Opening My Heart to the Catholic Church

By Viktoria Rendes If you enjoy sitting meditation, practice sitting meditation. If you enjoy walking meditation, practice walking meditation. But preserve your Jewish, Christian, or Muslim roots. That is the way to continue the Buddha s spirit. If you are cut off from your roots, you cannot be happy. From Teachings On Love, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Practicing with Lotus Buds Sangha on Wednesday nights has become a sacred ritual in my life. My spirit is nourished by the Dharma talks. The quiet sitting and walking meditation with my sisters and brothers firmly grounds me and helps me be present to myself and others.

We all struggle at times to find meaning in "simply" being alive, in our breath, in our daily interactions with each other. Yet at some point, all of us have experienced the joy of being in the present moment, letting go of the past, and not being pulled into the future. The importance of being in the present moment is also part of the Christian tradition. In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says, "Do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will take care of itself." I have found this lesson to be deceptively simple, and so difficult to learn. How many times have I been obsessed with the "destination" and failed to understand that on the journey, I am already there? Humming "/ have arrived, I am home, In the here and in the now" helps me feel grounded in the present.

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As a child, I was baptized into the Catholic Church. My formative years were spent in Austria, a Catholic country. I was sent to the local school, for all intents and purposes, a Catholic school. We prayed in the morning, were taught religious education by the parish priest and the nuns, took part in church-run activities for children, sang in the church choir, and went to mass on Sunday. Life revolved around the parish church and I was happy. But in my teenage years, I began to question the need for organised religion. All I could see was the church's many mistakes. I saw the church as a bastion of repression; I failed to see that within the tradition, there were also people working for justice and peace. By my mid-teens I only went to church to see the boys I fancied. In the vernacular of the time, "We went to church to search."

After 22 years, I have returned to church to search, but this time, it is a different kind of search—a search for my spiritual roots, stillness, meaning and fellowship. The Wednesday night meditation sessions and retreats have offered me stillness, meaning, and fellowship, but deep down, I was cut off from my roots. What motivated me most strongly to take that first tentative step was the celebration of Christmas, which in the Catholic tradition is filled with joy, wonder, and the most beautiful rituals. My three-year-old daughter was old enough to want to understand Christmas, yet this society offered her only a shopping mall experience. So, I took her to church.


The sixth Earth Touching: In gratitude and compassion, I bow down to my ancient spiritual roots. I see myself as a child, sitting in church or synagogue, ready for the sermon or ceremony—Yom Kipper, Holy Communion. I see my priest, pastor, minister, rabbi, and the people of the congregation. I remember how difficult it was to be there and to do things I did not understand or want to do. I know communication was difficult, and I did not receive much joy or nourishment from these services. I felt anxious and impatient. Because of the lack of communication and understanding between my spiritual family and me, I left my rabbi, my pastor, my synagogue, my church. I lost contact with my spiritual ancestors, and became disconnected from them. Now I know there are jewels in my spiritual tradition, and that the spiritual life of my tradition has contributed greatly to stability, joy, and peace of my ancestors for many generations. I know those who practice my spiritual tradition were unsuccessful in transmitting it to me, to us. I want to go back to them to discover the great spiritual values in my tradition, for my own nourishment and the nourishment of my children and their children. I want to connect again with my ancient spiritual ancestors and get their spiritual energy flowing freely to me again. I see Moses, Jesus, and so many others as my spiritual ancestors. I see teachers over many generations in these traditions as my spiritual ancestors, and I bow n to all of them in the present moment.

Bowing down deeply and letting these words touch my heart, I have been able to take another step along my path and open my heart to the Catholic Church. What surprised me most, however, was that the church was there ready to receive me. I was rather apprehensive that first time I returned. In the beginning, I sat self-consciously, aware that I had forgotten much of the ritual. Then I let go and listened. I saw people get up and read from the Bible. The priest read from the Gospel and then brought it alive by making it relevant to our lives. There were clear parallels between what he was doing and the Dharma talks on Wednesday nights. Coming from different traditions, both were giving the same message. I could not help but express my gratitude to Father John afterwards.

Since then, I have gone regularly to church while continuing with the Wednesday night meditation. One never fails to enrich the other. I am still not fully reconciled with the Catholic Church, but I have faith that this reconciliation will take place in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks to the Buddha's teachings, I have been able to make an important step, but still the journey remains. May each of my footsteps be grounded in the present. May I walk the path with peace in my heart.

Viktoria Rendes, Stability of the Source, lives in Australia. She practices with the Lotus Buds Sangha.

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