The priest at the Catholic church where we spend half our time is lovely. An older Irish man, he walks with a slight limp (I always imagine that it’s the weight of hearing so many confessions) and gives great bear hugs to all the kids after Mass. The first time we attended, he stopped us as we entered the church with a loud gasp and an exclamation of “what a pretty little girl!” (referring, of course, to St. A the Righteous, my 4-year old). She immediately held out her hand to shake his, in a very diplomatic gesture that still surprises me.
The service was quiet, solemn without being dark (a characteristic of way too many Catholic churches, for my taste), and had lovely, cantor-led music. I did wish that the parishioners would participate more…for this Evangelical, the lack of singing on the part of the peeps was a disappointment. The congregation was diverse, both ethnically and demographically, which was good to see. There was a sweet Indian man sitting near us with a powerful, operatic voice. I couldn’t help but steal a glance now and then.
So all was well, etc., but I had the overwhelming feeling the entire time that people were aware, somehow, that I was not of their ilk. Like they were going to ask for my “Catholic ID” at some point (maybe after the Eucharist, seeing that I didn’t kneel and all). Like the ushers in the back (who crossed themselves with holy water every time they passed the stoup) were bouncers in some exclusive club, looking me up and down, and noticing I didn’t have the invisible stamp, the one that only shows up with the ultraviolet Holy Spirit light. As if the entire congregation was about to turn as one and stare me down and out the door (“but I have a rosary hanging from my rearview mirror!” I’d shout, as they escorted me to my car). If this is a feeling I have, as a practicing Christian, I can only imagine what the unchurched visitor’s reaction might be.
Talking to my lovely (Catholic) husband, R, about it, he said it was all in my imagination. And, anyway, did I really want to feel like I belonged? Why did I need the approbation of a faith I didn’t even profess?
Recently there was a conversation here about a similar question…why can’t those of us who aren’t Catholic participate in communion (or Eucharist) in their church? I’m not sure why the question was argued, since no Protestant that I know wants to take communion in a church they believe so filled with error. I was proven wrong- if you follow the comment stream you can see that apparently there are those of us who do want it, just as, I am sure, there are Catholics who don’t have a problem with taking communion in a Protestant church (which is forbidden to them). And “guarding us” against “judgment” notwithstanding, the overall feeling many Protestants get is that of a huge fraternity that we’re unable to pledge for, an exclusivity which is the very antithesis of the message of Christ.
So the question for me, then, is…do I need the “imprimatur” of the Catholic church? Sure, to the extent that my family straddles the dividing lines. Yes, to the extent that my husband finds it important to be married through his tradition, which we have not done (yet), consequently disbarring him from the Eucharist. Personally? Not so much. Do I respect the tradition? Sure. Do I bow to it? No. And yes, that means that I will always be “a stranger in a strange land”. My Catholic card will always be invalid, the bouncers always suspicious, the stoup water just water.
And somehow, straddling this divide, juggling the two traditions, I have to be OK with that.
And somehow, I am.