The Pope's visit last week came at the right time for me. My birthday was last week, and I was feeling a little out of sorts. Then I found out that the Pope's birthday was four days after my own birthday. To add to my delight, I was blessed to receive tickets from my parish to attend the Papal Mass in D.C.
I spent my childhood and teenage years in the Baptist Church, the denomination of my grandparents. I converted to Catholicism after I married my husband, who comes from a Catholic family. For me, converting to Catholicism was not a big deal. The way I saw it, we were all Christians.
Converting to Catholicism took me into a Christian world, much different from the one that I had grown up in, in many ways. Both denominations revere and love God and Jesus. However, the rituals were often different.
In the Roman Catholic Church, I had to get used to kneeling a lot, remembering many liturgical responses, and memorizing the Apostles Creed, among many other things. However, as a Christian, I accepted these spiritual rites.
After two decades of being a Catholic, I have come to find some comfort with many of these rituals. For instance, I appreciate the beauty of the architecture of many of the older Catholic Churches, as well as the pageantry of the rituals. The official commitment of the clergy, in the form of a vow of poverty, is admirable. It is a beautiful ideal, even if some people comment that it is too restrictive.
In the Catholic Church that I attend, I have not experienced an emphasis on fashionable attire and social mingling. A bad hair day, is okay, and does not inspire second glances from curious members of the congregation. Clean, pressed, and plain is fine in, as far as clothing was concerned. Although I do like to put on my Sunday best on Easter, I like the freedom from fashion pressure.
There were times when building warm personal friendships posed a challenge for me and my husband in the Catholic Church. However, after many years, we have made some social connections. In the Baptist Church that I grew up in, many of the people in the congregation knew me and my family going back three generations. It was comforting to hear people say, “You look just like your grandmother.”
Sermons in the Baptist Church were often both entertaining and instructive. Likewise, the music was also often the best part of the church experience, and it was not unusual for the congregation to be moved to stand up and clap their hands to the rhythm of those old time religion hymns. Yet, I have grown accustomed to the often subtle and haunting hymns of the Catholic Church. Likewise, I have heard some pretty moving sermons in the Catholic Church as well. I suppose there are pros and cons to both denominations.
When the Pope entered the Nationals Stadium in via his "Pope mobile," as it is affectionately called, I was in awe of seeing the Pope in person, even though our seats were so high up that I felt anxious when I looked down. I was privileged to be there, especially since there are more than 70 million persons who profess to be Catholics in the U.S.A. (Wikipedia), and I was one who was there.
The Papal Mass was a spiritual event, but it was also a historical event, since Pope Benedict XVI is the 265th Pope (Wikipedia) in a long line of Popes.
As I gazed at the 81 year-old Pope, he waved back enthusiastically at the crowd of 46,000 people in the stadium. From him, I sensed affection and appreciation. It was endearing, like a loving grandfather was visiting his adoring grandchildren.