Monday, April 02, 2007

Which is easier?

Catholic Mom got me thinking. And if you know me, that's a downright dangerous thing. In her post on the conversion of former Episcopal Bishop Daniel Herzog she said, "As a cradle Catholic I am somewhat in awe of those who definitively choose to be Catholic." I have to say, as someone who entered the Church in my twenties, those who have been Catholic since birth and who continue to plumb its depths are an inspiration to me as well.

This past Sunday we explained to our RCIA Elect the essence of what will happen at the Easter Vigil in now only five days. It brought back a flood of memories from that night now nearly ten years ago that still overwhelm me. Certainly the lighting of the fire that nearly became Father Flambe was a comical highlight. I do think I must post on the rest of this soon.

The one thing that fires at me like a brazen spotlight is how intentional everything was for me - I chose to become Catholic (or, rather, allowed myself to listen to the call - point taken, but the act was mine, not a given); I chose to call that particular parish (again, yes, I followed the lead of the Spirit, but work with me here). I chose to act on the letter they sent me with the schedule some months later (who'd a thunk you had to wait until September?) which was absolutely the Spirit, and probably some number of angels, pushing me since actually acting on anything is not in my nature. To put it bluntly, I knew what I was getting myself into. Yes, even the sometimes bad liturgy and the widely varying opinions. You don't stick your nose as deep into something as I did and not see all that.

For those, however, who were introduced to the faith from the moment of their conception, the intentionality of their walk in the Church is fundamentally different. For each person, I am sure, the experience is totally different. I always wonder, and probably always will, when did the coasting (if you will) end and the intentionality set in? When did you decide that, yes, the Catholic Church is the One and pick up your trowel and cement yourself in? Was it always obvious (as my wife says it was for her, a perspective which I consider uninhibitedly lucky) or did you suddenly wake up to it like the person who sleep-drives to the office?

You see, I personally find the person who is raised in the faith, at least the ones raised without truly saintly parents, to have a rather more difficult starting position in the Church than those who started outside it. Stick with me on the metaphors for a second, okay?

For one, like me, who was outside the Church from the get-go, it's like standing in the plain. It's an easy go, flat, no big trouble, but also in all uninspiring. The food is pretty good, and even though the weather can get rough, it is what you've always known. And you're tough, so you can take it - the inevitable predators, too. Then one day you look up and you notice there are mountains out there, wreathed in clouds. And then as you stare you notice the peak of one mountain stretching out above the clouds, its snow-capped peak shining out, the light of the sun glinting off of it. Some feel the need to find out what's at that tallest peak, some decide the valley is the easier life and shrug it off. For those who undertake the trek, the path is often unmarked or poorly marked, but the thought of that glistening peak pulls them onward. The water just doesn't taste right back down in the plain. They may respite on one of the lower peaks, some may even mistake one of them for the peak they sought, but the clouds will always hang as a reminder that there is ... more. There is only one thing that can fill that pull, even though they don't understand it.

For those who were born into the Church, if you will, it seems to me like always having lived within the mountains, perhaps one of the minor peaks of that one great peak. You know you're living on that great mountain. The water tastes right and the weather is always pleasant - even the storms seem more mild than those that crash into the plain below. You look out and see many other peaks, but none of them as massive and imposing as the one you've always lived on, and the storms that rattle the plain sometimes engulf the lower peaks as well. Some you know have taken off to see what life is like on those other peaks for any of a variety of reasons; a few have come back, some with tales that curl your nose hairs, some just quietly reappear and go on as if nothing had ever happened. On occasion you chance to look further up the mountain you have spent your whole life on. Maybe the clouds crack enough for you to see that glittering peak and draw you upwards. Maybe you look up and only see the same mountain you've always seen silently disappearing into the clouds. Maybe after looking up so many times and only seeing clouds you decide it's not worth looking up anymore and decide to just continue on your business. But if you're lucky, really truly blessed, that one time you looked up through the clouds and saw the peak draws you out of your life, your comfortable, warm life that seems without need, draws you up the ragged paths and around the lifeless boulders. You know your quest, and you feel it pulling you on.

You see, to me, the call is the same. Some must trudge through foothills and minor mountains to make their way to the peak. That is their suffering, if you will. But their blessing is the almost unimpeded view they are offered of the peak from their starting place down on the plain. They know from whence they came and the many places they passed along the way. And they know the peak that pierces their memory has no comparison anywhere else. As one from the plain, that seems to make the trip, albeit longer, immeasurably more easy. I find myself in great wonder at those who have lived on that mountain their whole lives, have caught a glimpse of that peak and have decided to take up and climb on, out of the comfortable and safe life they have always known. It is much harder to see there is more to go when you're so close to the top; when you start from afar the rise ahead is unmovable.

So as I said, I am always and utterly amazed at those who can continue that climb. I have been told that we who enter the Church as adults are a source of wonder and even awe for those who have always called her Home. But, my friends, may you know this day that this weary traveler will always look up to you, his elder brethren. You are a great source of strength for me, and I thank you. Oh, and Catholic Mom, I owe you one. I couldn't have asked for a better reflection for this Holy Week.