I've always considered myself one of the lucky ones. I was baptized into the Roman Catholic church when I was two weeks old. We always went to Mass on the weekend, except when the weather was really bad. I watched my parents' very different reactions to the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council - my father unable to reconcile himself, my mother joyous. I knew from an early age that being part of the Church was not a simple choice, but one that had to be experienced on a deep level and with much reflection. At 8, I read Pearl S. Buck's New Testament for Children and experienced the power of The Story. At about 11, I read Morris L. West's The Shoes of the Fisherman and saw that the Church was a complex organization that had a deep history in Western Civilization, and that the people running it could be deeply flawed, but the Church would muddle through triumphantly. A month before I turned 15, I had a personal and very real encounter with the divine - a moment that still shines brightly in my life as a transformative experience; I have been a different person because of that than I might otherwise have been. As I say, I was one of the lucky ones.
When I got to college, the first week I went to the interdenominational campus ministry program at my small (mostly commuter) college and asked for directions to the nearest Catholic church. I spent my college years helping out with the campus ministry program and working on the student newspaper (and attending enough classes to graduate in three years with a degree in history and a 3.5 cumulative GPA). After college, I got a job on a suburban newspaper and registered in my local parish, agreeing to teach sixth-grade catechism on Saturday mornings. The job didn't last long, but the teaching continued. A year later, having taken a secretarial course and still not finding a job (this was the recession of the early 1980s), I moved to Ann Arbor to share my brother's apartment. Again, I got a job and joined the local parish, where I taught catechism, proclaimed the Word at Mass, and served on various parish committees.
At 28, I went off to the convent. It seemed like the logical thing to do. The ten months I spent there taught me so much about myself, about spirituality, about becoming a fully-realized adult, and about the Church. I came back so disenchanted and so unsure that I wanted to stay in the Church that when the subject of religion would come up, I would declare myself "unsure." I started slipping into back pews in the campus ministry church affiliated with my employer; it was there that the usher found me and start recruiting me regularly to pass collection baskets. At that time, the baskets were on long poles, and there was something about the simple exercise of pushing and pulling those baskets that moved things around inside of me so that I could start seeing the Church in a new way and could find my way back home to it.
In time, I became the usher coordinator, got deeply involved in liturgy, stopped being the usher coordinator, met and married a man who was also deeply involved in liturgy. We took theology classes (he finished the coursework; I did not). At the point where I realized that I would never bear a child, my brother died unexpectedly, and I discovered quilting. I am not trivializing any of these; each had a profound impact on the way that I lived my life and the kinds of relationships I've had.
There have been things shifting around inside of me for a long time. I've been very upset by the changes that are coming in a little over a year. I can feel myself moving in new directions, but I don't know where. The opinions expressed in this essay by Sheila O'Brien speak somewhat to this place I am. I got to this essay via Bryan Cones' essay in US Catholic. Bryan is talking about people like me, people who long ago made a conscious choice to be Catholic. I made that choice when I was a child, when I was a teen, when I was a young adult, when I was fully an adult, when I was in early middle age. I am now in late middle age and looking at this choice and saying, "I'm not sure I can stay." I don't know where this is going. Stay tuned.