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Making Peace with Having Enemies

alec vanderboom

During my senior year at Smith College, I served as a Protestant Deacon.

Obviously, the Protestant understanding of "a deacon" differs significantly from the Catholic understanding of that holy role. My job duties consisted mostly of wearing a gigantic gold cross over a black choir robe and passing out bulletins prior to Sunday Services at Helen Hills Chapel. I also read "Protestant Readings" between the Baha'i and Muslim representatives at Inter-denominational Prayer Services, held a student chair on the Alumnae Religious Life Committee, and preached a sermon during my graduation week.

My women's college was intensely secular. At Smith, it was perfectly acceptable to argue that the Gospel of John was actually written by a woman in an Intro to World Religions term paper. The Christian religion was viewed as an oppressive, male-dominated "institution" by most of the campus. My freshman year, the Head of Residential Life made a campus wide policy which forbid students from posting any Christmas "symbols" on our room doors or erecting any Christmas trees in common areas of our dorms.

Even within this anti-Christian environment, I never made any enemies as a Protestant Deacon. I could walk around with a teeny gold cross on a chain for weekdays, and a gigantic gold cross on Sundays, without any cold looks or verbal harassment.

In college, I was careful to toe the line as a "tolerant", "politically correct", inoffensive Christian girl. Christ was "my thing", my way of coping with the onslaught of Senior Year Stress. However, I freely endorsed peoples right to "other things" to relieve stress such as yoga, all liquid diets, fake Buddhist chants, and Margarita parties every Friday night.

Christ was someone I talked about, and Christianity was something I enjoyed "experiencing" on a Sunday morning. Yet Our Savior didn't find fertile soil in my soul to grow a garden of virtues.

Even with a gigantic gold cross on my chest, my life looked similar to every other Senior's life. I approved of fornication and birth control. I worried obsessively about my grades and my L-SAT scores. I gossiped about my classmates and carelessly broke boys' hearts. I could dissect pre-Revolutionary Russian History with ease. But, I was terribly, terribly afraid of intimacy, commitment and motherhood.

At age 25, I entered the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris as a broken hearted and confused soul. I recited my first ever Hail Mary, reading the words from an English guidebook that I picked up at the entrance. Mary answered that single prayer in a dramatic fashion. Now I'm here--a married Carmelite who expects her fourth baby in less than 10 days.

I strive to live a life "hidden in Christ." My current world is almost the complete opposite of my college days as the loud-mouth Christian with the flashy gold cross. I stay at home. I don't hold a job. I'm not on any committees. I don't volunteer for any noble Community Service projects. I'm not invited to give "guest" lectures at Women of Prayer lunches or write Op-Ed pieces for my Catholic paper.

I sit at home. I pray. I serve five people in the whole world. Since one of these sweet people actually resides inside my womb at the current moment, I take many naps. I eat vitamins. I cook fish on Fridays. I tell little people to "brush your teeth," "finish your homework," "stop poking your Sister" and "pray before you eat!" many times during the day.

My new "hidden" life has arose the anger of many enemies. There are bus drivers who are instantly offended whenever I enter a bus with my armload of babies. There are nurses who start screaming about my decision to avoid pre-natal testing for Down Syndrome despite the statistics surrounding my advanced maternal age. There are people at Daily Mass who accuse me of praying "too much" and for dragging a "clearly Autistic-looking" five year-old son into Adoration. There are friends who worry about my family being too poor and in-laws who accuse me of being a "free-loader" for not using my law degree. So many people accuse me of "irresponsible parenthood" for having so many babies so close together.

For the first time, I can't rely on my charm and a sweet smile to get me out of sticky situations. My brown scapular is around my neck, my stomach is clearly swelled from pregnancy, and there is no new mini-van parked outside my front door.

Right now, it seems like I offend certain people by simply breathing.

All of this "enemy" stuff profits my soul. My vanity scar is finally shrinking to a manageable size. I know longer instantly second-guess myself whenever I find myself on the end of a cold look or long anti-population growth soliloquy.

Christ promised us that if we follow him, we will have enemies. It's the price of having Our Dear Savior as a friend. The fact that I once called myself a "Christian" without experiencing the world's rejection and ridicule merely means that at one point time, I had no idea of how to be a real friend to God.