I said, "I do" with tears in my eyes, by the baptismal fountain.
Standing there in my lacy white dress, heart wide open, surrounded by loving friends, family and parishioners, I flung myself into the arms of Faith with no reservations.
But then, a week after Easter Vigil, I was going to Mass for real. A whole Mass. Start to finish. And I was terrified.
You see, I'm not a "cradle Catholic." I was raised Baptist. Or, my mother tried her best. As a child, I followed her dutifully to my godfather's church on the south side of Chicago until I tricked her into thinking I was going to a friend's church by choice. We did go, sometimes. Not nearly enough.
And all I clearly remember is that we had to dress up in serious Sunday best. White gloves and patent leather shoes gleaming, petticoats scratching while we sat like "little ladies" watching preachers prance like Prince.
I vaguely remember a silver tray full of crumbled crackers and grape juice in tiny little glasses. No wine, because Christians weren't supposed to drink alcohol. Never understood that part. Given that Jesus both drank and made wine in The Bible.
Most of all, I remember being bored. Except on those Sundays when a whole lot of sisters got The Spirit and started "shouting" and dancing and passing out in the aisles. They seemed to be competing with each other sometimes, to see who could dance and shout and fall harder. That was entertaining.
Mass is a whole 'nother story. You don't just watch, you have to do stuff. As a catechumen, I'd observed the congregation carefully, trying to put together a workable routine of my own before we were sent forth to "unpack The Word," after the Homily each week.
We got to leave Mass early, you see. And sit discussing the day's readings in our own little room. Yes, we were rock stars, then, we catechumens. Seated in the VIP section at the Pastor's right hand. Stopped in the parking lot by grinning parishioners offering affectionate handshakes and fervent good wishes.
It was like having a big old cheering section rooting for you every step of the journey. It was okay if I didn't know all the hand jive and chants and things. They loved me for trying.
But then, it was finally show time. My first Sunday as a full-fledged member of the congregation. And I totally choked.
Holy water or no? Bow or kneel? And if I kneel, which knee goes down? What if I can't get up, after--I'm no spring chicken, you understand. Very late bloomer, me. With back and knee issues that could have made my "debut" memorable for all the wrong reasons.
I finally settled on what's called a "profound bow." After which I crossed myself and sat quickly. And as I gazed upon the crucifix high above the altar, I felt the tension ease.
"You love me no matter how crazy I look, don't you?" I thought. And it made me smile to think of Him smiling, possibly nodding, and answering, "Now, you're catching on."
The peace didn't last, though. No matter how hard I tried to focus on what all the words, gestures and symbolic objects meant, my monkey mind...well...here's what it sounded like:
"Okay, what page are they on? Is that Latin or what the--oh, we're sitting, now. Gotcha."
"Oh, shoot! Here comes the basket! I left my little envelope in the car. How embarrassing! Online donations from now on. With the little 'I Gave Online' cards. Which I will also probably leave in the car...sigh..."
"Should I move over or just share the little kneelie cushion thing with this guy I've never met before or--wait, we're shaking hands now, so I guess I do know him sort of. That's nice. 'And peace be with you, too...'"
"Here we go! My row's on the move. Bow. Left hand over right--or is it...oh, just eat the body, head for the blood. Why does that sound so macabre all of a sudden? And, of course, the lip gloss smears all over the chalice. Note to self, 'smudge proof' next week..."
"Wait, what row was I in? Where's that guy I just knelt down next to? Is that my purse? Oh, thank God! Phew!"
Yeah, not exactly "in the moment," right?
But then one day, I heard something that took all that monkey business away. A meditation, from Jesus' point of view, that Mother Teresa shared with us. Listen. I deliberately chose an "audio only" version so that your monkey mind wouldn't spoil it:
Yeah, He loves me, no matter how crazy I look.
That's all that matters.