Sunday, September 8, 2013

Teenager To Traditionalist: My Story Again

Sunday afternoon during the summer of 1991 I was playing with my brother in a half destroyed barn in the backyard of the house my mother rented.  My mother was calling from the backdoor of the old yellow farmhouse, it was time for church.  Why now?  Why would we want to do that?  Why did she suddenly want to start going to church?  Thanks but no thanks, don't ruin our fun.  This was how I felt at 12 years old.

My mother was one of 7 children raised during the 60's by Polish immigrants who settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Growing up I remember only what I perceived about my grandparents and my own parents.  I remember my grandma's house was always full of religious pictures and statues, we always prayed before we ate, and we always went to church on Sunday if I spent the night on Saturday.  I never remembered going to church with my mother and father, just my grandparents.  Sure I heard some stories, like how my dad blurted out, "I really need a joint" after Mass in the car with my grandparents, and how my mother kicked him and he said, "ouch, why did you kick me?".  I remember thinking it was a funny story.

During their 5 short years of marriage, my dad (raised Episcopal) would butt heads with my mom over the need for attending church.  She kept quite a few old love letters and years after the divorce she showed them to me, I was surprised by his written candor about love and God (topics avoided in our relationship).  The Charismatic movement was sweeping through the Church at that time and my mother recalled attending an event where my dad was prayed over.  "He was almost slain in the spirit" as my mother put it.  But apparently that did not bear fruit as their marriage and spiritual lives collapsed in a world filled with drugs and infidelity.

After the divorce my brother and I remained with our dad who was granted primary custody and the house, my mother ran off with a semi-pro golfer to Georgia.  Thankfully after 6 months she had a change of heart and returned to the area, irregular visitations and all the very unpleasant things that come along with broken families ensued for the next 13 years.  My dad and mom both remarried - both to fallen-away Catholics.  My dad once told me he hated being Catholic "because you have to go to church".  My mom found herself unexpectedly pregnant and after canceling her scheduled abortion, she hastily decided to marry while on vacation in Florida.

Life with my dad was devoid of religion accept for the occasional cursing of God's name.  My mom was a much more spiritual person, even though she was not attending church she did make an effort to talk to us about God and provide some kids books and movies based on stories from the Bible.  Around age 13 we became convinced by our mother to move in with her, it was a very abrupt move.  Later I would regret moving, so would my brother who moved back and forth several times leaving me feeling stuck with my decision.

Providentially it was during this time that my mother was slowly feeling the pull to return to church.  An old friend of hers planted the seed by simply saying, "you know you should be going to church".  I remember being confused about what to do and say at church but after several years of spiritual warfare I found myself going to church almost every Sunday.  Even my step-dad attended, though only because of my mother's persistence.  We eventually became Confirmed Catholics through the CCHD program.

Turning 18 meant getting out of the house and getting started on my own life.  At this point I had a steady job and a steady girlfriend, though the Holy Spirit had been kind enough to lead me to a Catholic girl who accepted my newly found desires to avoid co-habitation and pre-marital sex, at least to some degree.  It was during this period of my life that I recognized how important my Catholic faith was and how lucky I was to spend time with my mother who's strong religious convictions had guided me very well.  I would drive across town on Sundays to meet her or my grandma for church, though it was difficult when they weren't present, I felt like I was alone.

Occasionally my now long term girlfriend would meet me for church on Sundays but since she didn't live with me it was more convenient for her to attend with her family.  I was asked repeatedly by my grandpa to help usher but I was reluctant to make the commitment.  I did eventually join the ushers as a way to avoid sitting alone and to get more involved with parish life.  I flirted with the idea of being a Lector or 'Eucharistic Minister', but these were not for me, finishing the remaining Precious Blood on my communicant line seemed quite heroic to me (I would often get a thank you from the EMHC).

Thanks again to my mother I had also developed a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament through attending the once a month hour of Eucharist Adoration.  I spent the time praying and reading which I found very beneficial.  I learned to pray for the desire to better my life which in turn led me to Confession for the first time since Confirmation.  I would call it a watershed moment where I suddenly realized what it meant to truly be Catholic.

We were always forced to sit in the 2nd or 3rd row during Mass so until I started ushering I never realized that the experience from the back would differ so much from sitting in the front.  Nobody sang or responded in the back, people were constantly trailing in late and leaving early.  I often wondered why they endured week after week when it seemed as if they didn't want to be there!  I would often chuckle as late comers would ignore the usher's gesture to sit in the open seats near the front.  I also had a lot of time to observe the overall behavior of the parish congregation.

I quickly found myself in a state of perpetual distraction, I started to notice things that I was previously oblivious to, such as the absence of "us men" from the Creed.  Abuses in the liturgy were usually minor but they were regular.  I also tired of the hand holding and hand raising during the Our Father, something I found to be a moment of anxiety every time someone reached over to find my hands folded together.

Reflecting on the distractions I encountered each week, I felt relief when my Sunday obligation was fulfilled.  I longed for something more spiritual and intimate but the priest was seemingly incapable or unwilling.  I would complain to the other Ushers about the apathetic state of the laity, cringe at the utter lack of reverence, especially during communion, and fight back the feelings of hatred for the protestant radio music that continued to replace traditional Catholic hymns.

I'm now 34 years old, that was 10 years ago, back when all my friends were former Catholics, when everyone in my family grew up Catholic but no longer practiced. I understood that what we have is the One True Faith, I couldn't imagine ever denying what I knew in my heart to be right, but at the same time I couldn't hide the fact that I knew something was seriously wrong in the Church.

EWTN became the first sign post for me, where I was able to watch Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen's old programs, where the Mass was prayed in the most reverent form I had ever witnessed. But when I tried to share some of EWTN's media with my parish, it was rejected by the pastor for ridiculous reasons. Feeling defeated I decided to "shop" the other Catholic churches in the local Diocese.

I always assumed my parish was similar to other parishes, but I quickly learned that it was actually more conservative than most I had visited. I finally stumbled on an old polish inner city church with a priest who seemed to be genuinely dedicated to his vocation. He prayed Holy Mass with a level of reverence and orthodoxy that I had never seen before, this instantly became my new spiritual home, praise God! But the regular Mass time was 10:30 am and at 23 years old I found it difficult to get up early enough to make it some days, which is when I first decided to "check out" the Latin Mass because I had seen some things about it online and I had always found EWTN's Mass more agreeable.

I sat towards the back that Sunday and picked up one of the red English/Latin Mass translation booklets. I had no idea what I was doing and felt extremely intimated by the silence and attentiveness of the parishioners. I remember sweating heavily because I was so nervous, but I quietly followed along best I could, standing and kneeling whenever everyone else did (kinda like a protestant who visits a Catholic Church). What shocked me was the prayers, just reading the prayers of the Mass I couldn't believe how deep and beautiful they were, how much they dignified our Lord and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! I also felt a tremendous sorrow for the loss of this Mass, asking myself, "why didn't they just translate this into English and keep it exactly the way it's written in this booklet"? At that time it was the only "indult parish" to be found anywhere within 100 miles of West Michigan.

I would never be the same after that day. Still I wasn't ready to embrace the Traditional Latin Mass completely because I had been what I would now describe as, propagandized by every source in the Church, that those who attended the Latin Mass were judgmental - holier than thou type people, mostly foreigners and old women, who were clinging to something that nobody understood or desired anymore. That Vatican2 came about to solve all the problems because of "that Mass".

Needless to say, as time went on I found myself missing the 10:30 time slot for the Novus Ordo and catching the 12:30 Latin Mass. While the Latin Mass goes longer, that was never an issue for me, I always felt bad when people left early or yelled at the priest when Mass went over 1 hour anyway.
What I'm trying to say is that it wasn't an overnight conversion, it took several years of prayer and soul searching for sure. One thing that became clear, I couldn't ignore how I felt leaving the Latin Mass on Sundays vs. how I felt leaving the Novus Ordo, even the reverent one by the same priest at the same Church.

Eventually I married and my wife and I would refer to those who attended Mass at 12:30 (Latin) as "Latin Massers". Funny enough, we both eventually had to admit that we were Latin Massers too. The week we decided to attend the Traditional Latin Mass exclusively was the most liberating and wonderful decision we ever made. Every day I think about Sunday, about going to Mass, I long for the intimate union with Christ in the Holy Eucharist. I long for the opportunity to assist in praying the Mass, something I never understood with the Novus Ordo (with all it's focus on lay participation). I literally can't wait to go to Mass, I would go daily if it was offered, I would literally find a way to go daily. When we go on trips we plan it out in advance, how far we will have to drive to the nearest parish offering the Latin Mass!

Our 4 children (and one on the way) deserve the best, and I don't want what happened to my parents and friends to happen to them. I know that this Latin Mass is more than just something from history, it's everything! Receiving Christ on our knees from the consecrated hands of the priest, stepping out of the world and into something truly otherworldly, the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced.

I can tell you that my heart is on fire for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a way that it never was before, it's a fire that never ever fades either.  A total focus on prayer and Christ, my children see it, they recognize it, and like the fathers of the Church and the saints, they love it! If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for my family, and apparently it's good enough for many other young and large families, because more than half of the community is under the age of 40, with husbands and children everywhere (a stark contrast to the fatherless attendees and gray haired old ladies that populate your typical Novus Ordo).

I would challenge anyone to commit to a Latin Mass at least once a month for 6 months, it's everything you ever longed for as a Catholic, despite what you might have heard from sources that offer little relief to the spiritually starved.


Joe said...

Nice post. I've been thinking about attending a latin mass for a couple years now. Just out of curiosity. In my area there is only one mass each month, though. Thanks again for the post, I makes for a nice read. I love it when people are on fire for the truth and way.

Nate C said...

Thanks for the kind words.