More Mennonite Notes from a Catholic University…

I love mass. I love the reverence, the ritual, the community, the unity, the history and recognition of the “cloud of witnesses” in the celebration of the Saints, the fact that across the entire world people are celebrating in the embodiment of the Divine in our world at the same time…Over the last year and half at Notre Dame, I have let myself become more and more engulfed in mass. It calms me. It blesses me. And the spirit moves. I feel more and more that I am coming to understand what transubstantiation means. I think this understanding actually came more as a result of backpacking this summer and reading a lot of Mystics, than actually participating in mass. How can I not understand or recognize the embodiment of the Divine–In the trees, in the Earth, in Eyes that shine, in conversations that churn my stomach, and yes, in the wine and bread? God is present in our communion, in our gathering, and in our taking of the body and blood. The closer I feel to the Catholic community and the more I feel I understand the Eucharist, the more difficult mass has become. I think Brian’s blog sums up the feelings I have in mass better than I could ever articulate myself. So, it is a struggle–a struggle of exclusion and one that has brought me to tears more than once. But without it, would communion mean what it does to me now? I do think there is something missing in the Mennonite church in regards to the sacraments–or maybe it was just missing for me. I needed a deep understanding of what our joining as a community in the Spirit means–what it calls us to. I sat at the front of the Basilica the other night for mass. I witnessed the enjoining of the community as the line people slowly trickled toward the “body of Christ.” It was a beautiful way to pray, witnessing each person coming together with the rest through Christ in us.

Over fall break, I found myself at a beautiful Catholic retreat center participating in mass. The priest gave a homily on the Divine within us. I felt a sense of community immediately with those present at the mass. And I prepared myself for the pain that often accompanies the Eucharist. As I went to receive my blessing, no words came, and I opened my eyes. The priest was holding out the body for me to take. It was an obvious gesture, one of inclusion, one of welcome, one of recognition. It was powerful. I let the body sit in my mouth as I prayed.

There is nowhere that feels more like home than in a Mennonite service–where hymns and love seem to pervade the church and overflow to the streets outside. “You can’t run from the Mennonite church, just like I can’t run from the Catholic church,” a good friend and former priest told me, “You are ethnically Mennonite. Embrace it.” I am Anabaptist. And I love it; I have passion for the church, for the people in this tradition. But, I have also come to love and understand my faith more wholly–what the rituals our church continues to practice mean as a result of engaging in the Catholic tradition. I am not sure I would have ever understood, at least to the extent I do now, what Mennonite meant, if I had not entered into the “Catholic world.” There is a tendency to remain where we are comfortable, and unfortunately, to dismiss anything that falls outside of those zones. I fear the joy and life I would miss if I stayed too long in those spaces of comfort. And I fear that for the Church as well. What would happen if we would step outside of our communities and spaces of comfort and engage in the Divine that pervades places seemingly different than our own? How do we remain authentically Anabaptist in a way that also embraces and engages other traditions and peoples?

Comments (6)

  1. Amy

    Beautifully said. There is no way we can truly understand and embrace what it means to be Anabaptist until we can experience other demoninational and cultural experiences.

    I’m applying to seminaries for next fall, and I’ve intentially chose to apply to non-Mennonite schools, so that I can see Mennonites in the context of another tradition.

    I know when I go elsewhere to worship (especially to fundy or super evangelical churches), I really appreciate what Mennonites represent, and the worship style we embrace. In fact, I go to Germantown Mennonite, and since we were kicked out of the denomination 10 years ago, we act more Mennonite in worship style now than we ever did. We certainly appreciate the core beleifs and world view of the Anabaptists.

  2. jdaniel

    Without intending to detract from what is a poignant and well written post, I want to share an anecdote about being “ethnically Mennonite.”

    A few years ago during my term with MCC‘s SALT program in Swaziland, I was visiting with some other MCCers in Lesotho and happened to be having a discussion about being Mennonite. One friend, who considers herself Mennonite, but did not grow up Mennonite, inadvertenly responded to a question, “I don’t know; I’m not ethically Mennonite.”

  3. Brian Hamilton

    Thank you, Ang. Beautiful. Can I append a note of further pathos without obscuring the power of your words?

    There is the further element here, I think, of being called to account. Appreciating Catholics is one thing; hearing their real criticisms and challenges is another. What of the judgment that our worship is careless, our unity imaginary, our memory myopic? In speaking of and to God in the language of another tradition, we inevitably learn the force of its judgments upon us. This is also the pain and joy of being excluded from the Mass.

  4. Sharon

    “What would happen if we would step outside of our communities and spaces of comfort and engage in the Divine that pervades places seemingly different than our own?”

    Ang, so glad to see your beautiful thoughts and poetic words have made it onto this site. Your last comments beg reminder for me of what I have seen in “grassroots christianity” (or emerging churches) in the UK. A common theme, also common with those adhering to the new monastacism, is transforming public places (such as pubs for example) … of course also apparent is the opposite – transforming of “sacred” space (cathedrals) into “secular” (pubs) [due to the deterioration of Christendom]. Grassroots christianity (I prefer lower case as it rubs a slight edge off of the institutional nature of the Religion) is drawn towards places normally seen as outside the boundaries … it’s drawn to the marginalized and forgotten. If we are too comfortable in our own spaces of mennonitedom, we lose out in the gritty hard-to-deal-with nature of life … out of which (at least for myself) I have found joy through its pain.

    With emerging movements like new monastacism, simple way, emergent churches, and “grassroots christianity”; we as Anabaptists need to hold light enough to our tradition to dance with the ‘other’ experiences enough to engage the Spirit in its many forms and expressions. … we must listen and engage with the emerging movements of God’s Spirit around us – and notice also the Divine in all aspects of Created life, as you have mentioned.

    “There is no mission without dialogue and no dialogue unless one takes the risk of having his or her own ideas radically changed.”

    “Far from being an ongoing growth like a tree (or a family tree) the wholesome growth of a tradition is like a vine: a story of constant interruption of organic growth in favor of a pruning and a new chance for the roots.”

    “The normativeness of Jesus illuminates that all is not well and calls for ‘midcourse correction,’ ‘reorienting our present movement forward in light of what was wrong.”

    “Vulnerable relations with outsiders are integral to the otherness of the church and that when this understanding of caritas is forgotten and unpracticed, the church loses its otherness and is assimilated to the violence of the world.”

    [First three quotes from John Howard Yoder; last quote from Romand Coles.]

  5. jason_r_schmidt

    Thank you Angie for a needed gentle challenge so beautifully written. How has your experience of the divine paralleled your experience of community within the Catholic tradition? Due to a recent move, I have experienced feelings that my lifetime umbilical connection to my beloved Mennonite community has been severely weakened. Spiritual experiences through different faith traditions have proven a joyous experience, while my acceptance and contentment within new and differing communities has proven of greater challenge. I find myself struggling to give up my exclusivist utopian ideal for that immediate Anabaptist community, while still finding great joy in experiencing the divine through different traditions.

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