A few weeks ago, I blogged about a deep spiritual crisis I was having. The principles in those posts are the underlying principles of what the “Lewis Crusade” is all about, and can be summed up in Jesus’ teaching, ‘Let the little children come to Me,. . .”
The Church tells us that the family is the fundamental unit of society. All those issues I talked about in the post I just wrote on ranking social issues boil down to the importance children should have in society–and in the Church. And the practical difficulties of raising one’s children to be faithful Catholics, getting them to Church, being open to life despite disability, etc., conflicting with the way people are so judgemental about things that have nothing to do with morality, criticizing others for breaking the “conventions” precisely in the effort to be better Catholics, just drove me to, for lack of a better word, despair.
I never doubted God, per se. But I was seriously doubting the Catholic Church.
God sent me a bunch of great stuff in a row, though, that has helped considerably. Last week, we went to a “retreat” in Atlanta. It was a conference given by this weird priest, Fr. Bing Arellano (more on that later). The content of the conference was mostly crazy conspiracy theories, and was actually more hurtful than helpful. In fact, his talk I attended on Saturday morning nearly had me in complete despair.
They promised access to confession all weekend, but the access wasn’t much better, relatively speaking, than at the average parish. But Mary explained my situation to one of the brothers, and he got me in.
So I got to go to confession. We got some cool books on spiritual warfare and some cool sacramentals. Fr. Bing, regardless of his crazy political views and rather Jansenist theology (again, I’ll post on that separately), is a both a doctor of canon law and an exorcist (I’ve read in at least one place that paranoia is a side-effect of being an exorcist). He performed a ritual exorcism of the entire congregation. Not sure how licit it was, but, since he is a canon lawyer, I’ll defer to his judgement. But, of course, illicit does not necessarily mean “invalid” (e.g., it’s still Jesus in the tabernacle of a Society of St. Pius X or Greek Orthodox Church). And ever since we’ve known for certain that we have at least one family member putting occult curses on us, we’ve wanted some kind of formal exorcism to remove the oppression.
Also, as a result of it, we now have exorcised holy water and exorcised/blessed salt.
The conference was in Roswell, GA, so on Sunday morning, we attended Divine Liturgy at Epiphany Byzantine Catholic Church. It was the first time in my life, that I’m aware of, that I attended a Byzantine liturgy (maybe once when I was a kid).
My grandma, Anna Teresa Plavcan Hathaway, was a Slovak. I knew that grandma’s “childhood church” was “different,” and that my great-aunt Mary went her whole life to “that church,” but also that they were still somehow Catholics. No one ever really explained it to me. Additionally confusing things to me as a kid was that Aunt Mary’s short-term husband (long story) was Greek Orthodox.
In high school, I had a teacher, Bogdan “Mr. Z” Zlotnicki, who was Polish-Ukrainian, and he was the first one to explain to me about the different Rites in the Church.
This led to a deep fascination with the Eastern Churches. As I learned more about them, I started to think that sounded like what I’d always longed for. I started hoping, ca. 10 years ago, for the chance to seriously explore the Byzantines.
During marriage prep, I had to fill out a form which asked if any of my parents or grandparents was an eastern Catholic. I suddenly put two-and-two together. I asked, “Dad, was grandma Byzantine?” He said, “Yeah, but she switched when she married Grandpa.”
Then, on Tuesday before the trip to Atlanta, I was talking to a friend who was explaining how he’s actually a Melkite, though his family have been going to Roman churches for a couple generations, and he’s hardly ever been to a Melkite liturgy: it was very rare in those days for anyone to officially switch Rites. Latin Rite priests would basically “steal” Eastern Catholics through marriage or whatever, and no one would ever officially file the papers.
I’ve always had this deep sense of displacement at Mass. I’ve always felt that I didn’t quite “belong,” that something was missing. I first thought it was the liberal post-Vatican II liturgies (that was certainly a big part of it).
I would watch the Paul VI Latin Mass on EWTN and say, “That’s how I”ve always felt it should be done.” I’d *go* to the Paul VI Latin Mass in Virginia. Then I finally got to go to the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Joseph’s in Richmond, and, while I really liked the Tridentine Mass, I still didn’t quite feel “at home” there.
Then we went to St. Anthony’s Maronite in Richmond a few times. I really liked their liturgy, and the general attitude of the Maronites. And I started to feel closer to the sense of “home” that was always eluding me.
Certainly the more reverent and traditional the liturgies were, the better the subjective experience. But there was also something more personal at work. Now, the Maronites are Antiochian, not Byzantine (for some reason, Lebanon is divided between Byzantines and Antiochians; Melkites are the Byzantines of Lebanon).
But I’ve never been to an actual Byzantine Liturgy till this past Sunday. Better yet, it was the Ruthenian Byzantine Church, to which Slovaks in the US are assigned (There is a Slovakian Byzantine Church, but there are only a couple of them in the US).
Now, on the one hand, I really didn’t feel anything “profound,” which is almost a good thing. But I did feel *comfortable*. I finally found that sense of comfort I’ve always looked for, that I”ve only felt in snatches. What was especially interesting was that, for a completely different liturgy (albeit vernacular), I found it very easy to participate.
I may have become a bit familiar through the Maronites, since there are similarities, but somehow I could anticipate the chant melodies, and a few times anticipated the words of the responses without even looking at the words of my book.
Now, Mary and I have discussed this many times in the past, when it was purely hypothetical. There is a great deal of importance on the ethnicity of one’s Rite. For example, one year we went to the Maronite Church for Easter (one of the first times we went was for Easter, and I liked the liturgy so much we went back each year after). A Lutheran whose spouse was Maronite was being received into the Church. The person was first received into the Church as a Latin Rite Catholic and then immediately switched Rites.
Likewise, if a Muslim from Lebanon were to come here and convert to Catholicism in the US, in a Roman Rite parish, that Lebanese Muslim would *first* have to be received into the Maronite or Melkite Church.
I don’t know what my canonical “lineage” is. After all, my mother’s side and my paternal grandfather’s side are solidly Roman Catholic. But I know from my genealogy research that I’m more Slovak than any other ethnicity (a solid 25% versus the rest being a mix of Irish, English, German, Scottish, Native American, French, and unknown). And if my grandmother never officially changed Rites, that would solidify the theory that my Slovak ancestry is calling me to the Byzantine Church.
There’s a Melkite Church in Augusta, a little more than an hour away, so I’m gonna try to talk my friend into making at least a monthly trip over there.
ON Monday, we went to Mass at the Cathedral in Atlanta. Mary hadn’t been able to get to confession yet, and the priests at the Cathedral were all busy. On our way out of town, we gave it one last try at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She got to go to confession, and we got an official pilgrimage out of our trip.
Then, we went to Mass on Friday at our home parish, and the pastor gave a homily that seemed to speak right to my spiritual crisis I’d been going through (and e-mailed him about over a month ago).
At the soup supper, he came up to me and said, “I just got a whole bunch of e-mails you’d sent me that had been sitting in my spam folder.” (Most of them were innocuous). I explained about the crisis I’d been going through, and how God had sent me just what I needed to get out of it.
“So, I don’t need to address that last one?” “No, not exactly.”
But I was touched he actually said that, and it also proved he wasn’t ignoring it. Also confirmed my suspicion that the homily may have been a response to my e-mail, since my e-mail was about feeling like God didn’t want me, and that was the topic of his homily, and then he told me he just got my e-mail that afternoon!
Anyway, God is good. And I now know my place in the Church.