I don’t often write about my faith… I don’t think I ever have. But there is something about a supernatural outlook that makes it easier to take the craziness of a large family. I am neither formed enough or literate enough in faith matters to publish about it and I leave the inspirational material to skilled professionals (like Leila at Little Catholic Bubble). But this is the Easter season and the high point of the Christian liturgical year. It would feel wrong to let it pass on my blog unmentioned.
I grew-up in a Catholic family that some would describe as liberal or moderate. More conservative Catholics would call my family “Cafeteria Catholics” — those who pick and choose which teachings of the Church they will follow and which they will leave behind. Not quite “Hatch, Match & Dispatch” — those who grace the pews for their Baptism, wedding and funerals. But what my parents lacked in piety they more than made-up with a loving education strongly rooted in Christian principles such as commitment, integrity, honesty, kindness and generosity.
My parents didn’t force us to go to church past a certain age and as many teenagers, I opted out. Still, I always believed that we were more than the sum of our parts, that we also had a spiritual dimension. But I didn’t have any attraction to organized religion or the Catholic liturgy.
When my two older children were baptized — more out of tradition than belief — I started attending religious services on an scattered basis. I had gone through some difficult times when my husband was deployed to Eastern Europe while I was pregnant with our first child and had found comfort in a simple prayer of “God, if you exist , I could really use some help” … I didn’t quite believe that God was listening but neither did I think that I was in a position to turn up my nose on any support. And He came through. At that point, I knew that God cared and that prayer worked.
As my children grew, I met Catholic mothers who really inspired me. They had a different perspective on life, they rolled with the punches in a way that I wasn’t seeing in other moms. They had a peace and a joy that were unknown to me. I wanted a piece of what they had. And this is how I found myself meeting a family of new friends at a new church with a rockin’ music ministry. I was hooked. Well, almost. I still couldn’t manage to make it to church with my husband and two young children on a regular basis. But I was going to join the music ministry! My husband asked me: “Do you think it’s reasonable to commit to a group when we can barely make it to church once a month?” I thought that was a reasonable observation. On the Feast of Christ the King that year — the last Sunday of the Catholic liturgical year — I decided to commit to go to church every Sunday until Easter. At Easter, if I had kept my commitment, I would join the choir. And this is how I joined the choir at Easter. The story of me and the choir, what I have learned about others and our faith but mostly about myself, could fit into a book or two. My faith grew during these turbulent times but so did my pride and by the time I left the choir and moved to a different parish, I knew I was in for an attitude adjustment. I just didn’t know how far back I would have to peel off the sheets of artifice I had layered unto my budding spiritual life. It turned out to be much farther than I imagined.
Finding myself suddenly in a new parish with a skeleton of a music ministry (a guy and a guitar or a deaf guy with an organ) was a rude awakening. The joy I had found in going to church and partaking in the liturgy were gone. At first, I thought this was a good thing. My faith shouldn’t be so dependent on good inspired music. I thought that God would take me through a desert of sort, I thought this was some kind of test. Little did I know that the test would pare down everything I had ever enjoyed in Mass and leave me with nothing but faith to go on. And on. And on.
Over the years, I have gone from a joyful church-goer who looked forward to Christmas and Holy Week for the opportunity to go to as many celebrations as possible to an annoyed church-goer who dreads feast days for the added trouble of finding a family-sized pew available. I still take my family to Mass every Sunday but I’m annoyed at the Sunday drivers in the parking lot. I’m annoyed at the ushers who don’t understand, week after week, why we need an aisle seat with three children under 3. I’m annoyed at music people who can’t lead a congregation into song. I’m annoyed at homilies that go 40 feet above my teenagers’ heads. And yet, through this 8-year walk in the desert, I still have a strong sense of being profoundly blessed through my parents, my siblings, my husband and my children.
This is a long preamble to show you where I found myself this past Lenten season and to illustrate my frame of mind when I received an email from a dear friend taking issue with what she called our difference of perspective. I had a sense that this friend was putting distance between us. I had written to her several times asking for her phone number and address after my computer crashed and destroyed all my contacts. My messages had been ignored. When she announced that she was closing her Facebook account, I sent her what I thought might be a final message asking for her 411. In the exchange that followed I said that I always considered what we had in common to be stronger than our differences. She replied that this may be the case but our differences of perspective are fundamental and she cited political allegiance and religion, adding that she had gay friends and that religious extremism had ruined her youth. At first reading, I took her comment as an accusation of homophobia and bigotry and I was deeply hurt. (In fairness, I don’t think this is how she meant it. But this is how I received it.) I started replying immediately rhyming-off all my gay friends, gay students, gay family members, heck, I even have a cousin who is transgendered! Then I listed all the ways in which I was struggling with Church teachings concluding that I was now probably closer to an agnostic deist than a practicing Catholic. If I was bigoted and homophobic because I was Catholic, it was in the same way that all blacks are gangstas and all Muslims are terrorists. If this is how people saw me, I didn’t want to be Catholic anymore.
And it was right then and there that I realized that this Holy Week, I was about to deny Jesus. Was it three times? I’d stop counting.
Immediately a rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had made the remark to him, “Before a rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” And he began to weep.
I deleted my email. Rewrote it without making allusion to my faith. I had posted a few insensitive comments on Facebook at a time of struggle in her life. The twin pregnancy had made me unable to help her in any meaningful way. I could own-up to being a lousy friend and wrote a heartfelt apology.
And this is how someone who used to mark Holy Week by singing at 8 different celebrations ended-up celebrating Easter by not denying her Lord. And I am back to my simple prayer of “God, you probably have bigger problems, but I could really use some sleep…”
I’ve never been so far. And yet so close.