On New Year’s Eve I spent some time reflecting, and I wrote my thoughts to a beloved friend who has become like a spiritual guide to me:
I’m wrestling with something. I went to Mass yesterday. I wanted to go, and my friend explicitly told me I didn’t have to go, which made it that I was able to go. I walked into St. Patrick’s parish in Edinburgh and smelled incense and saw the manger and felt at home. I was happy to be there. And they sang Christmas hymns I know, which, after spending so much time in Spain, was such a gift.
So, I fully intended not to receive Eucharist because I haven’t been attending Mass regularly and I don’t fully know what I believe and, well, I’m on sabbatical from Catholicism. And I don’t have energy to play the game of going to Confession every time I want to go to Mass (since I don’t go regularly and this is normally considered a mortal sin), so that I can receive the Eucharist.
Anyway, at Mass yesterday, after my friend went to Communion, the line was still going, so she turned to me and asked me so lovingly, “you sure you don’t want to go?” I was so shocked. Dumbfounded. I suppose I just assumed she would have been relieved I didn’t try to go when I’m living my life of sin. I guess I assumed she was judging me the same way I’d always judged others when I was younger. But she wasn’t. She was welcoming me to go, to be healed. And I said no. And then I almost cried, because I wanted to receive so badly.
So I spent all day remembering how many dear, faithful friends have encouraged me to go and receive despite being broken. Despite my imperfect Mass attendance card. And I remembered a conversation in with some of them in which a priest I trusted explained that my PTSD and anxiety are very valid reasons not to attend Mass, so it’s not a mortal sin—it’s not any kind of sin at all. As I pondered this, I realized that this past summer I just made the decision not to receive until I have my life and my faith sorted out. I’d decided this because it’s simpler than playing pingpong in my brain every time I go to Mass, “do I receive Him or not today?” Because that’s what I used to do when I had crippling scrupulosity as a young teenager and my dad made us go to Mass every day, when I’d sit in the pew for the entire thing (and for most of the day leading up to Mass, too), destroying my thumb as I tried to decide if I was worthy to receive or if I would condemn myself to hell through some accidental sacrilege.
Please understand. What a person with spiritual OCD like mine craves most is just a solid answer. An official decision. I will receive, or I won’t. And the easiest answer is not to receive, because then you don’t have to worry that maybe you chose wrong and stare into the gaping mouth of hell everyday. So at some point last summer when I no longer could make myself attend Mass regularly, I made this decision. I was done receiving Eucharist, Christ, my encounter with the divine that I crave so intensely that it makes me ache. I’d deny myself that balm, that meeting with Him, His intimate kiss, until I was able to go to Mass again. Or until I knew what I believed. Or until I was good enough for the stipulations of the Baltimore Catechism.
But at Mass yesterday, on December 29, I realized that I think this was the wrong answer. I don’t think I can find peace with God until I get beyond this gatekeeper voice of my past that tells me I’m unworthy to receive Him, when He is waiting there for me—to heal me.
And yes, some of you will point out Reconciliation. But Confession just isn’t a realistic answer in my case, since the reason many times I can’t go to Mass is PTSD, which is a legitimate mitigating reason.
And this is when the lies creep back in and tell me I’m making excuses and that surely not every time I skipped Sunday Mass it was because of PTSD. But I tell that voice to shove it. Because the reality is that yes—when I don’t have the strength for Mass, it is always related to PTSD and trauma.
So, I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that this is The Shit I’m Getting Rid of This New Year (as Marybeth Chuey Bishop of Made for Ordinary Time puts it). I’m going to believe in the kind of God who will welcome me when I am able to come, and who wants me to receive Him even in my woundedness. As I recently told a beloved friend here at Patheos Catholic, I know that if I can believe in a God, it must be that one or none at all.
I really want to start this New Year by going to Mass tomorrow and boldly receiving Him into me.
I wrote this to my friend, and she responded with such wisdom and love. She gave me permission to share it with you here.
My favorite time in the Church was the time of the early Church, when everyone was ablaze with expectancy [something the world needs MUCH more of, imo] and the metaphors all pointed to something actually Real and Alive—something that wasn’t “something” but a Person with whom one could interact using the ordinary things of reality—a spoon, a cup, the moon, a road, a toad, the sky, a cloud, an empty can… I don’t think people went around wondering if one thing or another thing they were doing was “okay”—they just wanted to love, love, love this Person they were meeting through all these basic, everyday things. So I’d translate your question from “is it okay?” to “is it the most loving thing?”
The rules surrounding the reception of Communion are *supposed* to help increase our love and devotion. Maybe they do for some people? But they quickly got degraded into “benchmarks” or instructions from a how-to manual.
What does Jesus want from us? What does He really, truly want? He wants to invade our lives. He wants to reach way down into the roots of our cells and turn them ablaze with love and joy. “I have said these things to you so that my joy might be in you and your joy may be complete.”
Jesus gave us a set of moral precepts—called the maxims—which overshadow/make ridiculous the 10 Commandments and they definitely take precedence over any rules dictated by church people trying too hard to *make* people fall in love (assuming their best intentions, here). I say, try to fulfill *those* maxims first and then if you have time or energy left over, you can worry about whether it’s okay to take communion 30 minutes after drinking some tea (which I do all the time, btw) or without having gone to Confession in a long time (which I do all the time), or when I get to Mass so late that I don’t hear the Gospel, or whatever. I’m too busy trying to love my enemies, Marie. Once I get that one mastered, I can start worrying about secondary things.
Maybe I’m not being completely “orthodox,” but maybe I am. The thing is that those “rules” keep changing. Used to be that you couldn’t eat or drink anything ALL DAY before taking communion—now it’s just one hour before. And last I checked, there wasn’t a rule about Confession before being able to take Communion—I think there’s some kind of suggestion (and different people make different suggestions) but no actual rule. I think, technically, you’d have to go to Confession before you could take communion if you’d murdered someone. Or if the Church had excommunicated you for some reason—and that’s another one that is problematic, anyway—since the reasons for excommunicating someone keep shifting around, too. My own rule of thumb is that if a rule can be changed, it’s not all that important—it’s more like a gift that you can leave unwrapped if you don’t need one of those. But try to live Jesus’ maxims—just worry about those: Do I love my neighbor as myself? Do I say “yes” when I mean “yes” and “no” when I mean “no” (harder than it seems!). Do I give to everyone who asks of me? If someone asks me for my cloak, do I give my shirt as well? Am I a peacemaker (now I’m thinking of the Beatitudes)? Am I poor in spirit? Do I allow myself to become like a little child? Do I pray for those who persecute me? Do I store up treasures in heaven rather than those that moths can eat and rust can corrode? Do I love others the way that Christ loves me?—aren’t these, and the other maxims of Christ, enough to preoccupy us?
So, I believe that a lot of these “little rules” get made up because people know they are failing at actually living the Gospel imperatives, so they make up rules they can actually follow and then feel good about themselves. And I think that’s bullshit. Moreover, these stupid little rules that those with power find relatively easy to follow become really burdensome and almost impossible to those in difficult situations. And that’s worse than bullshit—it’s cruel, like when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for imposing heavy burdens and then not lifting a finger to help people.
So, yeah, I think it’s okay. I just don’t think it’s okay that you have to worry about whether it’s okay.
To which I responded:
I think I am failing at all of those Beatitude things, so that caused me a bit of panic for a second. But then I remembered that Christ didn’t say I couldn’t have communion until I perfect those— because that’s impossible. And on a small scale, I am working on them. So. That counts.
The end to this all is that on January 1st, New Year’s Day, 2019, I received Christ in the Eucharist for the first time in more months than I could say. I felt His mercy burn in me as the kiss of the host touched my tongue.
And I found peace.
Unconventional Catholicism is a new weekly series we are beginning at The Shoeless Banshee. It is a place for our friends to share reflections, devotions, poetry, fiction, flash memoir, or whatever they like about what their Catholicism is. It might be strange. But it is a place for us to share these encounters and adventures we are on with the divine. Note: at the Shoeless Banshee, we don’t really do evangelism. Or, as a dear theologian friend once told me, we do evangelism in the truest sense. We focus on honesty, on being raw. We aren’t selling a product so much as courageously opening a window to our own hearts and souls.
What is your Catholicism like? What makes it unique? What was your journey, how did you find peace? How do you reconcile the often conflicting parts of being human, being Catholic, having a moral code (and perhaps not always agreeing with it), finding mystery, offering mercy in pain. How do you find God?
Literally the only things we don’t welcome are any kind of dogmatic or apologetic approach that could other our readers and friends. No homophobia. No racism. No transphobia. No sexism. None of the isms.
However, philosophy and theology are certainly encouraged, so long as the focus is exploration, curiosity, and compassion.
If you find God in tradition, give us a glimpse into how, into why. If you find him in the trees, well—so do I.
If you are interested in contributing, please email Jennifer and me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Love to you, and peace on the journey.