I had great intentions of writing lots regarding the octave of Christian Unity, but a computer failure on Tuesday changed those plans. So it goes! Here are some posts I wrote last year.
Today I was musing over some memories I thought I'd like to share. Tonight's homily by Deacon Mike focused on how God's plan of salvation entails us being saved in community, not as solitary individuals. These memories have something to do with that.
The first is actually a dream I had many years ago that stayed with me for years as a sort of formative paradigm at the time I was coming into the Catholic Church. In this dream I was being asked by someone what I would like to eat. After a bit of thought, I requested a piece of pizza. "Really? Just a piece of pizza?" the voice inquired. Ok, I said, how about a whole pizza. A whole, large Domino's pizza, with lots of toppings. It was like the wildest possible thing I could imagine to satisfy me. Surely a whole pizza would leave me stuffed. The voice asked me "Does it have to be that?" No, I answered, somewhat puzzled. You did, after all, ask what I wanted... At this response, my grandfather entered the room carrying a very large container, something like a long feeding trough, full of beef stew. Suddenly I found myself at a long table set for many people, full of steaming homemade food.
Whether I realized it mid-dream or not, clearly the shift in my thinking was from self-satisfaction to being part of something wonderful and big that was meant for lots of people beyond myself. I once had a concept that salvation was about me squeaking out of this life, safe with Jesus. At best, other people were supposed to see me with Jesus and want to get their own pizza, too. I was being introduced to a whole new reality where salvation meant belonging to a people.
Which reminds me of another memory. Roughly one year after I became Catholic my friend Ann and I went to a Pentecostal camp meeting that we had frequented in the years before. I remember wanting to go just to verify whether or not I was missing anything. Would I feel I was suddenly coming in out of the cold? Like I was eating delectable food I'd longed for? I remember the registration area. The woman who helped me was impeccably dressed, extremely gracious, "God blessing" me and as smooth as silk. She was like the image of holiness, in the sense that I had come to know it in the pentecostal/holiness movement. She, and everyone else, had their parts down well. The conference was nice, but I felt rather disconnected from it.
On the way back home, Ann and I stopped off at a Catholic charismatic conference, as I wanted to make this process comparative. We came in at an odd time for only part of the weekend, so again I remember the registration process vividly. The woman helping us there was an older nun in full habit. She didn't really greet us, but was crabbing and complaining to the man with her that nothing was in the right place, and how was she supposed to do this job without the things she needed, how could she find keys for our rooms, etc. etc. Perhaps it sounds ironic, but my heart welled up warm with the thought "I'm home!" It was clear this nun was not exuding any plasticine sense of holiness. She was a grump, but she was showing her real self. Faking me out wasn't even occurring to her. Moreover, I knew I was a lot more like her than the other woman I'd encountered. This was my home; a place where I could be myself, warts and all. Ahhh....
When I first started attending Mass I was firmly in the plasticine camp. Outer religious looks were very important, and I honestly thought they meant something. Something good, that is -- like other than a mask to conceal all sorts of rot. I had a very hard time looking at regular ol' Catholics and realizing they apparently had absolutely no concern or desire for the plasticine holiness that had been my pursuit. Between hardships like being alone in Japan and the pain of infertility, over the course of years I slowly forgot about the value I had put on trying to have the right religious looks. Accepting people as they were no longer came painfully to me.
However, I realized about a year ago that I had held a residual fear about having become a Catholic. Issues of truth never gave me the slightest doubt or worry since my initial conversion. But I had held a residual worry that I would never witness bona fide holiness, real transformative love for Jesus, among rank and file Catholics. I could accept Sister Grump, but I longed to meet St. Bernard of Clairvaux. No, I longed to meet Christ. I knew that Christ was present in His Church and had been through the ages, as witnessed to by the fiery love of God expressed in people like St. Bernard. Subconsciously I had always sheltered myself among "certain groups," whether converts or charismatics or intellectuals or religious orders or movements, where I felt Jesus was more certainly found. But when I had initially encountered Christ in the Catholic Church it wasn't in the midst of any of these. It was in an everyday parish. Looking for him again there was something I'd taken only baby steps toward in the 15 years I'd been a Catholic.
And then, when I first was experiencing the shock of joining my parish choir, what struck me was that this was the verification that the full deal promise of Catholicism was actually true: Jesus was really present among regular folk who had absolutely no interest in "appearing holy" in the way I'd once learned to. Certain of our good choir folk don't always have the most pious mouths. There's no faking anyone out evident at all even though we are all so different. And yet (I keep trying to stop myself from thinking that this is a contrast instead of a direct corollary) grace flows through these good folk. This grace has blessed my life tremendously, and indeed has worked healing in me.
I am so, so grateful for my family in the Church. That includes Sister Grump and yes, even the plasticine brethren. We are not perfect, let's face it (even when we think we are). But we are loved (even when we think we are not). If we are faithful to His love, we will love each other in return. Just the way we are.