Critical Mass

Father Anthony Elzi mentioned sin and forgiveness in his homily. She had no way of knowing it, but surrounded by a church full of faithful parishioners, his message was aimed at an audience of one.


By the time she landed on her knees during Sunday morning Mass at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Colorado Springs in the autumn of 1957, Victoria Bonita Maday Matson harbored a nagging fear that perhaps she was beyond redemption.

Victoria at 19 (Fairmont, Minnesota, 1930).

In this book I’m writing, my father’s mother blew through a few Sacraments on her alcohol-fueled spiral to rock bottom. At 19, her marriage to my father’s father started out idyllic, but soured. Ten years, several abandonments and other sordid experiences later, a transport ship evacuation of women and children from Anchorage, Alaska in the days immediately after Pearl Harbor was her escape.

Back on the mainland, Victoria was a single mother in a male-dominated culture. Her 1940s were consumed with poor choices and decisions. (More in the book).

But her younger sister introduced her to a compassionate priest in Colorado Springs and over time, Victoria re-constructed a life which culminated in a career as a social worker.

As a pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, the rules were clear. Her belief was intricately intertwined with her interactions with the church. So for my grandmother – recovery was belief, then action, with the help of a human intermediary.

My own experience is flipped. I’d proven to myself and to all around me that “no human power could have relieved” my alcoholism. I’m convinced God removed my genetically-inherited compulsion to abuse alcohol. When that began to sink in, then came 12-steps and organized religion, in the form of my wife’s Catholicism. The bottom line, boiled-down premise of each is, “trust God.”

God did not create religions, denominations, 12-step programs or governments. We, his children, did that. They change and evolve with the times.

I belong to the Catholic Church because it means something to my wife. My Mom’s a Protestant. Pop grew up Catholic, but rebelled against the rules and his stiff-arming Rome is a defining moment in his emancipation from Victoria. (More in the book).

Viewed from a few thousand feet, my Johnny-come-lately Catholicism seems a misnomer. Divorced Protestant.

Strike 1.

Pro-choice. (Roe v. Wade is my generation’s Obergefell v. Hodges).

Strike 2.

I support marriage equality.

Strike 3?

It’s not really ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’ No one within the church hierarchy has ever asked me. If they did, I like to believe I’d be rigorously honest.

Victoria at 50 with her grandkids (Rooks County, Kansas, 1961).

Man-made systems adapt and change with the times. The times are defined by the human beings alive, well and plugged in to the life around them during the time they’re upright and interacting with one another on the globe.

We’re God’s experiment. In the early 1960s, Vatican II was a reaction to cultural changes on the planet after the Second World War. My point is, the Catholic Church is not as dogmatic as some would have you believe. We can change and adapt.

Vatican III anyone?

We’re all flawed. Walking, breathing imperfections. The essence of humanity.

And when I get past the system to the core of my belief, it’s pretty much me and God.  For Victoria, it was the system which led her back to God – the pre-Vatican II Catholic Church, with all its rules and dogma, which, on the surface should have turned her away.

But it didn’t. Because of one human being. Father Elzi got below the surface to the essence of the woman and saw a human being eager to confess her sins and repent.