I think the break was good for me -- good to wrestle with some of my questions, listen to other voices, explore a little something new. It was the right place to be, but not the place for me to stay. In the end, I think I missed the traditions and rituals of Catholicism, missed the sense of "home" at church -- the religious equivalent of what one of my friends calls "comfort food for the soul."
That doesn't mean there aren't still sticking points for me with The Church. They're all still there -- but I've recognized that some of those questions are as much a part of religion as Jesus and the bible. I'm not the first person to wrestle with this -- if anything, I'm in great company with religious people throughout the ages.
Then Sunday night, my husband played the audio recording of this sermon from Father Frank Cancro at Queen of the Apostle Church in Belmont, NC. Father Frank is a long-time friend of my husband's, although I've only had the good fortune to see him a few times. If you can carve out 17 minutes from your day, I encourage you to listen for yourself -- pay special attention around 7:38.
If you don't have 17 minutes, here's a peek: "We are members of the same body....We are all co-heirs to the promise." If the path to God is open to me, then it is open to everyone.
"Let's be honest," Father Frank told his parishioners on Sunday. "We go through a lot of aspects of our life where it's easy for us to put someone... a little below us... [It] becomes an easy step for us to be able to make judgments and to be prejudiced... And so the gift that we receive at the Feast of Epiphany is the gift of being challenged to... reshape our hearts."
He goes on to beautifully and eloquently list inequalities past and present that resulted from human prejudices. These groups that some have judged to be outside God's love -- the American slave, women in ministry in the church, illegal immigrants, gay people, African-Americans, criminals, the poor -- are co-heirs to God's promise along with all the rest.
I was already entranced, amazed to finally hear a priest say these things I needed to hear, when he added this one: "Catholics who identify strictness and narrowness as holiness are co-heirs with Catholics who are holding onto the fringe of the carpet of faith." That would be me there, with a fistful of carpet fringe clutched in my hand.
The key to our inheritance, says Father Frank, is forgiveness. We have to forgive ourselves for believing that we alone own the path to God, forgive ourselves for making judgments that are not ours to make.
So for now, I've decided that as long as there are priests who make silly, happy, smiley faces at the baby they just baptized (yes, that's a freshly-blessed Pipppi at age 5 months)...
...and as long as there are priests who make homilies like Father Frank, then I can be Catholic for at least one more year.