by Julie Green
The son of a friend of a friend went to the doctor, in the course of the examination, it was discovered he needed glasses. When they arrived, the doctor said, "You must have had terrible headaches; why didn't you ever tell anyone?" The five year old looked up and said, simply, "I just thought heads felt like that."
Becoming Catholic was a little like that: a hunger whose depth I began to know only as it began to be filled; a need so profound that it could only be realized as it was beginning to be relieved. My eyes were being opened; it was as if I were wholly meeting Jesus for the first time, wholly having access to him, or the possibility of having access to him.
But leaving a church is difficult, a process which was further complicated because I had been in candidacy studies (a formal exploration procedure) for the ordained ministry; I had been told that in six months I'd go easily through the first steps toward that.
It was agonizing. That call to the ministry seemed very real; working toward it was part of how I understood myself. But I hungered for what the Catholic Church offered; I felt gypped of the wealth of the 1,700 years we weren't exposed to, that were never touched on, much less discussed. Wasn't that also my heritage? Didn't I, as a Christian, have a right to that? There was so much that was missing, that I wanted and needed so badly.
And, the calls to go to Mass as often as possible were at least as powerful as that call to ministry. I suspected that I was the only Protestant I knew whose bedroom walls were covered with posters of the pope; my spiritual director was a priest. I wondered how I would manage to pastor a Protestant church and still get to Mass.
Back and forth, to and fro. I went to Mass to be fed; I took what I had learned back to my Sunday school class. Finally, I stopped attending that church; it seems dishonest, for I really didn't know if, or how, I belong there any more.
One night a couple of months later, after long prayer, I lay in bed thinking about my life. Decisions I had made, wrong and right. Regrets and gladnesses, honesties and deceits, each in turn. I thought about what it would be like to live with the tension, to go back as layperson or even entering that ministry, knowing that my heart was elsewhere.
I realized, finally, that I could go through the next 10 years "wondering" where I belonged, getting some of what I needed but not enough, agonizing all the while. And I realized that at the end of the 10 years, I would have wasted, and lost, 10 years of the relationship that was being offered to me, that was so freely available, just for a lack of courage in doing what I had known to be right, and what I wanted, and necessary, all the way along. For I did know. I knew where I wanted to be, and knew where God wanted me to be, and could at last admit to myself that I had known all along. Light entered then; for the first time, I felt free.
The next day I saw the priest who had been directing me and told him what had happened. In his wisdom he had seen all along what I had refused to see, and a month later, on retreat, we set a date for confirmation a month hence.
No joy has ever been sweeter, no peace more peaceful. I spent that month of anticipation in prayer, mostly, of gratitude--overwhelming gratitude that flowed into every part of my life, my being, that transformed the mundane into the transcendental, the bland into the vital. It was as if life -- real life -- had just been invented, and I had been blessed in being there, part of it.
To be sure, there were also moments of pain, knowing that I was leaving, for good, the community that had given me so much, that I had loved so much, that had been the centre of everything for several years. I didn't want to hurt anyone, and people were hurting; they had known my struggle but didn't want me to go any more than I wanted to be without them; saying goodbye can be wrenching, even when it is necessary.
Confirmation was very simple, yet nothing in my life has been more meaningful, for life itself was given to me that day. A priest who was also a friend served as my sponsor; my kids did readings for Mass and held the chrism oils. People from the prayer meeting I had been attending came, as did people from the church I was leaving. To me, there was a flavor of wedding in it -- the giving away and the accepting, the leaving and the joining. A woman from the prayer meeting had arranged a small reception afterward; friends from each group came to me individually. From my new community, over and over I heard, "They love you so much..."
And, over and over, those from my earlier church said, "We see that you are well-loved; you will be safe, we can trust them with you..."
I was home at last, in the arms of the church.