Like someone who can sleep comfortably on either side of the bed, you are equally at home with ideas and beliefs that you have held for a long time and with new ways of thinking and believing that grow out of your intellectual curiosity.
Your sense of who you are and what your place is in the world around you rests on values and principles that are the solid ground you walk upon. You've tested them, they work for you, and much of the time you are content to trust them, that is, until some provocative new idea slips in from a conversation, book or some flight of your active imagination. "Hmmmm. What's this. Never thought of it before." And off you go, exploring.
Since you love to learn, you've always been teachable; you absorb new information, which means you are well-educated in things that matter to you. Sometimes your intellectual exploring will lead you back to where you started; the "next new thing" proves too shallow or impractical to you. But once in a while a new idea or belief will dislodge you from the ground you've stood upon; it is so compelling and persuasive that you step away from the tried-and-true and embrace this notion that is brand new to you.
Because you hold both solid beliefs and are open to new ideas, you are accepting of other people and other ways of thinking and believing. You are flexible enough to listen to something new and different, or something outside of your comfort zone; if it works for you, you'll take it in, and if not, you'll let it go. In this sense, you know who you are: you are neither closed-minded nor wildly open minded, but walk somewhere near the middle of the intellectual road.
Mike is a traditionalist Catholic. It was immediately clear from his profile that his Catholic faith is something that is deeply important to him. What he also made clear to me shortly after our meeting was this: he wants to marry a Catholic woman. This is nothing that he would impose upon me (those of you who know me know that attempting to force something would ultimately prove fruitless anyway), but he was quite clear early on that this is something in which he was not going to waver.
As detailed in the description above, I am someone who knows what she believes, but if something is compelling or persuasive enough, I will embrace a notion that is brand new to me or even other than a belief I have held. It doesn't take a genius to see that Mike is the real deal, so I committed myself to take on the exploration of the Catholic faith and discover for myself what so compels some toward this mode of belief and practice of faith.
I came to this relationship knowing nearly nothing about Catholicism specifically; the only time I understood there was a distinction between traditionalist and other Catholics was seeing something about Mel Gibson in a television interview a few years ago. Any other knowledge I had was strung together from some distant childhood friends who went to Catholic school, a few scant movie scenes, and news stories. These hardly constituted any sort of knowledge base, and I was fully cognizant of the fact.
I have learned a lot from Mike over the last several weeks (really, I should be tape-recording our conversations and/or taking notes and posting them here). This information is new and fresh for me, so I'm not going to get too in-depth (besides which, there are veritable volumes on the subject). What I know is that some major changes were made at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) that dramatically altered the liturgy (becoming more man-centered than God-centered), Mass, and certain sacraments. The changes seem to seek to lessen an emphasis on sin and hell as well as man's innate need for God's grace, and also focus more on the dignity of man (as opposed to the sovereignty and supremacy of God). These are just a few things that I've learned about the distinction. Traditionalist chapels are few and far between, most of the Catholic churches you see having accepted the changes passed down in the early 1960s.
Anticipating some need to defend my decision, it is tempting to try and recount every conversation we've had, all I've read, and what I've observed over the last several weeks. What I can tell you is this: we are already on the same page with so many important things in regards to our faith. Many of the core convictions that govern our daily lives are similar if not the same: recognizing our need for grace (as well as the need to act or work out the grace given us with "fear and trembling"), the importance of prayer, the purpose of suffering and self-denial, our need for the Body of Christ, the centrality of the family, and so on.
In other words, things are fitting together; it is making sense. This is quite surprising to both of us; frankly, I did not expect it. We are both fully aware that things are going to come up that will make me want to turn and run or whack him (or myself) squarely over the head with something solid. For example, we just discussed the Catholic church being the one true Church as founded by Christ. Period. No ifs, ands, buts, or caveats. When you really get into it, it can be a hard pill to swallow. I’m anticipating some difficulty with the whole concept of confessing to a priest or of praying to Mary and the saints (though a recent post from Bourgeois Wife is already assisting me in laying a hold of the concept). Coming from a completely Protestant background, liturgy and church tradition are things that are foreign to me, as is the concept of praying for the dead. And the whole no birth control thing? I grasp the reasoning behind it, but it still freaks me out.
Despite these and other difficulties in my line of vision, I know innately that this will be worth every effort. I’m not so rigid in my own convictions that I don’t grasp the possibility that these beliefs may be incorrect, incomplete, or lacking in how I practice them. I pray for the grace to accept God's own truth as He reveals it to me, even if it means I must drastically alter the practice of my faith as I now know it. The sacrifice is not mine alone, however: I'm not the only one risking something here -- this is a significant investment and risk for Mike also.
Not only are we engaging in this process prayerfully, but Mike has also consulted the priest specifically about the path we're on together. We both want to ensure that we’re entering this as clear-headed and as objectively as possible. The knowledge he has imparted to me is invaluable, both for the information conveyed and to know that he is someone who has embraced his faith and is fully engaged in it. Together we are reading a book explaining the core beliefs of the Catholic faith, This is the Faith by Canon Francis Ripley. We’re discussing it concept by concept, chapter by chapter. Through Mike, I've met other Catholic believers and have discussed this process with them; I feel nothing but surrounded and supported. Each person I’ve met unapologetically believes this is correct belief and practice of faith, but have exhorted me to engage in this process prayerfully and with outside wisdom, and ultimately to be obedient to that which God reveals to me. Once through the book, the next step (Lord permitting) will likely be to discuss all this with a priest.
The more I learn and the more we discuss, the more convinced I become that I'm on the right path and that we are doing this the best way we are possibly able. Whether or not this is something I choose to embrace, I adamantly believe that this exploration will only serve to deepen my faith. Only tonight we discussed how we are both being sharpened in this undertaking.
While on this journey, I'm asking critical questions not only of the Catholic faith but by implication, of the faith I've known since childhood and that I've grown into in my adult years. I suppose some may find this scary or even threatening. And I get that. Even a month ago, I'm not sure I could have envisioned myself on this path. But the further along we go, the more it is making sense to me and resonating deeply with what I believe to be true, with what I read in Scripture. Don't get me wrong; I have encountered things that frustrate and anger me. But if Christ says it is true, if He says this is the way, then it is my duty to humble myself and pray for the grace to understand and accept the truth as He has revealed it. And then I am responsible to be obedient to it.
I attended my second Latin Mass this past weekend and my spirit was stirred during the Rosary, the speaking of the Mass, and in witnessing the blessing and partaking of the Eucharist. I do not quite understand it, at least not in a cerebral way. But God stirred my soul and spirit in new ways simply by allowing me to be witness to these mysteries.
All this being said, the responses of some friends and family are best described as cautious or tentative, even skeptical. I know they love me and want the best for me. I know their questions and hesitations come from the best and most loving places inside of them. I love them for it and don't doubt their hearts toward me for even a second.
I get that this is a big deal. I don’t want to minimize the import of that. On the other hand, I like to add a bit of perspective and be reminded that it’s not as if I’ve sworn allegiance to Buddha or agreed to become someone’s sixth wife. I’m receiving exposure to a different (and as I am convinced thus far, better -- as in fuller) way of practicing the Christian faith. I would love it if everyone I knew supported this and were as excited about it as I am. It’s simply not the case. But this is my path and I will -- without apology -- create a road to travel by and abide by the truth revealed to me.
If I find myself convinced that there is a truer and better way to exercise my faith, is it not my responsibility to live in accordance with what God has revealed to me? How wise is it to adhere to an old and familiar way when a better way has been revealed? I'm not certain of being ready to jump in with both feet just yet, but this is the primary question driving me as I undertake this exploration. And I am convinced to the depths of my soul that God is guiding this process. I have been blessed beyond words and I am utterly in His care.
I don't expect it all to be smooth sailing and am fairly certain some of the things I learn will be more difficult than others to accept and work through. There may be days when I want to turn and run screaming in the opposite direction. Ultimately, this journey must be directed by God Himself. Whatever its end may be, I trust innately that I owe it to myself, my faith, this relationship, and God who has given me all of the above to invest my time and energy into this exploration. Even now, I can definitively state I have lost nothing through this process. In fact, I have gained much.
Easy? Not quite. But worth it? Absolutely. I don't doubt it for a minute.
**More Than Cute Little a Footnote**
Amidst all this serious faith talk, I also want to make it clear that we are having a lot of fun!! While we both know we need to address these big issues, we're thoroughly enjoying one another's company and laughing a lot. I have to say though, our deep spiritual discussions are anything but boring (and how refreshing is it to be able to really talk to someone about these things?!). On the contrary, I find myself sharpened and more alive to God as a result of learning to trust Him to guide me as I step out into entirely new territory. This relationship has brought so much blessing into my life, I can't thank God enough or begin fathom the depths of it.
The more I spend time with Mike & get to know him, the more I like him. I can't believe all that has happened within the space of four weeks. Time flies ... as they say. And God is good.
*Plus, he's pretty dang cute (and I find that this is most definitely worth mentioning)!! :o)