Witness

Note: I thought I’d try to transcribe what I said that night(May 3, 2006). It won’t be exact, but I’d like to capture the ideas while they are still within reach. Warning: this is LONG.

Life is a journey. Faith, too, is a journey.

When I was about 17 or so, I found myself sitting on an uncomfortable – possibly picket – fence. I needed to make a choice. I had been taken, or gone willingly to church all my life, but it was time: make this faith my own, or own up to being a non-believer and walk away. The fence wound up being more uncomfortable than the idea of choosing, so I decided (in a very cowardly way) to take Christianity as my own. This, of course, in my mind meant that I could walk away later if it didn’t work out. [ha! give God an inch and She’ll take that and seep through any other cracks you leave open]

As that walk was getting into full gear, I came away to college at Auburn. A friend in my dorm invited me to go with her over to the Catholic Student Center [hearafter referred to simply as “The Center”] at St. Michael’s. They were planning a coffee house (ok, so I’m giving hints about my age now). My first face to face encounter with a Catholic priest occurred that evening. His name was Bud, and he taught me to play the spoons. I had been to Christmas midnight mass with friends in high school, and I did have several friends who were Catholic, but I’d never really been this close to it.

There was no immediate change in my directions. I was a college freshman who dabbled in Campus Crusade, sang with the Methodist College Choir, became the first woman to show up at local Church of God in slacks (Rev. Sutton claims they were “hot pants” – shorts) on a Sunday morning, and went to mass ocasionally. However, by my sophomore year the world looked different to me. I was sitting on the grass, up by the fig tree near the Center and, if God speaks words, then She spoke that day: “you’re going to join the Catholic Church.” Scary. No I wasn’t. You’ve got the wrong girl here. (or ala Moses: “not me Lord, take Aaron.”)

My personal observation is that while protestant christians seem to have relatively little emotional difficulty moving between protestant denominations, the leap to “Mother Church” is one that is SCARY. One must give up bashing Papists and begin to understand honoring Mary (I’ll not say “praying to Mary” – see “Truly Our Sister”), and accept that communion [Eucharist] is infinitely more powerful than you ever thought. Hold it – that last item, about Eucharist, and mass, was probably the hook that reeled me in. I couldn’t quite explain it, or even totally accept it, but I KNEW that these Catholics were on to something: there’s a lot more happening at mass than meets the eye. God and man at table are sat down.

And so, I started Inquiry classes. These were the precursor to what we know today as RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). The classes lasted 2 quarters. I went through them twice. Not once, twice. As the classes drew to a close, one had to meet with a priest (and/or sister) before going forward with joining the church. This is serious business. My first external battle was getting past 2 or 3 priests and 2 Trinitarian sisters in order to be allowed to come into the church.

Don’t get this wrong – they had valid concerns. My only close exposure to Catholicism was at St. Mike’s and believe me, St. Mike’s in the early 70’s bore little resemblance to the Church as a whole. They were concerned that I would graduate, discover the rest of the Catholic Church and go away again. In retrospect, a very valid concern. But, because of the power of the mass, I stood my ground, got the paperwork together so that I could be received and confirmed at the Easter Vigil.

All this is mentioned for 2 reasons: St. Michael’s was HOME. In my mind and heart it was Church – the Church. This place, the building and the memories and people associated with it = “Catholic Church.” Get it? HOME. And, whatever happened after that, I still knew that the reason for being Catholic was the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

I graduated and with a couple of detours, found my way to grad school in Hawaii where I met JP and got married. The wedding was in Florence, but the musicians and the priest, and many guests were from St. Michael’s. Sort of family from HOME.

Six months later found us in Tallahassee – and not really going to mass regularly – very hit or miss for the next few years. But, when we trekked to Auburn, the center of the visit was the crew at the Center, and St. Michael’s. Eventually, we got involved in a new parish in Tallahassee, and found ourselves raising children and attending mass and doing the music for mass in a movie theater.

After 8 or so years in Tallahassee, we moved to Auburn (well, for me, moved back to Auburn). Aaahh! HOME. It’s not easy to go home again in some respects, but it was good. And, soon we were involved in Parish life and I was home and pretty happy. In a couple of years, I was again involved in music. And still focused on St. Michael’s as The Church. My youngest child was baptised in this parish; all three of my children were confirmed at St. Michael’s.

But, I’ve seldom if ever felt like I really fit anywhere. Mostly, I feel like the odd duck – someone who doesn’t quite fit in. Even now – the night I gave this talk, the small group sharing pointed that out to me again: 3 people who were quite into some traditional Mary adoration – and there I am, needing to share about my reading “Truly Our Sister” and feeling very in tune with feminist theology. So, with this church community it seems I was growing into the round peg trying to fit into a square hole. Mind you, a round peg can be shoved into a square hole if the square hole it large enough – but there will be gaps in the corners; and a square peg can have its corners ripped away until it is small enough to be shoved into a round hole (or if the round hole is large enough – but again, there will be great gaps.)

At one point I remember questioning what the confirmation class was being taught. At another point, I was so distressed with some of what was happening in CCD classes that I no longer sent one of my children, but tried to work with him at home.

There are those [in this room] who knew that I was hurting – I felt under attack. I even received “hate mail” – anonymous notes about a mal-formed conscience. It seemed that there were those who thought that I was not holy enough – that I did not hold the Host, the Eucharist in proper esteem. I’m pretty sure that in some circles I was branded a heretic.

When I realized that I had to look elsewhere, it was rather like leaving home as a teenager. It was painful to go, and more painful not to. The overt conflicts were there – the anger, the frustration, the confrontation with a certain member of the clergy. This church, this building was home, and I had to somehow let it go and set out to find some other place.

I found my way over to Opelika one Saturday evening. Those of you who know me at all know that music is a tremendously important part of worship, of liturgy to me. And you might even realize that I don’t often opt for a Saturday evening mass over a Sunday morning one. Some things are just right. So, here I was, alone at a Saturday evening mass, in a nearby, but different town, at a mass where the priest was leading the acapella singing (and enthusiastic participation on the part of the congregation was not really present).

There have been perhaps 3 times in my life where I have had the distinct sense that there was an unseen entity present. One was the above-mentioned ocasion of realizing that I was very likely going to join the Catholic Church. Another was in confession. And finally, this evening in Opelika when I returned to my seat after communion. I couldn’t see anyone in that pew, but it felt like when I sat down that someone, Jesus no doubt, but his arm around be and said quietly, “Welcome home.” I knew that I would be changing my home parish to St. Mary’s. I didn’t know exactly when, or how, or even if my husband or family would follow. But, I knew it was to be. And there was no music.

And so, my journey began anew. A new community, a new building, a new way of looking at things, a new set of relationships. I wish I could say it was really easy to turn on my heel and walk. It wasn’t. It hurt. I hurt. In some ways, it was less like the teenager leaving, and more like a death or divorce. It took more than 2 years after I finally made the break for me to be able to walk back into the church building at St. Michaels. There were times when I would get right up to the door and not be able to go in.

I know that I hurt other people – those who didn’t understand. Those who, not without reason, may have felt that my walking another way was a rejection of them. Those who asked, when some of the parish staff changed, if I was coming back and were probably caught up short when my response was a quiet, but adamant “No.” I wish it could have been done differently, but I’m not sure that was possible. For any pain I have caused with respect to this, I am sorry.
I still find myself on a separate path. But I have learned. I have learned that my Church is not a building, or even a particular community. I have learned that while every parish is a part of the Church, no parish is The Church. In many ways, I lost my parish and found my church.

My formation has been shaped by my continued exposure to the Vincentians (the priests, the Daughters of Charity, the SVDP Society). Funny – I came into the church in large part because of exposure to some Vincentian priests. St. Michael’s was established by the Vincentians. But, it wasn’t until I left my St. Michael’s home that I began to learn more about Vincent de Paul. This room where we sit was built as the St. Louise Cenacle. And not until I was having to break my ties that l learned who St. Louise was. I managed to leave this church, and learn that truly “[any]where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I also.” I have pushed myself away from one community and learned that we live this Christian Life fully only in community.

And so, the journey continues. I’ll probably never quite fit anywhere. And that’s actually OK. Probably a sign that I am attempting to follow the path laid out for me – a path that crosses the paths of others, and even shares some of the way. I guess I’m beginning to appreciate Vincent’s observation that “God draws straight with crooked lines.”

¡Ultreya!

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  1. Journey » Blog Archive » Right time, right place - June 4, 2008

    […] on parish and moving to another. I’ve written about that before when I tried to transcribe a witness talk I gave for an Ultreya meeting a few years ago. It was an occasion of losing my parish and […]

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