Renewing friendship

I've been a Roman Catholic for 27 years, but I still remember what it was like to be on the outside looking in. Catholicism, it seemed to me, was an endless maze of theological constructs and traditions that, built layer upon layer, felt more like an archeological dig site than a living faith. Hierarchy, ritual, convents, Tradition with a capital "T"-- all of that looked extraneous, perhaps even destructive to those simply attempting to follow Christ. Encrusting divine truth, after all, is distancing people from it, right? Perhaps. But in retrospect, I find it strangely paradoxical that when I was convinced that Catholicism failed to make God accessible, my own brand of Christianity wasn't very "incarnational."

As Catholics, we possess an almost endless storehouse of spiritual treasure. Among the most brilliant jewels of our faith, however, two shine most brightly: the Eucharist and Mary. I wish with all my heart that I could claim to never have taken either one of these gifts for granted. But this Advent, something marvelous and unexpected has renewed my wonder at God's grace.

Children have the power to bring us back to what matters, to the wonders of the world we live in, and the joy of just being alive. Being with a child does us good because we all need to be reminded what it's like to see something -- anything -- for the first time. But this year, I've been able to take a fresh look at the faith that holds what I hope is a controlling interest in my daily life. That's because one of my very best lifetime friends and the matron of honor at our wedding, has decided to become a Roman Catholic.

Jodie was two or three years ahead of me in school, but we belonged to the same youth group at the Evangelical Free church in Cleveland, Ohio we both attended. She went away to a Christian college in Illinois, and I ended up here at Harvard. We moved in what most would consider opposite directions when it came to Christian faith. I became a Catholic, and she eventually settled into a Quaker congregation. Over the years I've sent her some books, and had a few lengthy conversations about things like Mary and Eucharist, liturgy and saints and priesthood and the papacy. We've talked about "sola scriptura" and "sola fide," about sacramental theology and mystical prayer, and the dysfunctional behavior you can find under every roof and steeple. We've also talked about music and art, kids, and husbands, financial worry, and getting older.

Jodie and I have had radically different adult lives and have faced very different challenges along our respective paths. But while we never talked or emailed a lot, when we do it's always as if we'd been in constant contact all along. Across the gulf of miles and years we've prayed for each other, encouraged each other and challenged each other.

Now, Jodie is brimming with joy over things many of us -- myself included -- have largely stopped noticing. She's excited about Mary, and amazed by Eucharist. She's receptive to our forms of prayer, and both the breadth and depth of our spiritualities. She's even inspired by the music she hears in our churches. (Who would've expected that!)

It makes me happy to know that next Easter Vigil, Jodie will receive Eucharist and taste the goodness of God in Christ. But her pilgrimage to that day is renewing my faith too. She's reminded me how it all felt when it was new to me, and given me a good dose of wonder and gratitude in a season that invites us all to open ourselves to such things again. To those who know and love him best, God is always new. He is always doing something new as well, often where and when we least expect it. Thank you, Jodie, for bringing it all back to me, or maybe more accurately, bringing me back to the mystery of the God who comes to us.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.