Once a week for a period of nine months I drove by the monastery where we had retreated as clergy ten years earlier and had first bought the Rule of St. Benedict which I had read for a week in isolation on a solo camping trip in the northern bush. I was warmly welcomed; it was a genuine warmth.
At first I just stopped by and visited and sat in the church and prayed and left. When it came to participating in the Hours I felt like if I participated that I would interfere. But I was repeatedly invited…no pressure though. And I wanted to attend. So I did. It felt foreign but familiar at the same time. And brothers sat next to me and cued me in to what was about to happen. Gradually the liturgy started to settle in my heart, and it settled my heart. As much as my home denomination was turning its back on any liturgy, I was turning to liturgy. More than modern hymnology, Ora was opening me up to the life of the first Christians and their communitarianism and was supplementing my reading in the desert and early church writings that I now had time to contemplate at home. Now I started timing my visits to coincide with their hours of prayer. Benedictine oblates are more than tertiaries in other orders but are fully constitutionally vested members of the Order itself; people committed and responsible to the monastic way of life but living remotely from it. We started attending Oblate functions. We read extensively on Benedictine spirituality and began incorporating it into our daily lives, both spiritually and structurally. Protestant friends who accompanied us to our visits there commented on how whole a place it was and that they used scripture far more than we do! There were additional elements and understandings and appreciation for Merton that emerged because we were now coming to see the world through his eyes in in ways that we could not have imagined before. And then one day after a year or so of being there it was clear that we were Catholic, just like that. We had always been Catholic. We would always be Catholic. This Catholicism was not the Catholicism of modern cradle Catholics, instead it was the Catholicism of the early church of pre-empire Christianity. It was the Catholicism of the confessional church. It was full of major and minor heroes, great thinkers, but even greater actors, broad in scope and diversified regarding religious experience, and contemplatives, lots and lots of contemplatives.
We had come home.
It was humbling.
But it was also alienating. As we began moving in this direction friends began deserting us. Former parishioners would not respond to us. We spoke practically, inclusively, and lovingly. We received judgmental, ideological, rationalistic, and defensive replies at best. We knew this would happen. We simply continued to love in return. We still love in return. Looking for the common ground of the presence and works of the risen Christ working in all of us. But in the end it is the greatest relief to not be around others who judge others, not that there isn’t a wing of Catholicism that acts likewise, there is. But by coming in the side door of the church through the Benedictine tradition we have largely entered historical Christianity by avoiding local diocesan politics and enculturated religious psychopathies that are present everywhere. We began attending services in a local Catholic church as we could, one that was out of our area, one where we felt warmly welcomed, one where we would not scandalize the people we so loved and had served in our immediate area here.
I had been serving a small church in this area simply because they had asked me to. I had not felt any need to do so. And as I entered into historical Christianity I knew my time there was limited. I planned my departure from the pulpit. I resigned my ordination. I stopped being Protestant one Sunday and I entered RCIA the next. For a year I sat in the pew. I wanted nothing more. Our priest at the time met with us every Sunday for a sack lunch after Mass. At Easter I knelt at the front of the sanctuary and received the chrisms. It was as it should be, my heart was free, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief.