Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Journey Home - Part II

October 20th
A week ago I had a long talk with Fr. Sal. Much musing and journaling later, I discover that I can see a sort of timeline in my Catholic life.

1947-71 Actively church-going
1971-75 Slipping to nothing
1975-76 Nothing. I'm divorced. This is no place for me.
1976-81 Baha'i Faith is my new home.
1981-85 Nothing

Catholics fall away from their faith for countless reasons. I've always thought that leaving the Church had to be much more traumatic then say a Methodist moving to Presbyterian or Lutheran. Based on comments from my last post, I've discovered that this is not necessarily true but there is something very wrenching and mind-altering when a Catholic goes in another direction. The phrase "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic" in deeply ingrained in our psyche.

I grew up with an Italian Catholic mother and a non-Catholic, once divorced dad. Mom and dad, of course, were not married in the Church because of his divorce. It was this shadow, this hurt, that I grew up with and it influenced me in ways I did not understand until divorce visited me in 1975. But still, I grew up Catholic and dad was there with us at Mass whenever he was home. Mom was always at Mass even though she did not receive the sacraments. Dad would always make sure I was at religious education classes whenever he was home from overseas. By the time I was in high school, he was more often there but even then, this post-Navy job with Corrections would take him away firefighting in summer and fall.

Vatican II was three years old by the time I graduated from high school and the Latin Mass was no more. The 60's were a changing time for everyone in our society and its institution. And so it was that the Church was still feeling its way along through its own changes.

The first of the most obvious physical changes was the placement of a small portable altar at the front of the sanctuary. With the placement of this altar, the priest turned around, faced the congregation, and spoke in ENGLISH. I don't know who was more disconcerted - the priest of the congregation.

Fast forward to 1985. I've divorced, I've remarried, I've had two children. I've been away from the Church for about 15 years and the Baha'i Faith just was not speaking to me anymore than any of the more recognisable Christian religions. That phrase "once a Catholic, always a Catholic" was echoing loudly and clearly and insistently. I knew I had to find my way home.

It was in 1985 in San Jose, CA that I saw a billboard on the road not far from my house. It was simply a beautiful portrait of Christ and the word "I'm calling you". I nearly ran off the road. The next day I was at Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral. I was taking my first steps to finding my way home.
October 22nd

Fast forward 22 years -

Yesterday I attended a Latin Mass and I felt so at home. I don't think it is any accident that this happened on the same Sunday, a year later, of my mom's death. To me, this is clearly more symbolism of a return, of a completed cycle. Today, October 22nd, is the actual day but during the month of October I will always remember that Sunday around that date as the day I last held her hand. Life is a circle and I think there must be some meaning in returning to the Latin Mass.

My conversation with Fr. Sal was very satisfying in a couple of ways but this discussion of the Mass and its symbols left me disappointed.

Unity is missing
I miss
Covered heads
Standards of dress
The crucifix
Altar servers on the altar
The Tabernacle (the Lord's place) at eh center
with the symbol of His sacrifice (the crucifix)

I miss the changing vestments
our old symbol of the progression of the church year;
The countless little things, one of which was
the Secret in the old Mass -
the prayer of the celebrant during consecration;

The sense of reverence -
that hidden but seen moment of the
conversion of bread and wine to Body and Blood;

The reading on the right,
The gospel on the left;
The sermon at the lectern.

I want and need these symbols. They provide focus and a flow that more and more feels interrupted today. If the focus is supposed to be the altar and the lectern, the places where we hear "The word of the Lord", why don't I know this? Why don't WE know this? DO we know this? Are our children taught this? Mine weren't. Did Catechism skate over this? I have no answer for these questions. All I know for sure is that if the altar and lectern are supposed to be the focus then we have lost something very important.

I always heard the Word - In the midst of our symbols, I never missed the Word. Now I feel like I am experiencing Mass Lite and a series of vocal distractions punctuated by frequently bad music.

I find that I am rambling in these thoughts but it reflects how I feel about where the Mass has gone. We all understood the Latin but then the walls of language appeared. The hearing, seeing, and fragrance of the Mass has disappeared. Senses are not engaged anymore. Like poetry - it needs its richness to retain its beauty and meaning.

Yesterday, some of that richness returned. I felt in a loosely wrapped blanket of symbolism that guided me and held my heart. I felt in complete communion with those who shared the Mass with me. There was a flow and an understanding that ever after 40 years could not be lost. The loosely packed layers of change were only gently tamped down. Like the swipe of a cleansing cloth, I felt the unifying Mass sink back into my heart; into my bones. The distractions were gone; the not knowing where to look was gone; the symbols were there and they drew me back into the Mass in a way that I thought had been lost forever.

So now - today - I wonder a bit where this will take me. I know that Don is entirely happy. He will be there. Krista was with us and I hope she will come again sometime. I feel the pull of my community of many years - All Saints - and for the time being I will be there whenever I'm scheduled to serve at Mass. But, more and more I think that my time there is drawing to a close. Over all these years, I haven't really made connection with the community. I have individuals I care about but I don't need All Saints to maintain and nurture these connections.

I respect Fr. Sal and I like his speaking style. No question - each week his homily is relevant to the readings and the gospel. Fr. Sal gave me some good guidelines for examination of conscience. He will not be a bad confessor. However, that being said, my future with Mass is deeply attached and entrenched in my past and my journey home is now leading me in that direction.

I can't seem to stop saying it but here it is again.

Life is a circle.


Anonymous said...

The ritual is changing in protestant religions too. Now going to church is much more about a new "entertain me" service, than an old "fill me with grace" service. Or at least that's what it seems like to me.

I like your idea that life is a circle. I hadn't thought of that before and find it a comforting conclusion. Nice post, Annie.

trailbee said...

You're right-it's long. What a roller-coaster ride. Good post, Anne.

lila said...

Blessings on your spiritual journey. Thanks for sharing!

qualcosa di bello said...

annie...your post made me cry. & that is good. last month when i, for the first time, wore my momma's chapel veil & held her missal for our first Tridentine Mass since the Summorum Pontificum, i too knew that i had come home. all sorts of things that i didn't know were out of place, fell back into place. i was not there to "feel good" or be entertained. i was there for reverent worship (not experienced since i was a child).

vicci said...

I know exactly what you mean.....

nonizamboni said...

Powerful thoughts with a beautiful satin ribbon throughout, that wraps a 'circle' around your yearning, your map and the beautiful symbols lighting your path. I feel certain after reading this post that you will find that comfortable place replete with the sights and sounds that have such deep meaning to you. What we take with us from our youth has the strongest--and purest--pull. Life is truly a circle and God put it all in play for your happiness and safety you find in Him and his church.
Bless you, dear fellow Italian Catholic friend. I'll be thinking about you. :O)