No child chooses her family or handpicks his mother. We don’t pick our church of origin, either. It’s given to us as naturally as mother’s milk, a nourishing force that comes to us before we know how hungry we are for faith.
My birth family most likely was Catholic, judging from the fact that they turned to a Catholic adoption agency with an unwanted pregnancy. Handing me over to nuns instead of nurses must have meant something.
It was through that agency that my parents, both steeped in generations of Catholicism, found me. They brought me home and, among other things, nursed me in the cradle of the Catholic traditions.
Infant baptism, my first communion, my first crystal rosary beads sliding through my young fingers all happened within that church. Weekly catechism taught me about Bible stories and saints, how to genuflect and make the sign of the cross when I entered holy spaces.
What I remember most is communion. Perched on the kneeler I’d watch all the shoes process toward the altar. So many different kinds – sturdy work boots, scuffed loafers, shiny patent Mary Jane’s and spiky high heels – all shuffling forward to receive the wafer. Something about all those shoes parading by for the same food captivated me. Communion was part fashion show; part feeding line.
When the tidal wave of the charismatic renewal movement hit our little parish, my parents swam in this new awareness of the Spirit. Wednesday nights we joined a few dozen others in the auxiliary room, formed a circle and sang a string of Maranatha songs. My mom bought me a real tambourine, small and made of chestnut-colored wood, highly shellacked. I got to sit next to the guitar players and shake to the beat. I think they didn’t mind my enthusiasm, since I kept a good beat and had the good sense to keep still on the more contemplative selections.
I don’t remember who did the teaching; I just remember the singing. But this is when I met the Spirit. I felt the holy presence active around me even beyond the reach of the altar. One night I woke up speaking in tongues – it both frightened and delighted my mother. For me it became the next sacrament in my spiritual formation.