Broken Daughters

Picking up the shattered glass of fundamentalism

Ex-Evangelicals and Catholizism


Many evangelicals are fascinated by the Catholic churches once they leave their old lifestyle. I realized that I share the same fascination. And today, I want to say something about that.

Living in southern Germany, I’m naturally surrounded by more catholics than I was back in the US. Many people here are catholic, the catholic churches are prominent buildings in pretty much every city, Catholicism is simply a part of the history of this area and that shows. If you take a hike in the woods, you’re likely to encounter old statues and tiny little chapels dedicated to Virgin Mary or another Saint.

The members of my German family are catholic as well, as is my boyfriend, hence I can hardly escape catholic life and ritual.

And I have to admit that I like it.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the mexican traditions of day of the dead – you have seen it, heard about it. What I didn’t know (and I’m sure you don’t know, either) is that there is a similar tradition that’s lived out in German catholic communities. Here, the catholics too decorate the graves of their loved ones with rather expensive flower arrangements. The graves are completely made up – softening the soil, planting new plants, scrubbing the stones, replacing broken decorations and so on. On All Hallows day (day after Halloween), the families go to the graves in the morning and the catholic priest hold a mass on the cemetery. It is impossible not to attend this if you have catholic family. Especially when there are multiple graves, you need everyone you can get. That is because on every grave of the family, at least one family member must be during the mass. Hence it is common for families to split up in order to have somebody by everyone’s grave. This year, it was me standing by the grave of my grandmother’s sister, who did not have any children of her own. After a round to visit every grave of the family and praying a short prayer, everyone went to their designated family member. As you can see, extended family counts as well, and it’s on you to take care of the dead when they don’t have any direct descendants. (picture: German cem before the beginning of the mass)

It felt weird, standing there, remembering a woman I never met (she died young), knowing that I was the only relative to think of her that moment. I could not help but fervently try to pray along Mary’s prayers as well as I could, which felt even weirder. But, despite the weirdness and unfamiliarity of all this, it felt good.

I liked standing there, the entire cem filled with people. Some graves had only one person standing next to it (like me), others had large families huddled around them.

And what felt even better? Realizing that catholics aren’t as “lunatic” as they’re made out to be. When the priest went into a lengthy prayer, asking God to take the sinners to heaven who weren’t ‘saved’ in their lifetime, praying for those who do not know the gospel and nevertheless act according to it in their best conscience, and pretty much for everyone to be saved despite their wrongdoings. Yes, Catholicism feels much more “real”, much more doable, much more just to the realities of life.

I do not think that I will become a catholic because, to be quite honest with you, right now I have no taste to actually “live” religion. But nevertheless, Catholicism is fascinating and, once you get over the evangelical viewpoint, very beautiful.

13 thoughts on “Ex-Evangelicals and Catholizism

  1. I feel that a lot of people stay in the Catholic church because of the community and ritual it gives them. We are social creatures first and foremost.

  2. Well, it’s a catholic thing, in Spain the tradition it’s going with flowers to the graves of your deceased loved ones and there’s a mass for them but at church. The part about getting flowers to your dead is a tradition so many people do it whether they believe in god or not or so I think… I actually have never had anyone to visit since my grandparents are buried very far away and in fact I’ve never been to a funeral because all of them died when I was really little.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed this book I just finished this morning written by a Catholic…a spiritual memoir of a journalist describing the influence of female saints’ stories and spiritual wisdom on the author’s contemporary life. It’s called “My Sisters, the Saints.” You might enjoy it.

  4. Hi Lisa, fascinating post as ever. Could you tell us more about how evangelicals view catholics and what impressions of catholicism you had when you were growing up? I know nothing about it and it sounds very interesting. Is the Reformation and Counter-Reformation taught to evangelical children as still very pertinent?

    “Realizing that catholics aren’t as “lunatic” as they’re made out to be.” Are catholics made out to be lunatics by evangelicals? Kind of ironic – all religions have lunatics at their extremes, not least evangelicals!

    Obviously I understand that ‘living a religion’ isn’t right for you at the moment (if ever, understandably) but do you feel a sense of belonging in the catholic church because it’s your ancestral church where so many generations of your family were at home? I’m British and I feel like that about the Church of England – even if I don’t believe (I’m not sure) I still feel connected to it through my family, especially to the specific church where my family have been going for hundreds of years. Religion in Europe is often more about cultural identity than spirituality I think (and I get the impression it’s different in America).

    • Yes I do think my fascination with the catholic church has a lot to do with the fact that my (german) family has generations of catholics. plus, here in the south, being catholic is “the norm” and “good” while protestants are “those guys who don’t really believe anyway”. Especially in the rural areas, with small villages of about 100 people, being catholic is obligatory. Also, there is such a rich heritage of catholicism here… i mean, you find crosses, mary statues, saints and so on EVERYWHERE you go. Driving across country? You bet you’ll see at least 3 crosses with some reference written on the bottom to the catholic church. It’s just such an integral part of culture around here, you couldn’t escape it if you tried. It’s simply hundreds of years of catholic communities. Many of these things are protected, so they can’t be taken down because they were made by an important artist, or because they represent an important part of history.
      You almost feel like traveling back in time when you tour these little sights: “This was put up in 1654 to protect the village (2 farms!) from fire”, “this was put up to keep the black death out” and so on. Fascinating stuff.

  5. Fun! I also grew up in the same patriarchal movement. I was in Germany this summer. Now I am over in Germany. Have you found that travel has really changed your perspectives?

    • Well, yes, of course it did. I mean, aside from the fact that both Europe and America are western nations, there are so many differences in mentality and culture. Something that would work well in the US might just make you look bad here. I mean, for example, being nice and open to people when you meet them might just make you look weird here, like you are trying to force yourself onto people. People are much harder to talk to and you don’t find friends easily – but once you find them, they are usually closer than what the American term “friends” describes. Also I have been very impressed with just how much history you see all around you. In America, something is old because it’s 400 years old. Here, something that is 400 years old isn’t actually “that” old. Like old castles for example can easily be 1000 years old or older. Walking through them feels so strange for me, I can’t help but wonder what happened there – what did they eat on the first sunday in march 965? did they fight? did they have affairs? did the kids play and run around laughing? have they wondered if anyone might stand in the ruins of their castles a thousand years from there, wondering what they did on exactly that day?
      Of course, there’s also that political factor, how people view life and politics, how its being handled here. It’s very, very different, just everything. I never imagined that two nations which have so so much in common could actually be so different. I kind of naively believed that everybody was like Americans more or less, and cultural differences were more likely to appear between Americans and, idk, native tribes of the Amazon. Sounds weird but really, I did believe everyone would be like us. End of the story is that I guess seeing life from this perspective made me realize that you can do things in different ways and end up with a satisfactory outcome – not necessarily better or worse than “the American way”, you know?

      • which part of germany? I found the people in Balvaria very open and friendly. I love the history aspect too. Even in Asia, too, there is rich history.

        • Bavarian gal here. Yes, I do believe there is a major difference between northerners and southerners, the first being even more reserved, the latter more outgoing and overt friendly. But of course I don’t think the northerners are “less” friendly people in general, they just handle friendliness a different way. Once you get to know them they are just as friendly as any normal human being. But I know only one person who’s from up north (from Hamburg). Maybe the southerners are this way because they have awesome beer 😀
          I would love to go to Asia one day. I can’t even imagine standing somewhere where they did stuff 3000 years ago that we didn’t know until 1500 years ago hehehe

          • interesting. I just found Germans friendlier than most places I went in Asia

            • You need to try Spain, especially the south has an incredible fame of closeness and warm relationships. We look at the English and the Germans as being too cold. But well, stereotypes kinda suck 😛

              • I actually meant to say “most places in Europe.” I loved Spain, haven’t been to the south part yet. Another year!!

  6. I was raised Catholic, but didn’t really know many of the teachings up until the past few years. I have found so much healing within the Catholic church

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