I remember my sister giving me the news (she always was dramatic): Cat Stevens had changed his name, converted to Islam, and given up music — his reasoning being that his new faith did not approve of it. I’d grown up loving Cat Stevens’ music — “Moonshadow,” “Oh Very Young,” “Wild World,” “Peace Train” — how could any child of the seventies resist him? I totally dug (to use the parlance of the times) the gentle, fairy tale quality of his lyrics, his reassuring voice, his seeming gentleness. And here he was, taking all of that back and calling it somehow wrong.
Yusuf Islam (as Cat Stevens is now known) has since seriously softened his stance, and has been performing and releasing new albums for a while now. He also contends that his rejection of music had much to do with feeling burned out, a state I can relate to. But at the time, that’s not how I heard it. At the time, someone’s religion broke a kid’s heart. That’s something religion should never do.
I didn’t grow up feeling disheartened about women not being able to join the priesthood, as it was something I never aspired to myself. But I know now that some little girls were disheartened. They grew up, and certainly some of them took their (religious) business elsewhere. Which makes the Pope’s announcement that he is putting together a committee to look into the reinstatement of women into the deaconate so important. I say “reinstatement” because women were, for many years, deacons in the Church, until the day they were suddenly and (let’s face it) inevitably deemed “not godly enough.” If the Pope makes good on this beacon of hope, it will be a sign of true inclusion for women in the Catholic Church. Not an end point, by any means, but a good start.
If I can be a part of something that undoes or prevents the breaking of a child’s heart by religion, count me in. God loves children — Jesus made this abundantly clear. Nothing that purports to be “of God” should damage, dismay or disconcert a child. Not ever. Just as someone who claims to be a person of God should do his or her level best to never cause anyone — least of all a child — hurt or sadness.
The Church has not always been good in this regard. I now know that an abusive priest called my childhood parish home, and when our pastor found out about it and went to the bishop, the bishop merely sent the offending priest elsewhere. I am certain this brought terrible sorrow to our pastor, a good and moral man. It also must have brought a lifetime of hurt to many children, who, as altar servers, trusted priests implicitly. Although I admire Pope Francis for being vigilant about this abuse, there remain hundreds of scarred hearts out there, the hearts of children who once trusted the wrong persons. Nothing can make up for that.
It makes the defection of a pop star seem silly in comparison, I know. But kids are fragile, their hearts easily bruised. It remains up to us grown-ups to remain on guard against this misuse of faith. Here’s to a future full of hope, a day when religion offers only (as a hymn Cat Stevens once covered notes so beautifully), “Praise with elation, praise ev’ry morning.”