Last night I attended mass in Calgary for the first time since coming to the conclusion that the next steps in this journey for me are to begin trying to find a parish home here in the city, and check into joining an RCIA class.
Oof. Did I just say that aloud for all the internet to hear? That makes it just a bit more real.
Kirsten texted me this morning, just as I was getting ready to sit down and write this post, asking “So, how was it?”
We’d been texting back and forth as I made my way to the church last night, discussing the fact that I was finding the idea of attending mass alone, in a new church quite daunting, especially knowing that this is the cusp of some pretty major shifts in my life and faith journey.
I replied to that text with, “It was wonderful. And terrible.”
And that is the best way I can sum up the experience. It was wonderful. And terrible.
The parish I chose to attend mass came on the recommendation of friends of a friend. When I realized I needed to find a parish in Calgary, I emailed a trusted friend (not a Catholic) who works at the diocesan office downtown and asked her if she could ask around to get some recommendations on churches and RCIA programs. She graciously asked some of her coworkers and then sent me their responses. And from those responses I picked a parish (St. Patrick’s) and decided yesterday morning that this would be the weekend that I would start the process of finding a parish home in Calgary.
It was wonderful. And it was terrible.
I was struck again by how inaccessible the Mass can be for outsiders – for those of us who weren’t raised in the Catholic tradition. I’m fairly familiar with the mass these days, but I struggled to follow along last night since there seemed to be a lack of missals or anything that would help me follow the process. It felt awkward. And my introverted, struggles with social anxiety in new settings self was just a bit overwhelmed. I was hard pressed to stop my wandering thoughts from exploring the possibility that those sitting near me were judging me, and my lack of smooth coordination with the participation. As usual, that got worse when others knelt or moved forward to partake in the Eucharist, and I stayed seated in the pew. I had those ongoing sensations of sticking out, and being judged for it. (Let me be clear that I in no way believe I was being judged – it was just the thought battle I was fighting as I sat there so very aware of how I stood out!)
I found myself wondering how long it will take before it feels normal that no one really talks to anyone else except during the brief moments of offering peace to each other. No visiting before or after, none of the friendly community feel that I’m so used to. That said, one thing this parish had going for it was that it’s members at least seemed engaged in the liturgy – they actually sang the songs, they didn’t look they were going to fall asleep in the midst of mass. The singing thing stood out, because that is not something I’ve often seen in mass, and coming from my protestant background that has extended sets of worship music, it always seemed strange to me for congregants to not try to take part in this.
I appreciate the family atmosphere of the parish too. They had a special time for the children (a “sunday school” of sorts), and the priest did a brief little object lesson with them (a challenge given that the focus of the mass was the feast of the Holy Trinity!). Another thing that stood out was that the priest mentioned their RCIA community, and he talked about the active questioning (even teasing two who were there) that it’s members do. When they stood up to leave, I was thrilled to see adults in my approximate age range!
And then there’s this – the one thing that I face each time I attend mass, and in growing amounts as I move closer to a decision to join the Catholic church. The Eucharist. It was wonderful, and it was terrible.
I long for it – I long to consume Jesus – to eat his body and drink his blood. I believe that’s really him being offered to me, and I ache for that closeness to his presence. It’s wonderful.
And yet, the very concept of the Eucharist is terribly painful for me. It is in these moments that I feel most deeply the separation that will occur between myself and my family and friends as I move forward with the process of joining the Church. It is in this call to unity of action, this act of consuming Christ that I feel the separation. I wonder how Christ can have a heart for unity and express that both in calling me to the eucharistic table, but also away from the ability to share that table with those I love most. And as I consider that, my heart breaks, and I want to weep. As I walked from mass back to the train last night I pondered this passage:
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
I feel the realities of this passage in new ways lately. And it is both wonderful and terrible.
That’s how this journey feels now – it’s wonderful and terrible. And like so many things in my life, I’m needing to learn to hold those two extremes in tension.