Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Change I Can Believe In

Fifteen years ago this coming May, I graduated from college. In so very many ways -- in my core values, my personality, my demeanor -- I am the same woman I was back then. But there has been one dramatic change in who and what I am: my Catholic faith.

When I went off to college at age 18, I was a mass-going Catholic. Somewhere along the way, over the next four years, the Catholic Church ceased to be relevant to my life. I stopped going to mass. The longer I was away from mass, the less I trusted the Catholic Church. As time went on, I became certain that I had made the right choice. By the time I graduated, I had stopped identifying myself as a Catholic, and had been regularly attending weekly services at an Unitarian Universalist Congregation for more than a year.

My slow journey back to Catholicism started with DH's insistence that we be married by a priest, and our joint decision to raise our children in the Catholic faith. Two years ago, still somewhat reluctantly Catholic, I attended a Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP) retreat at my parish. I spent the next six months meeting regularly with Father, working my way through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and slowly, coming to accept and then love the Catholic Church and it's authority in my life.

The life I am living today, the people who know me and make up the bulk of my social network, all know that my faith is an integral part of who I am. Before I am Mom, Wife, Teacher, Friend, Sister, Daughter, I am Catholic.

In the past month, I've been blessed with the chance to reconnect with two people from college... two friends who were an important part of my life back then, but with whom I'd lost contact over the years. Both have expressed surprise at my faith. "I don't remember you being particularly religious," said my friend (in town on business and adding on an extra day to catch up with me) last week. "I wasn't."

That night, we went out to a local coffee shop with a deck of cards. The questions came. The how, the why, the what-abouts. I listened to my friend explain her intellectual and philosophical issues with religion. I got them all. Truly, I did. I was there. And every now and again, the questions come back. There is a lot about the Catholic faith that cannot be explained in a rational and intellectually-satisfying way. There is an element of it all that is just ... faith.

One article of Catholic faith is the Real Presence in the Eucharist. I explained to my friend that we believe that the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. She stared at me. There was no judgement, no concern, but definitely curiosity. What had happened to the self-assured feminist of our college days? Where was the woman with the scientific mind who loved to argue points to their most rational and logical conclusions? How had she been replaced by someone who believes a cracker and wine is the body and blood of Jesus?

She didn't ask more, and I didn't explain further. Some things are too personal for a casual reunion. But I understand her curiosity. Sometimes I wonder, too. What happened to that woman with all the answers? How did she come to know just how little she knows? How did the consummate feminist come to accept the authority of an institution that shuts women out of all leadership roles... and still manage to call herself a feminist? How is it that she really does believe that the cracker and wine are transformed into Jesus' body and blood... despite retaining their ordinary appearance? How did she learn to trust her heart over her head?

I don't know. I don't have all the answers. But as I listened to my friend talk, I could see all the places where God's hand is present in her life. I heard myself pepper our conversation with words like "blessings" and "God's will" and "submission." She talked about life throwing us curveballs, and I talked about discovering God's plan. We were talking about the same thing, but with a completely different vocabulary, a different worldview, a different perspective.

These reunions have been a real blessing, both last week's in-person reunion and last month's email reunion. It's wonderful to catch up with old friends. (I suppose that's the main draw of Facebook). But it's also a chance to take stock of myself. To remember the Jen I was, to recognize the Jen I am, to see where and how I've changed.

It's been a crazy journey, one that I never would have imagined for myself. I told my friend more than once that I never planned or expected to be a "religious" person. But I can no longer consider my life from any other perspective. I am a different person than I was 15 years ago. I have changed. And it is a change that I can truly believe in.

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