I accidentally blurted out the news that I’m planning to join the Catholic Church next Easter to my mom a couple of days ago. I may be 30 years old, but the opinion of my parents is still important to me and I’d been dreading that conversation for a while, feeling terrified of how my pastor dad and mom who left the church in college would respond to this particular piece of news.
I’ve known for a few weeks that the time was coming to break this news to my folks, but I was sort of planning something a bit more formal than accidentally blurting it out mid-conversation, on a night where I couldn’t even stay to have a real conversation, but needed to head to work right away. But that’s what happened – without even thinking, when the conversation took a turn towards the church I’ve been attending (a local Catholic parish), I kind of spit the words out. “I’m planning to take RCIA classes this fall and join the church at Easter next spring.”
I have this inner voice that is bold and sassy and pretty much never silent. She says all the things I sometimes wish I could say out loud. But when I blurted that piece of news to mom the other night, even my sassy inner voice was shocked into silence for a second! Of course, it was only for a second. Then she started screaming at me. “Lisa Christine what on earth did you just say? This is not how this conversation was supposed to go! Are you ready for this? You’re leaving in five minutes – I don’t know if that was good or bad timing!”
Meanwhile, my mom collected herself for a second (she wasn’t all that surprised), asked why, (I told her that with much research and prayer this was where I felt Jesus leading me), and she then pointedly asked, “So how do you reconcile all the extra crap with Scripture?” Yes, she used the word “crap” to describe a variety of traditions and practices. Yes, her response was biased and loaded. No, I’m not all that surprised by it.
I’m not surprised for two reasons.
The first is that the Catholicism that my mom grew up in was oppressive and not particularly Orthodox (at least based on the research I’ve done in the last year). She grew up in a tiny town in the United States, in a part of her state that locals somewhat jokingly refer to as “the holy land.” She would be the first to tell you that she had no idea that any church outside of Catholicism existed until she entered junior high – her town was that sequestered from the rest of the world. It was a world where she was punished for sitting in mass when others were standing (even though she sat rather than faint as she’d done other times) and a world where the nuns who taught at the elementary school were known for beating students with a ruler and locking them in closets (if my memory of mom’s childhood stories serves.)
The other reason is that my family is one that is steeped in Protestantism, and a central tenet of Protestantism is the idea of Sola Scriptura. This is topic that deserves its own post in the future, and one I want to share some thoughts on, having been raised in that world, holding a degree in European history focusing on Reformation studies, and now heading towards Catholicism. But essentially, in a world where Scripture alone is truth, it’s not shocking that this would be the basis of the first question my family asked.
It’s also pretty much how I expect the rest of the conversations over the next year to go. I did more research into theology than I needed to satisfy the conviction and leading of my heart. I did all of that research because I know my family well – I know that they love to debate theology, and that this particular theology is one that they will likely attack, or at the very least wrestle with. I’m anticipating ongoing hard conversations, and the need on my part to set (and continue to enforce) a whole lot of boundaries. I’m also hugely aware that most of the questions will be driven by underlying emotion, and not by logic or theology. Mom’s use of the word “crap” reminded me of that. A question phrased like “how do you reconcile the emphasis on Mary with scripture” is a whole different ball game than “how do you reconcile all the extra crap with scripture.” I’m admittedly terrible at not feeling the emotional questions as personal attacks, but I think I’m going to have to learn quickly. I’m also aware that there is probably nothing I can say that will convince my family that this is a sound choice – that will convince them of the things that took much prodding from the Holy Spirit and a year of research to convict me into forward motion. And so I’m going to have to set boundaries and learn to live with yet another difference between me and the rest of this family that I love dearly. And I can do that, but I kind of hate it, too – the disunity. It breaks my heart and drives me to prayer. And that, I suppose, isn’t such a bad place to approach this from.