It was a typical email from my parish — one of those cheerful messages I get each Monday inviting me to a marriage retreat (I’m divorced) or reminding me about youth group events (my kids are almost adults) or asking me to volunteer at a food drive (I wish I had time).
Typically, I do my obligatory scan, hit delete, and go on with my Mass-on-Sundays routine. Good enough, right?
See, it’s easy for me to get lost in the Catholic crowd.
And honestly, that’s what I prefer because I often feel like I don’t really fit the stereotypical Catholic mold if such a thing exists. I don’t have young children in parish activities. My work schedule and commute eat away most of my day and evening hours, allowing little time for parish involvement. And I attend Mass at a large parish about 10 miles from where I live — a place where it’s easy for me to remain anonymous in my spiritual practice.
I’m also a convert — a toddler Catholic, as I like to call myself since I’ve only been practicing four years. Some people convert because they’re getting married; I converted because I was getting divorced. When I get strange looks about my divorce-to-conversion route, I explain that when life turns upside down and nothing seems to make sense, the Church is a firm foundation to stand on — a place for comfort amid chaos, a place to find healing through the annulment process, a place where I’ve gotten to rebuild my shattered relationship with God.
On this particular Monday, though, finger hovering over the delete button, a small brown box on the screen jumped into my line of vision. The tiny words, much smaller than anything else on the screen, invited me to join a Gospel study group that meets in parishioners’ homes.
Definitely not the right time, I thought. Maybe when things slow down. Besides, these groups are for little old ladies and those over-zealous married couples I’ve seen at Mass.
I rolled my eyes. Really, God? Haven’t I done enough? I converted, didn’t I? I thought I got bonus points for that.
But Wednesday nights are the only nights I really have to relax at home.
OK, fine! But there better not be any die-hard Catholics at this thing.
At this point, I’m pretty sure God rolled his eyes.
And that’s how on a Wednesday night, feeling rather uncomfortable and slightly pathetic, I ended up sitting in a lovely home on a lovely street in a lovely town preparing to discuss the Gospel of Mark and thinking to myself, What the heck? Seriously, God. A Gospel study?
As the group members assembled, I kept hoping none of those people would be there – you know, the ones who use holy water as cologne, go to Mass five times a day (10 times on Sundays), and scare me a little bit with their energetic faith.
I began to sort the arrivals. You might call it judging; I call it sorting. It keeps me organized.
Way more Catholic than me.
Everyone found seats and made introductions — mainly directed at me, the unknown one. Please, God, let this be painless … and interesting … and not awkward.
The group settled into a pleasant rhythm. The comments were interesting and thought-provoking, nothing that made me squirm too much. We talked about John the Baptist’s humility, the disciples’ deep trust, and our own responses to God’s call.
“You know,” I began, finally comfortable enough to share what I was really thinking, “If I had a carpenter living next door to me who was rumored to have performed some miracles and was starting to attract big crowds, I can’t honestly tell you I’d buy in and follow him. I’d probably think he was a freak and run the other way.”
I didn’t add, Sort of like what I planned to do with this group.
No one twitched, at least not visibly, and lightning did not strike, so I went on sharing how it’s easy in hindsight to say we believe. But, in the moment, if we were asked to follow something that challenged everything we know, there would probably be some resistance or, more likely, rejection.
In the days after that first meeting, it hit me: My Catholic conversion, my career, my travels, my relationships, all my moments of greatest growth, including the Gospel study group, have happened when I took a risk and stepped away from what I know. These giant leaps forward have been about my willingness to be uncomfortable, unsure, and sometimes, terrified. They’ve been about me following the “Go” voice even when I have no idea where I am going or whom I’ll meet or why I’m there.
Is a Wednesday night Gospel study as dramatic or awe-inspiring as James and John climbing out of their father’s boat and leaving it all behind to follow Jesus? Probably not. But that’s okay. Small acts of willingness still open the door for my growing faith, even when I question, resist, and do my best to get out of going.