Friday, August 05, 2011

Feeling Welcome in a Church

My soul and my heart felt at home yesterday in the small church where a sweet lady was having her final farewell-to-life celebration.  Being welcomed into a church is today's blog topic.  It's probably not a smart one, but one that is so important to me that I feel compelled to expose my feelings about it.

The saddest feeling in the world is being let down by one's religious faith.  Especially after devoting one's entire life to it like I did.  I've walked the long walk.....attended 9 years of Catholic School taught by the Order of Unmerciful Nuns, four additional years of religion classes, made the pilgrimage to Rome, was part of a private audience with Pope John Paul, spent one year reading and studying the Old Testament and New Testament, served as President of the Ladies Guild, taught CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) classes to kids who attended public schools.  Numerous times I was chairman of our ladies guild unit and chairman of funeral committee.  I've spent years searching for theological answers that made sense, studied, read, and did everything but get myself ordained......but, we know I couldn't do that because I'm a spittin' image of Eve!

I'm pretty sure that my close friends wonder why they no longer see me sitting in that first pew, on the right side of the church, after the middle cross-aisle.  Nobody mentions it, but I hear it in their silence.  Perhaps I cling too tightly to my spiritual disappointments, but to be really honest, I can't help it.

  • After my husband suffered a serious stroke in 1999, and spent one week in Rochester St. Mary's Hospital in critical condition, our parish priest did not in any way acknowledge his illness or his long struggle to recover.  Not one word.  Not one home visit.  My church failed to remember that he left his family religion to join mine when we got married.  My church turned its back on him.  I'm ashamed to say that to this day no priest has given him one word of encouragement, support, or anything related to spiritual strength to persevere.
  • Two years later, suicide took a little boy away from our family.  He was like my grandson. Again, our parish priest didn't bother to knock on our door to offer comfort, help, or anything.  I was on the verge of a mental and physical breakdown, yet not given one moment of special spiritual attention or recognition. We live in a small town where gossip and news spread faster than cholera, so nobody can convince me that he didn't know what was going on.  When a 16-year-old boy intentionally puts himself in front of a train, people do hear about it.  
  • My mother was in a rest home for three years, and her parish priest never once came to personally visit with her and give her comfort.  The elderly have little to do except face the unknown...they worry, they fret, they fear, and it's only our church leaders who can quiet their fears.  Mom had a good sound mind, was a strict and staunch Catholic, and she sat there day after day after day waiting for the priest to come to her room.  He never did.  As she was dying, I asked her if I should call him.  She opened her eyes and said, "No.  I don't need him anymore."  But, at her funeral, he had the fortitude to talk about her spending her last years in a rest home.
  • When I returned from Rome, Italy, I was asked to give a talk to all classes of the CCD kids in our parish about my experience at the Vatican.  The date and time of my talk was announced in the Sunday bulletin.  Our parish priest didn't bother to come and listen to me, he didn't ask me anything about this profound event, and he basically let me know that he could care less about me or what I had to share.
  • The years I taught CCD classes, the priest didn't bother to ever visit our class.  Even the time my little class of precious baby Catholics re-enacted a biblical meal.  All of the kids brought something that Jesus and the disciples might have eaten.  One little guy walked in the room carrying a bunch of bananas.  He looked me straight in the eye and said, "Jesus liked bananas."  I went so far as to make chocolate-covered chow mein noodles that looked like locusts.  All of us acted squeamish about eating the bugs, but really they tasted yummy!   I spread a big blanket on the classroom floor, and we pretended it was the desert sand.  This was a big deal for these children, but it wasn't important enough for the priest to see.  Other teachers told me that Father was in the building and knew what we were doing.  The other teachers and classes visited us, but the priest didn't.  It would have meant so much to these kids.  I even brought pomegranates and carefully took them apart so the kids wouldn't stain their clothes.  They're a fussy and messy red fruit filled with seeds, but if Jesus ate them, my class wanted to eat them.  
  • A few years back our friends from the east coast came to stay with us at our home.  They weren't Catholics.  They asked if they could take communion with us at Mass on Sunday because it would be very meaningful to them.  It embarrassed me to no end to tell them that according to the laws of the Catholic Church they could not partake in Christ's meal.  But, I took the law in my own hands and insisted they take communion with us anyway.  I have my limits to senseless protocol.
Oh, my church has shamed me the horrific and absolutely unforgivable sexual abuse that innocent little boys endured for years by lying and torcherous priests.  I've heard the statement made, "Well, it's not only the Catholic priests.  Others did it, too."  Holy migod, can you imagine the stupidity in that one?  Or, I've been told that people are just picking on the Catholics and none of it ever happened.  Wake up! Talk about being in denial.  I challenge everyone to dig deeper, and see what sorts of shocking things are neatly tucked away in the Catholic closet.

Our attendance at the small church funeral yesterday helped put back the broken pieces of my heart.  The minister welcomed every one of us, and when it came time for the distribution of communion, here's what he said.  "You are all invited to come and partake of our communion. If you do not feel comfortable doing so, just come up to the altar here, place your arms across your heart, and I will bless you."  Wow, to this fallen Catholic, those were mighty powerful words.  You can bet your bottom dollar that we took part in their communion in both forms, bread and wine.  When I returned to our pew, I bowed my head, and right then and there my heart felt that familiar peace, comfort, and acceptance. 

The sweet lady who was buried yesterday spent her entire life devoted to God.  Her little church meant the world to her, just as mine once did to me.  The only difference is that her church was there for her when she needed it most.  It's not easy being my age and no longer feeling comfortable in the church of my childhood.  Try as I have, and try as I do, something just isn't right.  Maybe I should simply be satisfied to spend my Sunday mornings outside in the open-air cathedral...where I always feel welcome, loved, and comforted by the Presence that watches over us all.

My heart is still
My soul is quiet
My God is with me.