Saturday, June 27, 2009

Please Call a Priest

I have a joyful exuberance for life, about 40% of the time. The rest of the time, I'm a negative Nancy, a complainer, a little black rain cloud. Today was a sunny day for me. I got to sleep in, which is the exact way that nearly every sunny day kicks off. Then, I got to work on what I wanted to work on. No corporate servitude for me this afternoon. After meeting with a happy bartering client, I went off to meet a good friend at an artist's showcase, and took my happy client/professor with me. 
I'm easily swayed by the weather. My disposition often depends on the sky - a sunny day, a thundershower or a soft quiet rain, these are the ingredients for happy, sensual and introspective me. Today was of the sunny, hot as hell variety. Professor and I wandered around the streets towards the artists fair, sweating and swearing about the construction and the traffic zooming by. When we finally got into the shop we had a lovely time browsing, waiting for my friend. When she arrived we went for iced tea and came back for one last look.
They were sniffing some artisan soaps and looking at hand knitted sweaters and I was wandering up to the register to purchase a must-have t-shirt. As I stood in line, it caught my eye. A rack of sterling silver necklaces with tiny colored crystals and intricate details right down to the clasp. One in particular caught my eye. With an abalone shell, a silver ring and a miraculous medal dangling from a small silver ring, the necklace made my fingers tingle with desire. I stepped out of line to reach up and touch it. The price tag dampened my initial interest. Not outlandish. My husband wouldn't even pout over the purchase, but it was still money that could be spent elsewhere.
I turned to see that a woman had stepped in line in front of me, and I had to make a quick decision - necklace or no necklace. She turned and smiled and said, "oh, I'm sorry, were you in line?" I smiled back and said yes, leaving the necklace behind. As the clerk rang up my t-shirt, I found myself agonizing over the necklace. "If you still want it tomorrow, you can come back and get it," I kept telling myself. Then, I happened to see a red blur out of the corner of my eye. A woman in a red dress had stepped quickly up to the display. I saw her fingers creeping towards the necklaces and rest on mine. She looked at it for a moment or two, dropped it and wandered over to the coffee mugs.
I felt an intense moment of panic. What would become of my necklace? Would it even be here tomorrow? "Calm down," I told myself, "she was just looking." No sooner had I thought those words when another woman stepped over and, like a paperclip to a magnet, her hand was on my necklace! I waffled over the t-shirt purchase, nearly stopping the clerk, but then I told myself again "Calm down." It was when the third woman touched that necklace that I snapped.  
As soon as she backed away from the tray, I walked over, lifted it up into my hand and held it. I had to keep it safe from these other women's molesting fingers. As I turned over the pieces that hung from the pendant, I noticed that the miraculous medal featured images of Christ and Mary. On the back it said "I'm a Catholic, Please Call a Priest."
Flashback to three years ago when I met my husband. He's practically perfect in every way, like Mary Poppins, except he's not Catholic. I was a devout Catholic and a Heretic all at once. I was deeply connected to the liturgy and the eucharist, but distanced and doubtful of the Pope and Papal Seat. Husband is devout in his religion, and after studying it, it seemed to make good sense to me. I decided that I could and wanted to commit to living a life with him, in his religion and raising our children in it as well.
Little did I know that the practice and logic of religion are two very separate things. In the first year and a half of our marriage, I had begun to crave the Catholic mass. I found myself desperate to receive the Eucharist, to confess my sins and have a voice answer back, even though I know God is listening to all of my prayers. Perhaps it's habit or tradition or some other emotional crutch connection, but I felt lonely without it; I feel lonely without it.
It's not that there's anything wrong with his church. The people can be a little off the beaten path, but aren't we all? They are all good-hearted and well-intentioned people. It's not even that there's anything wrong with his Dogma! I believe it is close enough to what I've always known, and even improves upon it in many cases. A few things are a little off for me, but remember what I said about the Pope? No religion is perfect.
Lately, though, I've been feeling a deep sense of fear about raising my children anything other than Catholic. If they aren't Catholic, they won't be like me. They won't know the things I've known or appreciate the beauty of the Virgin Mother's sacrifice for her son, the rosary, the Eucharist as a real experience of Christ, singing all the hymns I love and choosing their confirmation saint with agonizing maturity. This fear has paralyzed me spiritually for the moment, and it feels so much easier (but lonelier) to avoid. I haven't been to church in a few months at least. 
So there I was, holding the little miraculous medal that says, "I'm a Catholic, Please Call a Priest." My great-grandmother had a bracelet that said that on the back of it, I remember tracing the words and the saints with my little child finger. Mary is on the front of the piece I'm holding, along with Joseph and St. Christopher, carrying child Jesus on his shoulders. 
Suddenly, I imagine that I walk out the door and on my way to the car, one of those cars whizzing by hits me. I'm laying their on the sidewalk, dying, breathing my last breaths. One of the witnesses sees the necklace, turns it over and calls a priest, who comes and hears my confession - gives me the Anointing of the Sick, the sacrament I've waited my entire life for, as every Catholic does. From today until the end of my life, I may not be in "the Church," but at my last moments, I want to see a black collar with the familiar white square and say my act of Contrition and the Nicene Creed, and maybe a few Hail Mary's.
I knew in that moment that the necklace had to be mine. I pulled it down and took it to the register, paying what seemed a minor tariff for something so beautiful. Wherever life takes me, it will be a little symbol. The ring is a symbol of my confirmation vows - my promise to serve. The abalone is a symbol of Jesus the fisherman and the net I am to cast. And the miraculous medal is a symbol of where I came from - the place I met God the Father for the first time, and the place I want to be when he calls me home.

1 comment:

Bad Alice said...

This is beautiful.