Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Day We Decided to Become Catholic, Part II

The kids, on the day we became Catholic!

"What is your religious preference?" asked one of the emergency room staff. His eyes hadn't left the computer screen, which he had wheeled into the cold and curtained exam room.

I opened my mouth to answer him, but I didn't know what to say. I never had a problem before answering questions about my beliefs. Now I was stumped. I looked across the room at my husband, searching for help. His eyes locked with mine, but he didn't know what to say either.

Our one year old Beatrice was snuggled up in my arms. She had a slight concussion from taking a spill on a friend's concrete floor. She thankfully only needed some anti-nausea medicine, and she tranquilly slept as she finally felt more comfortable. It was one in the morning, and our St. Valentine's Day of 2015 was off to a rough start.

"Anglican?" I meant to sound more confident, but it came out as a question anyway. I tried again, "We're Anglican." It still didn't sound right. After all, I had prayed the rosary in the waiting room. I had also made up my mind that if our daughter had to be admitted, I would ask a friend to call any Catholic priest who was willing to anoint a toddler in the hospital. I really wasn't Anglican anymore, at least not in my heart.

Soon Beatrice was discharged, with instructions to keep a close eye on her for 24 hours and to keep her from hitting her head, again. My husband didn't need to work since it was Saturday. We were so grateful that she was going to be OK, that we didn't worry too much about it when we had to cancel all our Valentine's Day plans. 

Throughout the day friends, both Catholic and Protestant, continued to message us with get well wishes and prayers for Beatrice, just as they had while we were at the ER. In the past, the offering up of rosaries and Masses made my husband a little uncomfortable, so I wasn't sure how he'd respond to our Catholic friends' messages. As I read them aloud to him, though, he was genuinely touched. I saw Catholic friends in the grocery store later that day, and they gave support and prayer. Another friend sent an email that her family offered up their Mass. And of course our neighbors (yes, even our neighbors are Catholic) also prayed for little Beatrice. When I relayed all this to my husband, again, he was sincerely grateful. 

That night, we were exhausted. One thing after another though seemed to keep us from finally going to bed. Sometime in the night, sleep finally overcame us--a peaceful, deep sleep . . .

"Wake up!" my husband shouted.

"What's wrong?" I bolted up right. I had been sleeping with Beatrice in her room just in case she needed me.

"We slept in! It's after 8:30!" he charged through the upstairs hallway, knocking on doors to wake up the kids. I gingerly scrambled, trying not to disturb the sleeping toddler, but I failed. Since she was still being breastfed, she asked to nurse, so I obliged. In the hallway, the older kids were complaining about going to church, "Ugh! Why can't we just go to the Catholic church?!"

We had literally missed a month of Sundays at our Anglican church, and this Sunday was an important parish meeting. We couldn't just skip and go to the Catholic Mass. Not only that, we had to be on time! The morning was a flurry of breakfast and getting ready to leave, while keeping Beatrice from hitting her head. 

We stomped out the door to the car, proud that we would be only five minutes late, when we noticed the frost all over the windows. After decades of living in the South, we still weren't used to scraping cars each morning during winter, and this frost was thick! I strapped Beatrice into the car seat, my husband started the car and defroster, and we all worked together to scrape the windows. When we finally piled into the car, we were running 15 minutes late. 

The kids started moaning again for the Catholic church as they snapped on their seatbelts. "Enough!" my husband shouted as he turned around to look at them in the backseats. "We are not Catholic! We are Anglican! This is a nice church, and we just need to get more involved with it. We are not becoming Catholic! Just accept it!" With that, we left in silence.

While my husband drove, I prayed. I was hurt. He had told me that he wanted to discern about becoming Catholic during Lent, but he seemed to have already made up his mind. At last, we arrived at our church. The older children crept out of the car and filed in by my husband. I unstrapped Beatrice and began to carry her to the church building. Then a man from our parish started coming toward us.

"There's no room!" he shouted as he waved his hands. We were stunned and confused.

"What?" my husband asked in disbelief.

The man came closer. "There's no room! It's standing room only!" he yelled, again. My husband's face turned to stone. The kids looked at us, waiting for us to say something, but we were too bewildered to speak. My husband just stared the man through until the man finally spoke again, "But you can come in if you want. It's just there aren't any chairs left."

Red crept up my husband's neck and then to his face, like a thermometer in a cartoon about to burst. He barely maintained control through gritted teeth, "Everyone. Back. In. The. Car." No one whined or questioned. We just scrambled back in. The man shrugged his shoulders and walked away as my husband slammed his door. He carefully put his hands on the steering wheel. Without looking at me, he asked in an even tone, "So Emily, which Mass are we going to?"

I was in shock! I couldn't believe we were going to Mass! I stuttered, "Um, well there's St. Mark's at 11 or St. John's at 11:30."

He turned his head carefully as he checked the dashboard clock. "We are going to St. Mark's," he said with his jaw tense as he tried to keep back the flood of thoughts that were bombarding him. But it was too much. "Because I guess God wants me to be CATHOLIC!!" 

He peeled out of the parking lot, and I told him to stop so I could drive. He kicked at old, dirty snow in the gutter as he walked around and we switched places. He snapped his seat belt in and yelled all the frustration out from the last eight months. 

As he ranted, the kids' joy was unfettered! They felt sorry for their dear dad, but they couldn't help cheering with excitement. They chattered away in the backseat about how much they couldn't wait to tell their friends. I vacillated between little fits of giggles and worry over my husband as I drove to St. Mark's. This was the church where our co-op met, and it had become a favorite place for the kids and me. 

My husband could only vent: "No room!! I can't believe they don't have room! Fine! I'll be Catholic because at least they have room for large families! After all, it's not as if GOD didn't make it OBVIOUS! I can't believe He wants us to be CATHOLIC! I wanted a sign, but I wasn't expecting THIS!"

I tried to be sympathetic, to be comforting, but it was so hard not to laugh. Like the kids, I couldn't wait to tell people!

His rant was undaunted: "No one knows how to run a church. No one except the Catholic Church! How can it be that hard to make room for people?! Let me tell you why the Anglican Communion isn't ever going to work . . ." 

As I pulled into the parking lot of St. Mark's, my husband started to calm down. He asked everyone to be quiet, so he could apologize for his outbursts. Then he said, "Please don't tell anyone yet. I've been very upset, and I don't want to make a decision just because I got mad. So again, don't go off and tell all your friends and the priest until I've had time to calmly think about it."

The kids and I mumbled agreement. Thinking about it was wise and the right thing to do. Despite not being able to shout it out to the world, we were still joyful. There would be no discerning during Lent. Our family already knew where God wanted us, and it was the Sunday before Ash Wednesday!

Days passed and gradually I was able to tell friends. For weeks, we weren't sure where to go from there, and eventually a friend grabbed a deacon, who steered us to the pastoral associate. I met with her once, and she wanted everyone in the family to write letters to her. If she thought we were ready to become Catholic, she would give them to the priest to review, the same priest I had spoken with in the summer before

A few months later and after some meetings with that priest, a date was set: August 9, 2015. On that day, we all got gussied up and banged on the doors of the church. Even the toddler joined us! When the priest opened them, it was difficult not to just rush in. We were finally home!

*To read The Day We Decided to Become Catholic, Part I, click here.

©2016 Emily Woodham

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