Tuesday, September 18, 2007


The continued emptiness of my prayer-life increased even as we attended Sunday Mass and assisted in a Faith Formation (Sunday school). Although I experienced the predictable awkwardness associated with any new comer to a community, this could not account for the emptiness in my relationship with God. Not even walking forward to receive a blessing lifted the barrenness of my heart.

I wondered how could Jesus, whom I loved and to whom I had committed my life, place me in such an unreasonable place. I longed to be at His table. How could He who said that those who believe in Him must eat His body and drink His blood, now engineer a situation where I could do neither?

I accepted that God had moved upon Rich in such a way as to change his understanding of Holy Scripture passages from a Protestant interpretation to a Catholic one. Rich’s love and desire for Communion (the Eucharist), and his deepening prayer life, were indications to me of a move of the Holy Spirit.

In contrast, my relationship to God seemed a rock-strewn path with signposts that advised me to “Pay attention, examine yourself, and follow Me.”

But, follow where?

I had wrestled with my past and present only to realize I was who I was. That was all I could be. Nevertheless, I was exhausted with the struggle that ended in discouragement. Even reading the Scriptures provided no comfort. All I could see in those words was a persistent directive to love.

But God, being rich in mercy, knew what He was doing. Until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes, my situation resulted in an ever-deepening longing for Jesus, even as the strain of abandonment grew in intensity with each Sunday Mass.

Then, one Sunday Morning in July 2005, I sat in the pew next to Rich half-listening to the lector read the Scripture. The second reading in our Missal was from Paul’s letter to the Romans. “Brothers and sisters: What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

I had memorized those passages as a young Christian, but had never experienced the extreme need that would propel my soul to cling to those words and their offered gift of God’s love. I rolled the text over again in my mind: “For I am convinced . . . that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I interpreted that to mean nothing can separate me from Jesus. Jesus was here at this service for me. He had not kept himself from me. However, my blindness to His love had kept me from Him.

I wondered, was He telling me He would never refuse His body and His blood to me? Would I come to Him, who promised to cast no one away, who approached Him in complete surrender? I didn’t hear much of the homily (sermon) that morning because my thoughts had fixated on the idea that nothing, nothing could separate me from my Savior.

And at that moment I remembered an incident that had occurred years earlier. In 1968, prior to my commitment to Christ, I sat with my parents in an unremarkable Sunday Service at the Congregational church we attended. As a young adult who believed myself to be a Christian because I had been raised to be one, I was welcome to take Communion.

It was Communion Sunday. The small glasses of grape juice and plate of broken unleavened bread had been passed through the congregation. The pastor had already intoned, “This is my body given for you . . .”

I chewed the bread and reached for the cup sitting in its holder on the back of the pew in front of me, but before my hand touched the glass, the thought dropped into my mind, “That’s the blood of Christ.”

Mystified, I picked up the tiny cup and looked into the sparkling liquid, which seemed to thicken and deepen in color. The pastor spoke the words, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood . . .”

I didn’t know what to do. Should I put the cup down? What would I tell my parents – that there was blood in my cup? They would think I was insane. So, I drank it. It was an awful, gagging, difficult thing to do. A black revulsion gripped my heart. I wanted to flee. My spiritual eyes had opened for the first time in my life and I saw I was filthy with sin.

After that Sunday, I avoided Communion for six years. Not until I repented of my sins, asked Jesus to forgive me, and by His mercy obtained forgiveness, did I receive Communion or desire it. When Jesus gave me new life, I became a beloved child of my Father in Heaven. I was buried with Him in my Baptism and raised to newness of life in Him. And with that new life came a deeper understanding of the special sacredness of Communion. I had not forgotten His blood in the cup, nor the need to be clean before Him.

So now, as I stood during the Mass, I wondered if Jesus indeed wanted to give me Communion. Was He asking me to trust Him for something that only He would provide for me? Could I accept as true that all I had to do was believe that He wanted to do so?

Fear enveloped me that somehow I had misunderstood. Yet, spurred on by hope in His love, I would take a leap of faith.

During the Offering, I examined my conscience in preparation for communion.

I knelt as the priest held up the Host and said the same words that my Protestant pastors intoned for years during Communion. As our priest spoke those words and consecrated the host, I accepted the idea that Jesus was giving me His body. I swallowed and recited, “Amen.” Then the priest took the cup, elevated it above his head, and repeated the words of the Lord. And once again, I chose to believe Jesus' offering to me. I swallowed and said, “Amen,” once more.

I felt nothing -- much as I had felt nothing the evening I gave my life to Christ.

However, for the first time since we had attended a Catholic church I did not feel conflicted when Rich went forward for the Eucharist and I for a blessing. On the way home, I sat quietly next to Rich, ruminating on a small kernel of peace, pondering what I had done. For the first time in two very long years, I thought I might feel at home once more in church.

It would not be for another several months that I would learn about Spiritual Communion. By that time, the Lord had radically changed my life.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

How We Got Here

My parents came from different denominations and avoided problems inherent with inter-church families by attending Protestant churches without preference to denomination. Their only requirement was that the church they attended would be either Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, or Disciples of Christ. My parents also opted to dedicate their children to the Lord, rather than baptize them. (When Protestants dedicate their children, the parents, acknowledge their children are a gift from God and promise Him to raise their children in such a way that the children will accept Christ as their savior and be baptized. The children do not usually become members of the church when dedicated). Thus, they kept us from becoming members of any denomination by baptism.

My parents taught me I could choose a Protestant denomination once I was an adult. By the time I committed my heart to Jesus at the age of 26, I was uninterested in denominations. My only desire was for Christ, alone. I was baptized in a Protestant denominational church, not as a declaration of my membership in that body of believers, but as a declaration of my love for Christ and my intent to follow Him.

I sought no other label but Christian.

Rich developed his attitude toward church membership within an overseas military chapel environment in a non-Christian country. This setting discouraged denominational divides. Protestants and Catholics shared friendship and fellowship in bible studies and every-day living. They lovingly cared for each other and overlooked their denominational differences. Rich’s idea of Christian servant-hood had remarkable similarities to my own. We were well-suited for each other.

But when Rich converted to Roman Catholicism, I thought he had forgotten he was a Christian. He talked no longer about Jesus, but of the Church, or the Church’s doctrines. This left me ill at ease and, as I have stated in previous posts, I felt abandoned.

However, while I thought Rich had replaced Jesus with a denomination, he believed he was simply trying to share with me his excitement about what he was learning. He wanted me to experience the same wonderful call of God on his life. He hoped I also would discover Jesus in a new perspective within the historical tradition of this ancient church body.

Years earlier, in 2000, Rich had hung a crucifix above his computer. The image of Christ on the cross reminded him of the cost God paid for our salvation. Rich also began to write for a Catholic newspaper on the East Coast, and as each edition arrived, his desire grew to communicate his love of Christ with Catholics. He talked with me about this and I encouraged him to keep writing, for I too, felt the tug to see Rich minister to that part of Christ’s body. Rich’s desire to be more fully involved with some type of gospel ministry with Catholics seemed to grow with each year. However, he could not see how to fit himself into a Catholic context; nevertheless, we were sure we would be shown the way.

In 2002, we moved to Connecticut and spent two months living in a motel room waiting for our newly purchased home to be readied. During this time, we did some local sight seeing. A regional travel book mentioned, “A Sunset Cruise,” sponsored by St. Edmund’s Retreat on Enders Island. I thought this would be fun, since the mini- retreat would be on a sailboat at sunset. It sounded like a great way for us to see some of the coast and spend time with Jesus.

Rich was not sure we would fit in; the retreat was sponsored by a Catholic group. I assured him that there were no qualifiers mentioned in the ad, and I called and made reservations for the next week. We sailed out of Mystic, Connecticut, past Enders Island, out to Fishers Island where we dropped anchor, ate our boxed dinner, listened to a portion of Scripture, and watched the sun set over a glassy sea. Rich initiated a conversation with the priest, who was the retreat director, and who, in the next two years of friendship, opened the door for Rich to explore the mystery and life of the Catholic Church.

When Rich and I discussed the deepening call he felt toward the Catholic Church I found myself in conflict. I thought I was willing to follow Rich into ministry anywhere. But as he moved closer to embracing the doctrines of Roman Catholicism, I discovered my own lack of enthusiasm. What surprised me most, though, was my almost total opposition to Rich’s now consuming desire to join the Catholic Church. My childhood experiences of exclusion by family and friends from participation in any Catholic service or practice had indeed formed a deep gulf of pain.

As we traveled from Connecticut to the state of Washington, we moved into the unknown with knowledge that our future was somehow bound-up in a division that was creeping into our one-flesh marriage.

But God’s grace came to me in a word of comfort one sun-filled morning as we drove through miles of sunflowers along the road headed west. Rich was asleep in the seat next to me and the horizon was an undulating sea of brown fields. Humming a hymn softly to myself, a thought dropped into my mind: in the future we would be attending a Roman Catholic Church.

I was shocked with that idea, but somehow strangely comforted, too. I thought God would do something in me to change my heart. Perhaps we would both be part of this call -- not just Rich. I pondered that possibility over the months ahead and waited to see how I might change.

What I discerned, however, despite my willingness to be changed, was a resounding discovery that I was most definitely a Protestant.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What Followed

After weeks of feeling miserable and uninvolved, I set about to know more about the Roman Catholic Mass, and dutifully studied the Missal – a book comprising the yearly congregational readings and responses. I found the Missal next to a hymnal in the bookrack.

It took me some time to discover how our Missal worked. I learned by trial and error that the basic outline, or order of the Mass, is in the front. Scripture readings and responses are in the middle section. To find the correct reading on any particular Sunday I looked for the date of that Sunday printed at the bottom of the page. Hymns were in the back of the Missal. Special days such as Easter filled entire sections, and like all books, there was a table of contents.

Across the page from the table of contents were the “Guidelines for the Reception of Communion,” which described who could take Holy Communion, and how those who could not take it might participate in the Celebration through prayer. The suggestion in the Guidelines encouraged everyone to pray to be united with Jesus and other Christians.

I was especially grateful that the general form of the Mass was almost exactly like the Anglican services we had experienced. The service seemed comfortable to me until it came time to sing the Communion hymn and Rich processed forward to take Communion. As had happened each time we attended Mass since his conversion, I was in tears by the time he returned to his seat.

I thought to myself in anger, surely, being a Protestant in a Catholic world was much too difficult for me. Although I was no longer attending a Protestant church, the desire to participate in Communion was a natural outflow of my Christian commitment, experience, and practice. I wondered if I had better rethink finding a Protestant church. The church where I attended a woman’s Bible study would be a good fit, but it was a 45-minute drive, and we had only one car. The more I mulled over the possibilities, the bleaker my predicament grew.

I knew Rich was praying for me. He hated to see me suffer, and was beside himself with misery. He told me many times he didn’t know how we could survive this continuous heartbreak, and if I would be more content, we would attend a Protestant church and he would sort out his Catholic obligations as he could.

Love is patient . . . patient to let the Lord work in me, in Rich, and in our situation.

One Sunday, during the processional hymn at the beginning of Mass, I was surprised to hear a voice very different from the usual near-whispered singing. A man behind us sang with passion, as if expressing his love directly to the Lord. I was impressed. The lackluster congregational singing often made me wonder if anyone in the Roman Catholic Church really cared that they were addressing the Trinity in song.

Later, during the portion of the Mass when the congregation “passes the peace” and shakes hands with those around them, I noticed the young man who had been singing so energetically radiated a joyful countenance. In weeks past, I’d only encountered pleasant, reserved, or non-expressive faces.

After Mass, Rich suggested we try the coffee and donuts in the social center. Because Rich received his RCIA instruction from a military chaplain, this church was a new community for both of us and Rich was eager to meet someone – anyone – with whom we might connect.

As we held our coffee cups and watched the milling crowd, I spotted the young man again. I urged Rich to speak to him. Surely, I thought, a person who seemed to be rejoicing in Christ might be a good person to get to know.

While the three of us sat at a table and talked, Rich mentioned his recent entrance into the Catholic Church. The young man immediately stood up, brought the senior pastor to our table, and introduced him to us.

Our pastor sat down and encouraged us to involve ourselves in the parish. When I explained I embraced the Anglican belief that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ, he made a genuine effort to address my concerns about not receiving the Eucharist. He explained that the rules of the Roman Catholic Church prohibited him from giving Communion to a non-Catholic Christian. Although there were special circumstances during which non-Catholic Christians might receive the Eucharist, he said these were few and needed special permission. However, he warmly invited me to come forward to receive a blessing during the Liturgy of the Eucharist (Communion.)

I was grateful for the kind welcome and invitation by this good pastor.