I’m a cradle Catholic.
My cousin is a priest, my oldest sister is a nun, my father-in-law is a Deacon and my dad was a Eucharistic Minister. Many people in both my and my husband’s families have served both faithfully and well, in many capacities, through many generations.
I went to a Catholic school from first grade through my senior year in high school; my first day of college was the first time since kindergarten I’d attended class without wearing a uniform. I sang in the choir and was a lector at mass. I made all the sacraments when it was time, attended mass several times a week, and spent just about every family summer vacation in close proximity to a convent.
I was married in a Catholic church and raised my children in the Catholic faith but going to mass often felt like more of a habit or an obligation, not something I looked forward to doing. I frequently felt like I was doing it as an example to my children, because I was supposed to, or out of that good old Catholic guilt.
There are two exceptions to that. Most of my husband’s military assignments were less than two years. Many times they were only a year or perhaps eighteen months. In the two assignments that lasted longer than that I joined the choir and found church families but even then I’m not sure I approached mass with anticipation.
Life has slowed down for a period of time now that my husband is retired from the military. He isn’t done working and I know things will change but for this interlude we’re living life at a very different pace from the last thirty-five years.
For the first time in ages we’ve physically registered in a civilian parish rather than just showing up on Sunday. I don’t know a single person in the rather large congregation but something has drawn me to this place of worship every Sunday with more joy than I’ve experienced in quite some time. Being there centers me. I’m not wondering when the hour will be over so I can get to my checklist for the day.
It’s a beautiful place to worship.
And oddly enough, even without knowing anyone, I’m feeling a connection and the power of a church full of believers.
I’ve been saying the Our Father for all of my life but last Sunday I actually listened to and felt the voices around me raised up in prayer. It struck me that this time I was really and truly joining my voice with others and feeling the power of that collective prayer.
How have I managed to miss this for most of my life? Did I need this particular Lenten season and this particular season of my own life to arrive before I was ready to pay attention? Or perhaps knowing I would move held me back in all those parishes I attended, but only watched from the shadows. It was easier to emotionally attach myself to military organizations than it was to form those attachments in a church. Somehow it was safer and when the inevitable move came along, it would be easier to say goodbye to people who not only understood, but expected those goodbyes.
Was I just not ready? If so, it certainly took me a very long time to get there.
Sorta makes me want to go back a few decades and have a conversation with my younger self.
And Father Gerry, if you’re reading this with a smile on your face, I believe it’s justified.