Friday, October 30, 2009

To Become a Child Again

This morning, by chance, by grace, I remembered again why I am a Catholic. I can hear the chorus: More than 80 posts in 10 weeks about YIM Catholic and you can't remember? Dear Webster, Are you losing your mind?! The short answer to which is, there's remembering and there's remembering.

Jesus tells us that unless we become like little children, we're going to have trouble storming the gates of heaven. Problem is, we all become "adults" in the faith so fast, even us converts. Everything gets old. Routine sets in. But this morning I was a child again, thanks to my never-failing friend Ferde.

At St. Mary Star of the Sea in Beverly, we have three regular adult altar servers for morning mass, but one is in her ninth month of pregnancy and another recently broke her arm. So Frank, the third morning server, suggested that Ferde and occasionally Webster fill in. This means training for Webster, so this morning, Ferde—who usually serves only for funerals and other special occasions, why waste his talents as a lector?—walked me through Altar Server 101: where everything is kept in the sacristy, where to set it in the sanctuary, when to light the candles and turn on the overhead lights, and so on.

Then, and this was the beauty part, to watch Ferde closely while he went through his paces during mass, I sat on the Epistle side of the nave, not in the sixth row on the Gospel side, where I routinely sit. Here, closer to St. Joseph (left), I had a better angle on the action.

The freshness, the beauty, the naked thrill of learning to be a Catholic all came back to me, in a series of flashbacks to my first days in this church when, even before I entered RCIA, I sat on this side of the nave—until my troubles with Fr. Charles's accent sent me over under the pulpit, where I could more easily read his lips.

I used to come very early, when the church is dark and only Flo and Frank and two or three others are here, each alone in his or her quiet conversation with God, telling the beads, silently moving the lips. I had come early again this morning, to be schooled by Ferde, and even after the lesson, there were still twenty minutes to go before seven o'clock mass by the time I had settled on the Epistle side. This morning, I felt traces of that predawn stillness I had once felt when I arrived, a newcomer, at six-fifteen or even six o'clock.

I pulled out my rosary beads and I remembered: Two years ago, my only experience of the rosary was a memory of joining in with chanting thousands at Lourdes nearly forty years ago. Two years ago, I still thought that the second half of the Hail Mary began "Hail, Mary," instead of "Holy Mary." I knew nothing about the Mysteries we are invited to meditate on as we pray. I had yet to memorize the "Hail, Holy Queen" or the "Oh, my Jesus." But for some reason, on my second or third morning in this church, Father Barnes (left) spoke of the rosary from the pulpit, urged us to say the rosary daily, and said, "If you don't know how, Google it."

I Googled it. Then I went to and bought a rosary with wooden beads, something like this one. And I bought a couple of booklets on the rosary, this one, I think, and this one. And I waited excitedly for the UPS driver, the way I once awaited a shipment of Sea Monkeys.

These details don't really matter. What mattered today—again—was the sudden inrush of innocence I experienced, the joy again of becoming Catholic. When and where did I start to lose that? Definitely by the time I considered myself too busy with an important book project to arrive at mass much more than five minutes before the hour. But probably long before that. By pieces, by tiny pieces.

I have to start coming early to mass again, though I'm sure even this will become old. I'm going to have to start tricking myself somehow. Or making extra efforts. Or somersaulting up the aisle to my pew, while chanting a Hail Mary. I'm not sure what will keep the child inside me alive so that I can continue to live my faith with the joy and purity I once experienced every morning. But I'm going to do my best to figure it out.