As a youngster, going to Mass was an obligation, part of my Catholic school training - Mass once a week at school and always on Sunday. If I missed it on Sunday, I was probably going to hell.
|Me and my older brother, who studied for the priesthood for a few years|
As a teenager, I came to know Christ in a personal way through a non-denominational bible study, and I preferred non-denom services. I would be praising God with my hands in the air, blessed and humbled, and loving it, but still wondering if I was condemned because I wasn't at St. Jude's with my parents.
I was married in the Catholic church, but continued to favor the non-denom services. After our first son was born, I realized how little I knew about guiding a young mind through a rough, selfish world. I began to pray in earnest about how to raise our son, and I found myself back in a dark wooden pew preparing for communion. I wanted the power of the Eucharist and the sacraments and the Blessed Mother. (Having a son myself, I now related to her in a way I had not before.) I wanted the most direction and support available. I suddenly felt very vulnerable to getting it all wrong.
|Our first born, whose birth drew me back to the church. I have no idea why he has a bandanna on his head.|
Our three children graduated from the same Catholic high school, they attended youth group throughout their high school years, and were part of summer service projects. They all went on mission trips sponsored by the Church. We invested all we could in their Catholic education. They didn't always like it, and at times it was exhausting and expensive, but I always felt our kids were worth the investment. I didn't want to answer to God later about why we were slackers when it came to religious ed.
When one child (whom I'll call Alex) was in college, my husband and I went through a difficult time with some of the choices Alex was making. Our church and our priest did not have answers for me, so I drifted towards a local non-denom church pastored by a great teacher. For four years, I soaked up his lessons and praised God through worship music and my tears. It was a place where no one knew me. I didn't have to give anything, or speak to anyone if I didn't want to. I simply soaked up God's mercy and love.
Slowly, I began to miss the Eucharist. And I began to see that this church didn't have answers for me either. There were no answers, because we couldn't change the choices Alex was making; our child was not under our authority anymore. I eventually realized I could continue to be saddened by something I could not control, or I could give this child back to God - whatever the outcome - and put energy back into my own life.
I didn't want to be in that dark place anymore, so I chose to entrust Alex to God and focus on the positives in my life. Shortly after that, Alex called home in tears. This young adult child (aren't they always our babies?) had gone back to church and had a healing experience through the Eucharist. We all cried.
Alex came home for awhile, and I returned to the Catholic church. It had been waiting patiently, the same steady rock it had always been. The Eucharist began to heal me as well. For a long time, and often still today, tears well when I receive the host. It is the closest encounter with Christ I will ever have on this earth.
I brought my babies to Church, I brought my teens, I brought my middle-aged angst, I now bring my parents, who are 92 and 95. My folks are handicapped in various ways, and even though Mom falls asleep through most of the Mass, she and Dad both are eager to attend every week. Many freedoms in their lives have been lost, but in church they feel as free and secure and loved as they did when their bodies were cooperative.
|The folks in Mass in 2011. Mom's now on a walker, and Dad's in the wheelchair.|
Many people complain that the Church does not change with the times. What I love most about the Church is that it does not change with the times. Its truths are eternal, and in this life, when disappointments and betrayals can come one after another, my peace lies in the steadfast rock of the Church. God is always in control; people never are (even though we think we are.)
For me, it has taken a lifetime to see the beauty and wisdom of my Catholic faith. I'm so grateful God let me roam, but always called me back.