great comfort in going to the Catholic mass, and I loved the ritual, the tradition, and the saints. I was baptized at a month old, but my parents weren’t big church-goers. They did make sure the basics were covered like baptism, confirmation, and first communion. I developed a real love for my faith when I was in college and frequented the Newman Center there; the place at secular colleges and universities where Catholic students gather and experience mass away from home. The priest in charge of a Newman Center was generally more liberal and maybe even younger than your average parish priest. These days, it’s becoming rare to find an ordained priest in charge of a Newman Center.

Ironically, the bishop of Springfield, Mo., where I went to college, came one afternoon to bless a house that was going to be renovated and would expand the services of the Newman Center there. The house blessing took place at the same time that I walked home from class, so I decided to stop by. The bishop of the diocese back then just happened to be now Cardinal Bernard Law. I shook his hand and we chatted, I told him how parties had been held at the house before it was renovated for a very different purpose. He seemed to get a kick out of that.

Years later, I watched with admiration as Cardinal Law made it up the ladder of the hierarchy of the church, remembering how hospitable and nice he was when we met back in Missouri. Then came January of 2002, when the Boston Globe first published its now famous article on priests’ sexual abuse of children. I was working at the Catholic newspaper by then, and my opinion of Cardinal Law deteriorated with every headline. Things aren’t always as they seem.

Even though there was that terrible scandal, my own faith continued to grow deeper and more intimate. As my faith grew deeper, my questions grew in number. Sometimes it seemed like the two opposing ideas — faith and questions — couldn’t coexist. They did, though, and on some level they still do. Faith gives me answers but I still have questions.

The Catholic church is where I feel most at home, either because of my past or because I still like the idea that the mass is always the same, no matter where you are. And I know that the church does a lot of good all over the world despite my uneasiness with the hierarchical system.

I’m still on a personal sabbatical though, and enjoying this column more and more all the time. I’ve met some wonderful people through Have Faith, and I’ve watched as the Island clergy comes together as a sort of spiritual sports team, helping each other while they help the entire community with the common goal of doing good. It’s a blessing to be able to write about something as personal as religion and spirituality — one of the few areas where “It’s all good” really does hold true.

If you have news for Have faith, email it to connie.berry12@gmail.com.