Friday, July 7, 2017

Standing at the Door

While on retreat a year ago, I was offered spiritual direction by a priest in residence. Things did not go quite the way I might have hoped.

As a convert to the Catholic Church (Easter class of 2008), I told the spiritual director of my journey before and after that memorable vigil mass. My account was filled with more obstacles and detours than The Odyssey. It was an impressive little mini-epic of man-finding-Church against the odds he had stacked against himself, or something.

The priest listened carefully, and then responded: “It sounds to me like you’ve arrived at the door of the Church but haven’t come inside yet.”

Uh, were you even listening to me, Father? . . . I was hurt, offended, and puzzled beyond telling.

I love the Catholic Church. I have never regretted becoming a Catholic a day in my life. How could this seemingly wise, sensitive, and perceptive spiritual director tell me—ME—that I wasn’t even inside the door?

In my limited experience, it is one of the marks of good spiritual direction that a thing said in direction will stick with you long afterward. If so, then that was the finest moment of spiritual direction I have received to date.

The comment began to turn on itself, and by the end of the retreat weekend I came to see my position “at the door” as a gift, a privilege, a calling.

For starters, I recalled how, in a former life, I had worked on the staff of a cinema/theatre. Ha, that’s right! There, many nights for more years than I care to recall, I stood at the front door in a tuxedo welcoming guests. That wasn’t all I did—I hasten to assure you, out of my still swaggering pride—but it was an important part of my vocation at the time. Being the face of welcome, timing my words and movements to the insweep of the arriving guest(s), serving as the first impression in a hopefully long, full evening of positive experiences—all this made “doorman” a role I could not exactly brag about but yet felt good in.

That retreat weekend I thought too of my possibly favorite psalm passage (84:10), “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.” From the time the Catholic Church called me—and it was overnight, as in a dream, I literally started going to daily mass the next morning—I have only wanted to be close to the Church. I have recognized that the meanings the Catholic Church provides are far better-tested and so completely other than than the meanings provided by life in the world, on the street, beyond the courts of the house of the Lord.

Yes, I thought. I can be happy here on the doorstep—in the courts, if you will. I am happy here, aren’t I?

Then came the thought of all those many friends and loved ones with whom I would like to share my experience of the Church. This desire to share has led me to (a) blog, (b) write longer stuff that might like to be a book, (c) go back to school at the Theological Institute of the New Evangelization, of all places, because I would like to be a better, more informed spokesperson for the Catholic faith, and (d) so on.

I realized by the end of that retreat weekend that the absolute best number-one place for my converted self was and remains the steps of the Church: ready to greet, willing to speak for, happy to open the door for all who may think to come in. 

Finally, and this realization may have taken longer to dawn than the end of that weekend, I understood that Christ himself had stood on the doorstep of the Church for me, all those years—very much like the father in the parable of the prodigal son. When I arrived home again, more beaten than I would care to describe here, Christ did not reprimand me or charge me admission. He prepared a banquet.

The only requirement for membership, it turns out, was a desire to—come inside.

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