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So Close, Yet So Far

alec vanderboom

Divine Mercy Sunday found us doing a corporal act of Mercy. My grandfather (age 92) recently suffered a stroke while visiting his only child, my mother. On Friday night, we packed up all the kids & our dog to make "a visit to the sick."

After hearing dire reports of Grandpa's health, I was shocked to wake up late Saturday morning to find him happily clapping along to the latest Easter song that Hannah was currently composing on Mom's piano. He was the same lively Great-Grandfather that the kids have enjoyed for years. His few physical limitations hadn't affected his warm spirit or kind heart.

As a result of the visit, I found myself at my hometown Methodist church for the first time in five years. Jon & I took the kids to Catholic Mass at 9 AM. After coffee & donut hour, I still had time to hit a 10:30 United Methodist Church Service with my parents. I'd stopped going to double services whenever I came home after Alex's birth. Today, Jon said he'd happily handle all three kids so that I could sit with my family unaccompanied.

Going back to my original church home, felt warm and comfortable at first. My Dad and Grandfather were busy debating politics in the adult Sunday School Class when I first entered the church. So I stopped by the basement to say hello to my Mom who was busy cooking the "free monthly brunch" for college students. After being introduced to new minister's wife, I went upstairs to help guide my grandfather to his seat. (The stroke gave him some trouble walking.) I cheerfully said hello to my friends of my parents who have known me almost 20 years.

Once I walked into the church, things started to feel a little weird. There was no tabernacle, no holy water, no statutes of our Blessed Mother. The cross was barren, no picture of Jesus, no stations of the cross nor stain glass windows of the saints. I realized that it was impossible to kneel in the closely packed pews. I sort of brushed past these initial shocks in my eagerness to be back "home."

Today is the 33 year anniversary of the Day that I was Baptized. My parents were graduate students when I was born and not regularily attending any church. So I got baptized at my grandparent's church, Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. My grandparents have attended this church for over 50 years. My parents got married in this church. (Ironically, it sits about five blocks from the current church of my regular confessor. I pass by it every Tuesday on my way to Rosary Group.)

I know that I got baptized on March 30, 1975 (at the age of three months) because I recently looked up my baptism card to find out when I can earn an indulgence by repeating my baptismal promises. Today, I found myself in a Methodist Church, sitting beside my grandfather and my father. I mentioned this fact so happily to them before church. I thanked them both so sincerely for having me baptized in the Christian faith.

That was the highlight of church service for me, the rest felt so odd and uncomfortable. The scripture readings were the same as I had heard earlier in Catholic church. The long sermon had a bunch of odd comments and factual inaccuracies. The most painful for me, was experiencing Methodist communion service as a Catholic for the first time. The Methodist use the exact same service as the Catholic Mass. The minister hold's up a glass of grape juice and says "This is the Blood of Christ".
He passes out pieces of bread and says "This is the Body of Christ." Communion is just a symbol, however, there is no transubstantiation. I gasped internally as the choir started singing "this is the blood of Christ," the same hymns I sing as a member of a Catholic Choir.

I've struggled this year with gaining a greater understanding of the Eucharist. I felt attending this church service was such a grace. For almost 28 years, I attented Methodist church services where the words of Mass didn't match the reality of what was being performed. I declined to eat of the table (I was the only one in church, the Methodist table is an open communion, even little children "eat" the bread and drink the cup). I prayed hard for the hearts of all those attending this service. It was a strange feeling, sitting outside the fold. Here were all of these extremely loving people who had surrounded me in my youth. At this service alone there were eight Methodist ministers. These people "worked" so hard at their faith, yet they were missing so many crucial aspects of Scripture, of the Holy Tradition & the Sacraments. Meanwhile, I'm so much more weak, so less intelligent in matters of doctrine --yet each week I'm carried further and further along on the currents of the Eucharist.

I have some more thoughts on this matter, but am feeling tongue tied at the moment.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, please join my prayer that Christ will soon unite his entire Holy Church into one body.