My Faith Journey,
Hello. My name is Mary Ann Arsenault. I am married to Jim Albulov, and I have three grown children, Mark, Anna and Max, one daughter in law, Brea, two grandchildren, Holden and Josie, a dog, and more family than anyone can probably count!
I am one of the multitudinous Arsenault-McMillan clan. You may know my Father, George Arsenault, and you may have known my Mother, Delores Arsenault, who passed away in January 2014. I have brothers and sisters who attend this church, Sue McMillan, Marty and his wife Donna, Steve and his wife Sharon, and Margaret Roache and her husband Paul, and their children, all of whom are lifetime parishioners here at St. Clare.
My story is a little different than theirs.
I am a new parishioner who joined St. Clare a little over a year ago, and this is a story of how my faith journey led me to this place, and back to the Catholic Church.
I was raised Catholic, and went to Catholic schools for 12 years. When my daughter was young, we were at church one day, and she asked why she couldn’t be an altar server. I didn’t have an answer for her then (and I know it is different now). It may seem like such a small thing, but that was the beginning of the end for me. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I had increasingly come to feel that the church was closing its doors to me, and to others. It had become an exclusive club for the very good, the very holy, and those absolutely sure of themselves and their place with God. It was not a place for those on a faith journey. The more time passed, the more I felt this way. The church didn’t want me, and I didn’t want it. And I felt that way for a long, long time.
I found another church after a while, that I attended for 8 years, and became very active in. It was a Christian denomination called the United Church of Christ.
It is hard to go to a new church by yourself-and I am not a shy person. (as my family will tell you!) But, I noticed that when I came there, the people were very welcoming, friendly, and non-judgmental. It was these people, some of whom have become my very dear life friends, and the Minister and his wife, who showed me what a faith community could, and should be.
However, the Minister eventually retired, and I stopped going to church entirely. And I didn’t think I was missing a thing. I know better now.
I think we all have a need for spiritual nourishment. Of course we need the basic things: food, shelter, clothing, health care, but after those are taken care of, or really, often while those are being taken care of, we have a need for spiritual sustenance too.
Part of that sustenance is prayer, and part may be attendance at a religious service. But I think that part of that need is the need for a spiritual community of faith. I hear many people nowadays, say that they are spiritual, but not religious. And many of these people are very spiritual, and very good people. But that can also be a lonely place, by yourself.
I think one aspect of spiritual nourishment is belonging to a place, where you are part of something bigger than yourself. A place where no matter where you are on your spiritual journey, you are welcome, and can pray with others on the same journey you are on, to our Father, God.
However, whenever God wants me to do something, or get me somewhere, he finds ways to do it, that I don’t even realize, until after it is done. That is because I am as thick as a brick, and God realizes that, and knows that subtle is never going to work on me.
So, how did God do this, so that I am here now, talking to you.
Well, first He softened me up. After Pope Francis was elected, I began to listen to the things he was saying. My son, Mark , sent me articles about him, from Rolling Stone, and the New Yorker magazines, of all places. And the more I heard what Pope Francis was saying, and the more I read about him, the more I came to love him. His humility, his goodness, his love for the poor got to me.
He described the church as a field hospital for the wounded. He washed the feet of those in a juvenile detention center, and when they asked him why, he replied he did not have to explain something he did out of love. And yet his face was often joyful. These things were not a burden to him; this was what being a Catholic, being a Christian was all about. I started to pay attention.
Then when my Mother Delores Arsenault got sick, and I knew that at some point, she would leave us, I also knew that I would come back to attend Mass with my Father, George Arsenault. No matter what I felt about the church, I would be here with him on Sundays.
And so after my Mom passed away, that is what I did. And God knew that I would do this, even though every Sunday from mid January 2014 to the beginning of April 2014, there was a snowstorm that I had to drive through, getting here from Livonia. I am not kidding.
Once I started coming to St. Clare, I realized that the people were very friendly and welcoming. I began to pay attention to the Mass, and the prayers of the Mass I had often taken for granted, I began to really think about, and mean them when I said them. I also started listening to Father Andrew’s homilies closely, and I realized that they were very insightful, and many of them stayed with me. I still remember his homily on the sign of the cross (the head, the Father Creator; the heart, Jesus as Love; the Holy Spirit on each shoulder going outward ; I still remember his guided meditation about Lazarus: roll away the stone; Lazarus come out; unbind him.
I decided to join the parish in March or April of last year, thinking I may as well, since I am contributing money every week anyway, and this way I will have a record of my contributions. I know….. it’s a pretty lame reason, …but God knew better. After I joined, I began to feel a part of the something bigger I talked about, part of a faith family. And it was a good feeling.
The final piece came when Sr. Kathy got up one day in the pulpit, and talked about getting Greeters at every door of the church to welcome people coming in. That was it! When those sign up sheets were posted, I practically sprang out of my pew to get my name on there, because I thought it was so important. And funny thing, it has been for me…and hopefully for those coming in the door. I have made new friends since being a Greeter, which is great, but more importantly, people coming to this church are now greeted at every door, and welcomed, and made to feel that we as a community are glad you are here. To me, that is what one holy catholic and apostolic church means.
I know I have not spoken much about a miraculous moment in my life (and there have been many from God, and the communion of saints who have preceded us to heaven, [one of which is the fact that my husband, Jim, who was diagnosed with cancer on our anniversary in 1996, and was told he had a 40% chance to make it, and I was told privately by his Doctor to get our affairs in order because this cancer had a very poor prognosis, is here 19 years later. We celebrated out 30th anniversary here in this church on January 4th. That is a miracle from God.]
And I know I have not spoken about a revelation in my relationship with God in this talk. I am not sure there is one, except that I am here now, not out of guilt, not out of fear, not out of obligation, but out of my own free will, choosing to accept what God has placed in front of me. Maybe that is the revelation I am supposed to have.
I truly feel that God has guided me to a place here at St. Clare, that he wants me to be at, that He knows is good for me at this time-and for that I am truly and humbly grateful to Him, and I thank Him for this. So, my resurrection story, like all of our resurrections stories…are to be continued.
I am grateful to Frs. Andrew and Tom for their leadership, their example of what it means to be a Catholic, their holiness, and for opening the doors of this church again.
I am grateful to the choirs here, and to Ron Kotz, and Dave Troiano (who is a TREASURE) for the beautiful music here.
I am grateful to Sr. Kathy for her goodness, her tireless work here, and for her leadership.
I am grateful to all those who help to keep St. Clare church and school going, and there are so many, many of you.
I am grateful to my family and friends, who with their love and support have kept me going on this journey.
But most of all, I am grateful to all of you, the parish community of St. Clare de Montefalco church, who have welcomed people just like me, and people not like me, to this faith family. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, and God Bless You All.
Mary Ann Arsenault
May 10, 2015