Not At Home

By Paul Turner

[This article first appeared in Christian Initiation 28 (February/March 1998):8]

"Hello. You've reached Rick and Sara. We're not home right now, but if you want, you can leave us a message." Bleep.

Dorothy fully intended to leave a message, but she gasped instead. Her hand shivered as she hesitated, then slammed down the receiver of her phone. "That can't be right," she said to herself.

She tried the number again.

"Hello. You've reached Rick and Sara. . . ."

She hung up again. Rage filled her more completely than she had felt it in twenty years. She only wanted to leave Sara a simple message--"I'll pick you up Wednesday night at 6:15." But she couldn't. Not now.

So she called Debra at the parish office.

"We have a problem. It's my catechumen, Sara."

"What's wrong? I thought you were the perfect sponsor."

"Well, she's obviously not the perfect catechumen. I just called her at home to tell her I'd pick her up for Ash Wednesday Mass, and I got a recording."

She paused. "Yes?" Debra wondered.

"Rick has moved in with her."

"Who's Rick?"

"Her fiancÚ. I thought I knew Sara very well. But now, I just feel betrayed. How can she present herself for baptism this Easter if she's living with her fiancÚ during lent?"

"Good question," Debra admitted. "In fact, that's a good question for a sponsor to ask a catechumen."

Actually, Dorothy didn't want to hear this. She volunteered to be a sponsor because she imagined the excitement of sharing her faith with someone who wanted to learn more about it. Her relationship with Sara was pleasant enough, but she always felt that Sara was holding something back.

"I was hoping that'd be a good question for a director of the catechumenate to ask a catechumen," Dorothy intoned through tight lips.

"Why don't you go first? Let me know what you find out."

When she was younger, Dorothy avoided confrontation. But when her first marriage became more and more stifling she learned the importance of speaking up. It still took all her strength, but she had learned the hard way that the pain of confrontation was less than the pain of silence. For some reason, Sara was making her feel that sour past all over again.

She called Sara's number again and waited through the recording. "This is Dorothy calling for Sara. I'll pick you up for Mass on Wednesday at 6:15."

Dorothy was prompt. And Sara was ready. "I can hardly wait to get ashes!" she bubbled as she entered the car. "I've wanted to do this all my life!"

"Sara, I've got to ask you something. The recording on your phone said I could leave a message for Rick or Sara. Has Rick moved in with you?"

Sara face snapped toward Dorothy's. Her eyes grew intense. "Well, yes."

"I'd just like to know how you justify that," Dorothy said, repeating the lines she had rehearsed. "As a catechumen, you've said you want to walk in the way of Christ. But you've chosen a living arrangement that's contrary to the standards of our Christian community. It makes me wonder if you're really sincere."

"Well, of course I'm sincere. Don't you want me to join your church?"

"Of course I do, but joining the church is not just a ceremony. It's a way of life."

"But we're engaged. Everybody lives together."

"No, they don't," Dorothy said, remembering well her own struggle.

They pulled up to the church and parked. Dorothy feared she wasn't going to make much progress. They walked slowly toward the front door.

Dorothy continued, "These ashes we're going to receive. They symbolize that we are sinners. But they also symbolize our desire to change. This lent our community is going to be looking at you for inspiration. We're all sinners, and we all need to commit ourselves to Christ and the community, especially in relationships with those we love."

"I am committed to Christ," Sara responded, still holding her ground.

"Then the rest will be easy," Dorothy reasoned. "If you're really committed, you'll live what you believe."

Sara stubbed her toe as she entered her pew. Dorothy thought her catechumen still didn't seem at home in church.

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