Friday, January 9, 2009
Never Say Never: Conversion III
As I reflect on this early church experience, I recognize a few things that drew me into it. For one, the idea of attending church seemed novel to me. I loved the ritual of the service, the formality of the worship and I especially liked receiving Holy Communion. We would proceed up to the communion rail and kneel to receive the torn bread and the wine in the little cuplets. (Pity the poor soul that had to clean all those). As a Lutheran, I was taught and I did belive that I was receiving the actual Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. While we knelt, the 20-25 or so folks who were receiving also received a little sermonette. A bonus! The Lutherans were big on preaching and since I had no prior church experience really, this was the best thing since grape jelly. Everyone also dressed nicely for church. It was a rarity that someone came in casual slacks & never did they arrive for church in blue jeans; most of the women wore skirts or dresses with nylon stockings. Church was an elevating experience. When I was in elementary school, 2 of my best friends and a lot of other people I hung around were Catholic. I was envious of their 1st Communion outfits and experiences and I was curious of the gathering they all attended after school called Kattywhatever. What a weird name for a bowling league? After the 6th grade, a lot of them went off to Cabrini and Gabriel Richard. And then I rarely, if ever, saw them again. As a newly minted Lutheran, I sort of felt "on a par" with those who had gone on to higher spiritual endeavors.
A high point of my Lutheran experience was when my mom and dad became members at St. Paul. I couldn't help but feel a whole lot of personal pride that somehow I was behind a deepening of their faith. Besides, Dad was also renouncing his weird affiliation with the Masons, which, to this day, remains a family mystery. The questions were answered, the housecall completed, the family was going to church. It all made so much sense. Until I graduated.
Off to East Lansing and MSU where I would sow my oats. And sow I did...right into the land of the pagans. I started strong with testing out a few Lutheran churches but nothing felt right. Not only was I unable to replicate my St. Paul Lutheran experience, I wasn't even able to muster up enough motivational guilt to care too much. Let's just say that getting up at 7am and riding my bike to church just wasn't on my A list. I received my requested inheritance and I went off to live with the swine. It would be many years before I found my desire to return to church. In this time, I went through what I now believe was a hearty depression as I experimented with all sorts of new hobbies that jaded my character and soiled my garment. I met and married my college sweetheart and shortly after landing my first job, I hit a wall. Divorced within a year of marriage I felt that a geographic cure was in order. I accepted a traveling job which had me tooling all over the state of Michigan and then took a sabbatical to Newport Beach to reestablish my life with my new husband, Ron. Yes, it all happened way too fast.
Ron was a Catholic and his faith life seemed strong. He had many pagan traits like me, but he showed up for Mass on a regular basis and even invited me along. This was impressive. Even when he traveled, it was important for him to make it to Mass. Most of the people that I had known - and especially many catholic friends - were looking for excuses to split that whole religious scene. We attended many Catholic churches together and it felt, oddly, Lutheran! Same style of readings from scripture, the reception of Holy Communion (and yes, I was too proud not to participate), and remarkably, a mostly consistent liturgy no matter where we went - anywhere! I was a little freaked out at some of the statues and Marian devotions that I was unfamiliar with but if they were willint to accept me, I would overlook a few of their theological defects.
I began to identify with some of the stories of the saints that I would hear and began to understand that the church is really one big (sometimes dysfunctional) family! Easter and Christmas were done up nicely and I grew a strong devotion to the big seasons of Advent and Lent. These were downplayed in the Lutheran church but in the Catholic cycle, there was order and reason and everything- literally, everything had a rich, sublime character to it. The Catholics seemed to have an explanation behind everything that they did. Even the blasted colors they wore had theological reason behind it. I felt like floodgates were opening again. But I was really quite content to maintain my Lutheran identity; besides I felt that I had made my peace with God and everybody seemed to accept the fact that I would live a humble life as a Lutheran in a Catholic church. I would never turn Catholic. There simply wasn't reason enough.
Ron and I attended a huge Mass in Orange County one spring. Sitting in a packed pew, a Phillipino priest with a very thick accent was delivering his homily. Straining to understand him, the punchline of his message came home loud and clear. "If you are not Catholic, you may not present yourself for Holy Communion". I went numb. What do you MEAN, IIIII can't receive Holy Communion. Who do YOU people think you are?? Ron watched as the blood drained from my face. If there is one thing I could do well back then, it was form a resentment. No one was going to tell me that I could not receive something that I rightfully deserved. No one. And especially not some guy dressed up in a dress. Enter: The Authority of the Catholic Church.
It would be years before I attended another Mass in California.
In July of that same year, I was pregnant with our first child. We returned to Michigan in September and in October took up residence in Birmingham, MI. We found ourselves at a lovely parish in the city of Troy, ironically named St. Thomas More. (There is more to the names of these parishes than meets the eye, I've found!) STM offered a Lenten Mission featuring a few spirited Redemptorist Priests - Father Turk and Father Rooney. It couldn't have happened at a more opportune time. Ron's job at EDS dissolved and we found ourselves in the midst of a financial crisis with baby on the way. Facing day care choices that simply confounded us, I considered doing something that I swore I would never do. Ron taught me the Rosary, and I prayed to Mary.
Whenever I am asked how it was that I converted to the Church, I give a fairly consistent answer: It was an inside job. What I mean by this is that Our Mother had everything to do with it. It is serious business when you get her involved - suffice it to say; you better want what your asking for. Father John Corapi refers to her as the "power broker"! I credit my husband with giving me excellent guidance on the Rosary. It is a powerful prayer which draws us into life, passion and death of our Lord. Explained this way to a non-catholic, it satisfies that "O, it's just a mindless mantra" argument. And, it's a whopping 17 minutes long...a bit of a challenge for this protestant. Besides, I was quite content using my own, exultant, spontaneous prayers. Nonetheless, we began a practice of praying together a nightly rosary.
The employment/financial storm calmed. Karsten was born. There was the matter of baptism; I was struck for the first time, the thought that if Karsten was baptized a Catholic and Ron is a Catholic, and I attend a Catholic Church, wouldn't it make sense that I be a Catholic too? The question reared it's ugly little head: and why wouldn't I BE a Catholic? This was tough. I was already receiving Holy Communion, ahh, that's it. That would be frowned upon....remember California? I would have to go through public humiliation, wear sackcloth and ashes and wait an eternity before someone would deem me worthy enough to be a Catholic. After all, I had heard stories.
next post: My Damascus Journey: MI to AZ