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?