Monday, September 24, 2007

Flirting with the East, and with Steve P.

I returned to Christianity and Catholicism in 2002, after a few months of wrestling (sorta like now) with my rationality. At that time I attended a wonderful little church in downtown Los Angeles called “Our Lady Chapel”. Alas, in the wake of the construction of the new Cathedral (or as it’s fondly referred to by Angelenos, the “Rog Majal”, and with the retirement of Father Kolling, the only pastor willing to put in 70-hour weeks to keep the Chapel going, it was closed.

So I had to look for another church. My criteria were few: it had to be Catholic and it had to be SMALL (like the Chapel). Unfortunately, the Rog Majal and other area churches didn’t really fit the latter requirement.

However, in addition to looking for a church, I was also looking for a guy. And I found one, on His name was Steve K., and he attended a “Byzantine Catholic” church in Anaheim.

“What’s a ‘Byzantine Catholic’ church?” I asked. He offered to take me to one. So on our very first date, we met at a little church in Sherman Oaks called St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church.

(Yes, that’s right, we went to church on a blind date. Hmm.)

It was pretty, it was interesting, and what was more to the point, while we were sitting on the patio chatting, an absolutely GORGEOUS guy came walking out of what I later found was the Parish Hall, came over, introduced himself to us as Steve P., and told us all about the church, its history and its beliefs.

And before any of us realized what was going on, Steve K. had been completely, totally and forever eclipsed by Steve P.

Poor Steve K. We continued our date after bidding goodbye to Steve P. – went up the street and had lunch at Denny’s – but I think we both knew it was over. How does the moon compete with the sun?

After that, I returned to St. Mary’s by myself, partly because I was interested in the church and partly because I was hoping to run into Steve P. again. He wasn’t there, but I sat inside the church for a little while and liked it. It was small, and according to the literature in the back, it was fully in union with the Catholic Church.

So that Sunday I attended Mass there – and learned, among other things, that in the Eastern Rite Churches, you don’t say “Mass”, you say “LITURGY”! Well, ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy! (hee hee)

Long story short, Steve P. and I continued kinda sorta flirting with each other every week, and I continued attending St. Mary’s in hopes of having the opportunity to throw myself at him.

But something kinda sorta funny happened. You see, the Eastern Catholic Church is certainly Catholic. However, the practices – the devotions as well as the liturgy – are very different from what I learned to call the “Roman” Catholic Church. (I’d always just said “Catholic” before – now I was self-conscious about it.)

I learned that standing, not kneeling, was the preferred posture here. That the Eucharist was received at the end of a long golden spoon, and looked and tasted very different from the unleavened white wafer I was used to. That while you might still say the Rosary in private, it was considered a “Latinization”, as were statues, holy water, and all the Catholic – excuse me, Roman Catholic – paraphernalia I’d grown up with and taken for granted.

And bless their hearts, I don’t think they intended this to happen, but the more I heard Eastern Catholics say, “Well, the Romans do this, but WE do THIS,” I started experiencing “cognitive dissonance” – and was no longer really confident in the devotions and rituals that had been integral parts of my faith.

So – I stopped praying the Rosary, stopped kneeling in Church (even though we did have kneelers, up till the recent renovations), stopped making visits to sit in front of the Tabernacle (I wasn’t even sure where it *was* – it was on the altar somewhere, but not front and center, or even front and side, as in the Roman churches), and perhaps most importantly, stopped going to Confession on a regular basis.

Because what I was hearing was that there were two ways of being Catholic, and I couldn’t deal with it. And after a while, I kind of gave up.

And then, just a few months before Steve P. proposed, I allowed myself to do something really stupid.

Next: My Big Mistake