I grew up north of Seattle in St. Mark’s parish with my two sisters during the 1970s. During our time at St. Mark’s, we were an involved parish family. By the time we got to high school, we were still attending Mass but less frequently, and by the time I got to college, I was really no longer attending regularly and then frankly not at all.
I was always an introverted person and always prayerful, but that part of my spiritual practice just slipped away as I stretched my wings at college. It seems strange to me now to think about that.
But it all changed for me in 2016. At the end of 2015, I became aware of a place called Medjugorje, which if you’ve never heard of, is a very small town in Bosnia Herzegovina. It’s a place where six local children in 1981 began to claim to have visions of the Virgin Mary. At the time this happened, the youngest, Jakov, was 9 years old.
But what really blew my mind as I learned about this place, was that the alleged visions were still happening actively in my lifetime. I couldn’t believe this.
I just couldn’t believe that I had never heard of this place. I couldn’t shake it off. I tried. I was busy, and I didn’t have time for it. But I couldn’t shake it off. I would say to you that it felt like a calling. It was unmistakable.
I had all these obstacles to going. Nothing was going to line up – time, money, the whole nine yards. One by one, each of those obstacles began to fall away, and so I couldn’t deny it.
And I just– I went.
Within a few months, I found myself there on my own, by myself. There I was. I had to see for myself what was going on.
It was a week of prayer and reflection without the distractions of daily life. It was really remarkable to take that time out and do that and just absorb the sense of that place.
But I will tell you there was one experience that I had during that week that was remarkable and that has stayed with me ever since. There would be a daily English Mass at Saint James and I realized about halfway through the week that I could not wait to get to Mass. I was like a little kid. I felt like I had Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, and I could not wait for the show to start. It was unmistakable and I have never really been able to find the words to describe that experience, but it was amazing. I couldn’t wait to get in the door. It was as if everything about the Mass was suddenly illuminated for me, and it became a celebration of pure joy, peace, and love. I couldn’t wait to get there every morning.
What is the most remarkable thing about it, is that, in this time since that trip, that sense of the Mass and that excitement has never diminished or abated. Never. I am aware that my fifteen year old self and my twenty year old self and even my thirty something year old self would find that hilarious. All the mornings that I preferred to sleep in and skip Mass. Always with one foot in and one foot out the door of my Catholic life.
I couldn’t wait to get to Mass, and I have that same sense today.
I flew home from this trip on a Friday night. On Saturday morning, I came to the church. I couldn’t wait to get in. I drove over and I came in the door. All of a sudden there’s Father Mark bounding down the aisle, “Hi! I’m Father Mark. And you are?”
And I said, “I’m Stacy and I have so many questions.”
“Oh great! I knew there was a reason why I got here early this morning.”
We began this ongoing dialog between us about the Catholic Church and some of the issues that I’d had with it over the years. It was really the first time I’d had an experience receiving spiritual direction as an adult without all the fire and brimstone that I’d experienced as a child and had found very off-putting.
Within a month, I was a registered parishioner, and a little bit longer than that, at his request, I became a lector. It’s been remarkable. I can tell you, looking back, that I did not realize how much I missed being part of a spiritual community until I got it back.
I had put my Catholicism on a shelf so gradually over the years that I didn’t really notice the lack of it until my cup was once again full. I’d never lost my faith in God. What I lost was a Catholic community in which to practice and celebrate my faith publicly.
What has being part of this community meant to me? It’s become a community that supported me when one of my best friends died later in 2016. This community supported me again in 2019 when my dad died. I think we live in a time of such divisiveness. Evil divides and separates, but our shared love of God unites us.
I’ve come to realize that faith requires eternal vigilance and action– active participation to remain vital and vibrant.