For the Love of a God I hated, I remain Catholic

.

These days being asked why remain Catholic is more a challenge than a question. Friends and peers have responded with personal stories of commitment rooted in the theology and beauty of our Church. Their speed of thought and brilliance in writing is astounding!

I’m a bit slower, and struggled in prayer to find words to fit the depth of my love for all our Church offers. My story for why I remain Catholic began with rage.

At ten I stormed through a darkened church, past the communion rail and, standing in the sanctuary, yelled at the crucifix “I hate you!” Four years later lost and hopeless, I became an emancipated child in the 1960s.

My only remaining connection with the Church (and my family) was my maternal grandmother. Because of my love for her, I did whatever she asked. As a teenager, that included accompanying her to Mass. I would often stop at the narthex’s massive doors and glare at the crucifix as Grandmother dipped worn calloused fingers into the holy water font.

“I’m not here for you,” was the snark I offered the Trinity. “I’m here for her.”

Standing up straight, I would proudly walk the length of the nave beside my grandmother to a pew near the front—she was under five feet tall—and sing with her from a shared cardboard hymnal. I still have that sheet, yellowed and permanently imbued with incense.

My wedding was to be a Catholic affair; the matriarchs would have nothing less. I wanted a garden wedding with a crown of flowers and veil of ribbons, a small reception with tea and cake. At age eighteen, with fourteen attendants, a priest-cousin flown in from Texas, hundreds of strangers filling the church, and several thousand dollars later, the wedding was had. It was a beautiful ceremony but not what I wanted—in a Catholic church.

The marriage ended three years later when my husband ran off with my brother’s wife.

Overly social and profoundly isolated, I found nothing to fill the massive gaping wounds to my heart. There was no family, no spouse, no children. I continued my solitary rage at God—a gnat flinging spit—and planned for a doctorate, financial independence, to be a feminist in full control. Then one day it all stopped. My rage, and my desires and drive to continue stopped, never, I intended, to begin again. I fully disconnected from the life I had constructed.

Somewhere from the recesses of a mind gone insane were the words of a catechism Nun—and I believed what she taught—that my eternity would be much worse than what was now my miserable life. And I hated God for leaving me without an option, hated His plan of free will, knew that, as a good parent will want to do, He’d tough-loved me until I turned around.

I did the only thing I knew to do and went to a Catholic church. I couldn’t bring myself to touch the holy water and don’t recall genuflecting or from where the rosary in my hand had come. I was on my knees in a pew, silent, angry, hurt, adrift and hopeless. Tears ran down the back of the pew in front of me. For an hour or more, without words, I emptied myself.

In that time, alone in the dark with only the glow from the dimly lit crucifix, I asked and owned the phrase from John’s Gospel. “Lord, to whom shall [I] go?”  And in asking realized how personal hate can be; I could not hate something that didn’t exist.

The conflict since childhood had always been between the brutality of men and the joy of nature, both God’s creation. Nature was the only place where I consistently found peace, where my longing to be loved—by whom I hated—escaped my control. When I experienced the beauty of mountains, wilderness, gardens, and oceans my soul would soar.  Now, thirty-some years later, my soul soars in that same way—in a way that I now find in Adoration, at Mass, and occasionally in the oratory when conversing with Jesus.

The intimacy with which I had hated God, has in time as intensely become love. And it has taken time—as water unto rock to wear away the edges.

My coming home to the Catholic Church has been incremental. With guidance, I began to grasp the beauty of our signs and symbols, the freeing nature of our catechism, the liberation of surrendering to God. And all in all, I found in our Church the lessons of fortitude in forgiveness and with that an intimacy with God beyond human expression.

Why do I remain a Catholic? When you find true love, when you find a truth and a joy ever present and easily held, there is a greater insanity in turning away.

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay .

(2015)

Burning with Faith, Thursday’s Prayer for Priests

.

O Jesus, our great High Priest, hear my humble prayers on behalf of your priests. Give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope, and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of their priestly lives.

In their loneliness, comfort them. In their sorrows, strengthen them. In their frustrations, point out to them that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show them that they are needed by the Church, they are needed by souls, they are needed for the work of redemption.

O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your sons who are close to you because of their priestly ordination, and because of the power which they have received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs them so much. Be their comfort, be their joy, be their strength, and especially help them to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.

Amen.

Image by Tama66 at pixabay.com.

Tendrils of Faith

.

“As we extend the tendrils of our faith above and through the walls of our resistance, our lives become green, verdant, affirming… As we cling to our conscious optimism, finding footholds of faith despite opposition, our lives become rooted in the soil of grace. We are nurtured, prospered, and blessed.”

~Julia Cameron, Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartfelt Life (New York:  Tarcher Perigee, 1998) p. xii.

Image by StockSnap 27562 at pixabay.com.

Taproots and Stability

The stability of any plant is contingent on healthy and strong roots. Some plants have a lateral root system made up of wide spreading roots, nearer the surface; others have a deep central taproot that has a network of roots all along its shaft.

A tree that has a taproot is one of few plants that are found thriving in hardened soils such as clay—which, by the way, is rich in nutrients bound too tightly for most plants to utilize. As the tree begins to develop, its tiny root hairs push down and through the compacted soil, penetrating the clay, absorbing the nutrients, and as it grows becomes solidly anchored.

I was reminded of root systems when reading Suffering and the Courage of God by Robert Norris (Weavings XVII, 5, p.12).

 “[Jesus] was not standing passively accepting abuse, but nobly, without fear, facing his enemy with courage and compassion, because he was rooted in a goodness deeper than suffering. Even in the midst of suffering, the taproot of his spirit was deeply anchored in the goodness of God.”

It is not hard to imagine, or maybe you remember, a storm of such power that trees were uprooted. Did you notice the exposed roots? Often those trees had wide surface roots that held them secure through most storms. But when hit with the full force of a wind shear, especially when the soil is weakened by repeated rains, their roots were not deep enough to hold fast.

Persistent pain, whether physical or psychological, is like repeated storms that weaken our footing, and can uproot us if our roots in faith are not deep and sound enough. Pain is a normal part of the experience of life and contributes to our development. Words from an unknown poet speak of purposefulness in that suffering, “There is a ministry of pain…in the making of the soul.”

Only if we stay grounded with Christ.

Horticultural science revealed that if a tree’s root system is bruised or damaged, buffeted by winds, and still in the soil, it will grow more roots to create a greater stability against future storms—the organism becomes stronger specifically where the stressor was greatest.

Again from Robert Norris,

 “In the midst of agony, the sufferer stays connected to a larger goodness instead of being pulled out into the terrible vortex of fear, anger, helplessness, and grief that swirls in his soul.” (p.13)

There is a liberation of the soul in suffering, in the living into the pain knowing that there is healing—if not a cure—as it unites itself to God. The soul recognizes a life, an eternity, worth suffering for.

A prayer from a beloved priest kind of sums it up: Increase in me Oh Lord, my dependence on you.

Taproot (n.): something that provides an important central source for growth or development.

Image: Pixabay.com, CCO Creative Commons