I converted over 20 years ago.
It seems self-evident that if someone converts, the new church should be better, more satisfying, more spiritually fulfilling. In fact, few details of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church were attractive to me. Boring homilies, banal music, irreverent pew-sitters and clunky bulletins are national phenomena. I know because I have lived in ten states and driven through nearly all of the continental U.S. (Yeah, sure, there are a few architectural and liturgical gems out there. A very few.) In response, my standards tend to be pretty minimal.
Two decades after the fact, it is still all about Jesus. I converted because I believed in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist in the Catholic Church, and I am still thrilled to see him, receive him and thank him every week. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, this makes me a rare bird. Less than one in four attend Mass weekly. Fewer than half believe Jesus is truly present.
The frustration of being a Catholic in a culture that is unsupportive of Catholic sensibilities begs for a support group. This is how I understand the popularity of certain lay associations of the faithful. Over the years, I’ve been invited to meetings by members of Opus Dei, Regnum Christi (the lay arm of the Legionaries of Christ), the Neo-Catechumenal Way, Cursillo and many pious members of third orders. Occasionally, I went to a meeting or two. But, I just didn’t feel the need to join their ranks. I’m just a plain Jane Catholic.
These groups all had a few things in common. There was a certain distrust of the local parish or local diocese inherent in the group’s offerings. Essentially, they were commiserating with me about the failings of the people in my local church. In some places, where the failings were particularly appalling and well-known to the local newspaper, it was tempting to join up with the “remnant” of the redeemed. Who wants to be associated with the “bad” Catholics?
Often, they had charismatic, younger priests with time for spiritual direction and confession at regular intervals. They promised “better” catechesis for my children: more orthodox, more pastoral, more relevant, more satisfying than the RE at the parish. The families who invited me certainly showed more outward signs of piety that I could recognize as “Catholic,” and they often planned fun family outings. To be fair, some were also active in their local parishes. I don’t know why, but I resisted joining these groups. I’m just a plain Jane Catholic.
If the local church is broken, well, I guess I am broken with it.
I’m no saint, as my eight children will be quick to tell you. Plain Jane here is just surviving. Between work and the kids, every last ounce of my patience is already in play. I don’t see a need to worry about the problems in the larger Church, over which I have no control, nor jurisdiction. I am too busy boxing sixteen ears and juggling the books to accommodate Catholic school tuition. I’m too small of stature to throw Fr. Groovy Shepherd over my knee and give him his due.
I fit in at my local parish. They don’t require extra meetings, and I don’t have to promise to do extra penance, complete spiritual exercises, or explain my twisted soul to Fr. Young Turk. Sometimes I get to daily Mass, sometimes I don’t. I drag my kids to confession often enough, and have dropped a few tearful hankies there myself. I do the best I can. The fact that I am not a saint is reason enough to get me to Mass on Sunday, begging God to cover for my lack.
I hope am getting better at kindness and mercy, but this cranky middle-aged matron doesn’t always remember to censor her thoughts. The trouble with gaining life experience is that you feel compelled to share it with others. Sometimes forcefully. Sin. Repent. Forgive. Repeat.
My spiritual mediocrity should not be mistaken for lack of passion. Jesus had a passion, and therefore, the position on the cross is already filled. Now that I have adult and teen children to show me how incompetent I truly am, my desperate perseverance is truly my only ticket to the big party in the sky. This sure ain’t heaven, and in fact, I am a witness to that fact.
Receiving Jesus in the Sacrifice of the Mass means that my brokenness is swallowed whole by His divine mercy. Our brokenness as a Church is already being healed, or at least, I believe this. I have seen miracles happen often enough that I am content to sit tight as the wild ride continues. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the confident assurance of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1) For plain Jane, that’s Catholic enough for me.