By Misty Mealey
I became a Maronite Catholic on New Year's Day. I was so excited to begin 2010 embracing my true spiritual heritage as a Maronite!
Eight years ago, I converted from atheism at St. Veronica Catholic Church in northern Virginia. A few years later, my husband, Tom, and I moved to Roanoke Virginia. Pregnant with our third child in three years, I dispatched Tom our first weekend there to the Knights of Columbus Superbowl party with instructions to “find us some good Catholic friends!” He did and it was those friends who invited us to attend their parish, St. Elias Maronite Catholic Church.
The first time I attended the Divine Liturgy, it was both confusing and compelling. It was so different from what I was used to, but I was drawn to the unmistakable reverence and majesty of it. Soon, we joined the St. Elias family.
At times, I struggled to adapt to Eastern spirituality. As an adult convert, I had devoured books about the faith and enjoyed theological discussions. But when I asked our Maronite priest theological questions, his answers often seemed vague. It took me a long time to understand that there is a reason the sacraments are called “mysteries” in the Eastern churches. It's not because the East lacks theological prowess, but rather, it rejects the theological precision that attempts to reduce God and his gifts down to a science. My analytical nature, along with years of studying apologetics, made it difficult to appreciate this “big picture” perspective.
It also could be challenging to have one foot in the Eastern church and one in the West. I was a Latin-rite Catholic, but I attended a Maronite parish. Which holy days was I going to observe? Then there were the differences in feast days. One Feast of the Epiphany, I taught our children about the magi. Then we attended the Divine Liturgy and learned about Christ's baptism in the Jordan. My children wanted to know if the magi had been baptized, too, after giving their gifts.
It was a conversation with Sister Marla Marie of the Maronite Servants of Christ the Light that finally illuminated what made Maronite spirituality unique: it is biblically- and liturgically-based. That helped me understand why I felt so much peace after each Divine Liturgy and why I was drawn to study Scripture more often.
I didn't appreciate how Maronite spirituality would serve me until our fourth child died in utero in 2007. Afterward, I was desperate to understand why God had chosen to end my child's life and allow such suffering into mine. I discovered that the only way to peace was to surrender my need to know all of God's reasons for taking him.
It was the Maronite view of God—that he is a loving father but a great mystery, nonetheless—that helped me understand that it was not necessary (or even possible) to comprehend God fully to believe in his goodness and unconditional love. “When one tries to describe the mystery of God in words, he can only stammer," says St. Ephrem, so aptly. The Maronite Church taught me what it means to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.” It helped me embrace more fully the child-like trust Jesus said we need to attain heaven.
During Holy Week of 2009, I experienced the distinct call to become a Maronite Catholic. I attended several liturgies and was in awe of their exceptional beauty and reverence. I was so joyfully happy and felt privileged to participate in liturgies that gave such glory to God. “You are a Maronite,” I heard whispered in my heart. I knew then that nothing could fit my soul as perfectly as Maronite Catholicism.
Being a Maronite has not come without some sacrifice. As the mother of four young children, I sometimes find the longer services and increased number of holy days challenging. And the first time I heard about the fasting requirements of Great Lent, I almost passed out. A Latin-rite friend joked that the Maronite motto ought to be, “Coming to Jesus the hard way.” But can there be any other way? Jesus promised us that discipleship is inextricably linked to sacrifice. And like a good parent, the Maronite Church challenges me to give more because it knows I need discipline to grow in holiness.
It seems appropriate I would begin my journey in earnest as a member of the Maronite Church during Great Lent. It feels like I have been traveling, but have finally arrived at my true home just in time to join my brothers and sisters in preparing for Our Lord. With my Maronite faith to guide me, I hope to grow ever closer to Jesus in this life and enjoy the gift of being with Him forever in the world to come.
Misty Mealey lives with her husband, Tom, and four children in Troutville, Virginia.