I found God again, He was right there where I had left Him. It’s been a long road back to my Catholic roots but on Ash Wednesday in one of the grandest cathedrals in the world, I was finally able to look around and say it’s good to be home. At a time when news cynics are calling the retirement of Pope Benedict XVI a crossroads for the Roman Catholic Church, I’m more sure than ever that I’m on the right path.
The Catholic Church has the most extraordinary mission statement, it’s called The Nicene Creed. I think of The Bible as our handbook, the Ten Commandments gives us Management’s Employee Rules. There are three things I don’t quite agree with the official Vatican policy about, I don’t know why women can’t be priests, I believe priests shouldn’t have to be celibate, and I don’t understand how homosexuality could be wrong because all love comes from God. Women were permitted to be priests until 494 AD when Pope Gelasius decreed women don’t have security clearance to perform the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church hasn’t totally been able to nix female attempts at priesthood, in 1970 Ludmilla Javorova was ordained as a Catholic priest in Czechoslovakia by Bishop Felix Davidek due to the priest shortage there but in 2000 the ordination was declared invalid and overruled. There’s a general shortage in the priest pool in the world right now because of the lack of men willing to give up sex forever and you’ve kinda got to see their point. I just don’t think celibacy is natural, it’s certainly not a long distance sport. It’s also not doctrine, it’s church policy, some of the Apostles were married and had children and up until the 13th century, priests were permitted to marry and procreate, but celibacy became a more convenient practice to the Church, priests didn’t have the distraction of a family and upon their death, their money went back to the Catholic Church. Doctors can be on call, so why can’t priests? If it’s a money thing, throw more bake sales, I will happily add cookie baking to my overall religious observance. With homosexuality, I get that the Bible says men and women are supposed to get married and repopulate, but people are born straight or gay, I certainly don’t look at any of my gay friends and think sinner, I think, OMG, those shoes are fabulous. My gay friends are way better people than I am, my friend Adam has the most enormous heart of anyone I’ve ever met, he’s generous, genuine and giving, he always makes sure to make you feel special and loved. An amazing gay couple I know tied the knot over the weekend and to have ever spent even a few seconds in their company is to know what Love looks like, the way they look at each other is how I want to be looked at, you get a Love contact high when you’re around them, I can’t imagine that’s not part of the Love God give us. If there’s anything I would like to see addressed in The Catholic Church, it would be those three. But I can’t say I accept that the Virgin Mary was an Immaculate Conception and pick and chose the rest, faith is not a sandwich, you can’t make substitutions, we should ask as many questions as we need to about the lettuce and mustard, appeal to God for other ingredients, but ultimately, when you’re hungry enough for the whole sandwich, even if you don’t like the jalapeño peppers, that’s when you’ve found your faith. 70% of Catholics feel priests should be allowed to wed and reproduce but that means 30% of all Catholics still maintain a desire for celibacy to remain in tact. I’m one of few who still wish mass was still celebrated in Latin because for me Latin is kind of like the linguistic equivalent of the Euro. But to quote the Rolling Stones, “you can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometime, you might just find you get what you need.”
While I still don’t know all of the answers, denying that my soul is Catholic would be like denying that my eyes are hazel which admittedly I tried to do for a while by wearing blue contacts. One day I looked in the mirror and thought, “what am I doing? What I was given is much more beautiful than Acuvue can create”. Being Catholic means you have to be able accept that faith means not having an explanation for everything.
We’re currently a little more than a third of the way into The Year of Faith. I can’t say anything more brilliant on Faith than Father Peter John Cameron, O.P. who was the keynote speaker at The Crystal Cathedral on The Magnificat Day of Faith. I found this immensely inspirational: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3iTpM9F7bY.
I had the privilege of working for the man in those Dominican robes many years ago. He once told me (and by once, I mean repeatedly over the course of a few years) that I need to sort out want and need and offer my need up to God, don’t assume God will automatically fix my problems, I have to ask. Father Peter knew me better than I knew myself, he even predicted when I would figure out how to keep my heart open. It only took losing almost everything I held dear to figure out what he meant. I was laying in darkness with the shards of my former life around me, wondering why God had forgotten about me when I heard Father Peter in my mind say, “offer up your need to God”. So I thought about what I really needed and I asked for three things. I told God, “I need to know that good still exists in the world, I need help back up because I’ve been knocked down so hard this time, I don’t think I can get up on my own, and I need a direction because I have no idea what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.” Immediately I knew the difference, that was the first time I ever prayed with my heart instead of my head. Two days later, all three of my prayers were answered. While I got the emotional boost I needed, God had a point to make, so when I was hailing a cab after a meeting one evening, my knees inexplicably gave out and my back locked. Despite a dear friend offering his arm to help me, I shook my head and told him I was fine. I stubbornly tried to get up on my own but couldn’t, I kept trying but I had to finally had to admit defeat and tell him, “I need your help, I can’t get back up on my own”. Hearing myself say those words made me realize, God hadn’t forgotten about me, I had forgotten how to let Him into my life. That’s impressively insolent, somewhere along the way I thought I knew how to take care of myself better than anyone, even God, and despite that, He waited for me to be ready to accept His help.
I had about a week and a half back amongst the living before getting struck with an illness that once again had me unable to get out of bed, it didn’t feel like depression, though, I knew it was physical. I had to spend an entire week in bed to just gather enough strength to walk out my apartment door, lift my arm to hail a cab and go to the doctor’s. Finally the bread crumb trail of test results revealed that I was very lucky to have been able to physically make it to the doctor’s at all. The specialist I had pulled strings to get an appointment with because she is the best in her field looked at my test results which were far beyond anything she had ever seen, she stared at the paper, shaking her head and finally said, “I should admit you to the hospital immediately but I’m afraid of eliminating whatever potential environmental or dietary factor that has kept your system from completely shutting down. I’m also afraid of the effect hospital germs would have on you.” She ran some more tests, indicating concern for my liver which should have been the first to go in a chain reaction of organ failure but the lab results revealed my liver is in pristine shape which was even more shocking considering I have first-hand knowledge of what I’ve done to it over the years.
So why did I get sick after going through all that I did? I’m not sure. Maybe I needed to experience a first-hand miracle to go with my answered prayers because I’m just that clueless sometimes. It’s been a very challenging road back to functioning but on Ash Wednesday, despite being extremely weak, I went to church because getting ashes is the only pristine record I still hold as a Catholic. On the way to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I started talking to God a couple of blocks from the cathedral, in hindsight I realize I probably looked like a crazy person, I guess I’ve spent so much time in my apartment alone, I forgot that other people could see me. I asked God the question that has plagued me for twenty years, the one that has made me feel unworthy, the one that made a confession priest drop his Bible twice at a church closer to my apartment. I asked God, “Please send me a sign.” Instantly, I got hit in the head with the warm disgusting splatter of pigeon poop and I thought, “oh, crap, God’s pissed”, thinking that was the answer to my question. A very nice woman at a bank let me clean up in the bathroom in the back and I high-tailed it to St. Pat’s as fast as I could in my weakened state. It turns out that the pigeon poop wasn’t a warning shot, it was the means to get me to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for more than just ashes, I went to confession, sat in the pews and prayed. The heart that I had finally learned to keep open suddenly healed, it was as if the Holy Spirit’s brilliant white light entered my body through my heart, radiated outwards within me, bathing my soul in His Love, smoothing out the jagged broken pieces within me and making me whole. I got the answer to the question I had posed to God right before I got pigeon pooped, He wasn’t angry at me, He was leading me home to the church. I must have been at St. Patrick’s for hours, I didn’t want to leave because I finally felt at peace.
I am four for four in terms of prayers being answered. I marvel at that, it’s so humbling to think God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth with all of existence to take care of, personally answered all four of my prayers. Me. A girl who bakes but doesn’t know how to cook, who swears too much, sleeps too little, considers Fleet Week Holy Days, says what she thinks before thinking about what she says, is terribly flawed with impure thoughts that would make a porn star blush, and a stubbornness that would make mules protest, “don’t lump me in with her”.
In addition to God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit and Mary, Catholics have saints who help us out, too. Lise asked me to say a prayer to Portuguese St. Anthony the next time I’m at St. Patrick’s, I’m so touched she would ask me to say a prayer on her behalf to the saint who has helped her all along the way during her adult life. I was taught by my Mother to pray to the Blessed Mary and ask for her help. I’ve always been obsessed with angels, the beings who serve as guardians of humanity and have felt a special draw to the Archangel Michael, the “General of the Angels” who defeated Lucifer, helps the sick and rescues the souls of believers. Michael is both a fearless warrior and a gentle loving protector, in a spiritual bar fight, I would want Michael to be the one who has my back.
I love being Catholic and I think I appreciate Catholicism even more because of how far I had wandered off. When Father Peter at the Magnificat Day of Faith spoke of the people stuck at 3:59pm, one minute away from salvation, I broke down and cried because I knew how overwhelmingly infinite the chasm of that one minute felt and how impossible it seemed to cross. I had been living within that one minute until Ash Wednesday when I asked God for a sign, got smacked in the head, and was led by God back home to the Catholic Church so I could have that amazing transformative experience. When I finally sat back in the pew, I took a deep breath, looked at my watch, I’m not sure why, I had nowhere else to be, and saw that it was 4:03pm. And then I realized why I had looked. I lifted my gaze to the vaulted ceiling, tears of relief streaming down my face and said, “It’s 4:03pm. I made it. Thank You.”.