"Christ the Consolator" (detail) by Carl Bloch

“Christ the Consolator” (detail) by Carl Bloch

“Thanks for taking care of Duke, we came back from spring break early for Palm Sunday,” Paul said to Susan while picking up his dog.

“Happy Easter to you and your family” Susan answered.  She then added a bit defiantly, “But for me, I haven’t been back to Mass in 40 years.”

“Why have you been away?”  Paul asked, caught off guard and thinking about his long list of groceries he still had to get before returned home from the vacation.

“I was excommunicated from the Church in 1969,” she exclaimed.  “I didn’t leave the Church, the Church left me.” Paul could see Susan’s face reveal some residual anger.

“Do you miss it?” Paul asked feeling trapped in an awkward position.

“Sometimes, but it’s not a good feeling when you are rejected,” she said in a somber tone. “I like this new Pope though,” she offered, realizing Paul was stunned by the sheer weight of these personal burdens.

“Do you still consider yourself Catholic?” he asked, now curious as to how she identified herself at this point.

“That one is complicated, but sometimes,” she explained. “My whole family is Catholic, we grew up in New Jersey and believe it or not, I still have my First Communion dress.” Then she shifted back, “But every family needs a black sheep.” She looked down and sighed.

Emotions were too much to hold back…

“I NEVER left Jesus and Mary,” she said with through tears. “See, my Rosary is never too far away from me,” she pulled it out of her top desk drawer.

Paul felt comforted that she is at least holding on.

“Sorry to hear all this,” Paul sensed Susan might be done with this conversation now.  “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me anymore if you don’t want to,” Paul relented while maintaining curiosity.

“No I don’t mind, hey I’m the one who started this conversation in the first place.” She replied.

“You see I got divorced, which back then was very uncommon.  When I approached my priest about it, he said I wasn’t welcome at Mass anymore.  This rocked my world at the wrong time. Then I heard from someone that my child would be considered illegitimate.   This was too much to take, so I left and never looked back.”

“I’m so sorry to hear this.” Paul said with a somber tone. “But Susan, your child is a child of God, a miracle and a great blessing and he is not illegitimate; this is Church teaching.”

He noticed her mood started to change.  “Jesus is at the Altar every Mass and He is waiting for you.”

“What about the divorce and not being welcome at Mass?” she pressed with a hostile tone.

Paul felt she really just needed compassion. “Unfortunately divorce happens, and there is an annulment process for this but it doesn’t mean you are not welcome at Mass. The Catholic Church is a hospital for sinners not a house of the holy. All are welcome.”  Paul exclaimed.

“Well maybe things have changed, but this was what I was told.” Susan dug her heals in.  “Besides, I didn’t agree with an annulment, the marriage actually did happen, how do I just act like it didn’t?”

“An annulment isn’t designed to just erase the actual event of marriage, you can’t, it happened. It evaluates the validity of the vows you exchanged. Did you make those vows with full freedom, competence and understanding of what the Church teaches is the sacrament of marriage.”  Paul explained. “Would you like to speak our priest about this?  He is very understanding and is from your area of the country… who knows, it might be good to talk with him.”

Sensing some interest, he closed in. “Why don’t you come with us, with our family, to Palm Sunday Mass at St. Peters — just down the street, you can be our guest.  I will introduce you to Father Pat.”

At this point, Susan seemed open to the idea and almost relieved at the idea of stepping foot inside a Catholic Church. She replied, “I’ll think about it and I’ll let you know.”

So what happened? After a few more exchanges to set up a meeting with the local priest, Susan decided to “Come Home” on Easter Sunday! She sent Paul an email message, “I’m attending Mass today, look for me, the one crying in the corner.”  Many emotions must have flowed and she thanked him, “You came at the right time, nobody has ever invited me to Mass before and cared so much.”

What does this true story tell us?  I’m thinking of Holy Scripture from 1st Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give reason for the hope within you, and do it with gentleness and reverence.”  Only God knows when the right time happens to make an impact on someone else as an instrument of the Holy Spirit.   Pray for this opportunity to spread the joy of our Gospel, both in words and in deeds.

Also, let the Church speak for the Church. Often people facing controversy will seek an opinion which might formulate a position that may not be theologically correct.   Sometimes it can influence where people decide to worship just over a simple comment taken out of context.   Susan was not really excommunicated from the Catholic Church but since she heard this comment she felt like she actually was excommunicated.   Place a Catechism of the Catholic Church right next to your Holy Bible, both support each other.

God bless you.

Editor’s Note: A key takeaway from this article is to always be ready to help, not hurt… to welcome, to not close the door… to invite, not argue. Sometimes all it takes is to offer an invitation and a willingness to walk with the person. Look for that special person God will place in your life. — Deacon Mike Bickerstaff

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