The Journey (part 1)

A priest once made the suggestion in his Ash Wednesday homily: as a preparation for Lent, he suggested, “try praying that God open your heart and your mind especially to those Truths that you really don’t want to hear.”

It was only recently that I had found my way back to active Catholicism, and I was eager to do it right this time. It was a time of turmoil — my marriage was falling apart, and what I’d hoped would be a good and promising career in broadcasting was becoming a dry, dead-end chore with little to no opportunity for advancement. I needed my faith, I needed the absolutes and the structure of Catholicism to keep me grounded.

So I prayed, exactly as the priest suggested. Then I sat back and waited for the overwhelming flood of painful revelation that would have me clutching at my head, screaming in agony (yes, I know I watch too much science fiction). But it never came — not like that, anyway. Not in any way I could have expected.

For regular Sunday mass I had ended up at the church nearest my apartment, and found it a wonderful fit. The parishioners welcomed me immediately and brought me into the social justice committee. My lifelong social liberalism had been ingrained within my Catholic upbringing, so I was perfectly at home here. For the first time since my return to the faith, I felt like a useful member of the Mystical Body of Christ, and not just the appendix hanging uselessly from the Mystical Lower Intestine. There was only one thing that irked me — at this parish, everyone remained standing during the Consecration.

Nobody really seemed to mind that I was the only one kneeling — nobody, that is, but myself. It troubled me that proper respect was not being paid to Christ in our midst. Now that I had found a true spiritual home — a community that actively honored and served Christ in the poor of the community and the world — why couldn’t they honor Him in this way as well? Why couldn’t they all make this one little change for me?

I took to rehearsing in my mind how the discussion would go, when at last the matter might be brought up. I would begin by explaining how important this small gesture of reverence is to sacred worship. But, the anonymous responder would reply, there are other masses you could go to. Every other mass in town includes that gesture. Yes, I say, but this is where I feel God most present; this is where I see God’s people coming together in a true spirit of community. The still, small voice then asks, where do you suppose that spirit of community comes from? And that I could not answer.

Some time later, the pastor offers a homily about the communal nature of the liturgy. The reason we gather is to worship, to unite ourselves as one. This is what makes a disparate gathering into a cohesive Church, into that living Body of Christ. We honor Christ’s presence in the Sacrament by honoring Christ’s presence within the assembly. And finally, I got the message.

It wasn’t an earth-shattering revelation, but it was the beginning of a deeper spiritual relationship. At some point the rules, regulations, dogma, and traditions designed to help us in the journey can start to get in the way. God wants a relationship with us — a real relationship, not dictated by third parties but conducted one-on-one. Talk, listen, grow, adjust, always look to the needs and desires of the other … these are the marks of a good relationship. It’s what God wants from us, and it’s the least we can offer.