Monday, September 27, 2004

Well, I Did It.

After two weeks of sitting in my car in the parking lot, I actually made it inside the Lutheran church. The sky didn't fall, no one laughed at me, no one saw my invisible, "I'm Catholic!" sign, and no one chased me out of the church.

Quite the opposite, in fact. I was greeted warmly by what had to be half the congregation before I even made it into the nave. I sat in almost the very back (and remembered not to genuflect). It was a small congregation, probably around 100 people at the service, and they seemed to really be a community. People were talking with each other before the service began (something that threw me a little at first - I'm used to the quiet before mass...though conversation is good). And people got out of the pews and walked around the church during the sign of peace.

The pastor, like most Lutheran pastors I have known (all four of them) was not a flamboyant or dynamic preacher, but he spoke with a gentle sincerity that gave what he said a certain authority. After the service, he recognized immediately that I was visiting and he went out of his way to greet and welcome me, even though I tried to escape without being noticed.

So why was I crying in my car after the service (the reason I tried to leave without being noticed)? I liked it there. I don't know a soul, but I liked it there. And the implication of that terrify me.

I felt more connected in that church than I have in the Catholic church in a long time, even before January. And I'm trying to figure out why that is. I mean, the service is basically the same structure as a mass, just without the creed and without some of the transitions (actually, it's very much like daily mass). The sermon was longer and was well-preached, but you can find that anywhere. The congregation was small, but most non-Catholic, non-Baptist congregations in the south are. The music was traditional, and vaguely familiar (must be some kind of buried memories of attending services with my mom). But all of this shouldn't be enough to make me feel tune.

So what was it? And what does it mean? And why do I feel guilty?

Ironically enough, my mom was the one who kept me in the Catholic church when I was in high school. She was my confidant in all things spiritual. My dad and I may have been the same religion, but she understood the emotional aspects of faith better. I confided in her all those times the assistant pastor of my church made me cry (which was often - I realize now that his treatment of me verged on emotional abuse), or when the old ladies told me that I didn't have the right to attend mass without my father on the days when he had to work. I told her how fed up I was about feeling that way, and that I planned to leave when I was in college. My mom begged me not to.

See, my dad and I had a close, but fragile relationship. It was obvious that he loved me, and I loved him, but we really had nothing in common beyond a love of baseball and our religion. I mean nothing. If one of those things were taken away, especially the most important one, I don't know what would have happened to our relationship.

And I realized when I was in college that his greatest fear was that I would drift away from the Catholic church. He nearly lost it when I decided to live in a house owned by a Presbyterian church, attend a conference sponsored by a Protestant campus ministry organization, or used words like, "fellowship." Heck, he could barely handle it when I asked him to buy me a Bible so I could better prepare to read at mass. He never forbid me to do any of those things, but, it made him nervous. I know it would have broken his heart if I ever left.

The ironic thing is that I was never more in touch with and more...enamored with my Catholicsm than I was during that period in my life. In time before and time since, though I had my doubts. Still, I stuck with it.

But the question is why I stuck with it. Was it out of conviction, or was it out of obligation? I don't know the answer to that.

The thing is, I don't know if I have any second chances left. I gave the church a second chance when that associate pastor put me through hell in elementary school. I gave them a second chance when the old ladies told me I wasn't worthy to worship in their presence. I did it again when no one would visit my dad and bring him communion when I couldn't make it home to take him to church during college. I did it when the priest in our church wouldn't administer anointing to my dad in the days before he died because "he hadn't been active in the parish in recent months." (Yeah, probably because even with me at home he was too weak to leave bed long enough to go to mass.) And again when they abandoned me when my mom died. And now the St Al's CCC debacle.

Isn't that patience enough? Isn't that enough to endure?

I just don't know.

I think I may call the church tomorrow and see if I can speak with the pastor. Maybe an objective voice is what I need right now.

Nothing's ever easy, is it?

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