So one year after Rome, and two short years after we started attending our new church, Lukus had finished up his master’s degree, had completed a political campaign, and we had a lot more free time on our hands – so we decided we finally had enough time to look into the process of becoming Catholic. Three years is a long time to toy with an idea, but it’s still a pretty big deal to take the plunge. We talked with our pastors and let them know that we were ready to move along into Catholicism, and while they expressed some mild concern, I guess they figured that we were still going to love Jesus either way, and they graciously let us go.
But I didn’t want to go. Not really.
I’ve missed my old church. I miss the worship music, I miss the teaching, I miss the prayer times and the classes on prophecy, and I miss the people. If we had decided to become Catholic before we’d found that church, it probably wouldn’t have been so hard, but now, it’s become the most painful part of the process.
For three years, I had thought I wanted to be Catholic. There were a few doctrinal hurdles to get through, but over all, it wasn’t that hard – once you’ve delved enough into the realm of faith to believe in God at all, Catholic reasoning is very thorough. So once the doctrinal issues were taken care of, I was already in love with this idea of a global family, a truly historical church. The relational part was what attracted me most, the fact being that my own family life has never been that great, and since my mom died two and a half years ago, my family has all but disintegrated. So those two areas were covered – doctrine, and, what shall I call it? The global, historical family of saints.
All that was left was the actual practice of being a Catholic – and oh lord, I understand why so many Protestants looking in would think of it as “dead religion” (especially those Protestants of less “formal” denominations or non-denominations). EVERYTHING has a special name; from the podium or pulpit being called the “ambo”, and certain articles of clothing having special names, specific colors being worn at certain times of year, feast days, special prayers…it’s like wedding crashing a ceremony in Kazakhstan where you don’t speak the language and everyone’s eating food that looks like it contains eyeballs, and you wonder how in the world you ended up in such a strange place, and oh crap, you just ate pot roast on a Friday during Lent! Catholicism is complicated (which is partly why a nine-month class called the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, or RCIA, is required for anyone wishing to become Catholic). Catholicism is weird and hard to get used to – at least for me it is.
In your typical Protestant church, you find your seat, stand when the music starts and you sing along with all those familiar favorites, then you put something in the offering plate, then sit quietly and listen while the pastor speaks, after which you hang-out with your friends in the sanctuary while deciding where you will all go for lunch. Simple. Plenty of room for your personality to express your heart’s worship to God because there’s not a whole lot of serious structure. And if you want to become a church member, it typically just requires a few hours one Saturday morning and you fill out a form stating that you generally agree with the basic beliefs of that church. Very simple.
Not so in the Catholic church. You need a program guide for how to respond to the greetings and salutations. There are certain songs you sing along with, and certain songs you only sing one line of while a cantor sings the rest. You have to know what year of the cycle you’re on (A, B, or C) so you can follow along with the correct readings provided in the missal (also, you have to know what a missal is). You have to know when to say, “Thanks be to God,” on the Bible readings, and when to say, “Glory to You, Lord Jesus Christ,” when to simply cross yourself, and when to cross your head, mouth, and heart, when to sit, stand, kneel, genuflect, bow, and the list goes on. That’s just not me. I’m sort of a gypsy-type who believes you shouldn’t need a guide for your every move just to worship God. And while I can appreciate the concept that the external senses are stimulated toward God (via incense, sacred music, specific postures and movements, etc.), I’m a deeply imaginative person, and the external modes seem to distract me from sensing that internal feeling of God with and in me. So yeah, I’ve struggled.
But it’s not even so much of all the stuff that’s done, so much as the stuff that I feel like is missing. For instance, in the Catholic Church, sermons seem to be far less of a focal point. The homilies (what I used to call “sermons”) are short and sweet, and seldom as deep as what I experienced in the Protestant church. Man, how I miss the dissecting of the Word into rich and meaningful insights that cause you to see the Bible, and God and life in a whole new way! I’ve had a difficult time figuring out what the role of a priest is if he’s not going to dig deeply into God’s Word and doctrine on a weekly basis. Whenever I ask Lukus about this, he looks at me like I’ve just defiled a statue of Mary, because wondering what a priest is for if he’s not going to preach is obviously very misguided and almost profane. Lukus has tried to explain the roles of a priest, but I guess the preaching aspect stands as a weightier role for me.
There’s no invitation for prayer at the end of Mass for anyone who has needs (something that’s really important to me). And I miss modern worship music that has some passion and familiarity so that I can just sing along rather than having to read every word and every note (which go ALL over the place in extremely complex melodies), and I’m so focused on keeping up that I can’t raise my hands or take in the moment (not that I ever feel much like doing that at Mass anyway). Yeah, I know, I’m starting to sound like a jerk. A spoiled jerk. But in all sincerity, I just haven’t been feeling it. In fact, I’ve been miserable. I like Catholic doctrine, I like the Catholic claims to historicity, but I don’t like Mass, and I don’t like the way Catholics practice the faith.
And I’ve made that abundantly clear – to my RCIA sponsor, to the RCIA leader, to Lukus, to our dear friends who are joining the Church with us, to my former pastor (who I thought would try harder to talk me back into being Protestant, but is actually too gracious for that)…they ALL know how much poor Ellany doesn’t like becoming a Catholic. I, quite frankly, don’t know how they put up with me. But then they go and tell me things like, “Don’t think about it so much,” which only irritates me more, because I’m a thinker, and I like to think about things, and thinking too much isn’t even really my problem. My problem has really been about finding out where I fit in in the Catholic Church, and how to get what I miss in Protestantism as a Catholic? Am I really not supposed to think about that? When you’re used to attending intercessory prayer meetings, and leading Bible studies, and being available to pray for others after church, are you really just supposed to forget about all of that?
I get that Catholics are not opposed to any of those ideas, but it’s been incredibly difficult to find Catholics who speak that language and even know what I’m talking about. To have to explain the particulars of an intercessory prayer group to a priest is a bit disheartening. To explain that one of the reasons you miss your old worship services is because they were so powerful that you had visions on a semi-regular basis is not generally something you lead with unless you’re prepared to be written off as a whack-job.
So yeah, I miss my old church – a lot. I know that God is moving there, people’s lives are being changed, and I enjoyed witnessing that. Catholicism has been complete culture shock. But I can’t escape what God is leading me into either. I can’t deny the miraculous acts He’s done to get me to this place. The fact that Lukus and I are both in this together is nothing short of miraculous…the fact that our dearest friends in the world are joining the Church with us…the answered prayers to finding those seminarians again…it’s hard to deny…
…But apparently, I’m going to try my best to deny it anyway…