Go in peace (Draft # 1 — Personal Essay)

I enter his house. I scan my surroundings, and choose my pew. I amble up the aisle to my destination. Upon reaching it I stop to genuflect, and make the sign of the cross. I perch myself on the edge of the pew as I pull down the kneeler. I kneel, and whilst looking ahead at the figure of Christ hanging over the altar, I cross myself again and begin to pray.

I am a lapsed Catholic. Until a month ago I didn’t know the term existed, yet somehow I embrace it as my new moniker.

My parents died within 17 days of each other. My father’s passing was expected — my mother’s was not. In that space of time, I became an orphan. At a time when faith should have helped me the most, I felt alone, and angry. I distanced myself from my religion.

My father’s family is Irish Catholic. The image of the Sacred Heart hung in their dining room for as long as my Grandmother was alive. It now hangs in my home. Attending Mass for my father and his siblings was not an option — it was mandatory. When my parents were married my mother became a Catholic. That’s what was expected of her. She was 17 years old.

Growing up my family attended church regularly, until my parents broke up. After my father moved out the need to attend weekly Mass seemed to disappear. I missed it. I missed him. When I was old enough I began to attend on my own. It felt like I had come home. Years later when I became a mother I brought my children to church, and even taught Sunday school at our parish. I did this because I wanted to capture that sense of peace for them. I do not know if I succeeded. I did my best.

As I sit here waiting for Mass to begin, I try to still my thoughts and just be present in the moment. I tell myself I have come today to revisit an old friend — that is all. When in fact, this new moniker I possess has stirred a curiosity in me. I notice that the light of the stain glass window is throwing a reflection of Christ’s face onto the beam. Is this a sign? Has divine intervention occurred? I don’t know, but it is beautiful. That’s enough for now.

Being a Catholic in 2015 is not for the faint of heart. From the media bashing the institution for its egregious mishandlings of the molestation cases, to being deemed lemming like if you believe in God, or listening to the constant disparaging of organized religion, it seems everyone has an opinion they easily share, but somehow I am incapable of responding too. I don’t project my beliefs on others. I don’t engage in discussions about religion. It’s personal. I find it useless to voice my opinion on certain aspects of my religion. If ever I get an audience with Pope Francis, it is only then I will voice my concerns. Until then, I will join the many other North American Catholics like me and worship the best way we can.

I believe that there are pivotal moments in your life that either propel you forward, or stop you in your tracks. When my parents divorced my existence changed. My carefree days were over. At that time, families that split up were rare. I became different from my friends. I just wanted to be like them, but I no longer was. It was out of my control. My only familiar link to the past was through my grandparents, and through our shared belief in God. It tethered me to that past life I grieved for.

So, when my parents died last year, I went into autopilot. You have to understand that I am “that” person in our family. The person that will make sure everything is done, and everyone is included. I seemingly handle whatever life throws at me, or everyone else in my tribe. It’s a position I was promoted to when I stopped being a daughter and became my Mother’s confidant. The divorce was not just the end of their marriage; it was the end of my childhood.

I have always had difficulty admitting weakness. I just never could reveal that part of me. Perhaps, it’s because of the expectations that people had of me, or at least what I perceive they had of me. Instead, I choose to isolate myself when I am hurting. At these times, attending Mass, and being lost in the rote routine of it provided solace to me. No one was focused on me; I was just a part of the bigger picture.

I read somewhere once that belonging to a parish is a connection that exists by something stronger than blood. As I glance down the pew in front of me I see a toddler grinning back at me. I smile back; there is a connection. Without hesitation I say a small prayer for her, asking for God to bless her and her family. I have never laid eyes on her before today.

I stand and join in with the congregation for the closing hymn, Immaculate Mary. I love this hymn; it conjures up an image of a Mother hugging her child. I miss my Mom. My eyes well up. I watch as the priest and his entourage descends from the altar and makes their way to the back of the church. His final blessing was as it always is, “The mass has ended, go in the peace to love and serve the Lord.”

As I wait for my turn to leave the church I feel lighter. I make my way to the back of the cathedral smiling and nodding to fellow parishioners as I reach the entrance. I pause and look back up the aisle to the altar, and recall a verse from Matthew, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I.” Perhaps it was a sign. I will be back old friend.

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