“I don't care what church we go to, just pick one.” he said.
It didn't seem quite that easy.
I was in the middle of reading Mere Christianity, thrusted upon me by Ina Lou who said I needed it more than she did. I appreciate C.S. Lewis' style and conversational tone and the part about, some waiting in the hall longer than others, but eventually you have to pick a room and go in, well that set me to knocking doors. Or more precisely, trying hard to narrow it down to one door without opening a whole bunch first.
Weighing it all in my mind, I knew with nearly absolute certainty that I wasn't interested in The New Life church. I had mostly already vetoed the majority of Protestant churches. At this point I was leaning towards the Lutheran or Episcopal Churches but upon some digging I discovered that there was no attendees under the age of 70 in their local congregations. So much for trying to do Catholic the easy way.
That's what it came down to. That's where my mind kept coming back. The Catholic Church. I wasn't so sure they would have me, and after perusing various online resources I thought maybe there was a small chance but it still seemed like it might be too hard. Too much work. I knew they would let me in the doors but would they accept me? Could I get to a place where I could be considered Catholic and receive holy communion?
It was much like something or someone had made my mind up for me on a Tuesday afternoon when I found myself with a few hours to kill and parked in front of the church. I cautiously went in, feeling like I was going to get into trouble. I stood in the vestibule for nearly 5 minutes. Reading the bulletins, thumbing through the pamphlets, admiring the rosaries, and staring through the windows into the chapel. I worked up the nerve to go in and quickly took a seat in the last pew on the right side. I sat in silence. Five maybe ten minutes. I sat and took it all in. I didn't close my eyes. I didn't pray. I just sat. After a while I got up and wandered towards the front, examining the candles and studying the statues. Then I walked out.
Across the street was the parish hall (somewhere I had been before during a Boy Scout meeting). This is also where the church office is located and I hoped I might find the pastor there and be able to ask him some questions. Instead I was met with Kaylon. When I say met with, it was literally that she blocked her office door and looked me up and down. I faltered for a moment at being confronted with this person. I introduced myself, asked if the Father was there. He wasn't. I then asked for a church member's phone number (one that I knew and hoped could help me) and was denied that as well. Finally I explained to her what I was doing there, or rather that I wasn't sure what I was doing there. She softened and led me in her office where she spent the next hour answering my questions and completely relieving me of any and all anxiety that I was feeling. She instructed me to come to Mass and RCIA the next evening. On my way out, I met Father John and while I couldn't understand more than two words he said, he emanated happiness and that was a feeling I wanted for myself. Not that I didn't want him to have it, I just wanted a tiny bit of that feeling too.
Wednesday turned into a strange day for me. I went to school to have lunch with Stella and ended up talking to a teacher for nearly an hour. She was pouring her heart out about her marriage troubles. I've never considered myself an easy person to talk to and here was this person I would consider a friend (but whom I only talk to a few times a year) trusting me enough to listen to her heartache. I felt honored to be able to be there for her just for a bit. From there I had a second lunch date with Liz, a former employee at our business, who has been on mission in Africa for over a year. She was happy, healthy and full of life. She told me I had been a big encouragement to her whether I knew it or not and had inspired her to dream bigger and go for it. Again, more balm for my soul. Feeling thankful to be of use or maybe that my advice could be of use to someone.
Later that day, the kids had haircuts scheduled with Jeri Dee after school. I had just found out from Kaylon that J.D. had converted to Catholicism four years prior. Kaylon was her sponsor. So during the kids appointment, I casually mentioned that we were going to Mass that evening. The rest of the time was spent in deep discussion on the topic and by the time we left she had agreed to cancel her last appointment and accompany us to Mass and RCIA. Another person making me feel at ease and gently guiding me along the road to the church.
That evening, Eli and I attended Mass. It was the first one I have ever been too. It was the first time I have ever been in a church service and felt anything other than skepticism and a bit of disdain. I was completely comfortable, open and happy to be there. I never felt nervous or like I was being judged. It was beautiful, calming, comforting. I felt like I belonged in the exact spot I was standing.
Once Mass was over, Eli went to Youth with friends and Jeri Dee and I went to RCIA. I knew the presenter and loved her style from having taken her World Lit class previously. The hour and a half went by quickly. They gathered some materials to try and catch me up since I was starting half way through the program. Coincidentally (or maybe not) I already had the two books they were offering me. Sitting at home on my shelf were the needed books along with a few other on Catholicism that belonged to Grandma. The only things I took of hers when she died were a few pairs of shoes, her bird mug, her rosary style necklace and her Catholic books.
Again, sitting at RCIA, I felt at ease. Comfortable and accepted.
I spent the next day reading in the books, trying to catch up. Finding it all very interesting and wondering at the fact that I wasn't rolling my eyes, making judgmental observations, or letting my previous thoughts get in the way. It was starting to make sense. I had also started listening to the podcast, Catholic Stuff You Should Know, and it was equal parts entertaining and informing. When I came across the one explaining where Catholics stand on the Creationism/Evolution debate, I was absolutely floored. That got me. It was exactly what I had been saying for years.
To add to the strange happenings surrounding this entire shift in my life, I had an early Friday morning hair appointment myself with Jeri Dee. I went for a walk that morning, grabbed a coffee for both of us and drove over to her salon. I had a feeling she would be late so I took a minute to call Grandma's friend Katherine. A devout Catholic, and the person who spent the most time with Grandma before she passed, I had questions for her concerning Grandma's faith. Grandma was quick to tell you she wasn't a fan of the church yet she kept prayer cards in her wallet and her rosary on her bedside table. Katherine and I had a lovely long chat and she told me the last time she knew of Grandma going to Mass. She also told me her thoughts on Grandma's faith and it answered my questions.
On to my hair appointment with Jeri Dee. She told me that Christi had approached her after seeing us at Mass and asked a bit about my background with religion and if I had a sponsor yet, and then... offered to sponsor me. Jeri Dee filled her in on what she knew and told her she would let me know that Christi was interested. Again....floored. Christi is an extremely reserved person. Quiet and keeping to herself. She was not someone I would have expected to step forward from the community and offer to sponsor me. But from the instant the words left Jeri Dee's lips I knew Christi would be my sponsor. There was no question about it.
Moving onward to Mass on Sunday morning. Eli and Stella attended with me, Cash was feeling sick and stayed home with Warren. We entered the sanctuary, dipped our fingers in the Holy Water, made the sign of the cross and approached our pew. We knelt, signed the cross again and took a seat. Again, Mass was beautiful. Again, I felt at ease. Again, I felt happy and calm and peaceful the entire time. Again, it felt like home.
After Mass there was snacks and visiting in the Parish hall before the kids went to PRE. I spent a few minutes greeting people I knew, meeting some I didn't and filling out a bit of paperwork. Then once the kids went to class or off with friends, Christi and I talked for over an hour. She filled me in on her history and I discovered just how much I liked her. She said that she felt compelled to sponsor me and that she had never sponsored anyone before so it felt strange to her to have that urge. And when she told me she bought me a book, well that's when I fell in love! All joking aside, everything falling into place as it did, and the people coming forward or being there to intercept me in the right place at the right time, just seems like too much. Like I am too fortunate. Like its all too easy. When I asked Warren if he was going to attend Mass with me he replied that he would see how far I got then he would go. Seems fair to me. I have a history of getting bored with things. But this feels so wildly different. If only I had known sooner. But maybe it wasn't the right time for me to know yet. In my 33rd year I came to the Catholic Church and found my home.