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The obedience of longing is worth the price


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Tom Zampino - published on 10/28/16

Taking the Church’s teachings in good faith, I was obedient, and stayed out of the Communion line...

If I had been expecting anything really dramatic — an explosive rush of beatific adrenaline or some blinding vision of a new world order — well, I’d have been let down.

Seriously let down.

Forty-four years after stepping outside of a confessional and never looking back, I returned.

Forty-four years.

That’s a lot to talk about, especially without it turning into a marathon therapy session.

This Monsignor — kind, compassionate, understanding, patient — reversed the 44-year-old curse placed on my spiritual life by the first one when I was just 14, condemning me to an eternity in hell for reasons that, to this day, still seem beyond absurd and irrational. Perhaps he was just one of those “little monster” priests that Pope Francis railed against a while back.

What brought me back to this place, at this time?

I’m getting married.

Well, actually, re-married.

To the same woman, that is, to whom I’ve been married for the past 30 years.

But let me take one step back.

When I first returned to the Church three years ago — alongside Francis — I felt as if I had finally come home. I was warmly welcomed, and I quickly re-learned the words, the responses, and the motions. Oh and yes, I re-encountered all of the irritating divisiveness too. But it’s a family. Dysfunctional at times, no doubt, but still family.

Within weeks, I had asked a local but widely known New York City area priest about the timing of confession and Communion. I was both surprised and dismayed to discover that I first had to address the issue of my civil marriage ceremony. It was and is a valid, legal, and recognized marriage, of course, but it was not one performed under the auspices of the Church. So first things first, I was advised, let’s get that done.

For reasons both complicated and personal, however, that was not something that would or could be quickly accomplished.

And so the wait began. And the wait continued. For three solid years.

And while I waited, I refrained from receiving Holy Communion. I’ve attended Mass most Sundays and often during the week, but — taking the Church’s teachings in good faith, and trusting that they were meant for my good — I was obedient, and stayed out of the Communion line.

Sometimes that omission made me sad (yes, I literally cried). Other times, I was wistful. But, surprisingly, I was never self-conscious about remaining seated or kneeling while everyone else — and I do mean everyone else — rose and stepped forward.

But I began to notice something.

The more I kept to that obedience of longing, the more I felt secure; I felt protected, and I felt loved. “Spiritual Communion” became my practice, imagining myself in the place of the next person in line. And I knew, quite literally, that I was becoming stronger, more disciplined — that I was slowly being made ready.

And now the wait is over because of a gift my wife is giving me — giving us — as a 30th anniversary present — a Church wedding. What a loving gift from her! What a beautiful and magnificent gesture!

So that brings me to my recent confession, my new beginning, and the Monsignor who reversed the curse, the one who will now perform the upcoming ceremony.

I’ve come full circle.

Three years ago, I simply walked through an open door, and a new chapter began — one that I recognize is no easier than before and, in all likelihood, may actually be more difficult.

But I’m ready for it now.

This imposed period of waiting, this time given over to contemplation and reflection, has taught me something crucial: discipline, patience, and — dare I say it? — obedience come with a price tag.

But the price it isn’t all that steep, and it isn’t at all unreasonable.

So I have happily paid it. And I would pay it again if necessary. The cost of the discipline has already repaid itself ten times over, in my understanding, in the blessings I am experiencing, in the shimmering gift of faith, itself.

Besides, it’s so much less costly than the price already paid some 2,000 years ago.

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