Learning from Mary

A dove stood peace in a tree by the lot where I’d parked my car,
And a partner dove held watch and comfort
Over the place where I met my friend.

And now we are visiting the beautiful convent,
Learning from Mary in our elder years,
Opening to God’s invitation to give, to do, to become.

Last Sunday I was welcomed to the Church,
The church of my new parish—
Where I thought I could never belong, fit in—
In a ceremony that once was oil to my water,
A little-known language, customs,
And ways of seeing Creation.

I, we, one can worship everywhere;
The congregation has shown me welcome;
And so I join a community of kind people
With whom I share love and the wish
To give love, kindness, hope,
To one another and the world.

And we sing hymns!
The music holds Creation;
Our notes link spirits and minds
Around the room,
Across time
To the beginning of the world,
To the beginning of my world,
When it and I were whole
And still becoming.

I have walked away from the Quaker meeting
That once joined hands, song, and ministry with the three of us
And other loved souls
With whom we gathered eagerly
Each Sunday
And special days between.

I’ve lost the sense of oneness with those
Who gather in the old meetinghouse
That remains full of memories
But no longer of belonging.

I feel that belonging here,
Among the Franciscan sisters,
Among the dear parishioners
In the church once foreign
That is now the place I sing hymns
And join hands in greeting.

I do not need to deny or distance
Who I have been and am
To enter a new spiritual home
As I go on seeking.

The Church, the church, the history,
Even the creeds, doctrines, and rituals,
Give a setting for building on what is within.

They can be an invitation,
A set of possibilities,
A place for new becoming
Rather than demanding
What and how to be.

The Rite of Welcoming embraced
My heart, my spirit and emotions
Filling with astonishment
For such extravagant concern for me—
One who is inclined, unless performing,
To escape disturbing.

After my more than sixty years in Quakerism,
After the deep gifts of spirit, wisdom, and leading
My parents gave our Meeting,
My leaving was met with little notice;
Can I be wrong to walk into newfound warmth?

Sitting on the sofa one afternoon,
Reading and relishing the day,
I felt a hand on my shoulder;
Sweet Mother sings to me at night,
And both my dear ones knock
To say, “We are still at home together”;
Settings change, but not the essence of souls.

And the great blue heron points her toes in flight;
The Moon waxes and wanes
Even in a sky of absent stars;
New friends link arms
With friends who have gone on,
And love glows in the center,
Expanding like sunrise
To enfold us all.

Namaste

Originally written 12/15/18; revised 1/29/19

Evening Mass, All Saints’ Day

Meeting view
Sunday Window, quick sketch by Mason Hayek

The church tonight was and was not my church;
I am making my home there,
Even as corners and entire rooms
Remain unknown,
Not yet my dwelling place.
A kind acquaintance greeted me
In my now-familiar pew
Before the organ told of time for quiet
And the small procession gathered.
I knew the crucifix rose
In the dark beyond the window;
Jesus as he lived inspires me,
As failingly as I follow,
More than Jesus as he died.
The priest spoke to us of speaking up
For right as we understand,
Of nurturing the saint within.
I loved singing the hymns:
Hymns and a sermon, a homily,
These are church enough for me,
Along with friends,
Who are my sanctuary.

Dear Deacon

Update: I shared the letter in this blog post with the deacon who is leading the RCIA sessions for me.  In spite of my views, he has responded very kindly, telling me that I am welcome in the Church.  I’m grateful to him for easing my mind about a great source of worry and fear.

———-

My letter below represents the next stage in the thinking shared in “Church Bells and a Riptide,” which describes my struggles with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) process through which I am possibly converting to Catholicism.  I feel great affinity with some groups within the Church but have deep reservations about many of the attitudes and teachings of the more traditional, conservative Church powers.
“Dear Deacon” restates a few of the points in the longer essay posted earlier, but it also reflects new self-understanding: The key to my converting is the Church’s acceptance of me as I am and as someone who can add my own gifts, however limited, to the Church’s wisdom, insight, and understanding.  Equality and mutual respect are the basis of all healthy relationships, whether within an individual friendship or family or within a vast country or religion.

Vatican Silhouette

Dear Deacon,

You have been very kind to me and have listened to my opinions with great courtesy.  I nevertheless am uncertain about the answer to this important question: Are you able to welcome me into the Catholic Church as I am, with my 69 years’ experience, spiritual reflection, education, strengths, and weaknesses?  In other words, are you able to feel that through joining the Church, I will, in my small way, bring gifts as well as receive them?

Or do you, in contrast, believe that the Church’s formal teachings are the sole and complete answers?  Do you see the RCIA process as one of pouring the Truth into me as if I were an empty vessel?

I cannot accept having any human being set out to change me through the conviction that he or she comprehends the Truth and I don’t.

As a member of the Church, I would have the opportunity to gain immensely from the examples and insights of countless Catholics.  For instance, many Franciscans will be—and already are—mentors to me.  Certainly as a Catholic—or as I am—I would/will change over the coming years, evolving through ongoing conversion and continuing revelation.

At the same time, if I join the Church, I will bring with me my lifetime of wisdom, mistakes, and understanding.  I want and expect all of me to be welcomed.  I have much to gain, and I also have something to give.

Here is what I would like to ask of you: I hope you believe and will explain that through the RCIA sessions, you are sharing the traditional views of the Catholic Church and your own interpretation of those views.  I am eager to learn more about the Church, and I value hearing your perspective.  But I also hope you acknowledge that every human being must seek her or his own understanding of the Gospel and God.  I ask you to recognize that my own spirituality, while as flawed as the next person’s, is also as worthy of consideration and respect.

Forio at Sunset 2

No one, and no human religion, grasps all the answers.  There is room within the often-magnificent Catholic Church for a wide range of sincere and carefully considered perspectives.  And there is room—and need—within the Church for evolution and change through ongoing conversion and continuing revelation, through deeper and deeper insight into God and Christ’s teachings.  I want to be a part of that process.  I want to give to the Church, as well as to receive.

So I’ll rephrase my opening question: Is there room in your Church for me as I am, or only as the strictly conceived RCIA teachings would like for me to be?  If there is room for me as I am, I am eager to continue with the RCIA process.

Thank you for your contributions during our sessions and for your thoughts on my concerns.

All the best,

Winnie

Church Bells and a Riptide

To my friends and readers who are Catholic: Please forgive me for sharing my disagreements with the Church.  I am struggling with the question of whether or not I should become Catholic.  To all my friends and readers: I would value your perspective.

On Thursday morning as I sat in church with a dear friend, the bells calling worshipers to weekday Mass took me back to hearing other church bells a few miles away.  On warm evenings, my parents and I ate dinner on our screened porch, and daily at 6 p.m., the carillon at the Methodist church out on the main road played hymns.  If we sat down early to supper, we might say, “Well, we beat the Methodists tonight.”

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The back porch on our “little white house”

As I listened to the Catholic bells this week, I could see in my mind the three of us on our porch at the back of our little white house.  I saw the scene from above; I was a ghost revisiting a place and time of joy from a life now past.  I wondered, “In some dimension, are the three of us still together, sharing evenings on our porch, listening to ‘the Methodists’?”

So much has changed—is changing—at least that is how existence feels to me.  In my spiritual life, too, the past seems to be a distant shore from which I am cut off on this ocean of being.  I had thought I was now among those whom the bells call to Mass.  I thought I’d found a new spiritual shore toward which to sail.  But I fear I am steering toward the edge of my world, of my understanding of God’s world.

The Riptide

I am distressed to find myself caught in a riptide in my spiritual ocean as I meet with the deacon who is dealing with me in the RCIA[1] process by which I am, perhaps, turning from Quaker[2] to Catholic.  The deacon is a kind man who does not abruptly reject my views that conflict with his; he even appears to give my opinions some consideration, at least out of courtesy.  So ours is not an adversarial relationship, but he and I are spiritually oil and water.  Engaging in a process that causes me to focus squarely on the swirling chasm between the deacon’s perspective and mine causes me to question the wisdom of the voyage I have begun.

My Reasons for Setting Sail

I was raised a Quaker and continue to resonate with the Quaker peace testimony, conviction that all people—and that includes men and women—are equal, belief that no ministers or priests are required to intercede between the laity and God, and rejection of rituals as a necessary part of worship.  But in the past decade, I have lost the sense of a Quaker home.  Like our porch at our family home, the Wilmington Meetinghouse filled with Quakers I knew and with whom I felt kinship has disappeared from my everyday reality.

Wilmington Meetinghouse
Wilmington Meetinghouse, drawing by Mason Hayek, from Growing to 80

The Meetinghouse is now frequented by new generations of Quakers, generations with whom I share the tenets of a spiritual philosophy but not the spiritual temperament and enthusiasm I used to feel in our Meeting.  When I lived in other places, I never found a Meeting that came up—in my mind—to our Wilmington Meeting.  And now the Wilmington Meeting I loved—and the inspired ministry of my parents, others of their generation, and the elders still with us then—lives in timeless eternity.  It has joined our little family listening to the Methodist hymns and the katydids as we sit together on our porch.

But through a dear friend, I have come to know the Franciscans.  Franciscans and Quakers share a similar social testimony and belief in the value and dignity of every human being.  Franciscans are warm and welcoming, as Wilmington Quakers once more vigorously seemed to me.  Franciscans love and care for the Earth and its creatures and growing things.  Franciscans notably live Christ’s teachings of love and kindness with devotion and sincerity.

And Franciscans sing hymns with a joy I haven’t known in congregational singing since my childhood, when the Wilmington Quakers sang with gusto, too.  Music is not part of a Quaker meeting for worship, but we sang enthusiastically beforehand, when Evelyn Young, of my grandparents’ generation, played for us children, and afterwards, when everyone, old and young, gathered to sing hymns.  We closed each week with “As We Leave This Friendly Place”:[3]

As we leave this friendly place,
Love give light to every face;
May the kindness which we learn
Light our hearts till we return.

Music no longer lights the hearts of the Wilmington Meeting, in spite of the kindness there.  And to me, music is the most thrilling and perfected way of praising God and creation, of expressing joy, gratitude, and the unity of us all.

I crave regaining a spiritual home.  I crave a spiritual community in which I find mentors and partners for trying to live the essence of Christ’s teachings: be kind to one another; love one another; act always through kindness and love.  I find such a community among the Franciscans, especially the Sisters of St. Francis and their Companions in Faith.

But to join them as more than a welcomed visitor, I need to work through a parish church—thus the deacon.  The Church has a need and a right, of course, to ensure that those joining are committed to Christ’s teachings and to being active members of the Church community.

I try to bridge the gulf between the deacon’s religion and my own by telling myself that rather than joining the Catholic Church per se, I am joining the Franciscans.  Within the Franciscans, the pieces of my spiritual faith and desires fall into place.  I also love the profound contributions of numerous other Catholic groups and individuals on behalf of suffering people around the world and on behalf of peace.  And I love the magnificent architecture, art, and music growing out of the Church’s two millennia of devotion to Christ.  There is much to love.  And the terrible actions of a few do not erase the good of multitudes.  But I would be a hypocrite to pretend that I am a fit within the religious picture the deacon is drawing for me.

Melrose Abbey, Melrose, Scotland
Melrose Abbey (12th century), Melrose, Scotland; drawing by Mason Hayek, from Growing to 80

Manageable Waves or Tsunamis?

I don’t expect a perfect Church.  Of course I know that like each human being, no human institution is perfect.  Nevertheless I am struggling to decide: Can I in good conscience join a church with which I have significant disagreements?  If I had been raised Catholic, I believe I would stay Catholic, revel in the Church’s great attributes and contributions, and work from within for necessary change.  Whether or not to sign on at this stage of my life feels like a different sort of decision, however, one that should be made based on a strong concurrence between the Church’s teachings and my own values.

I do not love the Catholic Church’s—and society’s—continued denigration of women.  Keeping women out of the priesthood is purely a continuation of many men’s ongoing desire and determination to retain power.  Those who don’t realize how much is being lost by barring the door to women priests should come listen to the homilies that our local Franciscan sisters sometimes deliver in their convent chapel.

And I do not love the Church’s placing priests above the rest of humanity, men and women.  Priests are not singled out by God, by Christ; they do not stand above us mere mortals.  Priests (and ministers and other religious leaders) contribute enormously to their congregations and the world when they are filled with love and wisdom conveyed through their ministry and lives.  But priests are not uniquely the descendants of Jesus’s Apostles and keepers of their responsibility to preach Christ’s message.  We all are.

I do not need a priest to intervene between God and me.  Every human being can commune directly with God.  Similarly, priests have no right to believe they alone among people can absolve me of my sins, and I do not intend to ask a priest to do so.

It bothers me deeply to see a priest sitting on a throne-like chair, holding himself physically and symbolically above all others present.  At Mass yesterday afternoon, we heard James 2:1, “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”  And Philippians 2:3 tells us, “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.” Verses 5-7 continue, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

Yet within the hierarchy of the Church, the concepts of equality and humility are too often given mere lip service.  The position of conservative Church officials concerning LGBT members is another example of Church hypocrisy about equality within the Church and in God’s eyes.  In an additional example, the elaborate church vestments worn by priests and higher church officials, while perhaps aesthetically appealing, are certainly not symbols of humility and equality.  And, of course, as with any population feeling holier- or higher-than-thou, the sense of entitlement and superiority that some priests nurture within themselves helps to allow them to rationalize abhorrent behavior.

Friend deacon, among the other disagreements I have with you, I reject your message that deep knowledge and insight are infused in the individual through baptism in the Church.  Baptism can be a beautiful way of committing oneself to striving to live according to Christ’s example.  Through baptism, one symbolically becomes a part of the local and worldwide community of those who have made the same commitment.  God does not, however, dump knowledge, wisdom, kindness, and understanding onto the person along with the baptismal water.  Knowledge, wisdom, kindness, and understanding can develop only in the course of living one’s life with the guidance of the Inner Light, God’s blessings, and the example—not dogmatism—of others.

God loves each person infinitely regardless of his or her baptismal status.  Quakers, who do not believe in baptism, can be as wise and good as any Catholic—and so can Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, agnostics, and so on.  And in determining our afterlife status, God doesn’t care one bit about whether we have been baptized.  Deacon, you are not wiser—or possessed of greater insight into Jesus—than I am simply because you have been baptized and I have not.  By seeming to believe that you are wiser, you inspire me to form a shell to protect myself from your message.

The position of the deacon’s Church on who can take communion is another source of distress for me.  (Some Franciscans, such as Father Richard Rohr in his insightful books, also disagree with the deacon’s version of the Church on this point.)  I believe Jesus likewise would have disagreed with the mainstream Church’s requirements for taking communion.  Jesus said, “. . . I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25:35).  Jesus’s teachings and example emphasize inclusivity.  But the deacon’s Catholic communion is too much about saying, “I’m in the club and you’re not.”

No One True Humanly Charted Course

I believe we are all seekers who can learn from each other, and some individuals are outstandingly wise, but I have never been able to accept the notion that anyone has a corner on the truth.  When I was a senior in high school, a member of the Meeting decided that in our Sunday school—which Quakers call “First-day school”—he would teach us young people exactly what we “ought” to know and believe.  In response, I immediately stopped going to First-day school.  I have not (at least as yet) decided to stop going to meet with the deacon because I still want to be among the Franciscans as more than a welcomed visitor.  But how can I join them without having to pretend to be in agreement with the deacon and the vast elements of the Church that he represents?

Deacon, here is what I would like to ask of you: Tell me that you are sharing the traditional views of the Catholic Church and your own interpretation of those views.  But then acknowledge that every human being must seek her or his own understanding.  Acknowledge that my own spirituality, while as flawed as the next person’s, is also as worthy of consideration and respect as the next person’s.  No one, and no religion, has all the answers.  There is room within the often-magnificent Catholic Church for a wide range of sincere and carefully considered understanding.  And there is room—and need—within the Church for evolution and change through ongoing conversion and continuing revelation, through deeper and deeper insight into God and Christ’s teachings.

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Basilica of Saint Francis, Assisi, Italy, by Berthold Werner – Own work, Public Domain, from Wikimedia Commons

The Wrong Direction Altogether?

When I am with the Franciscans, I feel as though I have found a spiritual home.  It is not the home of my earlier years, the home I will miss forever in this life, but it is a beautiful home, filled with love and deep satisfaction.  The bells and music of the Catholic faith are not the bells and katydids accompanying long-ago family suppers on the porch, not hymn-sings in the old Quaker Meetinghouse at 4th and West Streets, but I thought they could be welcoming and meaningful to me.

Am I going to have to turn back into the emptiness of living without a spiritual port, a spiritual home that counts me fully among its family?  Do I have to turn away because I am having profound difficulty accepting the lessons I am supposed to be learning in the RCIA sessions–conforming enough for the deacon and those he represents to let me in?  Should I join the Church feeling as I feel?  I want to be a Franciscan, but for now I am not sure I am suited to be a Catholic.

[1] Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (even the name bothers me: I am already Christian).

[2] The formal name for the Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends.

[3] Vincent B. Silliman, 1935.

Questioning and Changing

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Statue of St. Francis, Our Lady of Angels Convent, Aston, Pennsylvania

An Epiphany

On March 18, 2018, I was in an audience of several-dozen Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and companions in faith.  We were listening to a lecture by Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton, retired auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Detroit.  (Even though since childhood I have been a member of the Religious Society of Friends—the Quakers—I am a Franciscan companion, meaning in part that I meet for faith sharing with several other lay companions in faith and with Franciscan sisters.)  Bishop Gumbleton was the founding president of the U.S. branch of Pax Christi International, an international Catholic movement working for peace.

Bishop Gumbleton is profoundly committed to peace, and therefore, I believe, profoundly committed to the fundamental message of Jesus.  Bishop Gumbleton said, for example, “If Jesus did not reject the use of violence for any reason, we know nothing about Jesus.”  Pax Christi International includes an inspiring Vow of Nonviolence on their website.  Bishop Gumbleton is also thoroughly devoted to full equality for all, within the Church and throughout society.  I was so moved by the bishop’s message that at one point I turned to my friend sitting next to me and said, “I am going to join the Church.”  I wish to spend the rest of my life doing what I can to live the Pax Christi International Vow of Nonviolence, which I believe reflects Jesus’s teaching and example.

My decision to join the Catholic Church has followed three years of active participation with the Franciscans, including frequently attending Mass and taking part in numerous retreats led by the Sisters of St. Francis.  Until hearing Bishop Gumbleton, however, I believed that I would always remain a Quaker and never convert.  Since March 18, my sudden decision to join the Church has continued to seem valid, but I have felt the need to examine my decision, and I do so as follows.  As in some other blog posts, I write as though wiser voices are speaking to me in answer to my question—and perhaps they are.  The response to my question is probably much more than you will want to read, but I include it all in case anything is useful to anyone.

My Question: Am I doing the right thing to resign from the Religious Society of Friends and join the Catholic Church as a Franciscan?

You are not doing the wrong thing to come to this decision.  You were dangling, not knowing where to go, how to move forward, and so it is right now to make the best choice you can and go in that direction.  You are finding a spiritual home that speaks to you.  It will not be perfect.  Nothing in this life is perfect.

You wish that you could return to the Quakerism—to the Religious Society of Friends—of your childhood, with the weighty Quakers of your parents’ generation and the generations before, with your parents’ wise and inspired messages, with the Philips sisters and Robert Maris and Edith Rhoads, with hymn singing before and after Meeting, with the sense of mystery and beauty, of something grand and lovely, meaningful and ready to accompany you throughout your life.

But your parents’ generation and those before are gone.  As much as you like those Quakers you know from your own generation and respect their sincerity and their community involvement, much seems missing from what you once knew.  And as much as Meeting members speak of the wisdom they have inherited from the past, the Meeting you hoped to find again lives only in memory.  Whatever the degree to which the changes you see are in your own perception, they are nonetheless true for you.

In contrast, you find a wealth of what you love in the nearby Franciscan convent and their chapel, where you enthusiastically attend Mass.  The sisters are warm and seem sincerely happy to see you.  When they teach and share, their spirituality is as vibrant as the spirit you used to find within the beautiful old meetinghouse at 4th and West Streets.  In part it is the Franciscans’ music that envelops you: even when the choir is not singing, the congregation sings with gusto and conviction, knowing music resonates throughout the universe in the love of God, creation, and one another.

Wilmington Meetinghouse
Wilmington (Del.) Meetinghouse, Religious Society of Friends – Drawing by Mason Hayek

You are not in complete alignment with all of the Catholic beliefs, even among the Franciscans.  But like Quakers, Franciscans consider themselves seekers, believe in continuing revelation and ongoing conversion, have nonviolence as a central value, and embrace all people as brothers and sisters.  You profoundly admire and wish to advance the Franciscan commitment to peace: to serving and valuing all people; to welcoming strangers; to feeding, encouraging, teaching, healing, and clothing those in need; to honoring and preserving the Earth.  You feel that Franciscans such as the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia are living Christ’s and St. Francis’s messages of love and kindness.

You see every human being as a child of God, and the Quaker belief in that of God within every person is not contrary to the Franciscan view of creation.  But the most daunting area of doubt for you is your uncertainty about Christ’s nature.  You do not know if Christ was more completely the child of God than are all other people throughout time.  You wonder whether the difference is that Christ expressed love and kindness through his life vastly more fully, deeply, and profoundly than the rest of humanity has done and is doing.  In other words, is the difference between Christ and other people a difference in essence, or is it entirely in the way he lived his life?

Clearly the doctrine of transubstantiation is another source of questions for you, but you have decided that the ceremony of Communion is a beautiful way to nurture your commitment to taking Christ’s life into your life, into your heart, soul, and all your being and ways of being.  And you are seeking to become clearer in your beliefs through reading, as well as through attending programs in the Franciscan Spiritual Center, continuing as a companion in faith to the Sisters of St. Francis, and talking, as you love to do, with your dear friend who is a Franciscan.

Spiritual Wanderings

Let’s look at your spiritual journey as an adult.  During the many years that you lived away from the Wilmington-Philadelphia region, you never found a Quaker Meeting that felt like your spiritual home, and you tried quite a few.  A Meeting outside Washington, D.C., came close to drawing you, but only briefly.  In Ellsworth, Maine, you attended the Congregational Church fairly regularly, as you also did in Northampton, Massachusetts, where you joined the choir.  In both cases, eventually you stopped attending.  In Washington, D.C., you liked to attend the Episcopal service in the National Cathedral from time to time.  The magnificent church and pageantry pleased you.  You tried the Washington Ethical Society, but without continuing.

After returning to Delaware, you were unable to attend the Wilmington Meeting for a time because of the smell of gas in the meetinghouse.  You visited a couple of other area Meetings, but always something ruled them out for you.  For example, one Sunday you entered a meetinghouse and sat down to quiet yourself and wait for Meeting to begin.  But a woman already present said in a haughty voice, “We’re going to be having a Meeting for Worship here,” as if you were an intruder rather than a visitor to be welcomed.  You left immediately and did not return.

You began regularly attending the Unitarian Church in North Wilmington.  You enjoyed the services and minister, sang in the choir, and were thrilled by the quality of the music in the church.  You’d had a similar experience in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at a small Christian Church (as the Disciples of Christ denomination is known).  But then you changed apartments and didn’t make the trek back to Chevy Chase on Sundays.  And so on, and so on.

In Delaware, you left the Unitarians after the heating system in the 4th and West Meetinghouse was repaired and you were able to return.  That was a happy time.  On Sundays you sat between your parents on your family’s favorite bench.  You were active on Meeting committees.  You had come home, or so you thought.  Even after your father’s passing, you and your mother were active in the Meeting until after your move to southeastern Pennsylvania—not a long distance to return to the meetinghouse on Sundays, but life changed, and then the Meeting seemed gradually to forget, and you felt sad and that your mother had been betrayed through the Meeting’s neglect.

When you expressed your hurt recently, you found the members of Meeting exceedingly kind, and you realized that loving feelings and appreciation toward your parents still remained among the Wilmington Quakers.  Yet after a few Sundays of thinking that perhaps you had, after all, returned to stay, you did not continue to attend Meeting.  Your affection and appreciation for present friends and Friends (as Quakers are also known) did not recreate the Friends and Meeting of the years now lost.  The Meeting has gone on without you, and in spite of the kindness shown to you, you are no longer at home there, and you are not drawn to try to rekindle your belonging.  The contrast between your approach-avoidance relationship with the Meeting and your enthusiastic attendance at Mass, retreats, companion meetings, and other events with the Franciscans is notable.

Forio at Sunset 2
I like to think of rays of sunlight as God shining on us.

Not So Unexpected after All

You have had a fascination with Catholicism for much of your life, even though it was not until you became involved with the Franciscans that you understood how Quaker-you might find a fertile spiritual garden within the Catholic Church.  Consider some of your connections with Catholicism over the years.  At summer camp, you spent hours discussing ideas with your best friend, who was Catholic.  You played your guitar at folk masses in college.  Within your second college major, your emphasis was on medieval history, which was largely a history of the Church.  One of your favorite activities in Europe was visiting churches—Chartres, Notre-Dame de Paris, and countless churches in Italy.  And remember the joy you felt in waking up to church bells in Rome.

You have been inspired by Gregorian Chant and adore the magnificent religious music that has followed it through the centuries.  And who was your best friend when you were in Pisa for a couple of weeks to learn Italian?  It was a Franciscan brother.  Your fascination with the Vatican has included reading several books on that subject.  Consider your satisfaction in viewing religious art of the Renaissance.  Of course, as a literature major, you have a strong appreciation for spiritual poetry and prose, from the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Franciscan Richard Rohr’s many books that speak to your heart and mind.  And then you also feel the strong appeal of being part of a spiritual tradition that joins you with a billion current followers and with worshipers from the entire two millennia since Christ.

You will not find a perfect match anywhere.  You will not agree with every quality and characteristic you find in any of the world’s religions.  But paradoxically, the Catholic faith now seems closest to who you are and want to be.  No real contradiction exists between the spiritual hearts of Quakerism and Franciscan Catholicism.  Some of the externals are different, but not the essence that matters most.

So yes, you can take your Quaker heart into a Catholic church without denying parts of yourself or turning your back on your spiritual history and the beloved heritage given to you by your parents.  You are not changing who you are; you are finding new settings for expressing your spiritual beliefs and values more fully than you are currently managing to do in the meetinghouse that once felt entirely inspiring, comforting, and embracing.  While you continue to be a seeker and are growing somewhat in your understanding, you have not fundamentally changed your spiritual outlook.  Circumstances have changed, however, and to continue to grow as you wish to do, you need to feel free to embrace new means of nurturing your soul.

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Godspeed.