The last day of my pilgrimage to Columbus, I went to church.
You don’t have to go to church if your PTSD is severe. It’s just something I wanted to try.
There’s a Catholic church in Columbus that had a reputation in my family. We were never allowed to go there. It was a bad, wicked, liberal place that probably didn’t even have a valid Mass. We spoke about it as if it were a brothel. Catholics who went there weren’t REAL Catholics. Just at that moment, it was the only church I thought I could manage to attend.
It took several minutes of circling the giant buildings on that part of the Ohio State University campus before I found the place, a squat one-story rectangle that didn’t look like a church at all. Inside it was cinder block painted white: much less intimidating than Christ the King Chapel at Franciscan University, because it was merely cheap instead of ostentatiously ugly. I approached the door in a flutter of anxiety, worrying. What if it wasn’t a valid Mass? What if I ended up sinning yet again this weekend, this time by not meeting my “Sunday obligation?” The Sunday obligation which isn’t strictly an obligation for people with grave reason not to attend, like my religious trauma? The Sunday obligation to obey the rules of a Church that had shattered me and never seemed to want me anyway?
I asked for the low-gluten Host from a priest who was vesting up in the sacristy. I don’t usually ask about Communion on my first visit to any church, but I thought I might as well. In for a penny, in for a pound. And then I went and took a seat.
There was an autistic gentleman sitting near the front with his parents, stimming rather noticeably. This encouraged me, because I was stimming more subtly with my hands, trying to keep from panicking.
The musicians were practicing before the start of Mass, and the music wasn’t bad. It was standard Novus Ordo fare, played boisterously on piano and guitar, similar to what we had at FUS. “I am the Bread of Life! Who come to me shall not hunger! Who believes in me shall not thirst! No one can come to me… unless the Father beckons!”
I always thought that particular tune with those particular lyrics was clumsy. The long drawn-out suspenseful pause after “no one can come to me,” as if Jesus is teasing us. I have felt that pause inside of me a thousand times.
“And I will raise you up, and I will raise you up, and I will raise you up on the last day!”
The Mass began in the most unnerving way, with the priest asking the congregation to turn around and say hello to one another. And just when I thought it was over, he asked if there were any visitors and had everyone applaud. But then it proceeded as a normal Mass– all the words the same as I’d ever known. “We give you thanks for your great glory, Lord God Heavenly King.”
The readings were the same readings as the ones from any other Catholic church this Sunday. The sequence was read aloud in English instead of sung. The homily was a run-of-the-mill, pleasant homily. It was all so perfectly ordinary.
At the prayers of the faithful, the lector read a prayer I have never heard uttered in a church before. “That LGBTQ positive people will always feel welcome, and know that they are deeply loved by God the Father.” She meant to say “LGBTQ Plus, ” of course, but I could tell she’d never seen that abbreviation and just read what was written down.
I had never heard anybody say that in a church before. Nobody mentioned LGBTQ people at all, except to say how disgusting we were. The closest anyone ever came to being nice was when we were grudgingly referred to as “confused,” and assured that people with “same-sex attraction” could get conversion therapy and still live a holy life. Back in 2020 when we had to watch Mass on livestream, I’d more than once had to mute the homily and just chat with Rose about the readings, because they were excited to vilify us.
I’ve been Catholic since my baptism, as a month-old baby in November of 1984. I’ve been attracted to women since just before puberty. I’ve been out of the closet for about three years. I’ve played by every rule, ignored my longings, married a man, had a baby, gone to confession, tried with all my might. And no one had ever said a simple prayer of love and welcome, without adding conditions and disgust.
Was this why I’d been told that this standard, run-of-the-mill Novus Ordo church was so wicked?
There was probably an irritating hymn after the Prayer of the Faithful, but I don’t remember it. All I know is, at the Consecration, half the congregation was standing but I was on my knees.
I hadn’t truly made up my mind to go to Communion unless the Father beckoned, but that prayer counted as a beckon. I got in line with everybody else.
“The Body of Christ.”
And I will raise you up on the last day.
Then there was more standard Novus Ordo silliness. We clapped for somebody’s birthday and all raised our hands to pray over the fathers for Fathers’ Day. I left, smiling from ear to ear, and got back on Seventy to return to Steubenville.
No one can come to Him unless the Father Beckons. Thankfully, the Father always beckons. The Father always welcomes. It’s the children who make this so difficult.
I will be back home in Columbus next month. My friend is starting a neighborhood outreach and I’m going to help. I’ll go back often now. And as often as I go back, I have somewhere to go to church.
For a moment, nothing else mattered, and everything was all right.
Image via pixabay
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.
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