I went to Mass.
I’m not saying you have to go to Mass if you’ve got the kind of religious trauma I have.
You probably shouldn’t. It was probably a bad idea for me to go, but I wanted to, so I went.
Michael and Adrienne sat in the congregation, and I sat in that little storage room off the foyer near the bathroom. That gave me a buffer so I couldn’t hear every word. I scrolled on my phone so I wouldn’t concentrate on anything frightening.
My heart began to pound in my ears as the organ started up the opening hymn. I tried to pay attention to the game on my phone, but it didn’t help much. And that’s all there was, just an hour of sitting in the storage room, trying not to listen, playing a game on my phone.
When it came time for Holy Communion I was totally crushed. Here it was the feast of Corpus Christi. The Gospel reading was Jesus saying that if I didn’t eat His flesh and drink His blood I had no life in me. But I was so terrified, I couldn’t stand up.
What if He doesn’t want me?
What if He’s never wanted me?
What if I’m one of those seeds that fell along the path and sprang up quickly, and died for lack of depth?
What if all of this: loving the Church as a little girl, getting bullied so severely at Catholic schools, my family’s descent into the madness of the Charismatic Renewal, coming to Franciscan University and destroying my life, the birth rape, the chronic illness, trying to become Byzantine Catholic and failing at that as well, realizing that this happy clappy Steubenville sect of Catholicism is nothing but a vicious abusive cult–what if all of this was God’s way of weeding me out, because I am not worth His time?
Let’s say that Christ Himself came to meet me in the back room just then.
I’m not saying He did. I’m not Charismatic anymore. I didn’t have a vision or a Word from the Lord. What I have is uncertainty. Intermittent agnosticism. Panic that Jesus is every bit as exacting and capricious as the Charismatic Renewal makes him sound. But let’s say that a God of Love, Joy, Peace and Patience, the only God worth my time, realized I was sitting in the back room near the first aid kit and the spare candles, afraid to receive Holy Communion just then. Let’s say He came and talked to me.
Let’s say I was sitting on the floor with my heart pounding in my ears, wishing the organ music would stop, and Jesus walked in.
That is the image I got in my mind just then: Jesus walking in.
“Why did you come here?” asked the Jesus in my mind’s eye.
I don’t know if He was asking that in an annoyed way, or concerned with me, or genuinely curious.
I know that I answered right away. “Because I loved You so much. And everything I’d been through made sense, as long as I believed that You were here suffering with me and would turn it all into grace. And I miss having liturgies and sacraments in my life. I’m afraid that someday, I might just get used to it and assume that every good thing I’ve received from You is just my imagination, and go on to live some other kind of life. I don’t want that. It terrifies me to not know where You are or if You’re angry with me. If there’s any chance You could ever let me near, I’d like that better. I knew I couldn’t eat with You, but I wanted to get as close to You as I possibly could. This is as far as I got today.”
Let’s say the storage room became a tabernacle because God is a God Who descends to suffer with the ones who have been cast out.
Let’s say that I am still, somehow, part of the Body of Christ. And it’s Corpus Christi. And life itself is a form of Holy Communion.
I had a terrible panic attack in the car on the way home, because this isn’t a feel-good story, it’s real life, and religious trauma is a real health condition that doesn’t go away just because God exists. But He does exist.
I don’t know when I’ll be back to church.
We’ll see where we go from here.
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.