Where to begin after the beginning?
I still vaguely remember the first time I stepped into St. John's, the parish on campus. It was early December and the cold chapel was warmer than the snowy outdoors. I followed my boyfriend's stride, a question mark in my head at his genuflection, knots of nerves in my stomach as we sat down. My once protective coat was now uncomfortably warm and the knots had turned into jittery butterflies, but my racing pulse only communicated intense curiosity tinged with excitement.
I don't remember the hymns or Scripture passages (though I could go back to find them if I tried). I don't remember who celebrated the Mass or if I remained silent through it all (not unlikely). The details I do remember are more important.
I remember the quiet, as if the gray thick walls blocked out every worldly and street distraction (recently, I have noticed honking horns and rumbling busses, crisp whispers and echoing heels, so God must have silenced my ears that night). I remember the boots I wore and the way my knees were shaking in them after kneeling so long, which, my boyfriend jokingly remarked, meant God had to teach me discipline in that Mass (or something along those lines). I remember the unity with which those who surrounded me sung, responded and partook of the body of Christ, which was all too inaccessible for me. Most of all I remember being pulled into awe, feeling both free and surrounded by something powerful and mysterious that I couldn't understand. I remember how reverent it felt. I remember walking out thinking I wanted to be walking back in.
By the time we got back into the car, questions were already rolling around in my mind. What was with the ringing bells? Why did people bend their knee before entering the pew? Am I allowed to use holy water? Why did people cross themselves (the only thing I could think about related to this was a long ago partially viewed episode of Arrested Development. Something about wallet pockets...)? Beyond these small acts, I also wanted to know more about differences in beliefs comparing Catholics and Protestants. Catholics baptize infants and talk a great deal about Mary, Communion has a different name called the Eucharist, there are candles and statues everywhere. The Catholic Church was elaborate in its beliefs and its externalities, in a way I couldn't help but admit was beautiful.
A silly part of me wondered if I could ever follow the gestures and words. A more fondly remembered part of me wondered what I would find if I kept seeking. Time passed and eventually I memorized the gestures and words and began to understand their meanings. Time passed and I found more than I knew I was seeking. In that chapel I found solace and silence in candle-lit evenings. I found comfort and reassurance praying in breaks between classes. I found a young man undertaking RCIA and heard his story similar in so many ways to mine (which will be a post for a later day). I found respect for priests ardently communicating the grace of God and praying for the good of the Church. I found compassion and sorrow in the face of the Blessed Virgin in the pieta.
I found some questions answered and others leading to more questions. I still have questions today, but the question of the Church's validity and its institution by Christ has long since been answered in my mind, probably long before I admitted it aloud. I first stepped toward the Church trepidatious and have eagerly bounded toward it since. As long as this journey has seemed, it is just beginning.