Thursday, September 24, 2009

Because I've Tasted the Competition

On a Sunday two years ago, I began RCIA classes to be received into the Catholic Church. The class met at 10:30 and I woke up planning to attend Mass at 9:30. Then I had a second thought: Give the Episcopal Church one more chance. Try one last taste test before buying that lifetime supply of Maxwell House.

I was aware of two Episcopal parishes in our town, and I already knew that I didn't want any part of one of them. An upscale Yankee parish in the "better" part of town, it would have been like alumni weekend at my prep school, a social occasion wrapped around moments of spirituality. I can hear Katie saying, That sounds pretty harsh, and it is. But I know what I'm talking about, honey. I "knew" people at that parish, and they "knew" me. I would have "seen" people there and would have been "seen" by them. No, thank you. The only person I wanted to be seen by was God.

One more thing about that upscale parish, and this may sound snobby or anti-snobby, but this is my blog and I'll say it: There aren't many Ferdes at that parish. There aren't many Franks or Carries. And I'll bet there aren't any Barbaras or Roses. My grandmother, my Ammie, converted to Catholicism after my grandfather died, and it was just because there weren't any Ferdes, Franks, Carries, Barbaras, or Roses at her upscale Episcopal church in Minnesota that she moved across town to worship with the Italians, the Irish, and all those people whose names ended in vowels.

I set out walking toward the other Episcopal church, which is within walking distance of my house and also of my ultimate destination, St. Mary Star of the Sea. I had already begun attending daily 7 a.m. Mass at St. Mary's, even before RCIA, and I was used to worshiping with 50 to 100 others at that hour. So when I arrived for 8 a.m. Sunday services at the Episcopal church near my home, I expected to find a good number already assembled. I entered . . . and thought I must have been mistaken about the hour. One woman was puttering about, moving a book or arranging flowers—but no one else there. I stepped back toward the exit only to run into the minister, who was entering. I looked baffled and muttered something; he said welcome; and I sat again.

By 8 a.m. there were 8 parishioners present. It was—sorry, Katie—it was depressing. A quiet chapel shared with a couple of friends can be a very inspiring place, I know this. But the "depression" didn't flow only from the small number in attendance. There was an emptiness about it—bare walls, bare crucifix—and even a certain hopelessness, a feeling of, We're trying really hard here, God. Why is this not working out? I do not mean to offend anyone with this post, but this is my truth as I've lived it, so . . .

I walked to St. Mary's, and I became a Catholic. After a lifetime of sporadic visits to parishes Congregationalist and Episcopalian, after many years wandering in the spiritual wilderness, I was home.

Mmm-mmm, good!

AND THIS JUST IN: Last evening, while driving to Vermont to be with my mother on the first anniversary of Dad's death, I received a text message from someone very, very dear to me. "At RCIA," the message began, surprising me (I didn't know) and bringing a great, big smile to my face. Hallelujah! Score another one for the home team.