Vocation of the Half-Baked Catholic

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I shouldn’t have gone to church on Sunday.

No, really, I shouldn’t.

I was in the middle of a flare.

Other chronic illness sufferers know exactly what I mean. I didn’t look sick– no more than usual, anyway. I wasn’t contagious. No fever, no cough, no hives. But I was sick. All my chronic conditions were flaring up together, as they do when the weather gets hot and humid. My legs were tingling, swollen tree trunks. My gut was taut, round and embarrassingly noisy. I was nauseated. My head was so foggy I was effectively asleep.

That was why I was at Liturgy– my head was too foggy to realize I was effectively asleep. I couldn’t communicate to my husband that he should just take Rosie and go by himself, because my poor brain couldn’t even communicate that to its own self. Next thing I knew our ride was almost there, and I waddled out the door. Next thing after that, it was too late to go home, and I was stuck at church during a flare.

Those of you who are usually healthy might not be able to understand this chain of events. But I suspect that those of you who are chronically ill are probably nodding your heads. We flare up, but we don’t look sick. We feel guilty about missing Mass for something that happens so often we ought to be used to it. We get drunk on our own autoimmune reactions, and can’t explain what’s wrong to anyone. We are ill so often, we know how to waddle out the door on autopilot when our bodies are in shambles. And suddenly we’re in church.

When I went to Catholic elementary school, my teacher told us, “don’t be a half-baked Catholic!” Proper Catholics didn’t slump over as if they were half-baked; they sat up ramrod straight to show respect. But last Sunday, I was a half-baked Byzantine Catholic. I spent Liturgy  in a pew– Eastern churches have Latin-style pews in the Ohio Valley– bent double with my head lying on my swollen arms, gripping the back of the pew in front of me for dear life. I prayed it would be enough; there was very real danger that I’d turn into an unbaked Catholic and slide to the floor.

I couldn’t rise and listen to the Holy Gospel. When Father chanted “Be attentive!” I couldn’t obey him. I couldn’t tell you what the Gospel reading was about, nor a word of the homily, because my head was too foggy to attend. I couldn’t kneel for the Holy Anaphora. I couldn’t even begin to receive Communion. Father said “Approach, with fear of God and with faith,” but I couldn’t approach in any fashion whatsoever. I couldn’t even move aside for my husband to get out of the pew. At the end, I couldn’t go out and shake hands with the visiting bishop who was saying “Christ is among us!” to everyone. I’m still not sure how I got out of the church. I was capable of nothing except sitting there, a half-baked Catholic.

I spent the rest of the day in bed.

When I was a little girl, at that parochial school where they warned us not to be half-baked Catholics, I deeply wanted to be a religious sister.

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