I was a sophomore in college and my new friends had invited me to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at the start of the Triduum. They were the campus ministry “cool kids” and I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to hang out with them. So, I went along.
Though I’d spent my life being the Protestant that had preachers for grandfathers, I was not a stranger to Mass. I actually quite liked Mass and was used to it after attending a Catholic grade school, high school, and university. This Mass was different. It was…extra. Extra singing, extra prayers, extra scripture, and me. I am already all kinds of extra so I should have fit right in, but I didn’t.
Sitting in that pew with my friends, I was on edge.
I didn’t move a muscle unless it was on cue, but my spirit was squirming. This wasn’t what I had signed up for. This Mass was more than I bargained for and there I sat, transfixed, inwardly unsettled by its beauty, its reverence, and the way it brought scripture to life. Being “Catholic-adjacent” all the years of my schooling hadn’t quite prepared me for this moment, in which I could be brought into a deeper understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice and the foundation of the faith I boasted.
When it was all over, I remember wanting to stay, remain, watch, and pray. But I didn’t speak up and we went out for ice cream. I am sure the conversation was lively, I am just not sure that I was a part of it. Instead I picked at my butter pecan, taking in an experience that moved me to tears I couldn’t shed until I was on my own.
In my openness to another aspect of the Catholic Church, I had been made uncomfortable. I was trying to reconcile what I “knew” to be true with the truth I’d just witnessed. Though I was not a stranger to basic Catholicism and can attribute most of my education to the Archdiocese of Chicago, I was raised with the sentiment that Catholics, though the right choice for my schooling, were idol-worshipping heathens whose bible was inferior to our King James version. Also, they were all going to Hell. In the meantime, I was allowed to be friends with them, pray for their souls, and invite them to church with me.
So, yeah, I was already being pretty rebellious by attending a Mass that wasn’t required.
“Leaning into the discomfort” is how I would describe the next sixteen weeks. In that time, I was committed to learning, unlearning, and understanding. Expanding my worldview proved to be exciting, nerve-racking, frustrating. And totally worth it.
When I made the decision to join the Church a few months later, I wasn’t wrong to believe it would send shock waves through my family and lifelong church community.
Didn’t I know better? How could I go against the faith? Didn’t I know scripture? Doctrine? That they wouldn’t see me in Heaven? I mean it was OK to associate with Catholics, but to join them? I couldn’t be more wrong.
More than two decades later, making the Faith my own is still amazing – the whole time has been full of wonder – the blessing I received in making the decision to love God’s people — the ones I’d previously believed to be inferior — has been confirmed too many times and in too many ways to count. Accepting an invitation really can be life-changing. My life is living proof.
In Holy Week, I often reflect on my very first Holy Thursday. This year, just like the last, I am doing it from a place of persevering hope in the midst of uncertainty. A lot has happened in our world since we last celebrated the Triduum. A lot has happened in my country – the United States – where the people of God have witnessed the persistent effects of longstanding injustice: sometimes in ways that require discernment, and frequently undisguised. This year, the uncertainty is therefore compounded by an unanswered invitation.
Black Catholics have invited the Church into our struggle, and she has sent her regrets.
The most shocking illustration is the controversy around three words: “Black lives matter.” When I have uttered those three words, I have faced condescension and even contempt. Didn’t I know better? How could I go against Church teaching?
Here is where I get lost: Black lives matter. We know this in our hearts – we’re pro-lifers, and we’re Catholic – so, why pit the truthfulness of this statement against the tenets of the organization that bears the same name?
It’s like denouncing all facial tissue because you didn’t appreciate Kleenex’s anti-viral claims.
Because I am Catholic, I have reasonable concerns about the BLM organization’s goals. Because I am Black, I understand why they may believe them important. It is absurd that I – a Black Catholic – should be expected to qualify myself every time I say, “Black lives matter,” because it is a fact.
More broadly, Our priests are frequently silent before the sin of racism – or worse, timid in condemning it – while too many of our brothers and sisters implore us to stand against the “real racism” of Black babies being aborted instead. I’d be happy to talk about the work I do with women in crisis pregnancies and in advocacy for family preservation, but few people actually stop to ask.
In Eastertide, we will hear readings from the Book of Acts. Anyone studying that scripture primarily as a how-to manual for ecclesiastical life and governance is really missing the point: the Church survived and thrived in the early days – and ever since – by the grace of God, despite the frequently craven and cowardly behavior of her membership.
The heroes of the faith had it when it counted, though: they always have, and God help us, always will.
All this to say: Imperfect people are one hundred percent of the Church’s makeup, and she is still so beautiful and necessary. I remain hopeful that we will be better than we’ve shown ourselves to be, so the world that sorely needs the Church can see her, little by little, more as she truly is. If this makes you uncomfortable, then let me renew the invitation to lean into the discomfort: learn, unlearn, and understand.
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.
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