I couldn’t register my footfalls as I made my way to the altar. The melodic strains of the choir and my heartbeat were the only things I could hear. I took a few more steps, stopped, and waited. I repeated this until it was my turn. I bowed my head, said “amen” and received the body of Christ as a starving woman finally being fed.
I made my way back to the pew and waited for what came next, I felt like I was finally right where I belonged.
This was the first choice I had made as an adult.
The first time I made a major life decision without my mom by side. The first time I had ever felt that my faith was my own. I carried this moment with me for the next twenty years and I grew in my faith, became a godparent, a confirmation sponsor, and a youth minister. My appreciation for the Church grew, but in recent years my apprehension for the people of God grew. I stuck with it because this is home and family is always going to drive you a little crazy, right?
Fast forward to September of 2020. I was recording an episode of a podcast about baptism. I shared my experience being baptized alongside my sisters and my mom when I was in middle school and, because she is a cradle Catholic and cannot recall her baptism, my co-host did a short lesson on baptism. I was listening and learning and doing the work of the surrogate audience when her words claimed the rug from under my feet. In her explanation of the sacrament, she told our listeners that the Church only recognized trinitarian baptisms.
This was the first time I had learned that not all Christian baptisms are created equal.
Looking into the screen I interjected saying something like, “Really? I know that some of our Protestant brothers and sisters have been baptized in ‘Jesus’ name’ that have converted. What about them?” She explained that they would have had to get baptized validly before coming into the Church. My heart broke. On that day I was baptized in 1992 it was in Jesus’ name and somehow it wasn’t corrected eight years later. Suddenly, in the span of five minutes, I was no longer Catholic.
Turns out, there’s a lot of wonky theology and a good bit of Church law involved in baptismal validity, and hedge-remedies like “conditional baptism” when the minister changes the formula a little to say: “If you are not baptized, N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Little of that mattered to me.
The days that followed were filled with frustration, uncertainty, and a little bit of anger.
In anger, I began to think that maybe this situation was my way out. I have found grace in my twenty-plus years of being Catholic, truth, and numerous blessings. Inconsistency, a sexual abuse scandal, and turning a blind eye to racism have undermined all that. I started to feel that maybe this wasn’t for me. Maybe I could find a new home somewhere else.
I had already committed to cantoring that weekend, so I attended Mass. I thought I would be fine. I didn’t realize just how hard it would be to be excluded from the Eucharist. Once again I was starving.
Holding back tears I would later shed in the sacristy, I sang as others in my community received. I felt like entertainment, not like a party guest. It. was too much to bear. It left me realizing that maybe I didn’t want a way out.
After Mass I made my way out and into the front seat of my car. There I sat, unsure and once again wondering what would happen next. Did I want to get another invitation to the party or did I just want to go because all of my friends were invited? Am I really proud of this Catholic faith I’ve found, or am I just too lazy to find something else? Am I only thinking of staying because I’d lose my platform on social media if I bailed?
I had to make a decision.
The only options were to move forward or to go back. If I chose to move forward, I would be choosing the Church with my eyes wide open. Even with its frustrating inconsistency, I would accept an initiation whether or not my friends attended.
The sex abuse scandal breaks my heart every day. The evil of small men (and those who protect them) won’t diminish my pride in this faith I’ve found. I don’t care about my platform. My Protestant mom could be my only follower. I would still share the joy in the journey, though matters of race make it difficult. So, eyes wide open, I chose this Church again, I know I don’t need to find anything else because this is for me. If I weren’t Catholic I don’t believe I would be a practicing Christian.
I almost took the out, because it wasn’t on me. It wasn’t on the Church. It was on the People of God. All of the reasons no one would have blamed me for leaving were because somewhere in the last twenty-one years, we’d forgotten how to be the Church for each other.
I made a commitment to never be the reason someone would want to leave the Church. You should know that, as much as like to accessorize, I am not looking to be fitted for a millstone anytime soon.
I felt the weight of every step with renewed purpose and rejuvenated faith as I walked up to the baptismal font. I smiled behind my mask as the Monsignor baptized me in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Marcia Lane-McGee is a writer, podcaster, and mug model. Going strong with the Church since 2000, even though she still can’t say either Creed without audience participation. Her previous article was The Chauvin Verdict and the Work Before Us.
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