I don’t think I’m going to church today.
As I write this, my ride will be here in an hour, to take the family to an evening Mass. But my spectacular failure two weeks ago is making me sick just thinking about it. The panic attack was too severe. I spent the next week with the worst anxiety of my life. The heart racing, the night terrors, the obsessive compulsive loops that went on for hours were too much. I think Michael and Adrienne will go. They don’t react that way to Holy Communion.
I used to love the Eucharist.
I used to call it the Source and Summit of my life.
I used to love liturgies, and the ones in Lent most of all. This year I’ve made it to exactly one Lenten liturgy, and it was a nightmare.
Triduum was my favorite time in the whole liturgical calendar. I looked forward to it all year. And now I can’t stand to think of it starting next week. And I can’t see myself ever liking Triduum again. My heart is racing just remembering the panic attack. I can’t walk back into a church. Whatever happened when I tried to receive, it can’t happen again.
What do you do when Jesus poisons you?
I don’t know how to be this person.
I was given instructions on how to be somebody who loses the whole world but gains Christ. That was my entire childhood and young adulthood. That’s all I know. I know how to be a person who did everything she could to gain Christ, and lost the whole world in the process– at least in theory. It involves prayer and fasting and and going into ecstasy, praying in tongues, looking the other way when you walk past a Victoria’s Secret, waving a sign in front of an abortion clinic. It involves sailing away to a different country to preach the Gospel, and going on preaching even if they burn you alive or chop off your head.For me, it involved coming to Northern Appalachia, to Steubenville, and getting involved in what purported itself to be Catholicism but was neither more nor less than a cult, and letting the cult overtake my entire life for a time, and being destroyed.
No one told me what to do if you go to all that trouble, and Christ rejects you.
No one told me how to behave if I got thrown out or bullied out of several different communities in what is purported to be the most meticulously Orthodox Catholic place in the whole United States, even though I followed every rule. No one explained what to do if your whole religious culture was revealed to be nothing but a cult.
It turns out you don’t get the whole world back, if you give it up for Christ and Christ doesn’t show up to fulfill His end of the bargain. You can’t go back to being what you might have been if you’d never heard of Christ.
Now here I am, with neither the world nor Christ.
I don’t have a script for this.
If I were going to church today, I’d hear the Gospel reading where Mary the sister of Lazarus yells at Jesus– Mary who chose the better part, Mary who knelt at Christ’s feet instead of doing the housework, Mary who was affirmed by Christ when Martha the responsible one tried to embarrass her. Mary walks out of the house and gives Jesus a piece of her mind. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
And that is the first mystery of Christianity that I was never told in the Charismatic Renewal: sometimes Jesus doesn’t show up on time, and you don’t get the miracle you truly needed, and you die.
When Mary gave Jesus a piece of her mind, he was deeply troubled.
I never noticed before that His trauma starts there, looking at her, with her telling Him what He did to her. It’s not when He encounters the grave. It’s when the person who trusted Him completely gives voice to her betrayal. Then then that He asks where Lazarus was laid, and she shows Him, and then He begins to cry.
This is the second mystery that was kept from me in the Charismatic Renewal: that God cries. That God is genuinely sorry when God ruins your life. God feels terrible about it, when God eventually shows up to survey the damage of His abandoning you for too long.
After Jesus wept, He went and called Lazarus out of the tomb. The mourners advised against this, because the dead stink, but Jesus insisted. Next thing you know, here comes Lazarus, alive and well, stumbling, all wrapped up like The Mummy, and Jesus tells the astonished mourners to untie him. And everyone who saw this came to believe, but some went and told the self-righteous, the leaders of the people. The leaders of the people were horrified that such a miracle had taken place. They planned to murder Jesus and Lazarus too, to put a stop to it, for fear of getting in trouble with the occupying Romans. The High Priest said it was much better that such a man die, for the sake of the whole people, and the High Priest was right, though not in the way that he thought.
This is the mystery most carefully kept of all, in the Charismatic Renewal and in all high-control religious groups. This is the cat they can’t possibly let out of the bag, because if the cat was let out of the bag, it would ruin everything. That mystery is that when extraordinary things happen, when God finally shows up and manifests Himself, when the spirit is moving as She wishes and the dead are unbound and recalled to life, it is inconvenient for the religious. The mourners won’t want to open the tomb because you stink. The leaders of your faith who have tied you up and entombed you will try to find a way to kill you for good this time, and they’ll go after God as well.
Forgive me, but I don’t have any conclusions to draw from all of this just now. It’s only what I’m meditating on today. I don’t have answers yet.
I don’t know whether I can eventually make peace with this. I do not know if my abusive mother the Catholic Church can ever make up for what she did, and if I can have a relationship with her. Time will tell.
I don’t know what I’ll say to Jesus if He ever gets here.
I wish, for the thousandth time, I could show you a journey other than my own, but here I am.
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.