There is something about being raised Roman Catholic that doesn’t quite ever leave you, no matter how long you’ve lived or how far you’ve strayed. It’s a rooted thing. It’s always in you, some small part calling you.
As a lapsed Catholic, I want to share my experience in hopes that it might provide some support and encouragement to some other *lapsies* who might be wavering. Maybe it’ll help.
After almost 30 years away from “The Church”, I was moved to return. (Getting old? Getting ready to meet My Maker? Living a sin-filled life getting to me? – Can’t rightly say, but what I can say, it was time.)
Although I didn’t participate in Mass or abide *by-the-rules* for decades, it doesn’t mean I threw myself away from my religious tradition. I’d always identified myself as Catholic, worn my sacred medal around my neck and had my “Catholic things” around me and my home. I’ve said my prayers, owned-up and confessed my sins, but that’s not Absolution and it doesn’t allow for partaking in the Eucharistic sacrifice and sacrament, does it? So, how do I return in a good way according to the faith? How does one even do that after so long?
I thought long and hard about it. Hmm, maybe it’s that submission/surrendering to authority thing. I decided to attend a Mass, a nice familar ritually rich High Mass, the old Latin ways with all it’s beauty and splendor and symbolism. A little hard to keep up with the ritual, but do-able, even considering the “liturgical aerobics”. (As an aside, I got lost on my way to that Mass and almost didn’t make it, but I persevered, arriving in good time despite the unexpected scenic route. Go figure.)
Then, it’s time for the big one: Reconciliation. I composed my *list-of-sins*, reflecting on the ways I’ve fallen short in “thought, word and deed” over the years and can say I am truly sorry. But, making myself go to Confession to “make a good act of contrition” was a bit harder. Despite my feelings and fears… I didn’t know what was going to happen, the Holy Spirit set fire to the confessional box with me in it, maybe? — Heck, the priest caught on fire during my Confirmation class, so it can happen! — The last time I went to Confession there weren’t even confessional boxes when I went and the Church has changed since then, so who knows?! It seems it was going to be a case of “Spirit was willing but the flesh was not”, so it became a matter of willing myself, not waiting for that emotionally-okay-feeling to make it’s appearance and soothe me.
For me, it was something akin to an out-of-body experience. I made a decision. I watched myself getting ready to go, making sure I had my *sin list* — (Like I might forget them or something?) — my *prayer notes* as the memorization of some prayers was a bit rusty, deciding to take my rosary along with me for good measure. I watched myself driving to the church parking lot, not quite sure I was even going to get out of the car when I got there. I did. (Had to ask a young kid where the confessions were being held and fortunately he knew and kindly directed me.) In retrospect, I think I had a little help from somewhere getting myself there.
Then, inside the church we go. There was a line of sinners, but no box. It was a door. (Uh-oh. What lay behind that door?) Well, got that far, might as well go in. Lucky for me, there was a kneeling rail and a screen instead of a priest in an armchair staring at me, peering into the depth of my decades-long sin-scarred soul!
Try this one on (You have to have been raised an old-style Catholic from your wee years to get the full impact of this):
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned, it’s been about 30 years since my last confession and you’re going to have to help me with this because it’s been a while….”
Fortunately for me, I had a priest who was quick on his feet and swiftly composed himself after he said with seeming surprise: “Thirty years? We’re not going to have time to go over all of them, but if you are truly sorry, and just hit the major ones that really bother you, all could be forgiven.”
“Can I use the list I brought with me for reference, Father?”
“That would be good. Very good.”
So, after some discussion about my sins and the state of my soul, time for penance.
“Do you have a smart phone phone with you?”
I did not expect the priest to ask me at Confession if I had a smart phone with me. Ahh, yes, the Church has indeed changed! There weren’t even smart phones at my last Confession. (Basically, penance involved praying the rosary and it would be okay to use a smart phone to search the web for rosary directions if I didn’t remember.)
Later, as I shared my experience with a friend, she said good-naturedly “Ahh, the Franciscans! You got the “Jiffy Lube” version of Confession.” (Personally, I think God was okay with that for me. Hmm, though I do now wonder what would have happened with a Jesuit…)
So, all in all, it IS possible to return to the Church, get right with God in the Catholic tradition. If you are reading this because it’s been a while for you, too, I hope my sharing of my experience helps you on your path back. If I can do it, trust me, you can, too. They’ll be help from that small part of you that’s been calling….