I have a conflicted relationship with my Catholic upbringing that you can read more about here, here and here. I am equal parts a puzzle: proud and knowledgeable of my faith and its teachings but deeply troubled and tormented by its bigger questions and at times lax morality. We’ve talked about religion a lot, and I promise that this is all with good intention and we’ll touch on that again at the end, so stick around.
I recently found myself returning to the Church after a small break from the tradition of Sunday mass and holiday solemnity. And it’s important to remember that Sunday mass was just part of my life for a very long time, but for varying reasons. When I was little, mass was something we as a family did. My grandfather was very pious and so mass on Sunday and mass on the TV and rosaries on special occasions; but at that time I think I enjoyed mass for the donuts and nachos afterwards in the church cafeteria and less for ecumenical reasons. In addition to mass, Sunday meant eating with my family afterwards: mass also meant pie at Tippins and pancakes: all of the pancakes.
I didn’t start associating mass with my own belief until probably junior high and didn’t start enjoying mass until high school: I even briefly taught Sunday school (even though I did use the Egyptian God Cards from YuGiOh to explain the Holy Trinity). I understood the tenets of my faith and understood what it meant. It didn’t bother me that my friends made fun of me occasionally and didn’t understand my somewhat devotion ( I had accepted from an early age that being Catholic meant people assuming that mass was a weird combination of vaguely pagan imagery and the fire, misery and velvet of the Disney version of Hunchback of Notre Dame.). What did matter was AFTER all of that.
In college, the rigors of facing a side to the Catholic church that was not one I had faced before took a toll. I had immense difficulty coping with judgmental priests who still had antiquated notions of rights, piety and what it means to be a person, a woman and a Catholic. Their view of the Church brought up a part of me that I had not yet experienced with being religious: cynicism. And that cynicism had to face the inequalities of a church that fundamentally saw me as as second-class citizen and one that languished in the moral superiority of calling everyone else a sinner frustrated me. I did not return to mass again until the time came to bury my mother. I was already a young woman far from home and far from the church that I was baptized in, held most of my sacraments in and was the church of my family. My newfound cynicism made it very easy to simply forgo looking for a new spiritual home despite going to a university that had three; yes, 3, chapels on campus.
But this isn’t about my issues with the Church: we’ve discussed that. This is the story of the return.
As mentioned before, due to a series of events, I found myself returning to mass. A dear friend of mine is in the process of converting so it felt almost hypocritical to be his spiritual docent through this process and myself having not been to mass in well…longer than a Southern lady would care to admit. The first time I went, I felt nearly overwhelmed. I was emotional and I couldn’t figure out if it was the famous power of Catholic guilt or if I just had particularly bad allergies that day. The church I found here in my new home has been particularly welcoming. They encourage parishioners to greet each other before mass. The priest takes out extra time to shake hands with his flock (though this did remind me again of the very Druid-like nature of Catholic priests). I felt mostly fine but there was one gesture that sent me over the top. A Eucharistic minister greeting me took firm hold of my hand was I walked by and said very simply, in a moment that if this was an anime would feature doves and bright rays of heavenly light:
Welcome, sister. We’re happy to have you.
I’m an only child and while I’ve heard this term used over and over again in the remnants of vague casual racism and used in reading The Bible before but to be called “sister” was for me in this moment immensely powerful. The reason, I came to find, that I had struggled with mass was because I was far away from my family. Mass was always something we did together from the times spent with my grandfather to burying those we lost. Mass was always something to be shared with others: either with my family or friends. The words to prayers that flowed out of my like water from years of muscle memory were not echoed for once by my aunts, grandma, grandpa or mother: it was just my voice and my voice alone. The songs I sang in harmony because I came from a family that sang were only in harmony to the church’s choir. So to go to mass alone, even as a young woman, was more than strange and painfully isolating for a good Southern Catholic girl like me. In being called sister, I was part of something greater. I was part of a family. I was a part of this family.
Now, this post won’t go into faith or anything: I do still somewhat struggle with the grander ideas of what it means to be Catholic. And those concerns you may have: let’s address those because I’m sure I can hear those close to me asking:
Oh well, now she’s all religious. Does that mean she’ll change?
To which I have this to say: no, of course not. Don’t be silly. I’m not going to stop being me; if you’ve read my other post on religion, you’ll know this about me and faith: my faith is a part of me but is not me. Being Catholic never to me meant that I have to give up cake, anime, cosplay and science. Being a Catholic doesn’t mean I’ll stop going to conventions, stop reading or stop loving Tarantino movies. It also doesn’t mean that my social and political views will change. It just means that I happen to go to mass and if any of you are aware of my love of brunch and sleeping in, mass is an option: not a mandate.
Thank you all for reading; this is my last post of 2016! Coming up next is my Year in Review (which I don’t normally count as a usual post). This year has been interesting and there’s plenty more to come in 2017! I hope to see you all and to welcome many more new faces there.