Tuesday, December 11, 2007

United by the Divide

Rich’s reception into Roman Catholic faith in 2005 led to a bewildering set of events that left us both at odds. Rich attempted with loving care to mitigate the unexpected consequences his conversion brought into our home. Meanwhile, a great emptiness had entered my life. How could I support my husband and still serve Jesus, while I felt so estranged from Rich and from the Lord?

Although I began to experience a renewed joy after the Lord offered me Spiritual Communion, the heartache of those past months weighed heavily on Rich. He suffered in silence with each obstacle I encountered. His were the hands that held me close when I wondered how I could fit in. In the privacy of our home, his were the words of anger and desperation in response to those who continued to hurt me. His were the promises to protect me from as much anguish as he could.

And his was the heart that broke and bled one morning at Mass.

October had turned into November and I continued to grow closer to Jesus. Each Mass took on new vitality because of the gracious inclusion Jesus offered me. I found myself carried away by His love and would often feel like standing in awe of Christ as I perceived Him through the Holy Spirit.

One Sunday I whispered to Rich that I would not go forward for a blessing. I wanted to stand at my pew instead, and praise and pray. (From the first time I attended Mass with Rich, I had struggled with the point in the Mass when I processed forward for a blessing. I often felt silly or angered to receive a blessing instead of Communion. For Catholics, it was a time of celebration (Eucharist); for me, it seemed demeaning or pointless – depending on my attitude at the time. I struggled with this issue until 2006, when Jesus helped me see the blessing in a different light).

Knowing my struggle with the blessing, Rich nodded and moved into the aisle. As he stepped into line, he looked back at me and suddenly felt as if he had lost something very precious. He said later, ”I felt with each foot-fall forward that I had turned my back on you, our marriage, and our life together. It was as if I was being ripped from our marriage bond.”

When he returned to our pew, he stood very close. After Mass, he looked squarely into my eyes and declared he would never do that again. When he explained what he had felt as he walked forward, I immediately understood. I remembered having a similar response the night he professed himself a Catholic at the Easter Vigil. I assured him from then on I would go forward and ask for a blessing, no matter how I felt about it.

My husband loves me. Any rudeness or unkindness directed by others toward me reverberates in him. When well-meaning Catholic acquaintances happily counseled him that I’d “come around soon” and become Catholic – all while I was standing there as if I was a naughty child needing to be corrected, Rich cringed. When in some social settings others ignored me altogether, Rich hurt even more.

Repeatedly, Rich vowed to leave the Catholic Church. His frustration with the rudeness he’d seen displayed toward me had grown intolerable. He decided we would attend a Protestant church, and he would meet his Catholic obligations as best he could. I knew he was serious. My emotional pain increased as I watched him straining to help me heal and bring me comfort.

By this time, though, I had become convinced it was God who had opened Rich’s understanding of Catholicism, and it was God who called him to the Roman Catholic Church – and I told him so. We talked many times about the pointlessness of leaving the Catholic Church. Leaving was not the answer. Surely, our Father does not make mistakes. And I reminded him that God had called me to be there at his side.

We were united. We would follow Jesus. And we would follow Him together.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Note of Clarification

In past months, I have received many concerned comments, emails, and verbal observations related to the difficulties for me as Rich and I fleshed out our life since his conversion to Roman Catholicism. I thank you all for your kind encouragements and genuine concern. So far, this blog has chronicled the first few months of 2005. I experienced many intense moments of distress during that time as I faced discouragement and difficulties. However, in Christ, I have discovered there is strength, a sure haven and “the balm of Gilead” that heals all wounds. Thankfully the difficulties of those days are not presently occurring.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Interchurch Challenges

I am not sure when I discovered that I was surrounded by unequaled scriptural beauty in the Mass. Although I had experienced the spoken Word in Protestant churches, I never hungered to hear it. Nor had I hungered to meet Jesus with the intensity that seemed to impel me to seek Him each week at Mass and each day in daily Bible study and prayer.

Hearing the Word of God at Mass was like hearing the voice of an old friend in a foreign land. How good that voice sounded: non-judgmental, comforting, stating the same truths I had learned to trust all my life. “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world . . .” This text and others woven throughout the Mass made sense of what seemed a senseless predicament for me as a Protestant worshiping in a Roman Catholic Church. Scripture reverberated in my ears and allowed me moments of forgetfulness from the strain of being set apart.

In years past when I attended Protestant churches and socialized with Protestant friends, I did not think it odd to include in my sphere of friendships Catholic friends. Yet I recall only once meeting a Catholic couple at a Protestant church. They were investigating the possibility of attending our church service. I remember being a bit surprised, and after giving them a handshake and welcome, I asked them why they felt a need to leave their own church. They explained they were an interchurch couple (husband and wife from different Christian traditions – one often Roman Catholic) looking for a church that supported them both. Their desperate search for social acceptance was something I did not comprehend at the time. Nor did they express the division festering at the core of their marriage. It would take my own experience of remaining by my Catholic husband’s side at Mass each week to realize how deep and wide the gulf is that pervades our separated fellowship.

In the fall of 2005, as I began to accept my new relationship to the body of Christ, I naturally desired to find some way to serve. A growing appreciation of Christ’s plan for us motivated me to look for ways to be useful. Scouring the church bulletin, I looked for something a non-Catholic might be able to do.

Initially, I signed up with a prayer chain and faithfully prayed for the needs presented to me. This lasted until the leadership decided to revise the call list and hold a meeting to greet their members and get to know them. By that time, though, I had learned to avoid such encounters because I had unhappily found that once Catholics knew I was a Protestant, the welcoming smile become a mask of politeness. A wall of silence often followed with some bland comment on the weather, and then they discovered they needed to talk with someone across the room

So in spite of the wonderful welcome I received from our priest and the director of education, as well as the opportunity to work alongside Rich as he taught Faith Formation classes (Sunday school), I continued to experience being the outsider in a world of insiders.

But I was persistent. I tried a Bible study at our parish, but discovered that many of those attending the study were agonizing over their children who had left the Catholic Church to attend Protestant churches. I believed that my presence in the group would likely have been hurtful for them, so I did not return. I concluded my ability to serve Christ’s body here seemed useless. I responded by isolating myself further, interacting as little as possible.

Eventually, I discovered I could do something without group interaction. I made it my mission to bring food for our parish’s food bank, and gifts for various other charities the church supported. Most of all, I prayed for our pastors everyday.

That daily prayer became the foundation of a commitment that would grow ever larger, and marked the development of my life in Christ.