Tuesday, October 4, 2011
The fever of my renewed piety had died down after months of waiting for a sign from God on what He would have me do. I felt rejected, for a little while. My prayer stopped. My Bible study stopped. I just couldn't understand what was going on; why God wouldn't want to guide me or even talk to me. It was a blow to my self-esteem, which wasn't really that high in high school anyway.
Eventually, over a period of weeks, I realigned my perspective into thinking that maybe, even though I had been ready for God, maybe God wasn't ready for me yet. Perhaps God had plans for me, but they were just further down the road.
However, this was also when cognitive dissonance entered the picture, because that divine silence planted the seed of doubt within me. Realizing how easy it was to deceive yourself with the discernment of spiritual matters, I began to wonder if anyone really heard from God, or if God even existed. These were just brief, passing thoughts at the time. The truth was that I still very much wanted to believe, so I clung to my faith even while doubt germinated.
On the order of a few months later, I started to date the woman who would become my first wife. She and her family were Catholic. I remember one of the first times that I entered her room, in her parent's house, how there was a crucifix nailed above her bed, and a couple of teen devotional books, including If the Devil Made You Do It, You Blew It. The budding skeptic in me said, "oh boy, I wonder what I'm getting into here." Meanwhile my pious, optimistic remnant said "hmmm, I wonder if Catholics have a better way of approaching and worshiping God, a way which does more than my failed attempts?"
It turned out that she was not exactly a devout Catholic, in many senses. Yet, on some rare occasions, typically one of the big holidays like Easter, we would go to Mass with the rest of the family.
The Mass experience was quite bizarre to me. The holy water at the entrance, there to dip your fingers and make a sign of the cross and give a slight kneel/bow upon entering. The burning incense. The large number of responsive prayers, where the entire congregation talks back to the priest with a preordained script. The kneeling. The standing. The kneeling. The sitting. The kneeling.
Aside from all of the pomp and circumcision ;-), the main part of the Mass resembled the Methodist sermons I had been raised on. After enough visits there, I became comfortable. It turns out that that was a big mistake...
The last visit which we made to the Catholic church that I can remember, I can remember one part of it quite well; the Communion. Up until then, I had stayed in the pew during Communions at the Catholic church. Partly this was due to my skepticism, but another part was just being unfamiliar with how the Catholics ran things. However, with enough experience now under my belt, I thought I could participate. I didn't know exactly what to do in front of the priest, but I thought I could cheat off of the guy in front of me, so to speak, and see what he did and said. Perhaps, with a little grace from the priest, it would all work out right.
More importantly, I would have a sanctified piece of the body of Christ within me. I thought that maybe that would help get things moving in the right direction spiritually.
Unfortunately, the layout of the reception line did not permit me to mimic the guy in front of me, because I didn't have a clear view, and I was not close enough to hear. All I was able to discern is that he knelt and opened his mouth. But so what? How hard could accepting a Communion wafer be?
I walked up the to priest and knelt before him. I opened my mouth. The priest set the wafer in my mouth. I got up, and I started walking back to my pew, while chewing and swallowing the rather-bland bread-product.
Apparently, I didn't say the right secret words, or give the appropriate gestures, because about half way back up to my row of pews I felt a tap on my shoulder. I spun around and, surprise! It was the priest! He stopped the entire Communion procession to chase me down and confront me.
"What did you do with the Host?" he demanded.
"Um, I ate it." I replied meekly, still in shock.
He turned around, obviously disgruntled, and continued the Communion service.
Meanwhile, my cheeks as red as a Cardinal's gown, I headed back to my seat.
My mind was racing. What did I do? What didn't I do? Could he sense that I was different? Could he sense that I had some doubt in me? Was it simply a matter of broken protocol which caused this priest to chase me down? Was the priest just a perfectionist? Did I forget to say thank you? WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Even my Catholic in-laws were in shock and disbelief at what had occurred.
I didn't feel any different after eating the body of Christ, at least not from that wafer. The events surrounding its consumption, on the other hand, did make me feel a bit different. It nagged at me. Not from a spiritual sense, but just trying to make sense of that behavior, which was just about a polar opposite as I would have expected from a church leader. It wasn't until years later in my second round of Bible studies that I came across the answer. In my layman explanation: The Catholic church holds very high regard for the Communion wafer being truly, not metaphorically, the body of Jesus Christ, and they only share the good stuff with fellow Catholics, Catholics who know what to do and what to say. And they have Biblical reasons for taking that stance.
As time passed, hope dwindled, but still existed. Skepticism also became stagnant. I was just waiting around for something to happen, something to show me the way.