Franciscan Focus

Just a simple blog of a Secular Franciscan trying to live life with a Franciscan focus.
(An' one of these days I'll fix the template and add a Search feature. :-P)

22 September 2012

The long road home 

I've been meaning for years to share my story of how I came back to the Catholic Church. It's a long, kinda' convoluted one, and putting it into a semblance of order has felt like combing through spaghetti ... one-handed ... with a toothpick.

But, here we go, beginning at ... The Beginning.


Baptized immediately after birth (only had a 10% chance of makin' it; in yo' face, stats!), I was raised as a "cultural Catholic": Attended CCD ("Confraternity of Christian Doctrine") classes, went to Sunday Mass, got all the sacraments because That's Just What You Do And Don't Ask Why. The faith wasn't discussed, explained, or lived at home ... and then things took a sharp detour through hell when I was about 9, when my childhood pretty much ended. It's enough to say that family life became, and stayed, Seriously F'd Up Wrong.

Timeline highlights:
  • Blip the First: This may have been before my First Communion (fuzzy) ... Something -- the weird thing is that I canNOT remember what -- caused me to Totally Flip Out in relation to CCD classes, and I became terrified of going back. I'm talking bawling, yelling, wanting-to-hide Freaked Out. When asked, I couldn't give my parents a coherent reason why. They didn't know what to do -- didn't want me to completely ditch classes, because if I didn't go to CCD, I wouldn't make my First Communion later on. But obviously, they didn't want me to pass out from terror overload every Sunday. So, they arranged for me to attend "Summer School CCD" later that year.

    One other kid (a boy) and I were the only ones in the class, taught by a kindly, grandmotherly woman. That I loved. And she gave us these wonderful prayer booklets that I've treasured to this day. Even through my Raging-Feminist-I-Hate-The-Evil-Bad-Patriarchal-Church days, I held onto it.
It wsn't until a few years into our marriage when Husband Mike pointed out that I'd misspelled 'belongs'. O_o All those yearz of never seeing it!
My beloved blue booklet, produced by the Daughters of St. Paul.
Sisters, I loves U.
  • Blip the Second: Using my lil' prayer booklet, I taught myself how to pray the Rosary after finding a bunch of 'em tucked away in the family China cabinet.

Oh, my. When I was 12 or 13 (?) and studying for Confirmation, my attitude turned ... difficult. I became increasingly annoyed at schlepping off to Mass every Sunday instead of being able to sleep in. (When asked why I had to go, my mom could only reply, "Because!" Yup, that worked well. Only, not.) So, I gritted my teeth, memorized the flippin' sacraments, picked a Confirmation saint without any reflection (Elizabeth, Mary's kinswoman -- simply because my name, "Lisa", is a derivative), and marked time until I "made" the sacrament. After which, I flat-out refused to attend Mass anymore, insisting that I'd "graduated". I know, I was an idiot, and a bitch on top of it.

Timeline highlight:
  • Even though this period is marked mostly by angry defiance, bits of faith flashed in and out. Example: On my first (or was it second?) date with a guy that I wasn't that into, when he asked me what I wanted to be in adulthood, I blurted out, "A nun!" No clue where that came from.

    But hey, it solved the problem of future dates with him.

After Confirmation and deciding that the Church was just one (laaaaame) option among many, I began attending a friend's Lutheran church. Back then, I had a serious "follower" personality, and she was very much a "follow meeee!" person. Dangerous combo. You have no idea how eternally grateful I am that she wasn't into drugs, drinking, smoking, or sleeping around. (My personality then + f'd-up family life was a Molotov cocktail waiting to go off ... which, blessedly, didn't.)

No, she was in the complete opposite direction -- a self-proclaimed "Jesus Freak". And Imitator Me decided, well, OK, I'll be one, too! (Guess which one of us was seriously picked on for it?) Went to her church for about a year. Then a different friend and her mom began attending an Assemblies of God church and invited me to join 'em. And I went there for a year.

After which I slid into ...


Off to college! Left my faith behind like so much ridiculous childhood baggage. New, fresh start! And I was finally free! (See: Crapulent childhood.) No more thinkin' about the faith ... until, that is, I met then-Friend Mike (who, yes, became Husband Mike).

Even though I was all "meh" towards the faith, when I found out he was also Catholic, I thought, "Hey, good. That makes things easier." I even noted that in my journal.

Timeline highlight:
  • Our freshman year, we were "just pals" for months before actually dating. So, during that pre-dating period, I jumped at any and every opportunity to be with Friend Mike. When he asked me to go to Sunday vigil Mass with him, of course I went! (Because I was seriously hoping he'd become Boyfriend Mike.) He wasn't super-into the faith then, but felt that, because he was Catholic, he should at least go to Mass every so often. (Hey, that was something.)
... Aaand then things very quickly zinged into ...

The Raging-Feminist-I-Hate-The-Evil-Bad-Patriarchal-Church Era (Also Known As "The College Years")

Coming from the family situation I did, I had a lot of anger roiling 'round, especially towards men in general. (Not individual guys, who were OK. The idea of manhood.) Plus, I was your typical, know-it-all college freshman. So, when I one day read a special TIME magazine issue dedicated entirely to feminism, I wholeheartedly latched on. Feminism had all the answers! Yes, I'm a feminist! Also, men sure have dorked up the world ... except for Friend Mike. But the rest of the lot ... ::dark glare::

I flung myself into every single Women's Studies-related class that I could take. Worked in the campus' Women's Studies Center as the student co-director. Mourned the inability to declare a double-major in Women's Studies (English major only, alas) -- it was offered then just as a minor. Savored the religion class (co-taught by two protestant ministers, one of whom was a former Catholic who left the Church because, as a woman, she couldn't be ordained) in which we poured over liberation and feminist theology. Nurtured an active hatred towards the hideously out-of-date, repressive, Institutional Catholic Church, source of all that was wrong throughout history. Declared myself an atheist just to tick off my mom.

... and amazingly, Friend Mike became Boyfriend Mike just as this Feminist Nutjob Whirlwind kicked in. Don't know how or why he managed to avoid being corrupted by my mindset and worldview. Honestly, if it wasn't for him, I seriously think I would've prolly joined a feminist commune somewhere, where we ate granola, pranced around in the nip, sang to trees, and bitched incessantly about Those Horrible Men Dorking Up Life, The Universe, And Everything.

Yeah, that would've been me.

Timeline highlight:
  • Faith still blipped in occasionally, at odd times: Went on a retreat with a bunch of of Women's Studies minors and like-minded students at a place run by (jaw-droppingly heterodox) Dominican sisters. I wandered around their bookstore, idly looking at the titles, and felt the first stirrings of being called to something, though clueless as to what in hell that something could be. I was firmly set on staying with Boyfriend Mike, who I really hoped would turn into Fiancé Mike. So, my old blurt-outedness of "I want to be a nun!" wouldn't come to pass. But, what would?

    Eh ... stuff that!
Latent Hate, But Mostly Meh

After graduating college, and getting Out Into The Real World, my flaming feminist indignation simmered down. Husband Mike and I continued a-courtin', and we didn't talk much about the faith so as to avoid arguments. After briefly pondering whether or not to investigate Unitarian-Universalism -- 'cause it most aligned with my morally relativistic, feminist beliefs -- I flopped into a "Well, God is probably there, but meh" attitude. Otherwise known as, "Hey, I'm supremely intellectually lazy!"

Then Boyfriend Mike became Fiancé Mike and I figured, well ... if we were gonna have a wedding Mass -- because in my gut, it wouldn't have felt real any other way, and he also insisted -- I'd better resume attending Sunday Mass. (I also, strangely, Had To Have a papal blessing.) Didn't wanna be one of those shallow, We're Only Here For The Wedding people. (Seriously, that is shallow, people.) It "helped" that the parish we attended was one o' those Who-Gives-A-Frack-What-Rome-Sez?! parishes. ::sigh::

So. Went to Mass throughout our engagement and early marriage. Signed up for a few Catholic-related email newsletters. And I still suffered from ongoing, mysterious, low-grade pangs of being called to something. Then I read Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris. Which blew my mind, because she talked about her journey to becoming a Benedictine oblate. That was the first I'd ever heard of laity being able to associate with religious orders. Light bulb! Now the pangs had a bit of coherence, and I immediately investigated the Benedictines ... only to discover, quite quickly, that no, I wasn't called there.


At the time, I was completely unaware of other third/secular orders, so I grumpily dropped further investigation. The subject somehow came up with a former coworker who knew of the Secular Franciscan Order and who suggested I investigate it. But in my grumpiness (and dumbness), I assumed they were the same as the Benedictines. If the Benedictines weren't for me, then neither were the Franciscans, so why bother?

Then, because I still -- after all those years -- hated getting my ass up for Mass, I slipped back into lazy apathy. (And stopped paying attention to the Catholic-related email newsletters I'd subscribed to.) Husband Mike kept going on his own because, again, "That's What You Do" -- still nominal in faith, but stubborn. So I could never completely forget what I wasn't doing. I also drove past a parish on my way to and from work ... another reminder.

Two years of not-going-to-Mass-ness passed. And then, things got a bit scary ...

Dances With Ledges

I'd been hanging out in an online cat-related forum (shock!), and there were pagans and wiccans and other whatnots in there. (Shock again!) They were all friendly, warm, and funny folks with whom I enjoyed chatting. It also piqued my interest -- what do these folks actually believe? And why? Hey, let's investigate! To the library!

I announced to Husband Mike that I was curious and going to check out some books on All That. He wasn't thrilled, but I started with Native American spirituality, which he uncomfortably let slide. He was also Exceedingly Unthrilled when I bought a Native American book/card set that I'd originally learned about from a pal in college. It was, essentially, tarot cards masquerading as totem animal cards.

When I said my next library trip would be for wiccan books, he completely flipped out. Told me that, in NO uncertain terms, was I allowed to bring ANYthing even remotely wiccan into our house. There may have been some swearing on his part ... and there was definitely sulking on my part.

No post is complete without this meme.
That closed-minded poophead, always holding meh back!

Seeing me doin' the Macarena on the ledge drove him, out of sheer desperation, to start praying his butt off for my conversion (which I learned about years later). That's the only thing that can explain what happened next ...


At this point, I was pretty much thinking, "Hey self, we don't need to go to Mass. We're doing just fine without it! High five!" I mention this to illustrate how completely I was not moving back from the ledge.

One day when driving home from work, as I passed That-Parish-Over-There, out of nowhere, it hit me that, for over two years, I'd been intentionally missing Mass. That I was being an ass. That the ledge-dancin' was going to cause serious harm. That I was heading in a seriously, deeply wrong direction, and I had to make amends and change. Immediately.

How to describe the sensation ... keelhauled and gobsmacked and contrite and profoundly humbled.

Detail from Caravaggio's 'The Conversion on the Way to Damascus' (1600)
Thankfully, I wasn't struck blind. Wouldn't have been good while driving.

All I could think was, "I have to go to Confession", over and over, for the rest of the way home. And where'd that thought come from? I'd completely forgotten about Confession since making my last one just before Confirmation all those years ago.

When I walked through the front door, Husband Mike was sittin' on the couch.

Me: ::flinging aside my backpack:: "I have to go to Confession!"

Husband Mike: ::jaw drop + eye googlage:: "Ummm ... what?"

Me: "Confession! I must go!"

I looked up Confession times at our parish, announced I was going that Saturday, and Husband Mike -- still dazed -- said he'd come along. He didn't plan on going in himself, but after I exited the confessional, he abruptly changed his mind and popped in, too. (After also not having gone since his Confirmation.)

I resumed attending Sunday Mass, and added in daily Mass as a small attempt to make up for my years of dumbassitude. Began praying the Rosary regularly, turning to my beloved blue booklet for assistance. Started making Rosaries (knotted twine). Began going to Adoration out of humility. Tuned in to Relevant Radio to learn what the Church actually taught and why. Shut up, listened, and let go of my arrogance and presumption and anger.

Also resumed paying attention to the couple Catholic-related e-newsletters that I'd been ignoring. And one day, one included a book review/description of The Sun & Moon over Assisi: A Personal Encounter With Francis & Clare. I was fascinated by what I read there of St. Francis, and of the author's spiritual journey. Then I saw the bit mentioning that the author was a Secular Franciscan.

The lurking low-grade pangs coalesced and flattened me with the Mother Of All Sucker Punches. This time, I got the message. (Finally.) Franciscans weren't identical to Benedictines, and I needed to learn more about them, because dammit, that was where I was bein' led. (In 2006, I made my Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order.)

Is *this* clear enough for you?
Ooooh, the Franciscans! Got it.

Since The Gobsmacking Of Aught Three, Husband Mike and I have grown in the faith -- it parkours off him to me, from me to him, and up and on and over we go, together.

Kinda' like this dude.

I'm not done with my pilgrimage, of course. No one is until that last breath. I dork up on regular basis and struggle with ongoing, daily conversion. I'm pretty much the world's worst Franciscan.

But I keep trying.

And most importantly, I'm home.

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Anonymous Brian (friarpark) said...

You beat me by 2 years. It took JPII dying to get me to fully come back.

22 September, 2012 18:04  
Blogger Barb, ofs said...

Wow, that is QUITE a story! (I think I've met the Dominicans in question; they can't possibly ALL be like that?)
I'm imagining that Francis would have been one to say that he is the worst Franciscan ever.

22 September, 2012 20:04  
Anonymous Marco said...

Been meaning to comment!! Nice post. Just shows that the sacraments work ex opere operato. God is at work even when we ignore Him.

07 October, 2012 19:48  
Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Bless you, Lisa! this made me laugh and cry!
Note to Barb- YES he would have said just that!!
Peace and all good everybody,
kelly, ofs

22 March, 2013 21:56  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A bit late to the party, but absolutely loved your story!

Thank you for sharing it Lisa, and God bless you and your family.

20 December, 2017 11:37  

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