Saturday, May 17, 2014

What I'll Take With Me: A Mennonite in A Catholic School

Years ago, I landed in the bosom of the Catholic Church via an educational consultation at a parish school. After a couple of years of consulting occasionally, one day I didn't leave, but instead accepted a full time position as Special Needs Director. The school was a warm and loving place although not always an easy fit for this born and bred Mennonite girl. It helped, I think, that I am strangely comfortable with being an outsider. I tend to be more liberal than my conservative friends and more conservative than my liberal friends. I can't bust out in four part harmony and I never chose to hyphenate my name (too confusing for me) which I sometimes fear could land me in the Mennonite equivalent of Purgatory so  I have kept to the fringes in my beloved denomination of birth .Last time I was with a big group of Mennonites on an 11 day tour they had this beautiful but embarrassing habit of breaking into song (in PARTS) at every transition. Let me tell you, I learned to lip sync like nobody's business.

In the Catholic school, I realized I didn't know so many of the prayers or the saints but I am a fairly good student so picked them up quickly. I know the prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas backward and forward and ardently love it for its plethora of adverbs.  At one point, I considered joining the Catholic church so I could fully participate in Mass. Turns out, I didn't have the tenacity to scale Annulment Mountain. So, I remain, the Mennonite who loves Mass and is thoroughly appreciative of my Catholic schoolteacher experience. I have to confess that on every possible occasion, I stubbornly stood in the Bishop's communion line, arms crossed over my chest, because I longed to receive a blessing from him.  As I end my tenure as a parochial school teacher and return to the public school I am thinking about what I'll take with me when I go. Here's a couple of things I'll hang on to.


Mary, the Mother of God that is. She is a rock star and I'm glad I got a chance to hail her and learn about her.  Early on, when I expressed concerned about a family member, my administrator told me to pray the Memorare. "...Never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly to thee O Virgin of virgins, my Mother...." How often I imagined myself flying to the feet of Mary and imploring help. It was a beautiful comfort to me many times. Who better to understand and hear my parental fears than the Mother of God? Mary accepted the challenge of raising Jesus and didn't even try to tell her son to go to college rather than save the world. Mary is strong, steadfast and on the side of the poor.The Magnificat is my favorite portion of Scripture because it is beautiful and hopeful. She takes the power structures and tips them right over.  As I said, she rocks, and I am definitely taking her along in my next phase of life.

"It's not about you." The mantra

If I heard it once, I heard it a 100 times..." It's not about you, it's about Jesus." Or" it's not about you, it's about serving others, or "it's not about you, it's about your buddy." Good advice for all of us at times because when it isn't about us, chances are, it's going to go better. We get our minds off our pitiful selves and things take on more meaning.  The Catholic school starts early to impress this on their young ones. Tired of kneeling? It's not about you. Bored? It's not about you. Impatient? It's not even remotely about you. In our selfie culture, we would do well to realize, it really isn't all about us, not even some of the time. This message is going to be packed up in my burlap bag alongside my Mother Teresa bumper sticker and the handmade wooden crucifix gifted to me by a dear friend.


I love the silence that befalls over a group of students simply because they have learned that some places (both physical and spiritual) are sacred. I love the awe that is inspired when the bells ring and the people stand. I love the hush that falls over 700 students just because someone has made the sign of the cross. I wish that public schools, even though they can't have prayer or Mass or a religious service, just had 30 minutes of silence twice a week so we could all just stop and get comfortable in our souls. These times of quiet and reverence  have calmed my fearful heart and brought me from the edge of crazy over and over again.The practice of reverence is stored deep in my liturgical heart and going with me wherever the path leads.

There's more but that's enough for now.Thank you Catholic community for welcoming the Mennonite girl. I'll miss singing with you because I never had to lip sync! I'm taking plenty with me that I hope can bless the world.

 God Bless, Mary Rocks, Peace be with you.. and with your spirit.


On a side note, I have found a really nice balance of Mennonite inclusiveness  and Catholic liturgy in a CEC congregation church here in Wichita. Church of the Resurrection is my current church home.