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.