I was caught off guard recently by someone’s response to meeting me. While shaking her hand, I made the customary smiling introduction. “Nice to meet you. My name is…” I had barely gotten my name out when recognition instantly spread across her face.
“I totally know that name! I see your name attached to everything here.”
With that string of innocuous words, I was suddenly rendered self-conscious and exposed, as if she’d said, “I can tell you had spinach for dinner. You have a hideous green thing in your teeth.”
I answered her tentatively. “You’re probably right…” Nervous laughter. “We are pretty involved.” Awkward pause. “I’m not quite sure how that happened. My husband and I aren’t normally joiners, but…” What I said after that is a blur because my mind was racing with the implications of her statement. No doubt her comment was meant in complete kindness, but I felt a wee bit of shame for being the person who’s name is “attached to everything”—mainly because it was just so unlike me!
On the drive home, as my husband and I sat at a red light, I broke the silence to voice my concern, “How did that happen? How did you and I, a couple of introverts become so involved? We’re at the church a lot. All of a sudden, I’m that lady. Weird…” A sudden intake of breath. “Oh dear God, I’m a Church Lady!”
My husband smiled. “We are involved…definitely more than before… It’s not a bad thing.”
That evening and over the next couples of days all sorts of questions swirled in my mind. What had changed? It probably wasn’t a bad thing, but was it a good thing? Did people perceive me as some Pollyanna who has no life outside the church grounds? Did that even matter? I tried to piece together a timeline of events in hopes of pinpointing that transformation from anonymous occasional volunteer to unwitting parish poster child.
It all started roughly two and a half years ago when we decided to move our kids to a different Catholic school. We figured it made sense to join the parish where they were students. Our first impression of the parish culture far exceeded our expectations. Not only had we found a place where we fit and were warmly welcomed, but the liturgy was both beautiful and orthodox. Orthodoxy and fellowship at the same church? Wowzer. It was such a novel experience I wrote about it here. We officially joined in the spring, attended a few fun events over the summer, and by the following fall, I was comfortable enough to offer to help for the first time at the annual parish Oktoberfest. A few weeks later, after Mass, our Pastor warmly greeted me by name. A small thing, I know, but somehow it meant a lot to me.
Then I forced myself to attend a small group launch meeting where I stood at the wine and cheese table agonizing over the sea of unfamiliar faces. Everyone else was laughing and visiting. I felt like the lame-O loner. I summoned the courage to chit chat with one friendly-looking woman, then retreated to a chair to intently stare at my phone. Social victory. But the small group I was eventually assigned to paid off big time. We may have started as a bunch of strangers, but now I count them as dear friends. When I signed up to be a lector, it kind of caught me by surprise. Never in my 40 years as a Catholic had I lectored, other than by special invitation for a wedding or funeral. But in the safety of a comfortable environment, I was willing to dip my toe in strange, slightly scary waters. I like lectoring. My knees still knock, but I think I’m pretty good at it. More importantly, it has elevated my appreciation for sacred scripture—an opportunity I might have easily missed under different circumstances. I’ve helped lead a successful Bible study for women and started a parents Rosary ministry. My husband has offered his technical skills to help with the sound during Mass and events. Our sons altar serve.
Looking back, there was never some singular lightning bolt moment that shifted my perspective and propelled me to engage at the parish on a deeper level. It was more of a cumulative, gradual process. But it would not have happened had I not been drawn to something much bigger than myself, something more vibrant, thrilling, and desirable. I still can’t fully articulate how I went from non-joiner to joiner, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks beautifully about what it means to be united in the Church:
The Church is one because of her “soul”: “It is the Holy Spirit, dwelling in those who believe and pervading and ruling over the entire Church, who brings about that wonderful communion of the faithful and joins them together so intimately in Christ that he is the principle of the Church’s unity.” Unity is of the essence of the Church: What an astonishing mystery! There is one Father of the universe, one Logos of the universe, and also one Holy Spirit, everywhere one and the same; there is also one virgin become mother, and I should like to call her “Church.” (CCC, 813)
The truth is, for the first time in my Catholic life, I am at home. At baptism, I became a member of Christ’s family, but I’m beginning to grasp what that should feel like. I credit the embrace of a strong parish family to help me experience profound union with His Church. In many ways, our thriving parish exemplifies a big extended family that encourages, fortifies, instructs, and nourishes. My husband and I provide a roof over our kids’ heads, three square meals, and some stellar indoor plumbing, but that’s not what marks us as a family. It is the act of being authentically known and loved. In the same way, a parish is our destination for the sacraments, an undeserved bountiful privilege indeed. However, we must come to those sacraments grasping that we are united as brothers and sisters—a true family in the precious blood of our Savior. Then we take what we are given at home that we might courageously blow open the doors and bear the gospel message outside to all.
I guess I am a Church Lady now. My husband’s right; it’s definitely not a bad thing. My new acquaintance is right too; our name is attached to a whole lot at the parish, but more importantly, we have been drawn by love to attach in a meaningful way to another name, the one name which is above all else.
“for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1, 49)