The future starts today, not tomorrow. – Pope John Paul II
The future starts yesterday, in actions and dreams we are not party to, which prepared the ground of today. We step into the future carrying our pasts, and all they taught us, the strengths and the scars of them, the wisdom and the folly, the energy to choose – follow the same path, or stop, take stock, change direction.
Turn around, and you may see that the past also starts tomorrow, because we don’t know what sort of thing may reveal to us an entirely different understanding of events of yesterday.
If we are lucky, our life continually offers fuller, deeper, more loving light in which to view our families, both those into which we’re born, and those we choose.
My mother was raised in the Roman Catholic church. When I was tiny, we went as a family. My earliest memories include St. Patrick’s at Rio Grande, a country church that made a profound impression on my toddler self; it was all robin’s-egg blue and honey-toned wood. I will forever treasure that place, and my parents as they were then.
As an adult, when I was able to, I took Mom to churches in the city, and their physical beauty never seemed to matter much to her. She appeared very little interested in the goal of traveling to see grand cathedrals.
One day, though, when I was visiting her in Saskatchewan, we drove to attend mass at a grotto that was gaining some local notoriety. I was excited and intrigued, and thankful to be of service; now that she had begun to use a walker, having a driver was of real help, but more than that, we might discover something together.
This special mass, which was to have three celebrants including her local priest, was about an hour’s drive from the house she’d bought in small-town Saskatchewan, where she’d moved to be near my sister and her young family.
Our destination was a broad prairie farmstead; we had to park on the road, among a growing rank of vehicles. We trundled down the driveway, and there was the grotto, awkward, sitting on the land, not of it. And there was a large marquee tent, filled with ranks of folding chairs, and the ubiquitous folding tables that appear at rural functions without ever seeming to arrive, and disappear as seamlessly afterward.
As a senior with a walker, Mom was ushered up near the front, and I given a chair nearby. There would be three lines for communion, and the walker ladies would be first.
I sat through the mass with my familiar feelings: part longing for mystical connection, part chagrin at the thought of how the church here had devastated my father’s people, my own; part resignation to the fact that I am who I am, called in the way I’m called to relate to Deity/All My Relations, and that this would always make a distance between me and my beloved Mom. In part, the cheap folding chairs and the disposable cups for refreshments after, the general age of those gathered, told of how the Church had failed to capture hearts and minds of today’s young families.
I wanted, as much as I wanted the Old Ways to survive and come to thrive again, for my Mom to live out her days within a strong and vibrant parish.
Instead, as we drove home, she told me that the Catholic parish in her new home were too few to maintain the church building there, so they were sharing the building with another denomination, and getting whatever help they could by opening the space up for community events. They didn’t have a resident priest; rather, he was shared among various local small towns.
This past winter, she told me, they’d closed the church entirely; it was too expensive to heat. Instead, some of the parishioners had taken turns hosting liturgy in their homes. She had done so herself.
Did it feel strange? I felt melancholy, asking about this further evidence of her church’s looming death.
And that’s when she told me, for the first time, her own earliest memories of church. I had not realised that, when her parents homesteaded in the early 1930s, there wasn’t an accessible church. With many people traveling by horse and wagon, gathering a tiny parish together could be onerous. Instead, she told me, the priest traveled, and Catholic families took it in turn to host the mass.
Finally, I understood why pomp and grandeur in a Church meant so little to her. Her earliest memories were of farmstead ceremonies, personal, home-made, sanctifying the space of ordinary time rather than depending on a space set aside only for church.
To her, worship centred in a few people, humbly fulfilling the basics of the rites, the forms that did not require censors full of fragrant smoke, looming altars in marble arches, statuary and stained glass and architecture calculated to evoke hierarchical might.
To her, the present I mourned was as viable a future as any. To her, it made a kind of sense. Perhaps, reflecting on the origins of Christian fellowship, hosted in the homes of the first female disciples, it is both the deepest tradition, and the one that represents the change needed to carry the Catholic church into the future, if it is to survive as a viable, valuable means for the faithful to centre their lives and connect to the living spark of love.
*This year, I am honouring my mom’s passing by writing throughout the Advent season, following as prompts the daily quotations cited in the free online calendar put out by the Catholic Medical Mission Board Mom was a lifelong Roman Catholic, and I was raised with the Church as a contentious part of our family life, given that my Ojibwe dad’s family was so affected by the church. Nonetheless, her faith was important to Mom, so this is a tribute to her. It’s also a reflection on how religions influence in many ways.
If you like these posts, please also consider donating, in the memory of Albina Sewell, to Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton; her chosen charity for memorials is not religiously affiliated, but serves all children.
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