I dress in my Sunday best. I arrive in time to take a seat next to her mother and grandmother. I tuck the narrow gold satin ribbon into the page for hymn #483. Simultaneously I’m an outsider and I am at home.
It is confirmation day for young Sophia, whom I have known since she was born. She walks slowly down the aisle. Covering her floor-length red robe is a white cape with a red cross and “PHILOMENA” in big block letters of red felt. The organ fills Saint Cecilia’s Cathedral as the procession of the baptized now prepare to make meaningful vows.
I grew up Catholic, attending mass six days a week for years. On this day, what touched me deeply as a girl still moves me. The singing of ancient hymns, the ceilings going up to the sky, the richly carved wood, the bold blues and brilliant reds of stained glass. The sense that something important was about to happen.
When I was a young teen like Sophia, I took similar vows. Like her, I chose my confirmation name. I picked Margaret, not for Saint Mary Queen of Scots, but for my real-life saint named Margaret.
Margaret was my mother’s best friend. She and her first husband had no children. On Sunday afternoons I escaped my seven siblings for the refuge of their tiny three-room house. Margaret sewed my First Communion and homecoming dresses, taught me to crochet the edge of a pillowcase, and baked candy cane cookies at Christmas. She took me to see my first movie—The Sound of Music—and made a noble attempt to teach me to play the piano.
Today I am among the growing percentage of people in our country who have no religious affiliation. I stopped attending Sunday mass during the years when the experience often left me angry rather than peaceful, judgmental rather than loving, and frustrated rather than fulfilled. My path to spiritual growth got rocky. These days my Sunday mornings are likely to be meditative and contemplative in solitude.
But on this Sunday, with all of my mixed emotions about the absence on the altar of a woman in a robe, the use of language that even my law degree doesn’t help me understand, and the thought that my sins prohibit me from receiving the thin white host of wheat, I am fully present and glad to be.
Celebrating a confirmation into an institution that I abandoned is complicated. But the choice to be present was simple. The ritual. The beauty. A memory of Margaret. A chance to sing alleluia. And mostly, my love of Sophia.
Who have been the saints in your life?
Where can you find beauty or peace in your everyday life?
What helps you make choices when life is complicated?