Yesterday was my parents’ 45th wedding anniversary. There was no formal celebration. My sister and I are planning instead to host a party in the early summer after she has moved back here. However, in honor of this anniversary, my dad invited his children, whoever might be available, to attend mass with him and my mom on Saturday evening. And so it was that I found myself at mass in the Catholic church for the second time in two weeks. My dad would find it appalling that I state this fact as if it were some kind of feat.
The invitation came last minute and caught me off guard. I had been planning all day to go to my “new” church. I didn’t mention this to my dad, but simply accepted his invitation. For those who have been reading here for a while, my dad is a Catholic deacon and very staunch in his beliefs. I still find it difficult to openly go against anything he believes in this regard.
My enthusiasm about attending mass with my parents was tainted by the fact that there was an argument between my dad and my sister last week about what is acceptable when it comes to where and how one worships. My dad probably doesn’t know I am aware that this argument took place.
I believe I ventured away from the Catholic church long before my sister did. I have just not yet been forced to discuss the issue with my dad. Last weekend, the discussion became inevitable for my sister and after hearing about it, makes me that much more apprehensive about broaching the subject with my dad. I would prefer to continue on with the attitude of what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him. I am 42 years old and still struggling to admit to my dad that I can and do make my own choices; choices that may conflict with what he has taught me. I would, however like the chance to explain that I am merely exploring different avenues at the moment and do remain open to the fact that in the long run, I may end up in the very faith where I began.
From what I understand, the discussion between my dad and sister boiled down to my dad’s assertion of his belief that worshipping in other faiths is not wrong. We all need to be accepting of our brothers and sisters in Christ. But for those of us who were raised Catholic, we should know better than to worship elsewhere. He is a man of great faith. He just can’t understand a desire to explore other faiths or forms of worship. I truly believe at the bottom of his viewpoint is a deep love for his children, his unwavering faith in a belief that has been a solid foundation in his family for generations and a fear of anything different.
So I know that this argument took place and am aware that there was a lot of hurt on each side of the argument. This knowledge hasn’t changed my mind that I need to continue on my own faith journey, but it has saddened me to know that the lack of acceptance I feared from my dad does, in fact exist. As we made our way into the church, these thoughts intermingled among the feelings of familiarity with the rituals of the faith in which I had grown up. At the same time I felt as if I were coming home, I also felt a bit out of place; as if everyone around me could see that I had “run away” and were judging me.
As the mass began, I realized how much of the ritual was ingrained in me. No matter how infrequent my attendance at mass lately, it all comes flooding back. There are both pros and cons to that. On the plus side, no matter how long I’ve been away, I will return to something comfortable and familiar. On the negative side, it is so familiar that I find I have to work very hard to maintain focus and not simply go through the motions. This is the very reason I made the leap to exploring something different. I had become complacent. I would often leave mass completely unaware of what I had just heard. There was no fire in my soul.
As I sat through mass last night, I found myself alternately trying to remain open to the Holy Spirit and struggling against feelings of skepticism. This weekend, the Catholic church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday. In a nutshell, Jesus revealed to St. Faustina His desire to flood us with His graces on this day. “The soul who will go to confession before this day and receive communion on this day shall obtain complete forgiveness of sins.”
My skepticism arrived when the priest specifically noted that we should go to confession within two weeks before or after this feast day in order to be flooded with Jesus’ mercies. I am having such a hard time believing that God would lay out such specific guidelines to receiving his forgiveness. Hasn’t he already offered His forgiveness without this set of requirements? What about those who are unaware of this feast day? What about those who are without the opportunity to worship in a Catholic church? What about those who become aware but die before they have the chance to receive communion on this day? Are those people denied forgiveness and mercy?
I think it was at this point that my sweet, eleven year old nephew reached over and squeezed my hand for no apparent reason. I relaxed and smiled at him and squeezed his hand back. He then allowed me to just hold his hand for the next several minutes. Was my nephew’s sign of affection a mere coincidence? Maybe. Maybe God was trying to tell me, through my nephew, to relax and not worry so much.
As I sit here this morning contemplating all of this, I realize that I am trying to see everything in a black and white fashion when everything in this world has some gray area. Maybe this feast day is a way to forgiveness for those who need to do things “by the book.” Maybe there are those out there who have to be able to follow a specific set of guidelines to feel comfortable in the fact that they can now be forgiven. Maybe this is for them. Deep down in my heart, I can’t accept that only those who go to confession before this day and receive communion on this day are offered this gift.
The whole experience leaves me struggling to know more, to keep learning, to keep fighting. It confirms that I haven’t given up, and for that, I think my dad would be proud.