Out of the Briar Patches of Divorce, Remarriage, and Annulment

April 1988By James J. Thompson Jr.

James J. Thompson Jr. is a Nashville-area writer and Book Review Editor of the NOR. His latest book (co-edited with George M. Curtis III) is The Southern Essays of Richard M. Weaver.

The priest held the wafer aloft. “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his sup­per.” The congregation responded: “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Nothing unusual about this; it happens every day in hundreds of thousands of Catholic churches. But on this particular morning in December 1987 something extraordinary occurred. For the first time in over a decade I arose from my knees, step­ped into the aisle, and filed forward with the other communicants to receive the body of Christ.

For many years I had repeated those words to no avail; longing to be healed, I had remained un­healed. Loneliness had always stabbed my soul at that moment in the Mass, for I would remain kneeling while the other worshipers walked to the altar to receive the Eucharist. Bitterness would sometimes insinuate its ugliness into my thoughts. “Why should you be excluded from communion? Do you think those wretched sinners are more wor­thy than you? Isn’t the Church treating you shab­bily?” Mostly sadness, though: sadness at the mis­takes that had eventuated in this debacle. The Church had not barred me from communion; I had excluded myself.

How did I manage to exile myself from the Church? That is a complicated story, but I think it comes down to this: after my conversion in 1975 I did not permit the Holy Spirit to continue its work of permeating my being. I understood intellectual­ly and emotionally what it means to be a Catholic, but I did not enter fully into the life of the Church, into that day-by-day effort to live as a Catholic. Belief was one thing, practice of the faith another; I had no difficulty with the former, but the latter gave me trouble. For one thing, I was confused by the restiveness and change induced by the Second Vatican Council. I had sought a Gibral­tar of serenity and security; instead, I found myself buffeted by a whirlwind of “renewal,” which to me looked suspiciously like disarray.

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