Franciscan Focus

Just a simple blog of a Secular Franciscan trying to live with a Franciscan focus.
(And 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, rather 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 and 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.

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:
  • First Blip: Something -- the weird thing is that I can't 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. But they also didn't want me to pass out from terror every Sunday. So, they arranged for me to attend CCD over the summer.

    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 years of never seeing it!
My beloved blue booklet, produced by the Daughters of St. Paul.
Sisters, I love you.
  • Second Blip: After finding a bunch of Rosaries tucked away in the family China cabinet, I taught myself to pray the Rosary using my prayer booklet.

When I was 12 or 13 and studying for Confirmation, my attitude turned difficult. I became increasingly annoyed at going to Mass every Sunday instead of sleeping in, especially since I never got a good answer as to why I should go; my mom would only reply, "Because!"

So, I gritted my teeth, memorized the sacraments, and marked time until I "made" the sacrament. After which, I flat-out refused to attend Mass anymore, insisting that I'd graduated.

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

    But it solved the problem of future dates with him.

After Confirmation and deciding that the Church was just one lame option among many, I began attending a friend's Lutheran church. Now, you've got to understand this crucial thing: back then, I had a serious -- serious -- follower personality, and she was very much a "follow meeee!" person. She was also a self-proclaimed Jesus Freak.

So Imitator Me decided, "Well, OK, I'll be one, too!" Guess which one of us was relentlessly picked on for it? Hint: not her. (As if life wasn't painful enough, that was an additional excruciating element of my high school years.)

About a year later, another friend began attending an Assemblies of God church and invited me to join her, where I went for another year.

After which I slid into ...


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

Timeline highlight:
  • Our freshman year, we were friends for awhile before actually dating. When he asked me to go to Sunday vigil Mass with him, 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.
... 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, 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 magazine special dedicated entirely to feminism, I wholeheartedly latched on. Feminism had all the answers! Yes, I'm a feminist! Men sure have dorked up the world ... except for I-Hope-He'll-Be-Boyfriend-Mike. But the rest of the lot ...

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 as it was only available as a minor.

Savored the religion class in which we poured over liberation and feminist theology. Nurtured an active hatred towards the hideously out-of-date, repressive Catholic Church, source of all that was wrong through history. Declared myself an atheist just to tick off my mom.

And amazingly, I-Hope-He'll-Be-Boyfriend-Mike did become Boyfriend Mike just as this feminist whirlwind kicked in. Don't know how or why he managed to avoid being corrupted by my mindset and worldview, but he thankfully avoided it.

Honestly, if it wasn't for him, I probably would've joined a feminist commune where we ate granola, ran around naked, 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 (highly 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 it.
Latent Hate, But Mostly Meh

After graduating college, my flaming feminist indignation simmered down. Husband Mike and I continued dating, and we didn't talk much about the faith so as to avoid arguments. After briefly pondering whether or not to investigate Unitarian-Universalism as 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!"

When Boyfriend Mike became Fiancé Mike, I figured 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, only-here-for-the-wedding people.

Went to Mass throughout our engagement and early marriage. Even subscribed to 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 vocation as 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 ... and quickly discovered that no, I wasn't called there.

At the time, I was completely unaware of other third/secular orders, so I 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 grumpy ignorance, I assumed they were the same as the Benedictines. And if the Benedictines weren't for me, then neither were the Franciscans, right?

After that, another slide into lazy apathy: I ignored the Catholic-related newsletters I'd subscribed to and stopped going to Mass. Husband Mike kept going because, again, it's what you do -- still nominal in faith, but stubborn. So I could never completely forget what I wasn't doing. Plus I drove past a parish on my way to and from work ... another reminder.

Two years of not-going-to-Mass passed. Then things got a bit scary.

Dances With Ledges

I'd been hanging out in a cat forum with a range of folks including pagans and wiccans and other whatnots. They were all friendly, warm, and funny, and I enjoyed chatting with them. It also piqued my interest: what do they actually believe? And why? To the library for investigation!

I announced my curiosity to Husband Mike. He wasn't thrilled. I started with Native American spirituality, which he uncomfortably let slide. When I said my next library trip would be for wiccan books, he completely flipped out.

Said 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. There was sulking on mine.

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

Seeing me dancing on the ledge drove him, out of sheer desperation, to start intensely praying 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 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 interested in the Church.

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-dancing 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.

I was 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 on the couch.

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

Husband Mike: ::jaw drop + wide eyes:: "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.

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.

The Franciscans

Also resumed paying attention to the Catholic-related newsletters I'd been ignoring. One day, one included a book review 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 about the author being 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. Franciscans weren't identical to Benedictines, and I needed to learn more about them, because that was where I was being led. Finally, in 2006, I made my Profession in the Secular Franciscan Order.

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

The extra cool thing is that through it all, Husband Mike and I have grown -- and keep growing -- in the faith, together.

I still 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 Szyszkiewicz 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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