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Life Changing Moments



I’ve been thinking about life-changing moments. Those moments that profoundly change your world and your perspective, and how some happen when you are young, like taking your first step, or driving alone for the first time.  One of my early life-changing moments had a profound impact on why I still care so much about the church and its changing landscape.



I grew up in the pre-Vatican II church, and I took to church like a fish to water.  Being a girl, I also knew my place. I covered my head before going into church and read my St Joseph’s Daily Missal. I whispered the Latin responses from my pew, while my brother, who was an altar server, said them out loud a few yards away. The sanctuary was for males only. The communion rail was the dividing line between where I was permitted and where I was not permitted to be. My child’s imagination took this all very seriously.



That "males only" rule changed on Saturday mornings when women were permitted to clean the sanctuary.  One Saturday when I was seven or eight, I joined my mother and some other women in the sanctuary. As they mopped the marble floor, vacuumed carpets, and changed out linens, my mother noticed something. The tabernacle, which sat high above the center of the altar, was difficult to reach. Its gold dome was covered in dust because no one had been able to clean it in a long time.

 

My mother got the idea that she could lift me up and I’d be able to reach the dome of the tabernacle with a cleaning cloth and dust it off. This plan terrified me. I was still getting used to the idea of being on the wrong side of the altar rail. Getting up close and personal to the tabernacle was light years beyond my comfort zone. I had always imagined a tiny Jesus living in there – the way Jeannie lived in the bottle on the “I dream of Jeannie Show.”



I also recalled the Old Testament story of the unfortunate fellow who died trying to support the Arc of the Covenant after an ox stumbled and the Arc started to fall (2 Sam 6:7).

 

When I expressed my deep hesitation, my mother walked me up the altar steps to the tabernacle and showed me how dusty it was. She said that because of my size, I was the only person there who could manage it. She would lift me up and it would all be just fine.

 

She handed me a dust cloth and cupped her hands together. I put my foot in her hands, and she boosted me up.  In order to reach the dome of the tabernacle I had to put a knee on the altar, another frightening desecration she had to coax me through. With one arm on my mother’s shoulder and one knee on the altar, I reached out and began to gingerly wipe down the top of the tabernacle. 



I was amazed at how dusty it really was. I swiped the dust cloth across one area and remember seeing the gold shine through. My mother held me securely and encouraged me to do a thorough job – not to hesitate – but to really get it clean.

 

When I finished, I wrapped my arms around my mother’s neck as she handed me down. Through the years I have often thought about that Saturday morning and what a life-changing moment it was for me. How I stood on the shoulders of my mother, and all the women of faith in my family who had come before her. How being the smallest person there made me the right person for the job. How the sacred is not something remote to be feared, but something to live in and with.

 

Today women stand on the verge of deaconate ordination.



It is going to take some more time, but it is going to happen. Women are no longer whispering responses to themselves in the pews. Soon they will be preaching at masses and presiding at weddings and funerals. Those who do become ordained will stand on the shoulders of women like my mother who, like themselves, saw how dusty things were and did something about it.

 

 

 

 


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Convidado:
10 de mar.
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Great memories. Thank you for sharing. I’ll never forget as a young adult I was frequently a lector. One Sunday there were no altar boys and the priest had me do their job! I was astonished, if not a wee bit scared, and so humbled. I had always wanted to be an altar server. This opportunity was amazing and forever in my heart!

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Convidado:
09 de mar.
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Powerful memory Claire! Thanks for your sharing. Once we "see" how dusty things are, how small & vulnerable we are, how golden the holy is underneath the accumulation we have the courage to make it happen. A woman's eye is needed to see the dust. Carol Q

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27 de fev.
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Wonder Full. This reminds me of some most wonderful moments. This one of mine, that stunned me and others at the time was this. In our 4th grade in classroom in the early 1950s, I raised my hand suddenly. The nun called on me, and I stood up and said, "I think we should say Holy Spirit, not Holy Ghost. "Ghost" makes me think of Casper the friendly ghost. SILENCE. I sat down. Nothing else was ever said by anyone. I was always sincerely reverent, so meaningful for me. Judy Howell

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24 de fev.
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Dear Claire, this is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing your courage and your mother's courage as you did what needed to be done. Our faith in God prepares us to do things we thought were beyond us.

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22 de fev.
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Brilliant! I suspect those of us of a certain age have all had those epiphanal moments

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