Sebastian is Evelyn Waugh's tragic bright young thing in the brilliant Brideshead Revisited. His remembering becomes worship, and he clings to his irrecoverable childhood (famously in the form of his teddy bear, Aloysius). I thought of him after a conversation about remembering. We were remembering the places where we were happy: particularly college, when the world was ours and what we did with our freedom was do things that felt holy.
For 4 years, I belonged to that small sub-population at the Catholic University of America that exists mostly in the Top 5 Catholic colleges: Thomas Aquinas, Christendom, Steubenville, the University of Dallas, and... well, praise be to God, there are more than 5 now. Here is a taste:
It's just so true.
It is possible to go to Confession weekly, attend Adoration every day, say the entire Liturgy of the Hours with your dearest friends, study the Great Books and the Doctors of the Church, and be so wrapped in a world that feels comfortingly sanctified all the time.
Get this: There is nothing wrong with that. Those college years are years of intense formation. Looking back at my habits of being, I'm starting to think that I was such a cute little puppy. Have you ever watched little puppies playing? There's a reason they play. If they don't play at being big dogs (and even sometimes think that they already are big dogs), they will never get to become big dogs. If little monkeys don't get to imitate their parents, they do not survive in the wild to become the parents of new little monkeys. My Ana Therese--now 21-months old--plays intensely at dancing, mothering, and praying. I don't grudge her this time of formation, because I know it's crucial to her growth into a young woman who knows she is loved and is capable of loving. The mother delights in her children's play. Our Father delights in our play at pleasing Him.
However. We grow up.
Eventually, the Catholic girls have to leave that bubble. We graduate (sometimes only after several degrees), we enter the workforce, we marry and have children, or we enter a religious order. We grow, and even if our daily lives continue to include the Sacraments and the prayers of the Church, that comforting feeling they once gave us will leave.
I remember when I was first married and jumped out of that puppy life. I was disoriented. Where was my structure? Where was that control? Had it all been pretend? I went into mourning, because I had become so attached to that formation period. I didn't want to take my final vows and move into adulthood. Several years into childbearing, I felt like I had completely lost myself--that Catholic girl who constantly read the Fathers and prayed for hours in the chapel was gone.
She was not gone, but she was invisible. The visible reality of my sanctity, it seemed to me, collapsed under the demands of my adult vocation. Graduates of that formation period have several reactions to the change: Some old friends have declared that all of our prayers and sacrifices were a farce. Because the farce was exposed, it had nothing enduring to offer. It was fun, but now we are beyond all that. This is not true.
It mistakes the path for the summit. It mistakes the stream for the source.
When a seed is buried in the earth and watered, it cracks wide open. It grows pale and the shell rots. The root slowly reaches down for stability, and the shoot pierces that barren earth. The years of playing at sanctity were the seed, and they have fallen away. The girl who lived as a seed is no longer a seed, but is broken and growing up. I reach for the Sun because I died.
My days do not look now like they did when I was 22, or 24, or 27. It does not mean that I'm starting all over again every time a new child is given or a new crisis strikes. When I am able to sit in a church for an hour in silence, it is water to my soul. When I can get to the Sacrament of Confession, I am complete and whole and healed.
I can no longer brag that I say the entire Rosary every day (the 3-year-old cries), wear a mantilla to Mass (the babies tear it off), fast every day of Lent (angry mommies are a near occaision of sin for children), and have read all of Benedict XVI's encyclicals. Instead, I boast in the strength of Christ, because soon He will be all I have.
It is easy to mourn the "glory days." I still hear old men exclaim, "College! The best years of my life!" They were beautiful years, but not the best. This is better, because it is closer to home. I'm not a puppy any more (more like a juvenile!), and I want to be a big dog.