Attendance at Mass used to be an absolute must for me. It was a time for soul searching, wanting to know where my path would lead me, and I looked forward to Mass everyday. Sunday Mass wasn't enough. Or I think that I attended Mass everyday. It certainly seemed like it. I wanted to be there. I wanted to take part in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Everyday.
It is different now, isn't it? But at least I now come to You everyday, walking with my dogs along the well-trodden path in our backyard, saying prayers that I think I should say. At least to make the effort to say them.
There was a time when I desired spiritual reading and a time when I needed spiritual direction. I was a younger woman then, and unmarried, and searching for my vocation in life. And I obviously thought that only the young and unmarried must be the ones still searching. And yet I am still searching. But searching for what? Peace in my heart and certainty. Certain of what? That I know where my marriage is leading me. That I am where I'm supposed to be.
I cannot blame another for my sloth. I cannot blame another for not being as active in the community as I once was. As I once was. That was a long time ago. I have matured since then. I have grown older and maybe even a little more cynical due to certain life's experiences. I am not who I used to be. And yet, of course, I am. For the better. I won't deny that. A few knocks, soft and hard, along the way, but those are to be expected if one intends to grow at all. And it is sometimes difficult to get out of one's comfort zone. I suppose that's why they call it growing pains.
It is not only the young who need spiritual direction. Even the priests and nuns have spiritual advisers. It is not only the young who go to school to be educated. Even adults seek to enrich their minds or sharpen their skills by furthering their education. I used to think that one's education stopped once one graduated from high school or college. And if one never attended college when everyone else did, then it was too late. How wrong I was. For someone who took up classical ballet late in life, at an age when young, aspiring dancers graduated from ballet schools and hoped to join a professional ballet company, why was my mind so narrow where academic education was concerned? And why did I think that religious retreats were only for school children or young adults or those who were unmarried? Was I simply that clueless or that inexperienced? Or had I just forgotten?
When I was younger and John Paul II had just been elected pope, I thought that the white smoke rising from the chimney was the work of the Holy Spirit. If everthing else about it was supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, why not the rising smoke which changed from black to white? I was only fifteen then and my faith was simple. The subject never came up so I never thought about it again until recently after John Paul II's death.
It was only then - because of the extensive media coverage - that I discovered that chemicals were added to change the colour of the smoke. In the old days, wet straw was used. I now know it's the work of human hands and I could only laugh at myself and my ignorance. But also how wonderful, as someone else pointed out after I had shared that story with him, that I could truly believe in a supernatural event. I supposed part me of me wished that it was.
When the new pope was finally elected, I was home and managed to watch it all unfold on television. And I couldn't believe the emotion that welled up inside me when white smoke rose from the chimney and everyone surmised that a new pope had been elected. I was so far away from it all and somehow wished that I wasn't.
Deep in my heart, I am still a Catholic, however much or however far I've strayed over the years. I have never renounced You; I have never denied my faith. I have just been confused and heartbroken and knowingly taken the wrong path at times. The wrong path. Wide open and accessible. It's the narrow path that I once sought, didn't I? It's the narrow path that I should seek again, as difficult as it is to travel it sometimes. Perhaps I'm meant to travel it everyday. Or maybe there's no "perhaps" about it. And by knowingly taking the wrong path, does that mean I've renounced You? Even for a moment, during that split second of indecision when one changes one's course of action that leads me a little further away from You? Surely I know the answer to that even before I've asked it. And You know that I am still afraid. And uncertain. And so I come to You. Everyday.
It was a little amusing watching the confusion that arose as white smoke kept rising from the chimney but the bells in St. Peter's Square didn't start to ring as well like they were supposed to. The tolling of the bells. I liked the sound of that. After a while, a bell was heard in the distance but it was another church's bell. No one wanted to say outright that we now had a new pope. Habemus Pappam, they called it, words that were new to me, but which I enjoyed hearing. There was a growing excitement and I found myself getting excited as well, waiting for the confirmation of the news.
There were a few, no doubt, who didn't much care for the confusion. But the white smoke kept rising; it wasn't a false alarm. We all waited, a little excited, a little impatient, a little on edge, but also wanting to be certain as well. All we could do was wait. There was nowhere to go, nothing else to do, but wait. And how I envied those people running towards St. Peter's Square, or those that were already there, having watched and waited.
I was no longer the naive fifteen-year-old back in 1978. I couldn't fully appreciate it then. And I wanted to fully appreciate it in the present, now that I'm an older woman who still holds on to her faith because she still believes. For all her questions and the doubts that get in the way sometimes, she still believes. Trust is still an issue, that is true. But she doesn't doubt You. She doubts herself. She watched, as everyone else did, as the white smoke made its own announcement.