Welcome to the Faith, Fully project. If you’re new to the project, you can read more about it and join us if it strikes your fancy. And you can follow us here or on the Faith, Fully Facebook page. You can read every Letter 1, or follow all the letters.
As someone rarely at a loss for words, it amazes me how difficult writing this first letter has become. This project is truly inspired and I am eager to learn and grow through participation. At first, I had so many ideas that I wasn’t sure where to begin and was afraid of writing at such length as to become tiresome to the other writers and readers. Now, I sit here unsure of what I could have to say after a month of struggling with the very topic with which we begin…who am I and what do I believe?
I’m not sure what I believe about coincidences…but the timing of this first letter is pretty amusing.
Let me back up a bit. My name is Melissa Kae Fronckowiak. I was born in Ohio on July 28, 1982 just 7 hours before my due date…which is quite possibly the only time I’ve really been early for anything. I love to talk…a lot…and have a bad habit of misusing and abusing the ellipsis. Otherwise, I’m a bit of a stickler for proper grammar so knowing that I’m writing this quite informally has me paranoid about how many mistakes I will find after I hit send. Luckily, I also am quite practiced at laughing things off and at laughing at myself! I’m a big fan of exploratory writing and this is going to be an interesting ride for me. Maybe I’ll learn just as many new things about me as you might…
I have so many nicknames that I can usually tell how I know someone based on what they call me, but I can’t say I ever really know how to refer to myself. Sometimes when people ask for my name I feel like Julia Roberts in Runaway Bride trying to figure out what type of egg she actually prefers. Don’t get me wrong, I actually like my name and the majority of my nicknames…it’s just that I feel each version portrays a different type of me and I can’t always decide which version I actually want to be.
My dad chose my first name before he ever met my mom when he heard the incredible “Melissa” by the Allman Brothers; obviously an important song to me and I do think it might have planted the seed for my love of music. My mom’s middle name is her grandma’s middle name and the tradition continued with me, except that Katherine became Kae. Then there’s Fronckowiak…which is actually much easier than some people try to make it and much easier than, and not as pretty as, other Polish names (think of the “w” as a “v” and then it sounds just like it looks). I’m at least half Polish and it’s something I hold very dear. My mom’s heritage is harder to know because my grandma was adopted, but there’s definitely some Irish. Yet it’s the Polish side, and my dad’s family, that I think has played the biggest role in the topics at hand… my Faith and my journey.
My mom and dad are quite different and come from very different types of family backgrounds, yet are celebrating their 36th Anniversary in October. My dad’s family still mostly lives in the Buffalo, New York area. I never actually lived in Buffalo, but I sometimes refer to it as “home,” as my parents still do. My Grandma and Grandpa Fronckowiak, both now deceased, were huge influences in my life. They were especially great examples of our Roman Catholic faith, which I appreciate more and more as I continue to learn and grow.
They prayed the Rosary every day and, when their health began to keep them from attending Sunday Mass, they received the Sacrament of Holy Communion at home from volunteers at their church…the same parish where I was actually baptized. My dad is such an incredible man: so hard-working, intelligent and with an inspiring and refreshing understanding of the Church. I know a lot of what I admire from him comes from the examples set by his parents and the life lessons he learned as the youngest of 5 in a loving, strong, determined and supportive family. He’s not perfect but he’s solid and he comes from a solid foundation. I take after him a lot; from interests, such as history and Classic Rock, to a very similar way of viewing the world…and I even look so much like him!
My mom’s family and story are not as picturesque by any means. My amazing paternal grandparents contrast starkly with the stories I’ve heard of my mom’s father and stepfather. My mom amazes me. She is one of the strongest women I know and is seriously my best friend and a great source of inspiration and support. She pulled herself up on her own. Her family was never religious but she would occasionally walk to whatever church was closest to where they lived at the time, even when her family made fun of her desire to seek some sort of understanding of faith. They also made fun of her love of reading and learning, which are traits I’m happy she passed to me.
But mom is independent and stubborn in (usually) only the best of ways and that helped her thrive despite hardships. She never planned on becoming Catholic, even after she married my dad, but eventually the beauty of the Mass won her over. That’s how I can actually say I have been Catholic longer than my mom. I was baptized as an infant, as is the custom, and my mom went through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) to be confirmed Catholic the following spring.
For years, “blonde, Polish, Catholic” was as much my favorite, and easiest, way to describe myself as it was a sort of “badge of courage” or of “honor.” I’m sure everyone knows at least one joke about each of those 3 categories! They don’t bother me, in fact, I have fun with it, even when I realize those types of jokes are no longer acceptable to most people and are not “politically correct.” I have a “thick skin” and, I believe, a fun sense of humor…I can be serious but try to not take myself too seriously. I might be able to change the color of my hair whenever I want (which I have) and time has turned my light blonde hair into a much darker blonde…but I’d never be able to change having Polish roots and I never want/plan to change being a Roman Catholic Christian.
Many people have certain stereotypes of “Cradle Catholics,” and, while I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all description of any group, I admit my own encounters with other people raised in the Church from infancy have been mainly less than impressive. I think you’ll find a lot that never really come to “own” the Faith for themselves, in no small part because they were not well-educated in the subject and/or lacked good examples of practicing our Faith. Some might participate in Mass out of obligation to their parents or what they feel is the “right” thing to do while others become disenchanted and simply look elsewhere for their answers…or stop looking altogether.
Then, there’s the other side of the spectrum where, starting as children, they become so devout and unwavering in their devotion to the Holy Trinity lived through the practices of the Roman Catholic Faith that they may impress even the staunchest of non-believers. While I do know a few people like that, I’ve found that to be rare and beautiful. I guess I fall somewhere in between…which may be the majority of people, even if it doesn’t feel that way at times. I think having one parent that was a Cradle Catholic and one a convert really affected my Faith journey in a nice way.
I don’t remember attending Mass regularly as a child until we moved to Indiana. It could be because my Dad’s work transferred him a lot so we weren’t in one city for very long for the first 5 years of my life…or because, like a lot of young adults and new parents, my parents had difficulty giving up the rare opportunity to sleep in…or maybe they just didn’t feel like they found a place they could become involved until they found a place they thought they’d be for a while. I’ve never thought to ask them.
Many young Catholics become inactive in the Church for a portion of their lives and become more involved after children enter the picture, so that’s the most likely scenario. My younger (and only) brother and I attended a rural public school so we received our Religious Education on Sunday mornings at Mass and at CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine…aka “Sunday School”) with all of the other Catholic kids that didn’t go to the Catholic elementary school at our parish. Eventually, all four of us became extremely involved in our church: Mom taught CCD; Dad was a lector; both my parents were Eucharistic Ministers (now called Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion); I became a Eucharistic Minister after Confirmation; my brother was an altar server and lector; and I was also a Cantor.
Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure 3rd grade is still the youngest anyone has been a solo Cantor at my old church. I just couldn’t wait until 5th grade when kids started singing in groups or with adult help to lead the congregation because I just loved to sing so much and loved being a part of the Mass. It was so exciting to be so close to watch the beautiful miracle of Jesus arriving on the altar. I truly believe that God works a miracle through the Priest to transform the bread and wine into Jesus’ actual body and blood at each Mass and it has always been my favorite part. Even as a child I understood the importance and I’d stand at the Cantor’s podium watching in wide-eyed wonder as the Priest’s hands held Our Lord’s precious body.
I was painfully shy as a child and my shell began to break and fade away through our Parish and the Deanery youth group activities such as the Archdiocese Conference, National Catholic Youth Conference, shut-ins, river boat rides, camping trips and, my favorite, retreats. I couldn’t get enough of the retreats. My beloved former Youth Minister had to hard-sell me on attending my Freshman Retreat with the skill of a slick Used Car Salesman…even soliciting the help of my childhood best friend who was shyer than I but also more easily persuaded. I’m glad they basically conned me into going because at that retreat and each following retreat I attended or helped lead, I found a voice and I found myself, as cliché as it sounds.
While I, of course, loved the socializing and entertaining parts of these retreats I also developed a deep passion for learning about my faith and helping others learn about the faith. I was in my element. I gained a reputation of having intelligence, compassion, a positive attitude, warmth, a sense of humor, a deep faith, leadership qualities, public speaking skills, modesty (not sure that comes across well here!) and maturity. My peers with whom I was previously too nervous to interact became some of my closest friends; many remain so to this day. The adults asked me to join councils as a youth representative, have me guest speak at the adult retreats and eventually selected me as a co-recipient of the outstanding youth award at my church. Having both my peers and superiors depend on me and look to me to be a good example fueled my sense of responsibility, my desire to keep their good opinions, my humility and, in fact…my hubris.
Having a father that is a Certified Forensic Interrogator capable of extracting confessions from pretty much anyone, even over the phone, may have had something to do with me being a “goody-two shoes”…at least at first. I only remember lying to my father ONE time when I was younger. In 4th grade, I received an A- on an Aesop’s Fables project of which I was so proud and on which I worked so hard. My pride was wounded. I was so disappointed in myself and couldn’t admit I put that much effort into something and got a worse grade than what I was accustomed to earning with ease.
Worse yet, my dad knew how hard I worked on that project and he was excited to hear what the teacher thought. I was crying on the bus and afraid to go home. I didn’t want to let down my dad. He met me at the door, eager to see the result. He kept commenting on how wonderful it turned out and how proud of me he was…then he turned it over and, before he even had a chance to see the grade, I told him it was actually an A+ but the teacher’s pen ran out of ink. There was a pause…probably miniscule but to me an eternity…then he just looked at me and said, “Huh. You would think a teacher would have more than one pen.” That’s it. I went to my room and cried, not even coming out for dinner. I knew that he knew I was lying but he didn’t react. I felt so guilty…that guilt was far worse than any punishment he could have dealt me.
I’ve always had a pretty strict moral code for myself that really is only loosely rooted in the “thou must or thou must not” world of Christianity…but it is MY moral code, not one I expect for anyone else to also adhere. Each person needs to decide for themselves what is and is not important to them. Perhaps the standards I set for myself and my ideas of right vs. wrong began with the influence of my parents and faith, sure, but I never have been able to accept “because I said so” as an appropriate reason for doing, or not doing, anything…even if it came straight from the Bible. I’m not good with letting things sit on the surface…I always have to dig deeper (small talk is torture).
You will seldom, if ever, hear me use my Faith as my sole reason for choices I make and I think “because it’s a sin” is just the “because I said so” of Christianity. I’m curious and a deep-thinker…there has to be a reasonable explanation for why we believe things and I try to find it. Yet, I also recognize that if we had concrete answers and evidence for everything then it would no longer require an act of faith. Of course, I do incorporate my beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church in my decisions, but I do a lot of investigating before I settle on something solid. I’m also not afraid to have those beliefs challenged or questioned. In fact, I would go so far as to say a person MUST question things, especially their Faith, in order to truly understand and “own” any idea or belief. I’m not afraid to change my mind if I come across new information but I can’t say it’s an easy process. Having respectful discussions with someone of a differing view is something I cherish. Too often people resort to belittling the person’s views, or belittling the person himself, when they don’t see eye-to-eye.
It saddens me to no end! Being different is a wonderful thing! This world would be boring if we all thought and believed the same things in the same way. I truly believe we can understand a differing point-of-view and respect it without having to change our own stance. Understanding is always my goal. I guess it’s because I’m a communicator at heart, but I have a desire to make sure both sides can see where the other is coming from. What I have a hard time tolerating and, unfortunately, have witnessed and personally experienced too frequently is people focusing on the differences and focusing on their way being the only way. My whole life, I have been surrounded by people of backgrounds and beliefs different from my own and even those most similar to me haven’t always lined up in all areas, but I always rather enjoyed the differences. I know some people that think Christians choose to go to Christian schools because they feel safer being around people of similar world views. There may be some truth to that for some students, but that wasn’t something I expected or desired, and I would have been very wrong if I thought I would find it where I went to college.
Nine Inch Nails deserve at least partial credit for my enrollment in Anderson University; a small, Church of God affiliated school in Indiana. Although I have always been a Christian, I never really cared for “Christian” things. I thought music, movies, clothing, media, etc. that used the “Christian” label were, well…lame. I’m an Alt Rock girl. I’m the first to admit what I watch and listen to do not usually go hand-in-hand as representations of what I believe or how I live my life. “Closer” by Nine Inch Nails is not exactly a wholesome song or music video…but I did like it…but don’t ask how I saw it since I wasn’t allowed to watch MTV. Ha! The director of “Closer” by NIN also directed the music video to “Jesus Freak” by DC Talk and that tricked me into watching the Christian Music Video Channel, ZTV, when I thought I saw Nine Inch Nails while channel surfing.
That “mistake” led me to become a Christian rock fan. My emphasis of study in college was going to be Mass Communication with a focus on TV/Film as I actually wanted to be a director and wanted to start by directing music videos. I had already begun the enrollment process at Western Kentucky University for Mass Comm and even had an internship possibly lined up at ESPN or TNN (similar to CMT) when one of my friends, a Lutheran that shared my Christian rock music appreciation, told me I should check out Anderson University because they had a Christian Music radio station. Moment of disclosure here…I enjoy alcohol and began enjoying alcohol with my parents before I was of legal age. Again, I was a “good girl” so I didn’t do the whole “party scene” some of my friends were into, but I definitely saw no problem with drinking.
I guess that’s a Catholic stereotype based in some truth! AU was a dry campus, the Church of God did not support dancing (spontaneous rhythmic movement when the Spirit reached you was acceptable) and even with my own rather impossibly high morals, I thought it was too strict and really not what I wanted at all. So, with no intention of changing my plans, I used a College Visit day…just because I could. That visit changed my life and, ultimately, my career focus. I developed an ardent enthusiasm for radio, met some of my very best friends, and had some of the best…and worst…times of my life. Overall, I loved my years at AU more than I could have imagined and more than I can express, but for the purpose of this discussion, I feel I have to focus on a few of the less enjoyable aspects.
Being a Christian in a Christian school isn’t something anyone would assume to be problematic…but not all Christians accept Catholics. One of several examples is when the pastor of one church at which I was invited to sing found out I was Catholic and actually told me that they were excited to have me sing but to “please leave” when I was done and that I probably would not be invited back. At AU, friends would invite me to church with them where I’d sit through sermons that “attacked” fellow Christians that didn’t believe what that specific church believed. One church’s preacher vehemently raved that Catholics are the same as “Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Heathens” in desperate need of Evangelization.
Nothing I heard during the anti-Catholic sermons I sat through next to shocked and sympathetic friends (that later insisted their preacher doesn’t usually talk about Catholics) made me doubt anything I knew or believed. Neither did the evangelization attempts by friends that appeared to have a “What to Say When You Meet a Catholic: A Guide to Let New Friends Know You Think They’re Wrong” study guide. I’d get the same questions over and over, always seemingly prepared with the same responses regardless as to how well I thought I explained something. For the record…No, we don’t worship idols; the Virgin Mary and the Saints aren’t equal to Jesus; and we don’t think the priests or the Pope are on the same level as Jesus.
Several arguments between people were settled when they both found a common ground of turning their attention to their mutual disdain for, and misunderstanding of, Catholicism and their chance to turn their focus on me. It can be tiresome to have to consistently defend yourself and your beliefs, especially when from your point-of-view there aren’t that many differences. Yet…I never wavered in what I BELIEVED…though I definitely wavered in how I PRACTICED that belief.
As much as I love the Catholic Mass, I hate going alone. Not very many of my friends were willing to go to Mass with me, even after I went to church with them. Add that to the fact that I was in college and have always been a night owl and it wasn’t too long before I didn’t even try to wake up for Mass. For Catholics, intentionally missing Mass on Sunday is a sin. Receiving the Sacrament of Communion while in a state of sin is also a sin. Going to confession and either leaving out something on purpose or having the intention to repeat a sin you’ve confessed is called making a bad confession…which is another sin.
When I DID go to Mass, I was usually with my parents and I didn’t want everyone to know I was in a state of sin if I didn’t go to Communion…so I would knowingly sin by receiving what should be a wonderful gift of Jesus’ body and blood even when I knew I shouldn’t. But I couldn’t make myself go to confession because I knew I had no intention of making a real effort to go to church by myself. Remember how I felt after telling my dad a lie about a trivial 4th grade project? Imagine the ride down this spiral of shame. Not fun. I also was still helping with the retreats for High Schoolers so felt like a hypocrite because they all still thought I was the same happy-go-lucky girl. I let them believe I was still living up to my reputation and expectation.
My friends that worked those retreats with me would have understood, I could have talked to them and I knew it. But they looked up to me…they thought I was so much better than I was…I didn’t want to tell them that I let them down. Foolish pride just makes things worse. Eventually it gets easier to do things you feel bad about at first if you just keep doing it. Rationalizing a choice that at first leads to guilt is a coping mechanism that, if repeated enough without consequence, will make a person change their opinion on whether it ever was something “bad’ at all. That was my pattern for the rest of college. I also experienced hardships not associated with religion which led to a pretty dark place as well. Through everything, I always kept my faith; I just didn’t do anything to live it in the way I was raised. I was at a Christian school, doing “Christian” things (I love Praise and Worship sessions), yet I knew what a wonderful thing I was missing.
After college, I accepted a job at the radio stations for which I interned and moved to Indianapolis. I really wanted to find a parish and get “back on track” with my faith. I wasn’t used to having a choice about which Catholic Church to attend before, there was only one in the whole county back home. I tried a couple different parishes without finding one I felt like I wanted to join and eventually returned to the only-going-to-Mass-with-my-parents pattern. Occasionally, I’d go through periods, usually during Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, where I’d feel drawn back to the Church and start a new searc
h for a home parish, never to find one that could compare in beauty, style of service, or quality of people that I had in the amazing parish in which I was raised. When my first niece was born, my brother and sister-in-law gave me the great honor of asking me to be her Godmother. The only problem was in order to be a Godparent you have to be a practicing Catholic, with a letter of recommendation from a priest if you aren’t a member of the parish in which the child will be baptized. I hunted and hunted for a new church and nothing felt right. Fortunately, the decided to have her baptized at my old church by the priest I’ve known for years. He didn’t need “proof” that I was Catholic because I never let him know I stopped going to Mass. So, I still went to Mass now and then, but the pressure of finding a parish was gone and I eventually stopped going again.
Eventually, I even stopped going to Mass when I was visiting mom and dad. I had to admit that I had turned into the dreaded “Creaster!” There have been 3 true desires of my heart…to lose weight/be healthy…to fall in love/get married/start a family…and to become very active in a wonderful Catholic Church community (hopefully getting married there and raising my children there). A decade passed and not only was I no closer to any of those things but I wasn’t even trying.
During Lent of 2015 I went to a Deanery Penance service for confession at a one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen, including amazing Cathedrals in Spain and England, called St. Joan of Arc. There were around 10 priests available to hear Confessions and you were able to see whoever you pleased, or was available, when you were ready after reflection. The priest of that parish is one of my favorites and I was really hoping to go to him for Confession, but he is so popular that some people will ONLY go to him… including the guy in front of me when it was almost my turn.
The line I was in had 2 other priests available. I couldn’t help but notice a difference in the people leaving their time with the other two priests. Confession can be very beautiful, emotional and refreshing but nerve-wracking and difficult. “Happy Priest,” as I dubbed him, seemed to comfort each person and tears turned to laughter. That was the priest I decided to see. Instead, my turn came when the 3rd priest was available. He was Indian and. I feel terrible for saying this, I did have trouble understanding him at first…I actually started being worried that if he said something I didn’t understand that I might make a bad confession! But once we started talking, he helped calm my nerves and was really quite wonderful and reassuring. He actually made me chuckle, too.
This priest made a great impression on me but I had no idea who he was and couldn’t find him when I checked the Archdiocesan directory. After completing my Lenten Obligation (Confession and receiving the Eucharist at least once during Lent) I felt better about my faith life than I had for a while, but I was still pretty stagnant.
I can’t pinpoint what changed, but, this past Lent, I was motivated to really go above and beyond what I would typically have done for observance. On top of giving something up and completing the Lenten Obligation, I also committed to going to Adoration at least once, began an online Prayer Retreat, participated in a kind of prayer challenge that increased in “difficulty” as it went (including some intense meditations in a book by St. Francis de Sales which is amazing)…and I also committed to picking a parish by Easter.
This time, my own desire to belong to a Church community and worship as a practicing Catholic was the only driving force I had. I didn’t make the choice out of guilt, out of pressure to meet my standards or anyone else’s, or out of need in order to become a Godmother. I just truly missed the wonder of the Eucharist and the community of the Church. So I researched, compared and contrasted and narrowed down to the top 3 choices. When I took my mom to Mass at the first church, I was surprised she didn’t like it. But I admit I was more than a little devastated when she hated St. Joan of Arc. I tried a couple of the other nearby parishes again and each week I would sit in the pew a little longer after Mass trying to imagine myself as a member.
That same feeling of disappointment at not finding the right place crept back and I worried I would not meet my goal of becoming a member somewhere before Easter. I had a mental checklist for my Perfect Parish in much the same way that most women have checklists for the Perfect Husband. While I haven’t gone so far as to “settle” for a “good enough” man yet, I had begun to consider the idea that a “good enough” parish would be better for me than continuing my same path of no parish at all.
Instead of turning my search into a dreaded chore I had to complete, I decided to relax my own unnecessary timeline. If I didn’t find the answer before Easter, I would be ok as long as I kept looking. So I focused on completing my other Lenten activities, starting with Adoration. Each time I thought about going to Adoration I had chickened out. I was nervous because I had never really been before but I was determined to stick to my Lenten commitment…and I was running out of time.
In a church bulletin one week there was mention of Pope Francis asking each Deanery across the world to offer a “24 Hours for the Lord” event in at least one parish where there would be the Blessed Sacrament available for Adoration for 24 hours and priests available at some point for Confession. I had never been to the parish that would be hosting the event nearest me and I was going to have difficult attending the Deanery Penance Service for Confession, so I decided to go knock both birds out with one stone. I admit that I was nervous about where to go and what to do, so I decided to go at the very beginning when they kicked off the 24 Hours with Daily Mass. I knew that there were Masses celebrated every day but in 3 decades of being Catholic, I had never been to Daily Mass. I thought only the Catholic school kids and retired people went to Daily Mass. I had no idea what to expect.
The church wasn’t that easy for me to get to or that close. It was a nice looking facility, not an impressive Cathedral but not a modern Church-in-a-box by any means. I thought I may have had the wrong time or date when I couldn’t see anyone near the main sanctuary but I met a very nice and helpful Parish Office staff member who lead me to the right part of the building and explained that most of the Daily Masses were held in the chapel. On the way, we passed a pretty little room which she explained was the Perpetual Adoration Chapel. All of this was new to me. The Daily Mass Chapel (aka Magnificat Chapel) was adorable.
The walls are stone and there are stained glass windows that aren’t like most stained glass I’ve ever seen. I immediately think that this would be a very cute location for a small, intimate wedding. I was very curious about what the main church looked like and thought I might have to come back to see it sometime. When it was time for Mass to begin, the priest entered and I almost fell over. The priest was my Confessor the year before at the Penance Service! I had zero difficulty understanding his lovely accent this time and his Homily was the perfect mix of humor, teaching, and reflection that he tied in perfectly to the day’s readings. I was impressed. Then it came for the most important part of the Mass, my favorite part since I was a little girl, and it was so beautifully touching. I’ve celebrated Mass with many incredible and reverent priests, but there was something special this time…an almost tenderness that really made the Eucharist come to life in a way I’ve never experienced.
The way he gently held the Chalice containing Christ’s blood reminded me of a father holding a baby, his hand supporting the bowl of the cup as if it were the very head of Our Lord. I was seriously moved to tears. After Mass, sitting in the presence of Jesus in his bread form during Adoration was powerful. I got so caught up in just sitting there praying to and looking at Jesus that I missed my chance to go to Confession and had to wait for the Penance Service the following week.
With just 2 Sundays left before Easter, I had intended to go to the very first church I went to in Indy to just make sure I didn’t want to go there since it’s where I was “supposed” to attend. It was Daylight Savings and I did not Spring Forward well. I overslept and had to scramble to find a late Mass somewhere. St. Luke, the church I had attended for the “24 Hours for Our Lord,” had an 11:30a Mass and I just barely made it as the church is about 20 minutes away. Due to my rush, I didn’t have a lot of time to take everything in before the start of Mass. The main sanctuary was everything I thought it would be based on how lovely the Chapel had been, though.
The Mass was exactly what I like from music to formality–informality levels and everything in between. They had 12 servers…TWELVE! I’m used to seeing 3-4 tops! It really added to the reverence. I also love using Latin during Lent and I hadn’t found a church in Indy that did so until then. I tried to stay focused but realized I’m mentally checking off nearly all of the items on the Perfect Parish checklist I had decided to discard previously. Some of the items are admittedly shallow and not necessary to a fulfilling faith life, but both the needs and wants were falling into place. I sat in the parking lot after Mass for almost an hour just listening to the Church bells as they played every piece of music we had just used and I sent a text to my mom that began with “Um…I may have just found my church by accident.”
The next week was Palm Sunday, the last Sunday before Easter. From the beginning, my plan was to celebrate Ash Wednesday at Holy Spirit and Palm Sunday at St. Joan of Arc because I thought it would be a lovely setting and I thought I would either be turning in my registration packet or maybe saying my last farewell. For some reason, at the last minute, I decided I wanted to go back to St. Luke. The same feeling of “home” overcame me as I prayed in the pew before Mass and I found myself asking “Is this my church? Did I finally find my church?” I joked with God that I “don’t need a burning bush” or a “host of angels” but that some sort of sign that this is where I should be would be appreciated.
I even mentioned that I didn’t mean to test him or anything, just that I didn’t want to make the wrong choice and I’ve been looking for so long I don’t know if I can trust my judgement. I was joking, of course I didn’t expect an answer. When Monsignor was making announcements at the very end of Mass he finished with, “Oh, and don’t forget, this is New Member Registration weekend. There’s a table in the Narthex if you have questions about St. Luke or are interested in registering.” I couldn’t help but chuckle, look up and say to myself and God “Ok. I’ll take it.” Walked into the lobby area and registered on the spot. Just like that, 10+ years of searching and sorrow were over…I had found my church home. This is exactly what I wanted and really needed. Thinking about all of the different things that happened that led me there amazes me.
I absolutely love it and have been so thankful. I’ve jumped in with both feet to get involved right away joining the Young Adult Group, Pro-Life Committee, Choir and becoming involved with the Adoration Chapel. I’ve been through one bible study program already, a couple special events, walked through the Holy Doors on a mini-pilgrimage and have met some lovely new friends.
I thought I knew a lot about Catholicism during my “glory days” of active participation when I was younger but I’ve learned and grown more in the past 6 months than I even thought possible. When a friend told me about this project I was seriously so excited. I couldn’t wait to read the thoughts of others and I felt I had so much more knowledge I would be able to share if possible. One of my best friends and I created a scale to help answer the “How Religious are you?” question when “I’m religious but not weird about it” wasn’t really received well. 0 would be, well, obvious and 10 would be practically a priest or nun.
Before this past Lent, I thought I was around an 8 in Faith and a 4 or 5 in practice…which was probably a generous number. During Lent, my friend joked that I was getting pretty close to “Nun level”…I thought it was more like my “practice number” was finally getting closer to matching my “strength of belief” number. I thought I was in a great spot and ready to talk about my Faith with others of differing views but almost as soon as the first prompt arrived and I began to reflect on what I wanted to say, I started slipping.
Something weird has happened in the past month. I had not missed going to Sunday Mass once in the past 8 months, e something I don’t think I could say at any point in my life, and I even had been going to Daily Mass as much as possible. Even on vacation to New York City and after a terrible automobile accident on the way in, which left me in quite a lot of pain, I managed to make it to Mass at the historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral while dragging along 3 non-Catholic friends.
But 4 weeks ago, I didn’t go to Mass at my beloved St. Luke, or anywhere, and I had no reason to miss. I wasn’t sick, I woke up late but there are plenty of late Masses in the area I could have attended. I don’t know what happened. I started trying to work out a time I could leave work early to make it to Confession that week before the following Sunday but it didn’t work out and, incredibly, I didn’t go to Mass again. The next weekend I was excited to go to my old church when I was house-sitting for my parents and taking care of my dog that just had surgery, but I felt tired and didn’t go.
This past weekend was the first time the Choir sang again after our Summer break and it was so great to see everyone at rehearsal but Sunday morning came, I woke up late and instead of getting there a little late, I just didn’t go. I wasn’t feeling 100%, but I was not sick enough to be excused from Sunday Obligation and it’s unlike me to let down my choir friends since we were only going to have 2 Altos. I’ve also picked up some old bad habits I thought I kicked long ago and have been noticing some similarities to times in the past that haven’t been good for me. It’s not what I want to happen but I feel so bogged down and I’m not sure why.
Like I said before…I’m not sure what I believe about coincidences…but the timing here is odd to me.
Right after joining St. Luke I went through a Total Consecration to Jesus Program called “33 Days to Morning Glory” with other parishioners. One point that is connecting with me right now is about how it seems we get hit with obstacles when we are on the “straight and narrow” path. Are the speedbumps “signs” that we’re not actually going the right direction or maybe tests to make sure we have what it takes to keep going…is the devil trying to dissuade us from continuing because he doesn’t want us on the right path…does it mean nothing and life just ebbs and flows in sometimes frustrating ways, unrelated to anything we may be able to do or control?
Every time I think I have the answer figured out something changes my mind. I truly believe the Holy Spirit played a role in leading me to St. Luke, to AU, to radio, and to this project. All of these are positive things in my life and all of them have, at some point, been put through a challenging time. So, yes…maybe I believe that I was headed in the right direction and the evil one wanted to stop me. The shame and doubts about my abilities and worth do not come from a Godly place. I was in a great place, on the right track and I can’t explain what knocked me off of it. Writing this letter has been difficult.
I had some ideas that I thought were pretty good but I couldn’t write them once this weird phase started. Perhaps the devil really didn’t want me to say anything and attempted to silence me. This has turned out completely different and longer than I originally intended. I still don’t know if I said anything of value or anything that I really wanted to say, but I believe there is some reason I needed to say all of this. I can tell you that I feel more at peace and ready to get back on track again after writing this letter and reflecting on what I’ve encountered, so thank you for the opportunity to share the very detailed path that has led me here. My journey is obviously still ongoing and I hope to always be a work in progress when it comes to my faith. Now, more than ever, I truly hope to seek more to understand than to focus on needing to be understood.
With best wishes , open mind and open heart, I look forward to what’s ahead from everyone else!
Melissa Kae Fronckowiak