My roots are Catholic.

Easter vacation meant freedom from school for a glorious week.  Before obtaining liberty, there were stations of the cross, Holy Thursday services, and Good Friday rituals.  There was quiet time on Friday if we did not attend services.  For a few years, Mom tried to get us to kneel for three hours. As we grew up, she adopted the notion that she could kill two birds with one stone:  we would stand on a kitchen chair and she would pin up the hems on our Church coats so we could wear hand me downs or one year old coats on Sunday.  It helped her immensely that we were silent.  Complaints and whining were discouraged in a small home with 6 kids, and not only on Good Friday.

At 7:30 Mass at Shrine of the Little Flower,  we would be marched into the back pew in our Sunday semi-best.  Dad bought us corsages once in awhile, and ditched us to be an usher.  We knew that if we so much as twitched, there would be consequences.  When we were young, our Pastor was Father Coughlin, a blistering orator who would detour from his script to order a Mom to remove a crying baby.  Visions of chocolate bunnies danced in our heads, but the Robo-Joliats knew that church was serious business.

This weekend, Steve was in Nashville  for Matt’s bachelor weekend.  I wished to attend a religious service.   I abandoned my alternative Sunday worship (coffee-newspaper), dressed and headed out.

On this morning, I drove past my local Catholic church to attend services at the First Congregational Church of Western Springs.  There was an instant when I almost turned into the parking lot.  That is the rub of being raised Catholic.  It is such a hard-wired faith that disagreeing with significant dicta leaves a void.

Is it essential to believe that Mary was taken to Heaven, body and soul?

Wasn’t Christmas adopted to counter pagan practices?

Does the Pope need infallibility?

Isn’t it possible that Christ meant “think of me every time you eat a meal, and I will be ever-present in your life” rather than “bread=body, wine=blood” ?

Why is it so essential that priests cannot wed?

Clearly, I am the candy jar Catholic who has been scorned by the powers that be in the Catholic hierarchy.

At any rate, 12 years of Catholic schools, daily Mass, my parents’ abiding Catholicism- these forces conspire to trap me.  I have faith in God.  I believe in a higher Power.  I am dedicated to the Commandments and the beatitudes.  I know that faith without good works is empty.  It is wrenching to detach from a religion which has brought me comfort on my worst days, and enlarged the joy of weddings and Baptisms.  I am searching. I am still a Catholic …but…the devil seems to be in the dicta.

Sunday I headed for the church where Matthew will wed Justine in May.  It is a beautiful building, full of  welcoming congregants. The senior minister, Richard Kircherr is a wise and grounded man, and an excellent homilist.  Once upon a time I lived around the corner from this building.  The former senior minister, Robert Kemper, lived across the street with his beautiful family. He was an inspiration, since he was blind, but soldiered on in his ministry with a grand sense of humor and purpose.  Equally inspiring was his wife, who had more than the usual minister’s wife’s duties, since she was his navigator and driver.

On the day that we moved into our home, Margie Kemper strode across the street to welcome me.  This was a relief, since the local paper had carried an editorial from a neighbor-a teacher at the middle school- that the likes of us were not welcome in Western Springs. She had sketched a map of our block, with each house identified by the name of the family who resided within.  There were stick figures representing each inhabitant, accompanied by their names and ages.  Even pets were noted.  In an instant, we were part of something special.  I will never forget that first kindness. It was followed by years of encouraging words and friendliness. I cried when we left that neighborhood 5 years later, in search of a dry basement to corral my three sons.  Though only a mile away, I was in a new school system.  New roots and habits obscured my connection to my Old Town block.

On Sunday, I could not find a seat.  I could watch on  TV in the community center, but I decided to head upstairs to the loft.  There were six folding chairs.

A few moments later I was asked if the seat next to me was open.  Of course, I said, and turned into the face of Mrs. Marge Kemper.  Her husband had retired from the active ministry, and had died in the summer of 2010.  I learned of his death too late to attend services, and had resolved to find her address and send condolences.  I had not.  Mike’s wedding took over my days, and I failed to make this connection.  I never circled back. I am ashamed. On this day, I could express my sorrow for her loss, and remind myself of the blessings life has brought me. There was redemption for me.

How amazing that on this Easter Sunday, God took me to a place I wanted to be: a service full of kindness and welcoming spirits, the warmth of beautiful music, the sweetness of children, inspiring words from the pulpit and Mrs. Margie Kemper, beside me.

All I can say is that the Lord works in mysterious ways….and I miss those chocolate bunnies.



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