I never fell away from the Faith. I was raised Catholic and always remained in the Church. I never felt the urge to rebel. And yet I would not call my faith steady.
I feel like one who was raised on the banks of a river she never thought to enter. Who saw the shining waters, the slow current, and figured they were all there was to the thing.
Growing up, I knew the basics: the outline of Christ and his Church and her teachings. I knew a few prayers. I knew the rhythm of the Mass. I thought it all vaguely pretty: safe, comfortable, lovably boring.
I might have fallen away: I had the same, spare 1980’s catechesis of so many fallen-away Catholics. I had the barest of familial and cultural attachments to the Church. I had no personal experience with truly committed Catholics.
Yet somehow I always felt an obligation to the Church, to the Mass. I felt tethered to them.
That tether, that tug, lead me to a Catholic college, to Catholic friends, and later to a job working for the Church. I had no idea what I was doing in those environments; they felt foreign to me.
I now see that those steps were my first into the river. They were my first substantial encounters with the Faith – when my knowledge shifted from one of observation to one of experience.
They were when I first felt the wet on my skin and the smoothness of water winding around my ankles. They were when I noticed the rocks under the surface, when my legs stung with cold. They were when I came to understand that the water wasn’t boringly pretty: it was lively, it was complex, it was bracing and beautiful.
I took those first steps haltingly, tentatively, feeling around, unsure I belonged. But over the next fifteen or so years I progressed more confidently, wading through the shallows until they too began to seem safe and boring.
My faith lagged. After that jolt in my early twenties, I struggled to maintain my interest. I continued to go through the motions, but my spirit felt like I was walking through waist-high water: all resistance, little progress.
Marriage and babies and exhaustion and loneliness did not help. No doubt I was being taught in those years to serve, to love selflessly, to show mercy. Those are important lessons. But in the slog, it was hard to remember the beauty.
Then, a couple of years ago, another jolt: I was sitting in our parish’s adult education program, watching the Word on Fire Pivotal Players series, when I was just about knocked over the head with the beauty of it. Week after week, my eyes filled with tears as I learned about great men and women of the Church and how they rose above the everyday in pursuit of the ultimate.
It was as if I’d reached the end of the shallows. I’d reached the point where the riverbed falls out from beneath you and all of a sudden you have to swim. That’s where the real work begins – the whole-body work. It’s where the risk and the cost begin too. It’s where you take big gulps of air and submerge yourself and kick and pull and glide.
Pivotal Players threw me off in the best possible way. It was a peeling back of the veil. Life is so much more than an exercise in how to fit it all in. It is so much more than the errands and chores and extracurriculars and intrigues that occupy our minds. Life is a staging ground for eternity.
The series reminded me of our personal responsibility to God, our role in carrying out His work, the innumerable ways we can go about that task, and the variety of gifts with which God equips us to do it.
I have a job to do. (And so do you.)
A big part – perhaps the biggest part – of that job is to get to know and love God. So I’ve been diving in: dedicating part of each day to prayer and scripture readings, undertaking some spiritual reading too, consuming podcasts and videos that address my questions and expand my horizons.
I feel like I’ve finally entered the deep. Swimming and treading, I look around in wonder. I have a better vantage, and therefore a better sense of just how small I am and how little I understand. But I also have a better sense of how big He is.
I am at the point in the river where I know that it is so much more than a glimmer of sun on surface. I am in the thing. I am stretching out, working my way through it, muscle and breath and hope.