Kassie over at Secret Vatican Spy wrote yesterday about her Rite of Acceptance experience and the pain and joy that went along with it. I could so clearly understand her pain, that sharp and sudden realization that she was turning away from the faith of her childhood and entering into something new.
I knew what was coming was good and beautiful and right. But that moment of farewell was painful.
She says it with such profound simplicity that I’m almost reluctant to add my own reflections. But a two-year conversion process and the past three years of being Catholic have left me with far more pain than that initial stab of realization and that unalterable sense of a door shutting. For me, doors keep shutting. In the most unexpected of times that wall that went up between my family and I the day I declared my intention to convert will rise up and a fresh layer of grief will be added to our sorrow.
Last Christmas, when my mom was helping me dress the girls for Christmas Eve Mass, Sienna asked her if she would come with us. We were both struck by the question, taken aback at how such a simple request from a little girl could cause us both to flinch, avoid each other’s eyes and make excuses. My mom and I cried about it later, together for a little bit and then I think separately for much longer. All the time we spend together in the world can never make up for that essential separation, the fact that when it comes to the most important of celebrations the family I grew up in goes to one church and my family goes to another. Sometimes when we go to Mass with the Ogre’s family I’ll look down the aisle and have to choke back sobs, because six of the faces I love the most in this world aren’t there with me. My parents always invite us to come to church with them, and of course we always decline, but sometimes I don’t think they realize how much that negative answer costs me, how much I would love to be able to say “sure!” and jump in the car with them like I did for countless Sundays growing up. Sometimes I think I don’t realize how much that question costs them, how every time they ask it they hope that I will say yes and that, if only for that one Sunday, we can worship the Savior that we love together.
Sometimes I get so angry about the separation between us that I want to scream or smash things. How stupid, I think, that we both believe in the same God, the same Christ, the same Holy Spirit, and yet doctrinal differences keep us apart like the blazing swords of the angel kept Adam and Eve from re-entering Paradise. Sometimes I curse Luther to the high heavens for ripping apart the Church of Christ, for beginning the schism that culminates in this, the tearing apart of families. The anger and pain and frustration always builds at Christmastime and Easter, because the joy of Christ’s birth and His sacrifice are so real and so tangible that I almost can’t bear not to be able to celebrate them with my family. I feel liturgical seasons so much more keenly now that my awareness is heightened by the changing vestments of the priests, the penitential nature of Advent and Lent, the great joy of the Christmas Eve Mass and the Easter Vigil, and I hate not being able to share those seasons with my family. It’s even more painful now that my children are growing, and they wonder and ask questions. After all, we’re not the only ones who feel the separation. Sienna asks every holiday why we can’t go to church with Mimi and Papa, and why they can’t come with us. Our division is palpable, even in the mind of a child.
But after all, this is the very thing Christ promised. He promised eternal life, yes, but He also promised suffering.
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)
I never could understand this verse growing up. I thought it was so wrong, so strange, so incomprehensible. How could the love of Christ do anything but bring people together?
Now I understand. I understand what it means to see something true and turn my back on all that is comfortable and familiar for that truth. I understand the pain of bearing a cross; not only the pain it causes me, but the pain it causes the ones I love. I can’t pretend I wish it wasn’t different. I do wish for things to be different, for Christ to heal our rift and bring us back together as a family, but I also know that His answer, for now, is “no.” I hope one day that changes, but for now I must be content to suffer. After all, Christ gave His body and blood so that we might have life, and hope, and healing. Every Sunday when that sacrifice is played out again in front of me and I receive the precious blood and body of our Lord, every Sunday when, for a brief time, we are joined together in communion with all the martyred saints who have suffered physical and spiritual torment for Him, I know that my suffering is but a greater part of the whole, an offering to Him who gave everything for me.
Kassie is right. It is painful. But it is also good and beautiful and right.