When I was 18, I became Catholic. For months, leading up to the day of my entrance into the Church, I sat in the pew, in awe of this beautiful Church which had shown me so much in so little a time. I was amazed by the depth, the beauty, the wisdom, the overwhelming love. The dozens of questions I had asked, for my entire life, which had been so easily answered. Finally.
I was love-struck, after a very long race. My heart’s desire was finally here.
So, naturally I was protective. And fiercely loyal. I wanted everyone to join me, holding hands like the ‘We Are the World’ video of my youth, traipsing through the doors together, all united, all loving my same Jesus. All at once, just like that, I wanted it. Badly.
But, that did not happen. My family and friends remained who they were. Still attended their various churches, or none at all. And I was perturbed. Couldn’t they SEE? Why did they not FOLLOW me? Could they not tell, just by the look on my face, that my whole life had changed?
And so, my view toward Ecumenicism (the effort to promote mutual understanding and, ultimately, unity among all Christians) became that of total conversion or nothing. If you’re not with me, you’re against me. (just so you know, that’s not a very good place to be.)
Slowly, as years went by, I softened. Thank goodness. I became more accepting. Wondering at the ways of God and all these churches scattering the sides of the highways. “What saint is that one named for, Mommy?” my children would ask, as we passed the Chinese Baptist Church near our house. “Oh, I don’t know.” I would resort. Not wanting to explain all that just yet.
And so, I was able to ignore all of this for years. For almost 20 years, in fact. Until now.
The year all my children entered public schools.
There is good there, don’t get me wrong. Good kids, good teachers, good learning. But there is just so much, too – big and loud and barging in – so many lives intersecting. The children come home with stories of this or that, of the many times they’ve had to choose the right path, and maybe be the only one. Of my son only having a handful of friends who don’t cuss like sailors. My daughter ignoring, daily, all kinds of misuse and inappropriateness. I won’t go into detail. That’s not what this is about.
It’s tough sometimes, to say the least.
Then one day, I met at fellow school parent while running errands. We chatted about some difficulty or another, and she said, “Well, I’ll pray for you.”
I looked in her eyes. And smiled. And said, “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
Then, a teacher, in a conversation, “Do you mind if I share something personal?” And then she tells how she sees all of her students as unique creations of God, and infinitely precious in His sight. Regardless of grades, math facts or reading levels.
The teacher who plays the Christian radio station in her classroom.
A Mormon friend who encourages me with her strength, kindness and family unity.
The student teacher who noticed my daughter’s pro-life t-shirt and asked, “So, are you going to the fundraiser tonight?”
For a few weeks there, my 2nd grader would come home and say, “So-and-so goes to Blankety-Blank Church. Is she Catholic?” With her big blue eyes, trying to figure it all out. “No, she’s not Catholic. But she’s a Christian, just like we are.”
Over and over, she’d ask, about this classmate and that classmate.
And then one day, after school, eating a graham cracker, crumbs skittering all over the wooden tabletop, she said, “Well, I don’t know if she’s Catholic. But she loves Jesus, Mom. That’s a good thing, right?”
And I stopped in my tracks, setting down the stack of school papers I was sorting. No longer worried about those dashed crumbs. “Yes Katherine. That is a VERY good thing.”
I’ve come to see, for me at least, that ecumenicism is so much less about explaining tenants of faith, of debating theology or translations of Scripture. I used to think that was it. But no. Instead, I’ve come to see and love that one common gaze. Our eyes focused on Jesus, as we trudge and stumble and drag our families through this world full of obstacles and challenges.
Maybe we can hold hands in this, altogether, after all.
It’s easy to become insulated, some of us, who lead sheltered lives. Who see only a few people of our choosing. Who have complete control over with whom we interact. But most of us don’t have that small world. It’s not an option, and probably won’t be an option for our children. And while, at the time, it might seem like a good, safe, comfortable place – it might really be like living in a terrarium. It seems like the whole world, but it’s not. There’s so much more going on outside the container – real people, real lives, real situations that need us as much as we need them. Real people, for whom the Heart of Jesus beats, just as strongly as for us. People that need us and our faith to shine a light.
And as cliche as that sounds, that is what it is – light. Whether an adult or child, when you come across someone – in the workplace, school playground, grocery story, book club, PTO meeting – who believes, who LOVES Jesus, you are so glad. And you can stop there. It’s okay.
I will always, ALWAYS, be completely in love with my Catholic Faith. I will always, in my heart of hearts, hope that everyone on this planet will join me. But I won’t let any curtains fall on those moments of light, for me or for my children, when with joy and relief we find that common home, a common companion, a common follower, that one common gaze. We we can say, with joy, “They love Jesus. And this is good.”
I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others to do the same.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity