As a Catholic, I love that phrase! “Holy Mother Church” expresses how important each one of us is, as her children and children of God. A mother can’t love anything the way she loves her children, and we truly make a family: God is our Father, Mary is our Mother in Heaven, the Church is our spiritual Mother on Earth, Jesus is our Brother, the Holy Spirit is our best Friend. With a family like that, it’s easy to feel at home anywhere.
And, on the other hand, sometimes it’s hard to feel at home, even at home. We are all just pilgrims here in this “valley of tears.” I, for one, have always had this deep sense of this life as being temporary and simply not the Real Thing. The Real Thing is through the final doorway, and it’s God’s decision when I get to go there. I’m just waiting and working until then, trying to be patient.
Sometimes, what with feeling at home and not at home at the same time, I get the sense of being pulled apart. They say that St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, died of love even though her medical cause of death was tuberculosis. I can totally understand having a feeling so intense that it kills you.
I was raised in a pseudo-Catholic fringe group whose members call themselves “Traditional Catholics.” Growing up, I was taught to differentiate between “Traditional Catholics” and all other Catholics, “because they may as well just be Protestants,” according to my parents. There was this huge sense of Us verses Them. They were the bad guys, the false ones, the fake ones, the Modernist heretics. We were the real, true, loyal sons and daughters of the Church, even though we disobeyed the Pope, the Bishops, and our parish Priests . . . we were The Remnant.
I was totally convinced. How could I not be? We left our parish church when I was 6. I didn’t know any better. I trusted my parents. This is how indoctrination happens.
First, we went to a church that was run by an ex-Jesuit priest who had no faculties and said Mass illicitly since he had no permission to do anything in that diocese, or in any diocese for that matter. He was not associated with any organization but taught us that receiving Communion in the hand was a sacrilege. He claimed the Church was in a “state of emergency,” which gave him the right to do whatever he wanted without permission from anyone, bishop or Pope, and even to disobey the bishop and Pope if he thought he knew better than they did. He heard my first Confession (were his absolutions valid? I don’t know!) and gave me my first Communion — on the tongue while I was kneeling, of course.
My parents and extended family followed Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s actions in the ’80s with great interest. Sooner or later, they ended up identifying themselves as supporters of his. Lefebvre was talked about as if he were a living, breathing Saint, because he disobeyed a direct order from Rome and consecrated four bishops for his Society of St. Pius X. The Archbishop, the new Bishops, and all supporters of theirs were excommunicated. Including, apparently, my parents, most of my extended family . . . and 10-year old me.
After moving away from the area the ex-Jesuit operated in, my parents found another renegade priest who claimed to have resurrected an ancient society called the Order of St. John of Malta. He said he operated directly under the Pope’s authority. In other words, he claimed he didn’t need to obey the hierarchy of Holy Mother Church and could do what he wanted, just like the first renegade priest. This priest not only called receiving Communion in the hand a sacrilege, but claimed the Ordinary Form of the Mass was, itself, a sacrilege! In fact, he wrote a whole book about it, The Great Sacrilege. He taught us that it was a mortal sin to attend a Novus Ordo Mass.
We spent only two years being brainwashed by that priest before we moved again and wound up regularly attending a chapel of the Society of St. Pius X. Based on the teaching of the SSPX priests, my parents decided that it was sinful for me to wear pants.
Over the years, I became almost fully indoctrinated by the “Traditional Catholic” or “Lefebvreist” movement, and the SSPX. At one point, as a young adult, I even spent a year teaching in one of the SSPX schools while living in a convent next door to their church. There was always at least a tiny whisper of doubt in the back of my head, though, because of things like the ban on pants for women. Things like that just never made complete sense to me.
My husband and I were married in the local SSPX chapel. In fact, my husband is a convert and was Baptized in that chapel before we married. Later on, all seven of our kids were Baptized there, too. I had no idea that our marriage, contracted in that chapel and witnessed by an SSPX priest without permission from the local bishop, wasn’t recognized by Holy Mother Church! I totally believed we were good Catholics getting married in the Catholic Church.
It wasn’t until I met a priest of the Priestly Society of St. Peter (FSSP) a couple years ago that I realized what was going on and just how badly I’d been brainwashed. That priest told me the Lefebvrists’ claim of a state of emergency or necessity in the Church, which supposedly made it OK for “Traditional” priests to do what they wanted without permission and without ecclesiastical authority, meant “Absolutely nothing.”
It was all lies! Falsehoods. It was all in their — and my — head.
But this is what brings me back to the idea that a person can die from an intensity of feeling, like St. Therese died of love. The feeling of conviction, certainty, and truth which hit me when that good priest said the words, “Absolutly nothing,” took my breath away. I was suddenly convinced that all my life I’d had it wrong about the Church and my relationship to her. It was mind-boggling but good — so, so good — to know that I’d had it wrong, because now I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had it right.
Starting that day, my husband and children and I made the spiritual journey away from the SSPX toward Holy Mother Church. We are now in full communion with her. Thanks be to God.
It took roughly thirty years away from the Church for me to understand what a wonderful Mother the Church is! No matter how weird our journeys are, how we stray, whether it’s our fault or not, whether we get indoctrinated or brainwashed or simply convince ourselves of untruths because we don’t like the truth, Holy Mother Church is always there to welcome us back with open arms.
I’m never leaving Holy Mother Church again.