I couldn’t get the ringing bells out of my head for days. It wasn’t an irritating, repetitive sound. Rather, it was calming, encouraging, and life-giving; the bells were calling to me. That sound I heard in bed, on an autumn, Sunday morning, would soon be leading me out from under my covers, and into the pews of a church down the street.
“So, babe, I’m thinking about trying out St. John the Apostle Catholic Church. You know, the one down the street from us, yeah, so what do you think about that?” I mentioned tentatively to my husband on a Saturday night.
“Sure, whatever you want to do. If you think you’ll be okay going…” He trailed off. He knew what usually happened to me when I went to church. I got migraines, I panicked, I became visibly anxious, and I got angry. I had stopped going to church with him for these reasons.
“Yeah, I’m not sure what it will be like. I’ve never been to a mass. I can’t explain it, but I feel like I need to go; I must go.” Then, I dialed my mom’s number to ask her what she remembered mass being like. She had been raised Catholic.
My husband didn’t think I would actually get up and go to church the next morning. I wasn’t even sure if I would go. Maybe fear would grip me like it usually did whenever it was time to get ready for church. I might stay in bed yet again. Or there was also the chance that when my alarm went off I would actually get in the shower, get dressed, and get in my car.
On a November morning, I did get in the shower, I did get dressed, and I did get in my car to go visit St. John the Apostle Catholic Church.
Do I enter through this side door? Do I enter through the big main doors? Oh, perfect, I’ll just follow that person over there.
I entered through a side door, and as I did I felt my heart rise in my throat, and I was a little bit scared.
The fear left me as soon as I walked into the silence.
Did someone in the parish die? Am I late? Are they praying? Some people are kneeling and some are sitting, but no one is talking or texting or laughing or hugging. Why are they so quiet? This is strange…I’ve never been anywhere like this.
I slipped into the silence and settled into a pew on the left-hand side, second row from the back of the sanctuary. There was one other man sitting in the same pew.
The mass began, and of course I didn’t know what was going on. I observed and I followed that morning. I stood when people stood. I responded when the phrases were short, and listened when the responses were long. I kneeled when others kneeled and I listened, with an open heart, to the homily.
Wait. You mean, that’s it; a fifteen minute sermon? I didn’t hear the Holy Scriptures turned into pop theology…I only heard the Holy Scriptures. I didn’t hear condemnation…I only heard the Word of the Lord. I didn’t hear promises spoken by the priest that the Bible doesn’t contain. I didn’t hear how the particular scripture readings were relevant to us, as Americans; in our current society…I only heard God’s voice.
While I was still sitting, stunned by the simplicity of the homily, people beside me and in front of me began to rise. Then a hand reached across the aisle to take mine, and all the voices, including mine, joined together in saying,
Our Father, Who art in heaven,
Hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.
Then it came time to offer one another a sign of peace. Hands touched ever so briefly, eyes met mine and this simple phrase was uttered, “Peace be with you.” I was, in that very moment ushered into a rebirth; a spiritual awakening.
As soon as I was outside the doors of the parish, the first person I called was my mother. “Mom, I just went to mass.”
“What? You actually went?” She was shocked.
“Yes, I went, and I’m going to keep going. I’m going to become a Catholic,” the words poured out of my mouth, and as I spoke them I felt healing begin to weave within me.
“Slow down. You don’t even know what they believe. I was raised in the Catholic Church. You’re going to have some problems with some of their theology,” She cautioned, but with curiosity for my fervor.
“Mom, come with me next week. You need to be here too. You must experience this.”
Runaway Protestant series will continue next Wednesday with “Protestant Break-Up“.