Today I told my parents I was joining the Catholic Church. In the smoothest way possible, of course. I was very casual, choosing my words to match their image of church-going. We all attended mass together so we could watch my daughter’s Christmas program. During mass some leading questions were posed by my dad, which made it an opportune time for exposing my Catholic intentions. Afterwards, I said I was becoming a member of our church at Easter and they were welcome to come. My dad responded only that they’d love to come, and they’re happy to be there for all our big occasions. The conversation smoothly glided over this, and I almost wish there had been a bigger response so I’d know where they stand. But, I suppose, I do know.
My parents, like I did when I was a Protestant, view the Catholic Church as another denomination. They think there are Pentecostals, Baptists, Methodists, charismatic non-denominationals, Presbyterians, Calvinists, Catholics, Episcopalians, etc. Granted, they disagree with a lot about the Catholic Church, but then, they disagree with a lot about the current church they attend. Quoting my mom, they believe there “is no perfect church or perfect people”. In a way, I agree. There’s no perfect human side of any church. But I depart from their view in that I believe there is one perfect divine, holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. There is no way for them to understand that I believe this based on me telling them that I’m becoming a member of the Catholic Church. In their experience, people join churches and leave them. Membership is fluid, negotiable, and non-committal. You retain your ability to pick and choose your beliefs and disagree on particulars with what they teach.
Although I haven’t told them the extent of my Catholic-ness, I know they’re starting to see it more and more. Today, they attended a regular mass with us for the first time, in order to see Isabel’s Christmas program. They have been to mass with us before when Chris joined at Easter vigil three years ago, but that was a largely different experience with candle lightings to distract them from things like the consecration. Today, they saw me ask Blessed Mary ever-virgin to pray for me. They saw me profess belief in one Church and one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. They saw me genuflect on entering and kneel in the liturgy. When my dad asked why some people took only bread and not wine, my explanation told him that I believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist. He responded by jokingly saying he was conflicted about these weird things – the whole Body and Blood thing, he can’t take communion, I’m not taking communion and I’m not a member of the Church. He said he didn’t know what to do about it, and I told him he doesn’t have to do anything about it. My mom and he were snickering that they had to pray hard for me. I told them thanks, I need it, I pray hard for them, too.
There’s comments like that, and like later at home when my dad said (again jokingly) that he felt ostracized because of all the pointing and staring at him that the Catholics did. I told him it was probably the neon sign blinking over his head, to which he added “saying ‘heathen'”. Chris piped in that maybe he wanted to go take a shower after spending time with all those dirty Catholics, but my dad said some of their sanctity wore off on him, he was probably okay.
Maybe this tells me a little their real problem with the Catholic Church. It professes to be the true Church, Christ’s Church. They know they’re on the outside, and as I get in on it, they know I see them this way. Maybe this idea I have that they’re not exactly pro-Catholic comes from the knowledge that I’m not exactly pro-Protestant. I’m afraid to let them know how I feel about what they believe and how they raised me, and less afraid to tell them what I do believe now.
I’ve been so afraid to tell them that I’m becoming Catholic. I’ve built it up in my mind with a lot of accompanying anxiety. I don’t think I was giving them enough credit. Obviously, they’ve said things to show they disagree with and are uncomfortable with some things Catholic. This is no different to them than any other church, though, and of course it’s going to get under their skin that Catholics believe they have the truth. Although they’ve made negative comments, they’ve also praised the bishops for their public stance on the health bill and Pope Benedict for his stalwartness. I think this has softened their view of the Catholic Church along with our various discussions over the years. Their improved view of the Church, the fact that I’m a big girl and they know they can’t control my decisions, and that I’ve become increasingly obviously Catholic, helped my big reveal become a rather small reveal. I was prepared for more, but I think this was what I was expecting. No big deal, just some sarcastic comments as issues come up. And I expect that I’ll have that for years to come.