In honor of revolutionary love: remembering Saint Valentine — Susan Raffo
I love to tell my daughter stories about Catholic saints and Catholic history. Across all of our lines, our people have been Catholic, Catholic, Catholic. So far I haven’t been able to find anyone across any of our lines who thought the Protestant Reformation was worth converting for. Italian Catholics. German Catholics. Irish Catholics. French Catholics. And then the Wabenaki and Anishinaabeg lines that were forced to become Catholic because those were the missionaries assigned to that land. Choice and violence. Catholic. Catholic. Catholic.
For years, I hated anything to do with Catholicism. I still feel that way about most of the organized Catholic Church: its dogmatism, its sexual violence and glorified patriarchy. Its history of colonization and empire. Its creation and ongoing practice of anti-Semitism as a way to deal with its faith-insecurity and to blame its own violence on somebody else. From the moment Rome was like, hey, this whole monotheistic belief system can be a great tool for forcing people to align with a single emperor, the roots of this belief system began to unravel and then tangle up with violence rather than love.
It was maybe 15 or 20 years ago, as I was feeling my way into histories and ancestors for the first awake time, that I began to think: well, shit. I am not the only person in my lineage to have these insights about the Catholic overlords. I come from thousands of people across all of my lines who have submitted and defied, who have been the perpetrators of violence through the church and who have resisted it every step of the way. I also come from people who found peace and connection, a deep sense of life, through Catholicism as culture. Yes, I thought. Catholicism the infrastructure is different, sometimes, from Catholics as people and is different, sometimes, from how those people follow Catholic teachings and traditions.
Because Catholicism is a syncretic belief system, you can still find preCatholic beliefs, traditional older beliefs, in the stories of saints and martyrs. I thought about all of the ways that resistance shows up when a system of colonization is as relentless and tied to political power as the Christian force has been. And so I asked, in prayer and deep listening, how I can turn towards my people…