Conversion, Part Three: Uncomfortable
Aside from not knowing the memorized parts of the Mass, I have two things to discuss that make me uncomfortable about going to church every Sunday at a Catholic Church, not being Catholic myself. The first of the two things happens every week: my decision to remain in the pew and not to go up to communion with my arms folded across my chest. The second happened once, but deserves examination: we were asked one week to carry the gifts – the offerings, the wine and the bread – up to the altar.
First, the issue of non-Catholics being disallowed communion is a sticking point for many non-Catholics. I have taken communion at an Episcopal Church, which allows anyone to come up. The conciliatory measure, in lieu of instructing us to stay seated, is to allow us come up with our arms folded across our chests and receive a blessing, which both of our kids do each week. I choose to stay in the pew, sitting in uncomfortable isolation until my family comes back, moving my legs to the side as people step over me in seemingly equal discomfort. Sadly, I think that I do this out of stubbornness. I wonder often if God looks down us in that church and regards me as someone who refuses Him. I also wonder how all of those Catholic people regard me; I wonder what they are thinking, those who notice me still sitting there after everyone else has gone up front to the altar. Perhaps it’s egotistical to think that they regard me at all; perhaps they have their own thoughts to attend to.
This conundrum for me is one I have faced for a long time. When people have asked me why I don’t like going to church, the best way I can respond is that I feel like I don’t belong in church, like I am a phony or an impostor, like I am being judged by people who do go to church. Unfortunately, this issue of communion exacerbates that feeling in me. Sitting stolidly is what I prefer to standing up and crossing my arms in acknowledgment of being not-one-of-you. Yes, this is stubbornness. And it’s something I’ve got to get over, something that I know won’t die easily.
Second, one week during Lent this nice old usher stopped us as we were coming in, and he said, “What a nice looking young family! Would you be willing to carry the gifts this week?” My wife instinctively said, “Yes, we’d be glad to,” without consulting me, and I was immediately filled with tremendous dread and anxiety. I had never paid attention to what this entailed or how it was done. The anxiety was so strong that I felt myself getting angry, starting to cry, and beginning to think of ways to leave. My wife kept insisting that it was easy, not a big deal; we just had to carry these things up to the priest and deacon and hand everything to them. But that wasn’t enough for me. I wanted out. I still don’t know why I got so upset. But I did.
These strong feelings about being someone who does not go to church, someone who minds my own business even in my religion, someone who feels no compulsion to answer to other people, someone who even resents being asked to participate by kindly people who are trying to be inclusive . . . are things I have got to get over.