Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Religious Experience

Prior to September 11, 2001, I was never terrified of flying. Three months later, I prepared myself for a trip to New York City to see long-time friends. We had not gathered in 13 years.

Seeing my friends again was magical. We knew each other while living in the Hawaiian Islands, staying in touch since first meeting in 1983. Our reunion led me to a renewed sense of myself I lost touch with over the course of many years.
Saturday, December 8, I told my Catholic friends my desire to attend Mass the next morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral Church with them. They agreed the venture to St. Patrick’s was a good idea. I called another Catholic friend to see if he would like to join us; and he met us at St. Patrick’s for the 9:00 a.m., service.
 From historical notes, I learned St. Patrick’s Cathedral has served as a place of comfort and solace for millions of people since the church first opened in 1879. Today, over three million people a year come from all over the world to visit one of New York City’s most magnificent cathedrals of worship. Cardinal Spellman is quoted as saying, “At its portals, the world seems left behind and every advancing step brings heaven nearer and deepens the soul’s union with Divinity.”
 Possibly as a form of rebellion and most definitely in reaction to my formal religious training, I walk a path of my own spiritual choosing. I feel more at ease having my information come from intuition, my “guides.” I chose to discover my divine guidance, specified in the Swedish proverb, “The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your arm.”
After taking my seat, being one of approximately 2,200 present, I picked up a Bible from the pew in front of me. I began flipping through the pages, coming upon a separate section at the very back. On a page added, the reader was advised who was and who was not eligible to receive Holy Communion. It read, “Those who have committed a grave sin may not receive holy Communion,” … After reading this I thought to myself, “I am going to receive my first Communion!”
 Our time came to join the long communion line. With my friends behind me, I went to the front of the church for this holy moment. I was unable to see how one receives Communion. I could only see backs of heads as we were in a single file line. 
When it was my turn to receive the highly sought after communion wafer, I said to the priest, “This is my first time receiving Communion. Since I am not Catholic, I am not sure what I am supposed to do.” There was an uncomfortable silence during which, I noticed the priest’s body visibly stiffen. “You are not Catholic?” he queried. “No, I am not Catholic,” I repeated, shaking my head from left to right. He replied, “Then, you may not receive Communion.”
I stood beneath the extraordinarily high cathedral ceiling of this stain-glassed architectural masterpiece, and thought to myself, “What is a person like me doing in a place like this?”
As I walked silently back to my pew, I wondered if the “church” believed Jesus would praise this priest for his righteousness. Would it occur to the Catholic Church hypocrisy and hopeless discrimination had just been imposed upon me? Is being Catholic a prerequisite for receiving the love of Jesus Christ into our lives?
The remainder of the service captivated me. “Remove All Negativity From Your Life.” With tremendous conviction, the priest continued we couldn’t merely say we are going to remove negativity; we must act on it now.
I looked at the congregation, wondering who was living an emotionally and/or physically destructive relationship. I pondered the priest’s theory. Were these individuals being limited to merely praying for a way to end their unhappiness, so they could begin living a healthy, optimistic life?
Perhaps after years of badgering, threats of terror, degrading verbiage or other types of pessimism, their abuser had beaten down, physically and/or verbally, the abused until she or he became a severely damaged human being. Did this sermon hold hope for these individuals? If married, is divorce an option? At what point are the disheartened allowed to bring the “love of Jesus into their lives”?  
By the time the four of us exited the grand doorway onto the cold steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my enthusiasm for this place of worship drastically diminished. In this church’s eyes, I did not belong and was unable to participate in all this holy sanctuary reportedly offered. Ironically, during the course of the service the offering basket came around twice; on both occasions my money was taken. My donation was whole-heartedly accepted, yet I was not.
More than 2,000 years after Jesus’ short-lived life, worldwide human non-acceptance continues, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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