My wife and I were born to parents who were baptized into the Catholic Church as infants. That I am aware of, all four of my grandparents and all four of my wife’s grandparents were also born into the church. Tradition is our family’s thing. Conversion has historically not.
It takes, I think, total submersion into a Catholic Parish in order to come away from church with more than two readings, a series of songs, a clear understanding of when to sit, stand and kneel and a murky sense of which prayers you may be able to one day convert in your brain to the new version they switched over to ten years ago, and which just are hopeless. Connection on an individual level, during the process of the mass, is not the highest priority. While I understand the reasons for why, I sometimes look to other friends, who attend other churches filled with a greater mission to praise through prayer, music, etc and feel a twinge of jealousy. I have to remind myself that the Catholic Church believes its mass not only provides us with the nourishment of the body of Jesus Christ on Sunday, but sets us up to be good Christian people most every other day of the week.
So as my wife and I, throughout the course of an infrequently granted date night, occasionally danced in and out of what we might do to benefit our spiritual journeys, and those of our children one day, we found ourselves simultaneously upset by the failings of the church – and our inability to grasp some of the greater meanings, and the myriad of reasons we have achieved successful faith-filled blessings throughout our time together.
By all appearances, just as God intended we found ourselves that next morning at 11:15, listening to the sacred scripture for the first week in ordinary time. The first reading was from the Book of Samuel. Two prophets, Eli – an established church leader and teacher of students like Samuel, a boy who was one day to be another to foretell the coming of Jesus. In the story, Samuel is woken many times to a voice saying only “Samuel”. The logical choice being that Eli, his teacher, is calling him – Samuel goes to Eli three straight times before finally Eli arrives at what is happening – Eli is experiencing his own calling from God. As Samuel answers Eli the 3rd time, Eli says to Samuel “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” Samuel does so. When the Lord calls the final time, Samuel does as he is bid. This results in Samuel knowing God, and God blessing Samuel’s words, that he be heard and believed for all of time.
For the rest of the mass, including the homily, I reflected on the church’s position relative to mine. I sensed that I’d been thinking as those of old with respect to the earth and sun. The earth, no matter its significance to us, does not hold the orbit of the sun. Alternatively, the earth orbits the sun. Just as I may wish the Catholic Church cater to what I believe I need, it is the centerpiece in this relationship. Its constant in my life is what has allowed me to know God, even if only in a minor way. Here I am, Lord!, should be my sentiments toward the possibility of a greater relationship with God, and yet I am worried about comparing the lifeblood of the Catholic Church to that of a non-denominational church that opened 5 years ago and probably won’t survive being handed down to another due to faith-based differences that naturally exist between to lives of faith.
My position within the church is one of many callings. The trick is to call on those vocations at the proper times. I am called to listen to those who might teach. I am called to minister to my children and my friends. I am called to promote the future of the church. I am called to be a member of a flock. I am called to be a shepherd in times in which a wolf presides.
It is hard to know which of these is needed at various times. Right now I get the feeling that God, and Samuel, are trying to remind me that the parts of me that need to connect with my faith in all of the various ways needs me to listen. Something that does not come easily, or naturally, to me. For the time being, my happiness, or the expansion of it, seems to be calling me into the realm of “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.” As I am called by my faith, church community, wife and children to fulfill various roles, I am to listen first.
I’m always amazed at the rate at which at least one amongst the readings specifically speaks to me or to an issue I’m having or concern I’m contemplating. This Sunday’s was no different. If we are to truly exist in happiness, then we must do so hand-in-hand with God. Step one starts with listening. But we can’t listen without truly first believing there is something to be gained by listening. I think I’ll start there. I’ll let you know where it leads.
Yours In the Pursuit of Happiness,