This afternoon I finally had the chance to plop down on the patio of my favorite coffee shop with an iced tea and a copy of From the Pews in the Back. Under the hot sun I began to read, and within the first ten pages my sunglasses hid my eyes as they swelled with tears. As I pored over story after story, the tears continued to pour out of me. Admittedly, I’m more of a crier than most. But my emotional response to the book still startled me, especially as I considered what, exactly, triggered my reaction to each essay.
Amid Angela Batie’s beautiful reflection, it was her passing mention of the maple bars she ate as a child in her parish hall. Surely, the rich content of her essay had already captured me before I encountered this tiny detail, but when I read that, like me, those sticky frosted rectangles were her post-Mass donut of choice, I felt a connection to her and her Catholic experience. It sounds really silly, but it’s true.
The book shook in my hands as Eileen Campbell recalled how she told her father that she did not want to be confirmed, and that she did not want to be Catholic anymore. I had a strikingly similar conversation with my father right before my confirmation classes were to begin. As I read this part of Eileen’s essay over and over again, I recalled how strange and lonely I felt as a teenager struggling to articulate how this sacrament, and my family’s tradition as a whole, had become obstacles to my sense of personal integrity. What it would have been like to have a friend like Eileen during that time.
And that’s just it: the details, big and small, that I have discovered in the memoirs of From the Pews in the Back, have made me realize how much loneliness has characterized my sense of Catholic identity as a young woman. Like Kate and Jen articulate so well in their introduction, I have often found myself a “foreigner” among Protestants who don’t understand my Catholicity, and still a “foreigner” among Catholics who find my understandings and expressions of faith “too liberal” or “untraditional.” This has frequently left me with a sense of isolation in religious communities and a desperate longing for empathetic community.
Recent years have led me to see that my Catholic loneliness is ultimately rooted in a misperception—a misperception that my way of being Catholic is strange, so much so that I will not find like-minded spiritual companions in this global church community of ours. Young Catholic female voices are so rare in public Catholicism that it is really no wonder I have felt this way. In rough times, this even leads to anxiety about whether I am “Catholic enough,” and to doubts about whether I will ever find a peaceful spiritual home.
Today, the women of From the Pews in the Back reminded me that I am already home, and that moved me to tears. The smallest details and most significant events of their stories remind me that my Catholicism is our Catholicism. From childhood Sunday breakfast rituals to major crises of religious identity, I am not alone in this journey of faith.
Jessica Coblentz currently works for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles developing religious education materials for young adults. She will begin her MTS at Harvard Divinity School this fall. Follow her writing on the Web at http://www.jessicacoblentz.blogspot.com.