August 19, 2011

Catholic by Grace

by Denise Bossert

We greeted each other in the narthex a few months ago. As it so often does, our conversation turned to the faith.

Margaret told me she had never thought of faith as a kind of journey – until she met me. Her life as a cradle Catholic was steady. Unquestioned. Loved. Still, it simply was. More like a state of being rather than a journey.

But she said it’s different now. She senses that her faith has always been a journey whether she realized it or not. A journey has been taking place on a level just below her consciousness.

And she suspects that it’s like that for other Catholics, too. Her parents. Her sister. The countless people who stop by the parish office to sign their children up for religion classes or the youth athletic programs or to learn about baptism preparation or marriage instruction. It’s even like that for those who are there to make final arrangements for a loved one. The faith that they’ve been living has been a journey. Each event has been a kind of mile marker. The Sacraments have come to them at just the right moment, bringing just the right help for the journey.

It began when they were so young, they may not even remember it. Their parents carried them at first. Then those parents put their children on the path and took them by the hand. They walked together like that, perhaps for many years. Then, mom and dad let them run ahead. And their parents’ hearts were filled with great joy. They could entrust their grown children to the journey. It was a safe path in a world with so many unsafe paths.

“Maybe we’re all on a kind of journey,” Margaret said. Margaret sees it all. She’s the parish secretary.

That day in the entrance of the church, we talked in similes and metaphors, and our conversation was poetry and prose all mixed together. We eventually got around to the subject of music. In addition to being our parish secretary, Margaret teaches piano. Music is her second language. As we talked, I realized that it was my turn to learn a new metaphor for this life of grace.

Margaret’s song – her life – has been a lovely piece of music, soft and beautiful, mostly pianissimo, in steady 4/4 time.

In contrast, my journey started out as a simple song. Like Twinkle, Twinkle. As for substance, it was mostly just a bare minimum theology. A tune that could be plunked out with one finger on a keyboard.

Jesus loves me, this I know.

The B-I-B-L-E, yes that’s the book for me.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.

The theology was about as complicated as my daughter’s first-year piano music.

But then, a dissonance interrupted everything, and all I wanted was some resolution. I wanted desperately to stop those notes that didn’t seem to go together. I wanted my simple Twinkle, Twinkle kind of faith once again. Instead, the music was loud and demanded my attention and cried out for chords that worked – a sound that made sense.

And then it came. The understanding and knowledge. Those beautiful gifts of the Holy Spirit. Right judgment. Awe. Reverence.

A complicated arrangement replaced the cacophony, and – for the first time – I experienced advanced dynamics that pulled at the soul and carried me higher. The music of faith transitioned into a movement of exquisite sweetness, made all the sweeter because it followed the dark dissonance.

The Climax. The Resolution. The moment when grace sings the melody and all instruments highlight her voice.

Faith is a journey. Grace is a song.

Whether we are aware of it or not.