Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Born-Again, but Only Half-Alive

Whilst I have been hither and 'yon', (over moor and fen?) in the rarified atmosphere produced by the singing of and listening to quilismae and tristrophas, (that's Greek, no? I don't know how one forms the plural, so I'll just give it a plain ol' English "s",) Himself kept up with the greater world.

On the desk-top I found he had saved an item from a blog at the New York Times, recounting a journey, sad and yet not altogether bereft of hope. (The combox, on the other hand, filled me with pessimism.)
About a decade ago, moved by a convergence of my longstanding fascination with religion and a time of great personal loss, I embarked on a search for a church and wound up a born-again Catholic. It was not a straight or untroubled path, guided as it was by both my attraction to and enmity for the Roman Catholic Church into which I was born and baptized.

Growing up Irish Catholic in New York City put me in a good position to experience the best and worst of the Church. Most of the Sisters of Charity who taught at my grade school were tyrants. In 1971 I knocked on the door of my parish rectory to inquire about becoming an altar server; I was advised that only boys could serve. Brides, said the priest, were the only females allowed on the altar. When my mother became critically ill at age 30, a Catholic priest administering last rites, refused to offer absolution when she, who had given birth to four children by age 25, refused to express contrition for taking birth control pills. People for whom I care deeply have been molested by priests.

In 1985, while working as a high school English teacher in a parochial school, I watched a 19-year student of mine weep in homeroom in response to that morning’s “pro-life” announcement, which included references to “mothers who killed their own babies.” I learned later that this young man’s mother had terminated a pregnancy two days earlier, [interesting that she fails to recognize that this boy's tear were, his pain was a reaction not to some announcement, but to the abortion his mother had procured -- and perhaps to a stark realization that the dead person could just as easily have been himself 18 years earlier] ...

The Catholic Church in New York has fed, educated and clothed more poor people than any other agency in the city. On most days a logic-defying confidence in the potential of the sacraments to deliver grace persists in me. [emphasis supplied] The beauty of even ordinary churches has never failed to astonish me. While I consider the brutality of the papacy, now and throughout history, a source of shame, Roman Catholic art, often commissioned by those very same bad popes is a source of pride, and comprises a tradition in which I, as a poet, often work.

Roman Catholic, as it turned out, was the language my spirit already knew. [emphasis supplied] Burning hyssop and frankincense, the stark and heart-charging splendor [GREAT phrase, the author is, after all, a poet,] of Gregorian chant, Marian devotion; the iconography, the Latin Agnus Dei and Litany of the Saints, the Angelus bells, the rapture at the crux of Catholic worship have always held fierce sway with me.

As I started to experiment with religious observance, I quickly developed a sense of what I did and did not want. My aims were practical and ethereal, metaphysical and physical. I wanted to transcend, but as the mother of three toddlers, I wanted convenience, too. I craved beauty, musica sacra, social justice work, and maybe a whisper of ancient tongues in my ear, but I also needed a church that would embrace the realities of motherhood. If the celebrant of the mass glowered or gawked when I jammed the baby up my shirt to nurse at mass, he failed the audition and I never went back.

I liked parishes that were racially and socio-economically diverse, houses of worship that were beautiful, the presence of women priests when I was lucky enough to encounter it. I had zero tolerance for folk masses, anti-abortion diatribes, ecclesiastical greed, rote reciters of scripture and congregants who refused to sing. (After all, as St. Augustine said, “singing is twice praying.”) When people in the pews were unkind to my generally well-mannered children, I crossed their church off my list. I preferred my homilists witty, lyrical and learned. A brilliant theologian and Dante maven who used to celebrate mass a few mornings a week in my neighborhood helped hook and reel me in. Most of all it was another — a lyrical priest I successfully hectored and charmed into serving as my de facto guru — who presided over my rebirth a s Catholic. And so I began to regularly attend Roman Catholic mass.

There is much more -- the self-portrait she paints is, of course, that of a protestant who was raised Catholic, and who , by the grace of God, has at least been drawn back to the Faith by Beauty, (putting herself in proximity to the sacraments! whose power does indeed defy logic...,) where the Truth will one day find her as well.

Or she it. Or rather, she Him.

And then she will indeed be born again.

Let us all pray for Michele Madigan Somerville.

One forgets sometimes that there are other liturgical conservatives, who are liberals in other areas of ecclesiology and/or life. (I was delightfully reminded of this several times last week. And less delightfully, the past several days.)

2 comments:

Charles said...

"One forgets sometimes that there are other liturgical conservatives, who are liberals in other areas of ecclesiology and/or life. (I was delightfully reminded of this several times last week. And less delightfully, the past several days.) "
Care to share?

Scelata said...

No, sorry.

(Save the Liturgy, Save the World)