New Orleans is a Catholic city and has been since its inception. Catholic culture, its influence and its historical relevance pervade numerous aspects of the city – from street names to rival Catholic high schools, even down to the very reason for the celebration of Carnival itself. According to data from the most recent statistics of the Pew Research Religion & Public Life Project, released in April 2014, 55.72 percent of New Orleanians (more than half) are affiliated with a religious tradition. Of those, a whopping 31.16 percent (more than half of the aforementioned majority) of New Orleanians are Catholic.
Now that I’ve said all this, what difference does it make?
I’d like to make a few comparisons between the “distinctly Catholic” elements of New Orleans and those of my personal life.
In the Catholic tradition, the faithful acknowledge the existence of and believe in a state-of-being after passing known as “Purgatory.” It’s not nearly as bad as an eternity in Hell, but certainly not as magnificent and blissful as union with God in Heaven. Purgatory, then, is a place where souls temporarily reside until they are fully ready to live forever with God in Heaven. In Purgatory, one’s “stay,” if you will, is always temporary. If a soul makes it to Purgatory, it eventually is promised the joys of Heaven. Think of it as a “cosmic waiting room.”
Now, what’s so generally displeasing about waiting rooms is, well … the waiting. You’re, oh so close to finally getting to your appointment, but you’re not quite there just yet. The souls in Purgatory aren’t tormented, but they do still long for eternal joy, for Heaven.
Such is my life away from New Orleans, and Lord forgive me for making such profane comparisons about things so sacred in nature.
Living, working and playing up here in Memphis isn’t awful, but it’s not where I am happiest. Memphis is my earthly Purgatory. The beautiful promise, like the real Purgatory, is that my stay here is temporary because – and I hope sooner rather than later – I will make it back to New Orleans, where I am happiest — that which for me is my “Heaven on Earth!”
And that, I suppose, is a “distinctly Catholic” way to miss my favorite city.
Anthony Maranise, OblSB is a freelance writer and Theology scholar in Memphis, Tennessee with deep roots, connections, and love for New Orleans. He frequently visits his brother and friends who already live in various parts of “The Big Easy,” where he, too, hopes to one day live, work, pray, and play.