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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Welcome to Catholicism



Well, that was a rush of a Holy Week and Easter weekend. If you missed out on the news, I am officially Catholic now (losing my title as the unofficial-official-converting-Catholic). It's taken me to this point to be able to sort out all the various feelings involved (lots of those) but I'm ready to throw out some thoughts on it all.

On the Easter Vigil:

This was the big ceremony of the year from what I was told and it lived up to its billing. There was a fire pit (with fire ... and lots of lighter fluid ... and wind), there were candles, tons of incense and singing, and lots -- lots -- of people. I was given an entire pew of my own for me and my guests (assumed to be my family, but they're all in Alabama and very much NOT Catholic), which looked pretty empty for the entire four hours before the ceremony.

I arrived there at four in the afternoon to walk off my nervous energy and just sit and contemplate. The church where this all went down is a beautiful place, with many quiet areas just to have a seat and think. Which think I did.

This was the culmination of about two years of work. From my initial investigations, to meetings with my priest friend, to moves from Ohio to Virginia to Alabama to Virginia once more (just a week before) and many, many Masses inbetween. My thoughts were all about the time spent thinking about this day, wanting this day ... and here I was.

It was all surreal, really. By 7:15 I was in my pew, awaiting my best friend (and sponsor) to arrive and being profoundly aware that I was the only one in a very empty pew. If you ever want to feel lonesome, sit in a pew in a Catholic church as people are starting to fill up the pews around you. Catholic families are usually on the larger side and they come in bunches -- this night was no exception.

At 7:30 my best friend arrived and took a seat beside me; we just went on about many things. The two of us tend to tangent off into many subjects. I was dressed in a suit (of all things) and she thought it looked nice (which was nice to know, suits are so constraining) and she was dressed nicely, too. It was the Easter Vigil after all.

Eventually our conversation turned to the event at hand: I was about to become Catholic. She asked if I was ready. I didn't exactly have an answer then, nor did I have one in the coming days (I would see her again on Sunday and Monday).

Was I ready for a completely life-changing event, one that I'd been working towards for two years, one that was set in motion nearly four years before?

I have an answer for that question now: yes. On the surface that looks like a rather trite answer, especially considering the gravity of the question. But I've been doing my best to live like a Catholic for a little over two years. It hasn't been easy, it's been a massive adjustment (going from Baptist to Catholic is like learning how to do everything with your left hand when you're right handed), but it's been worth it.

The Catholic Church -- and Catholicism -- gives me a peace I don't have anywhere else. I frequent my church because of that peace that's there ... sure, I have the ability to go to any Catholic church in the world and receive the sacraments, but I like my church. It's a nice benefit though.

So, yes, I'm ready to be Catholic, to live Catholic, and to function as Catholic; does that mean I'll be perfect at it all? Not in the least. Remember, this is the beginning for all this. The two years I spent preparing for this moment has led to joining the Church.

Back to the ceremony, which was a sight to behold. I was confirmed via the profession of faith, my best friend behind/beside me, and with a pew full of my Catholic friends watching. That, in of itself, earned a variation of this once it was all done:








But that wasn't the moment I was most looking forward to. No, that moment would be receiving the Eucharist for the first time.

For over two years, when it came time for people to get in line to receive the Eucharist, my place would be standing outside the pew, letting people pass me, and then I would take my seat back in the empty pew. I can count the number of times on one hand when I wasn't the only one in that pew.

For two years I watched people get it. For two years I waited, kneeling, and had to endure being left out. I simultaneously loved Mass and hated it; loved it for what it was and hated it for what I could not experience. It just grinds you down, being denied over and over something that you want.

And I did want it. Badly. On Holy Thursday, I was at the last Mass before the Easter Vigil, where we took all the things for Holy Communion out of the church and put them in an open place for people to adore it quietly till midnight. I didn't stay till midnight, but I certainly knelt down on the hard, wooden floor and stared at it.

You know what I was thinking?


I'll see you on Saturday. Be ready.

I was looking so forward to it. Getting the Eucharist after all this time, after all the denial (self-inflicted, to an extent, because I could have easily gotten in line once and gotten it ... but I wasn't Catholic and that would have broken the rules and I didn't want to do that -- I had researched it, I understood what it meant), was the high point. I was fairly certain I was going to cry -- I nearly did thinking about it all kneeling on that floor Thursday night.

We come back to the Easter Vigil, where we're now entering the familiar territory of the usual Mass. I'm in now, I'm official, but it doesn't feel like I'm in ... not quite yet. The Eucharist still awaits, the final part of this completely insane journey of mine. Arriving at the Eucharist seemed to take longer than usual, but that was likely because of how much I was looking forward to it.

But we did get there. And, for the first time in over two years, I didn't have to stand outside the pew and watch people walk by me. I got to get in line. Now, I had been watching people receive the Eucharist for that time carefully, trying to figure out what I was going to do. There are multiple ways to do it -- everyone has their own little combination.

I decided to keep it simple for my first time and merely knelt before receiving it.

It was the best tasting thing I've ever had. THE BEST. The best. Best. Ever.

Best.

I've had the pleasure of knowing many great cooks in my life -- my best friend would qualify easily for this title -- and I've experienced many a great tasting thing. Cheesecake to die for, steaks to savor, bacon to break into spontaneous applause about ... and not a one of them separate or combined was as good as the Eucharist.

Now, admittedly, this probably has roots psychologically and religiously; I've been looking forward to this for two years and it's been very much on my mind during Holy Week. Rationally, I understand the taste associated with it -- it was lightly sweetened, I know that much.

But that doesn't lessen it in the least. I can come up with a thousand rational reasons as to why it tasted so good, but the truth is that it tasted so good because it is that good. It is, by its nature, good. The best good you can have.

Once the Eucharist was had by all and I managed to blink away a few tears (hopefully stealth-like), we closed out the Mass and that was it. Nearly 2.5 hours after the whole show began, we had reached the conclusion. 29 of us, in total, joined the Church and, at least for me, the night will remain burned into my mind.

What It Means:

The analogy I came up with is pretty straight-forward. I'm a huge Star Trek fan; I know more about that than just about anything else in my life. Joining the Catholic Church, after two years of waiting and more getting to that point, is like joining the crew of the Enterprise (I'll take the original, please).

It's that momentous a thing, it's that big -- I worked to get here, I am here, and this is just the beginning of it all. The Enterprise is the best ship in the fleet, the thing that saves the universe time and time again. And the Catholic Church may not fight the Borg or prevent a whale probe from destroying Earth, but its mission -- similar to the Enterprise -- is to save the innocent. To foster peace and understanding, to explore strange new worlds, to be unafraid of the future, and to boldly go where no one has gone before.

I just joined the best ship and crew in the fleet. I might be a lowly redshirt (maybe I'll get transferred to the science department), but I'm here.

The best is yet to come.

Thanks for reading folks. God Bless. 




 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why Virginia?



"Why Virginia?" Is the question that I've most gotten in the last few days from those I work with. News broke Monday that I was leaving the store and heading up to Virginia, much to chagrin of many. I've had my store manager jokingly threaten to lock me in the store until I change my mind, among other things.

Now, as those of you who follow my exploits regularly know, I've been wanting to get back to Virginia since I had to leave there back in early October. It wasn't a very graceful exit (a blown out tire, a tow, a late-night hotel check-in, and misery will make anything less than graceful) and my arrival back in Alabama wasn't a favorite thing of mine.

But that's all about to be done. March 28th, I'm back in the place where I belong. This past weekend I traveled up there to close the deal on a place I wanted to rent -- and I closed that deal. It was a fun weekend, but a brutal drive there and back.

Since I got back, I've fielded the titular question a lot. Here's why.

1. Virginia has people I love dearly in it.

I have friends and family (not blood, but just as meaningful if not more) there, and being close to them is a very good thing. It's worth just about any price, any expense, any effort, to get back there as this weekend proved -- it's a 12-13 hour drive up there and another 12-13 back from Alabama and I did it just to close the deal on a place I'm RENTING.

Since I'll be nearby again, I can help out. I can show up randomly and make a day of things. I can be a part of something I desperately love being a part of. That's more than I can say for my time in Alabama, which isn't bad but certainly isn't fulfilling in the same way.

2. I'm converting to Catholicism.

This Easter, as a matter of fact. Doing so in Virginia, where this journey of mine started, is absolutely crucial. It's necessary and it's completely right to do it there. Being a Catholic in Alabama is a joke, really -- yes, there are Catholics here and I have a decent church nearby I like, but I don't love that church like I do the one where this all started.

No, that church has a special place in my heart. The people there have a special place and this doesn't work unless I start it all off in that place. I'm a Catholic noob and, even after my conversion goes through, I'll still be a rookie at this. I have SO MUCH to learn and figure out but I'll do it in the best place possible.

That church in Virginia, that place is where this started and where I want to begin this journey. I'd like it to be my spot always, but we'll see if that's in the cards.

3. I keep going back there.

God has made this all work, let's make that VERY clear. I didn't predict my current job taking me back to Virginia at all when I began it -- I work retail, after all, it's not exactly glamorous or known for mobility, but this worked somehow. I got the money, somehow. My car didn't die, somehow. I found a place, somehow.

And that somehow belongs strictly to God. In my six months of southern exile, I have grown to really appreciate the way he works, even if it's frustrating. He's answered many prayers (he's kept my best friend from suffering serious health issues, among other things), he's given me a glimpse of things here and there, and he's allowed me to actually trust him -- which, if you've been reading this blog for years (if you have, you are a saint), you know how I struggled in the past and still struggle with trusting the big guy upstairs.

I'm a control freak. Trusting the all-knowing, all-powerful Father is difficult to do when I don't control things.

Still, I wouldn't be here without him. This doesn't work without God. God keeps taking me back to Virginia and this time (I hope) it's for good. I'm taking up every stake I have here in Alabama and moving it to Virginia.

This is my make or break play and I think I'm going to make it.

4. Virginia is where I'm at my best.

The best things I've done in my life, short and largely unspectacular as it is, has happened in Virginia. In that state I found an adopted family that means the world to me (actually, probably worlds). In that state, I went Primal and began a weight loss journey which ultimately led me to lose 133 pounds in only 11 months. In that state, I found Catholicism and got answers to questions I've had for years.

Is it a perfect place? No, but no place is on Earth. But that place is perfect for me I think and, for a traveler of many states (Air Force Brat), I'm glad I found one I actually like.


Are there more reasons? Oh, sure. I could be here all day typing out why I love that place. But those are the main one's above.

I'm heading back and I'm excited.

God bless everyone and thanks for reading.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lent and Other Things






And we find ourselves here again: Lent 2015. If you missed last year's super-exciting Lent (filled with my usual brand of strangeness) feel free to take a look back starting here. As for what I'm doing this year, it very much resembles what I was doing last year ... which is to say, I'm trying to use Lent to gain a better understanding of my faith (even though, like last year, I'm just as unofficially Catholic as ever) and how it applies to my life.

I don't necessarily know what this Lent will bring. Last year's Lent was a strange and exciting time -- this year's Lent may be more of the same or something different, I'm not entirely sure. Whatever the case may be, this year's Lent (which began this past Wednesday) began the countdown to Easter.

Easter approaches and I'm still here in Alabama. With Lent now in effect, that means I'm officially on the clock -- I have 44 days left before April 5th arrives. My grandiose plan to get out of Alabama and back to Virginia is still in effect, I have the capital now (and the longer I'm here, the more capital I accrue) but I'm stuck.

The transfer from my current store to one in Virginia is frozen in limbo: it's like the other store is on a communications blackout, refusing any messages from my HR guy. That's frustrating enough, as you can imagine.

Equally frustrating is my helplessness in a number of other areas, where friends back in Virginia could use a hand and I'm stuck. Here. Again. Last year I was stuck in Ohio, this year in Alabama, but I'm in far better shape on multiple levels this time around, so perhaps that will expedite the process of getting back.

More than being helpless, I'm also suffering from a bit of confusion. If the court will recall, I did have one shining week in November with one shining example of a great girl; as of late, I find myself revisiting that week. Why?

The answer is probably because last week was Valentine's Day. I was never so happy to have to work than that day, a day where the very fact that I'm single is looked down upon as the celebration of "we" overrode everything else. The Valentine's Day section did have cards for other things than just romance this year (an improvement, I guess), but it still didn't take the edge off.

Anyway, I worked and was glad to work. Not so glad to have to work a double-shift the next day starting at 5AM (not fun) but this week has been a much easier week of work and my mind has been drifting back to that week in November.

I find myself fighting the urge just to make it plain and speak my thoughts/feelings. I feel like I'm at the scene in the romantic-comedy where the male lead is at the airport terminal and he's about to confess everything to his love interest, putting it all out there because he believes there's more.

Problem: I do believe there's more, but I'm fairly certain she doesn't. Hence, why I'm very likely not going to confess everything there is to confess, at least not at this juncture. I'm of the mindset that honesty is the best policy and that I should be honest, but she's clearly expressed her wishes (in short: NO) and I have to respect that. I have to honor that.

But I definitely want to figuratively spill my guts and put it all out there, just so I can be absolutely sure that I'm not making one of those "and I regretted it for the rest of my life" mistakes. I don't want to make such a mistake.

"Your experience is limited, it's not like that," you say. You're right, of course, it's not as though this girl is the only girl who'll ever show any interest in me. Odds say that there's bound to be another.

But I want this girl. Not in some dishonorable, deplorable manner -- this isn't just about a physical thing (yes, I realize that's prevalent in our modern hookup culture, but when you say"hookup" to me I think "Wireless router" -- the physical aspect is not an issue here). I want her for her mind, her intellect, her personality, her wit, the Southern drawl she has, her love of classic literature, her love of Doctor Who ... I want her for her. I could go on (as anyone will testify, I can roll on and on about things), but the point remains: that has to mean something, right?

It's not like she's the first. She's among a very select few, but not the first. And it's not as though she's a fantasy girl (she's quite real, even though her existence does confuse me on a number of levels). She has her flaws. I have mine and, for a week and a handful of dates, we shared those flaws and strengths for hours on end.

She made going into a Goodwill fun. And a salon store. And Walmart (which, if there's ever a test, that might be it -- Walmart is retail misery personified).

But what does it mean? That, I don't know. I'm confused by it. I'm confused by the fact I still have feelings for a girl who was only a regular part of my life for a week. Seven great days.

I feel like there are two possible directions my life could take right now. On the right is the path that I've wanted since I got to Alabama, a return to Virginia, a return to Catholic country, a return to people I love and would love to see as often as possible. That path is somewhat illuminated, it has goal-markers, signposts, it has some semblance of guidance to it.

And then we have the path on my left, which was opened to me thanks to that one week with that one girl; it's a path that's dark, shrouded in mystery, potentially overgrown and filled with mines. It's a path that could be just as lonely -- perhaps even more lonely -- than the first one, it's a path that has no signposts or guidance. It's a path I'm unwilling to go down.

Unless I could go down it with her. I'm completely and totally willing to blow up every carefully laid idea and plan I have to give that dark and scary path a shot. I think it's worth it, I think she's worth it, and I'm not unconvinced of this even though we're nearly at the three month mark since it all came to an end.

I don't know what I'm doing here and I'm not sure there's an answer that will present itself as either right or wrong. There are merely answers, all some shade of both, and I have it within my power to choose any of those answers. I can confess my feelings, I can make an impassioned speech to win her back, I can leave it be, I can try and forget her, or I can do none of the above.

I simply can't tell which is the most right or the most wrong out of those answers. I don't know what it means.

I'm devoting this Lent to trying to solve that question ... am I wrong? Should I bury these thoughts and feelings? Is there some answer in scripture, in teaching, that I'm missing? I don't know right now. I hope to find out once Lent is over.

Where I am once Lent is over ... that's another question entirely and one, perhaps, I'll be able to answer sooner.

Thanks for reading, folks. God Bless.