What Would Jesus Do?

“It’s like looking up the skirt of the Catholic Church,” my sister remarked as we flipped through the catalog where you could buy: Mass. From the communion wafers—the body of Christ—to the Crown of Thorns, all of it: for sale. 

I went to church every Sunday for eighteen years of my life. As a kid, I distanced myself from most of what was said on the altar by using sign language to have conversations with my sister, or lip-syncing what priests recited weekly.

As a teen, I pinpointed why I tuned out. How the words from the altar didn’t embody the fullness of things we could be talking about: The complexity of this messy, human experience and finding meaning, compassion, and love amidst it all. Nor speak to me as a woman—not reflected in leadership, rights not championed.

And so sign language turned to Sundays driving around and getting donuts—not forgetting to grab the flyer from St. Malachi’s or St. Luke’s to prove I’d gone to church.

But there were moments when they had me: Listening to a homily by Father Hritz at St. Malachi’s where he told a story, spoke from the heart. From the voice of love.

And too late I’d learn that was what the whole thing was about—what Jesus himself embodied—before power obstructed the view and led the Church to dangle the keys to proving one’s worthiness through strict rule-following to build power to hold itself together. Instead of softening, evolving to continually channel the voice of compassion and love. The voice of Jesus.

The moments with the Father Hritz’s of the world were too few and far between and the dissonance between loving people who were cast as sinners—loved who they loved, lived with who they loved unwed, chose not to become a mother when they weren’t ready—too great. I left the church all together.

It was easier to leave behind than the stories I had swallowed of where I should feel shame. Those would take me into my 40s to shed.

When I read about the Cleveland Catholic Diocese’s new policy* a few weeks ago around gender-affirming care and LGBTQ rights, I wondered whether the dissonance that caused me to leave might be growing for some still part of it.

Reading about a policy that is developmentally inappropriate: My three-year-old son (until he tells me otherwise) wears a dress 30 percent of the time. I blushed when he first wore his sisters’ hand-me-down sparkly dress to their soccer games—the grooves of my own conditioning deep. But I learned from the early childhood experts in preschool who greeted him with openness, "I love your dress." Who doesn’t want to sparkle?

And an all-out war on the LGBTQ community still connected to the Church: the contours of the policy incenting a modern-day witch hunt.

I was reminded of flipping through the catalog that day. The moment I pulled back the curtain on the wizard and realized Catholicism is not just a faith but also a business. With a budget for things like: communion wafers, the Crown of Thorns, payroll.

And when the Diocese of Cleveland refuses to evolve—engage in better business practices—patrons can boycott the business part—even while keeping their faith. Show up outside on Sundays in service of returning to compassion; or in tough conversations with parishes, instead of passive in the pews. Withhold donations and tuition dollars to Catholic schools until the organization reflects Christian values. Give the Diocese a chance to course-correct, choose compassion and love—find Jesus.

Before everyone takes their business elsewhere.

It feels far afield—standing outside churches with signs on Sundays, withholding money until we’re sure it’s being used to reflect Christian values—and yet reminds me how different love can look. It makes me wonder: What would Jesus do?

(*Ed's note: The policy prohibits staff and students from undergoing gender-affirming care, using pronouns different than those affiliated with a person’s biological sex and compelling church/school staff members to tell the parents of a child who might be transgender)

Meghan Cliffel is a writer and mindfulness teacher who resides in Lakewood with her husband and three children. 

Meghan Cliffel

Meghan Cliffel is a writer and mindfulness teacher who uses storytelling, yoga, meditation, and sound as mechanisms to free the mind in service of living our best lives. She holds a Masters in Public Policy from Georgetown University and resides in Lakewood with her husband and three children. 

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Volume 20, Issue 6, Posted 6:47 PM, 03.20.2024