It is said that reverts, those who left the Catholic Church for a while but then returned, are among the most ardent Catholics.
I am a revert.
But, even in my reversion journey I was not always an ardent and believing Catholic.
I'm a cradle Catholic, I was born into a Catholic family and grew up attending Mass with my family. But, my catachesis was poor. When I was tested by the world-especially in college-I left the Faith.
Correction. Sometimes, even in college, I still attended Mass. Maybe it's not correct to say I "left". In many ways, I don't think I was ever THERE. I was so poorly taught that not only did I have no idea what
I was missing, I had no idea why
I should miss it.
For a year, in my early 20s, I was an evangelical. I read a lot of Scripture during this period. I read Scripture with three eyes. I was reading Scripture as an evangelical. I was reading Scripture as part of my college courses, curiously (since it was a Catholic college), their interpretations were not evangelical or Catholic; they were feminist. I was hearing Scripture when I attended Catholic Mass with my parents when I went home. Yes, I was still going to Mass. Keep in mind, my poor catachesis and that I had no idea what I was doing.
I knew two things with certainty: confusion and babble. What does a person do when they are being pulled in multiple directions? That's right: pick one.
I went back to the Catholic church. I was lucky. I know others who have walked the same path chose to leave. Leave all faith. The babble and the confusion were too much.
I said I went back to the Catholic church. Well, technically. I ended up at one of the most notoriously dissenting Catholic churches in existance.
For me at the time, the message of dissent was what I wanted to hear. Nothing too judgemental. Nothing too challenging. Just as much faith as you want. It was empowering because it flattered ME. The perfect lover: nothing too demanding and I could leave whenever I wanted. I could make an appearance whenever I felt like it. I could arrange the faith around my life-not the other way around.
This was 15 years ago. It is only in recent years that I've come to finally recognize that I hungered for something. Something I did not have the knowledge to define or articulate. Something I could not recognize. Even in my absence, I still "felt" Catholic. I felt like an imposter as an evangelical.
I threw myself into dissidenthood. I signed up for a lot of action. I marched. I yelled. I made signs. I volunteered. I reported. I wrote. I was popular. I was known.
Still something bothered me. Where was prayer? The noise of it all started to get to me. The irreverence. The emphasis on the community. Where was the Lord? I was told He is here. Where? In the din? In the noise? In all this racket? I can't hear Him. I had trouble seeing Him in others the way I was told I should. I just felt stupid. For some reason, I did not seem to get it. I realized that, despite all my seeming popularity, I never really fit in. I still felt like an imposter.
I realized that the problem was ME. Something was lacking in me. I had to retreat. I had to withdraw. I had to learn. I've always been an interior thinking person so I had to find out and think it through. I started reading books that I had been discouraged from reading in college. I started reading the Church Fathers in their entiriety: not snippets taken out of context to justify lies. I started reading the encyclicals of our Popes. I was stunned to realize that these "old white men" had a message that resounded as Truth regardless of century.
Somewhere along the line I learned what The Real Presence really meant and then my faith as popularity contest, as "action news at 5" was all over. I needed to seek the Lord by making myself ready to see Him. When we are ready, He will come.
I needed to work on me. I needed prayer and silence. I needed Confession and Absolution. I needed Magisterium. I needed to stretch within the boundary of His love rather than flounder around in the limitless directionless void that is our world when we don't have The Christ.
I've been meditating a lot during the last several months on the life of St. John the Baptist. The Baptist knew two things with certainty: The Messiah was here and he, John, was not Him.
The Baptist was popular in that people were, probably despite themselves, drawn to his message. However, I can't say he was popular because of the food he ate or the clothes he wore. He shunned company and he was not exactly a joyful guy to have around. Can you imagine inviting St. John the Baptist to a party? First he shows up in camels hair and a leather girdle (not even Madonna could pull that off!) and he either refuses to eat your food or he only wants locusts and wild honey (find that at the co-op!). Then he proclaims such joyful news as: "You brood of vipers!"
I think inviting St. John the Baptist to your party would be like inviting one of those homeless, unkempt, smelly and dirty street preachers to your home for a formal dinner. You may like their message for the messages sake but, seriously, disapprove of the messanger.
Still, St. John the Baptist knew that following Jesus was not a popularity contest. The Baptist knew that doing the Will of God meant not doing his own. It's possible that The Baptist longed for a roof over his head and a good meal every day. Maybe he wished that people would quit running from him when they saw him coming. We can only project what we know into what we don't know about The Baptist. I know that I spent much of my life doing what the Baptist rejected: following my own will, caving into societal beliefs and expectations, believing "popular" theology rather than actual. Unlike St. John the Baptist, I was a reed shaken with the wind.
The Baptist tried to tell the people that the Messiah was already among them but they did not recognize Him. The Baptist recognized The Christ even while he was still in the womb of his mother St. Elizabeth. How can we, I, recognize Him if we are too busy looking at ourselves (myself)? How can we know He is here, among us, if we don't recognize Him when we do
see Him: at Mass in the Blessed Sacrament? We receive Him, yet we know Him not. He was here, He is here, yet we are still looking around in the wrong places.