Tuesday, May 8, 2007

"Is this your first time? You look nervous."

The first memory I have of being at church is amusing to say the least. I was about 2 ½ years old; in addition, for visual purposes (or laughs) I was pudgy with a pretty legit mullet and had my bag of Cheerios clenched tightly in my little hand. Neither the priest’s captivating sermon nor the choir’s angel-like voices hold any significance in my vivid memory. However, I distinctly remember the look of mortification on my mothers face when she finally snatched me off the floor, after I had crawled under 25 pews and was only feet from the alter (the final destination).

Apparently, she got over the embarrassment caused by her turbo-charged tubby toddler, because from that day on I attended church every Sunday with my mom and two sisters. For a solid 18 years, I woke up each week and headed to 10 o’clock mass; not necessarily, because I wanted to or was I forced—just because that is what I did. Religion quickly became a huge part of my life.

For me being a Catholic was pretty much the inevitable: my mother was a devout Catholic, I was to be raised in a 100% Irish Catholic neighborhood, and I was baptized as an infant. At the budding age of four, I began preschool at a private catholic school and as you can see, things have not changed much. Ok, unfortunately that might be a bit of an exaggeration, a lot has changed since I was four. Two years ago I moved halfway across the country and was far far away from the conservative Midwest setting I was so used to. Because of my new self-ruling lifestyle, I found myself waking up at 3 p.m. and eating ice cream for breakfast. However, my sleeping and eating habits were not the only things that changed. I could have never expected this to happen but I stopped going to church—completely!

The last nine months of my life have been nothing short of a roller-coaster, sometime in August ‘06, everything began spiraling downward and I had totally lost control. The once comforting relationships with my parents, friends, and boyfriend were frustrating, I was struggling with school, I was constantly stressed with work, and even my health was suffering. I tried everything in my power to fix it, yet it seemed the harder I tried the worse it all got (such is life I suppose).

Last Thursday morning (May 3, 2007), as I sat on Lone Mountain watching the sunrise, the sun’s rays seemed to almost be pointing at USF’s St. Ignatius church. There it was—the light at the end of the dark tunnel, the dark tunnel that had become my life. At 12:05 p.m., I stood hesitantly in the doors of St. Ignatius, one of San Francisco’s most beautiful churches. A Christian church is a place of worship, a place where everyone is welcome, and most importantly where everyone is accepted—yet I was instantly overcome with feelings of guilt and regret, as though I had let someone down (God, my mom, myself).

The priest greeted the people and spoke the words I had heard a million times before “The Lord be with you,” as the congregation rose and replied, “And also with you.” My heart had slowed down and I apprehensively made my way to a pew in the back. Jim Thompson, an 81-year-old St.Ignatius regular, slid in next to me in a near empty church, which seemed odd, but I was glad he did. “This your first time or something? You look nervous,” said Thompson, as he winked at me then smirked. I was so caught of guard, my thoughts were all over the place—who does this guy think he is, oh no…he knows I’m a bad person. “Um…um…no,” I began stuttering, and then quickly interrupted my stammering self. “No, this is not my first time in church. Yes, this is my first mass at St.Ignatius,” I said in a firm tone.

Mass continued on as it always does: stand up, sit down, stand up, kneel…ect. The congregation recited the usual prayers (the Our Father and Nicene Creed), said their Prayers of the Faithful, and offered the sign of peace to one another. I followed along and participated as I had so many times before, and it felt good. However, because of my current state of life and the fragile old man’s comment, I sat consumed and distracted by the profusion of thoughts in my head. Mass had come and gone, and I was shocked when I read the time on my cell phone—it was 3:23 p.m. As I moseyed my way towards the door, I was mesmerized by my first experience at St. Ignatius almost as though a huge weight had been lifted.

Unfortunately, church & religion do not have magical powers so my life was not instantly made perfect. However, reintroducing the sense of faith and spirituality into my life and remembering that I am always welcome in the house of the Lord, I believe are lessons essential not only for me but for everyone.