I was not yet Catholic, when I married my husband at the then newly build, Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles. It was the same summer I graduated from a Protestant seminary.
When I started dating my husband, two years prior, I began attending Mass in Portland where I was living for school. I went to Mass both out of curiosity, to understand the faith of this man I was falling in love with, and enchantment, as I was experiencing my own faith in a captivatingly new way through liturgy. I’d go alone, sometimes at lunch, between classes, as if I was cheating on my seminary.
When my husband proposed, he evenly mentioned that he would attend Mass every Sunday. For the first 5 years of marriage, we attended two churches, two different services, together, nearly every week. Although I grew up Protestant, I noticed that I was uneasy, agitated after services at the non-denominational church. Yet after Mass, I felt at peace.
When a job change prompted a move to Seattle, I felt it was time to dig deeper. I enrolled in RCIA classes at our new parish, St. James Cathedral. Not knowing anyone in my new city, I was paired with a parish member as my sponsor. A cradle Catholic, English teacher at a Jesuit high school, Marie, loved to cook, watch old films and could match my husband’s conversational Italian. She was a perfect match for me. She thought she was giving up 3 months of Wednesday nights to walk me through the process, yet each time the RCIA director put out the call to the group about Confirmation, I’d lean over and whisper in Marie’s ear “I’m not ready yet”.
This went on for 9 months.
Marie was ever patient with me. “That’s fine.” she’d say evenly without a trace of annoyance.
Each month I’d meet up for lunch with my friend, Ross. A 6 feet tall, retired NY executive, she was one of the first women to hold a top office at one of the big television networks in the 1970’s. Even in her 80’s she was formidable, the perfect friend to challenge you in every way. She was also a woman of faith. During these lunches we’d talk about the homeless youth with whom we volunteered and our own challenges of faith. Never one for small talk, Ross fired questions about my RCIA classes at me.
“What’s holding you back?” she asked over a turkey sandwich.
“I not sure if I believe in Transubstantiation.” I said solemnly over a sip of tomato soup.
“Ha!” she laughed, her mouth open, revealing the unchewed bite of sandwich in the side of her cheek. “That’s not it!” she said loudly drawing a few looks from the other patrons at the bistro.
“What is it then?” I asked looking up from my bowl of soup to meet her eyes.
“You don’t want to submit to authority.” She said meeting my gaze.
I felt as if she had punched me in the stomach.
What she didn’t know, was since I was not be able to receive communion, as a non-Catholic, I refused to kneel during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It wasn’t laziness. I knew the implications. I was a seminary grad. I knew by kneeling, I was offering myself. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to. It was the part about offering myself with Christ through the hands of a priest that I had a problem with. It was an act of defiance.
I was an individual. I’d been brought up on strong American self-reliant values. I was a latch-key kid. The first to go to college in my family, then on to graduate school. Estranged from my dysfunctional fragmented family, I was the only one who could take credit for any semblance of success in my life. This included my pride in my faith which had continued despite spiritual abuses in faith communities from my past.
As if Ross read my mind, she narrowed in on me. “You don’t want to submit to a priest, to a church and ultimately to God.” She said pointedly. Then her voice and eyes softened as she added. “I’d know something about that.”
I knew she was right. I knew this was the reason I wasn’t moving forward with my Confirmation. I was the one holding myself back with my own pride.
In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul wrote, that we should follow Christ’s example. Even though He in the form of God,
Did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—(Phil 2)
And I wouldn’t kneel at the Eucharist.
That Wednesday night, I leaned over and whispered in Marie’s ear. “I’m ready.” As if it was all part of the time line, she calmly replied, “Ok.”
At my Confirmation that summer, I got down on my knees during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and understood what it meant to submit. To fully participate in the Liturgy wasn’t just about being able to receive the Eucharist but about participating in the Eucharist. By kneeling, I revealed my heart.
Each week I kneel in submission, knowing I no longer bear the weight of feeling alone. By offering myself along with Christ, I am, not only united to Him, but my Church and my beloved priest. I am participating in a living community, of those kneeling beside me, across the world and those who knelt in the centuries before. That enchanting peace I felt during the liturgy was Transubstantiation, Christ’s Real Presence.
Turns out, giving up control is not binding, but freeing.
Another word for submission --surrender.