Monday, November 2, 2015

On My Mind Monday

You don't have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.

~ CS Lewis

Yesterday was the first mass I've attended in much longer than I intended.  I think it was rather fitting that it was All Saints Day.  That was just a coincidence.  Today is All Souls Day. I was nervous to go back, and my anxiety was amplified when I realized I had my copy of After This: When Life is Over Where Do We Go? in my purse.  I come to church to get answers and to find comfort, but there are questions and pains that are never affirmed or abated.  I'm not afraid to look elsewhere.  Everywhere.  *************************
I was baptized Catholic soon after I was born, and then my parents migrated away from the church.  Their all encompassing religious upbringings resulted in my rather pagan childhood.  They attended Catholic schools K-12 and mass several times a week.  They had plenty of Catholic guilt.  Just this weekend my Dad confirmed that he attended the seminary for two years.  I was shocked to learn that my Dad seeking to join the priesthood was not just a family myth.  Miss Bit thought that a priest for a Grandpa was "cool" until I clued her in that then none of us would be here.  
When I attended church as a child, it was for weddings, funerals or with my Grandma Rose on a random Saturday night.  We would walk down the alley to St. Al's for 4 o'clock mass, a mass I didn't understand or feel connected to, but I could tell she did.  Her connection awed me, and impacted my religious journey for sure.  I would sit beside her in the stony pew while leaning into her softness sucking on the endless stash of hard candy she stuffed in her handbag, an unnecessary bribe.  I could hear her singing unfamiliar hymns and reciting responses and prayers that sounded and felt important even though I didn't know how or why at that time.  The truth is I spent more time in temples than cathedrals when I was growing up.
I started attending mass when I was in college. A group from the dorm went on Saturday nights before going out and I started tagging along.  The more I went, the less an impostor I felt.  I took art history and philosophy courses that touched on religion.  It was fascinating to me and missing from my life.  You see I always had faith, but I didn't have religion.  I didn't have religion until I was a young woman.  I chose my church when I was preparing for marriage.  I chose my church because it is the prettiest church in the city and within walking distance to our reception.  I would choose this church today, but for entirely different reasons.  In order to receive the sacraments of Reconciliation, Communion and Confirmation, I took classes.  No one was happier than my Grandma Rose when I received them and was able to marry in the church. A part of me did it for her.  A part of me did it for myself.
Mike and I were religious about going before and then shortly after our wedding.  Our attendance ebbed and flowed until we found out we were expecting.  News of that miracle was all it took for us to resume the ritual.  Teddy was born and baptized and then he started to walk and talk, so we fell out of it again because it became a hassle and an impossibility to keep him contained or quiet.  The cycle repeated itself  again with Lily.
I knew I wanted my children to have religion in their lives, but it just wasn't convenient.  It nagged at me that we were those people who only went on holidays and occasions, but that's the truth.  Then my Mom was diagnosed with a terminal illness when Lily was 3 and Teddy was 6.  She was 59 and I was 39, but I felt like I was just a lost little girl dealing with doctors and doubt.  Before long my Mom was dealing with death.  A friend suggested I call Father Tim who happened to be the relatively new priest at my parish.  I had no clue because I hadn't been in so long.  She knew he would come visit my Mom in her home and help her have some much deserved peace.
He came the next week.  We both liked him instantly.  He felt like an old friend.  He made us laugh until we cried and cry until we laughed.  He was honest and he was kind.  He spoke candidly about life and death and grace.  He took one look at my Mom and said she was glowing with God's grace, and she was.  He welcomed her back to the church, gave her Reconciliation and Communion, and then he asked me where I belonged.  When I told him, he was a little shocked that we had yet to meet.  Before he left, he told me he'd see me on Sunday so I could bring her Communion.  He did.  I did.  The next week I signed the kids up for Sunday School and we began to attend mass as a family.
When my Mom passed a month later, Father Tim officiated at her funeral which took place at our church.  He started his homily singing To Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral.  My Mom sang that Irish Lullaby to Teddy soon after he was born, and countless times in his colicky days.  She swore it was the only thing that would soothe him.  The lullaby was sung again when Lily was born, Father Tim later told me he felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to sing that song that held so much meaning for our family about which he had no firsthand knowledge.  I felt such peace knowing that she had peace, and ever since that funeral mass the church has been even more of a sanctuary for me.
Yesterday's mass filled me up in ways I didn't even know I needed.  I sang loud, prayed thoughtfully and cried involuntarily after Communion.  I cried because I could feel the grace of God when I needed it most.  When I felt weak and undeserving. I've had a lightness in spirit and a clarity in mind ever since. I feel unstuck and have a freedom that I haven't known for months.  I will be at church next week.  And the week after.

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