Four years ago, early on Easter morning, I awoke from a dream in a cold sweat.
I had been walking in a crowd, unable to see anything beyond the people pressed closely around me. I could not see where we were going, but only knew we were walking around something in a massive circle. I suddenly stopped, and walked against the flow towards the center.
When I reached a clearing, I came face-to-face with an ancient man, sitting on a rock. He was all to be found at the center.
He greeted me by name, and he asked if I knew who he was. I said, “You’re a disciple of Christ. You’re Peter.” (At the time, I had no idea where I pulled that from.)
He replied, “Yes. And it is time for you to come with me.”
I awoke with a start. Hours later I found myself in the pews of a Protestant church, my mind drifting during the Easter sermon. I reached for a Bible and opened it to the words of Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church.”
Exactly one year later, I became a Catholic.
A few Sundays ago, as I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., walking into church, my blouse billowed around my belly, swollen with eager new life, my husband at my side.
Passersby had the tired, blank look of a night of excess. Trash skittered along the sidewalk. People and papers softly blew by the church, as if it weren’t there. Going nowhere in particular.
For the briefest of moments, I felt as though I were back in my dream, one foot suspended over the striped crosswalk, my hem slowly rising toward the doors. The wind pushed at my side but my eyes were fixed towards St. Peter and his Rock.
It was Laetare Sunday. It was the Filipino Mass, the priest was African, two women sang the hymns in sign language. The Universal Church. Packed in between Marvelous Market and Trader Joe’s. The readings were about one of seemingly countless destructions of this or that temple. The priest reminded us that each time we feel the pinch of our Lenten sacrifice, we take a small step towards Christ.
In this brief life, we do one of two things. We walk around the Church, or we walk towards it.
It’s just so simple. We are either walking behind Christ, wresting the demons off our shoulders, weighed down by sin’s hideous barnacles. Falling to the ground for one sweet taste of the Blood. One sweet graze with the Flesh. Or we are standing on the side, watching Him.
St. Peter as Pope by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1611
Last weekend during the Triduum, Catholics in America took a pause from all the HHS chaos to stand at the foot of the Cross. We stood so silently that some of us could even hear the wood creaking in the wind.
In that space between Lent and the Easter octave in which we find ourselves now, time suspends itself on an ancient string and we cling to the Cross. We feel its splinters on our wet cheek. We sleep restlessly at night when Satan’s agents, with their truncated memories, think for a matter of hours that victory is theirs.
And then we bask in Easter and all her glory. The tomb is so empty and the world is so full. Life is sensual again. Our souls are brimming.
And then it’s Monday morning and Cardinal Dolan is back on TV defending the Church against the HHS mandate. Ross Douthat is reminding us of how polarized religion in America has become.
Our inbox is angry that we took the weekend to follow Christ on His way to the Cross, stand next to His Mother as he died, and rejoice with the women and their spices when He was gone Sunday morning.
But Easter ends and the world presses in once more. Satan picks up the weapon labeled “mundane.”
Whichever way this HHS mandate goes; let’s not forget that ours is a Church that has survived much more than bureaucratic overreach. She has survived centuries of war and persecution. She has seen her temples torn to the ground, rebuilt, and torn down once more. She has even survived the Smoke of Satan in her draperies.
She is currently surviving a period of great disbelief and hostility. In fact, she is mysteriously thriving.
So as we Catholics walk down the hill from Golgotha and pass back into ordinary time once more, we will once more encounter the ordinary evils that thread our path. Like the HHS mandate.
Don’t get me wrong. The HHS mandate is perhaps the gravest assault our Church has ever known in modern America. These times are not all that ordinary for American Catholics.
But ours is a Church built on the most eternal of rocks.
And the gates of Hell will not prevail against Her.
So march on, fellow Catholics.