I live in a town that is dominated by LDS culture, which is a distinct American subculture all its own. Music, books, daily interactions – in some ways, living here is like living in a different country.
My wife and children are LDS. I don’t make any apologies for that, but I also don’t recommend it. Of course, I love my family deeply, but there is a wall there. When my wife and I got married, I wasn’t actively participating in any religion and can’t say that I fully understood the Mormon faith. I still can’t say that. Knowing what I know now, though, I don’t know that I’d change anything. The differences are much more difficult for my wife than they are for me, and that does make me sad. Getting into that would be a doctrinal discussion, and that’s not what I’m interested in talking about today.
What I do want to talk about is what I appreciate about the LDS culture. I recall my unfounded fear as I prepared to move here. I was familiar with many people here because I was commuting in from an hour away for work, but I knew the people I worked with, not anyone from town. I would NOT call the place I lived in at that time (Pocatello, Idaho) culturally Mormon. My obvious concern was that I was not LDS and wasn’t planning to be LDS, having already been through the missionary teachings and concluded that I needed to be looking into the Catholic church again. I knew from high school that Mormons were tight-knit, so I wasn’t sure how I would like being an outsider.
Non-LDS people didn’t help, either. I recall an internet acquaintance at the time telling me I was in for deep trouble, and moving here was a giant mistake. A few years later, when I was attending mass again, my priest told me that after seven years of marriage, “they” would really “turn on the heat”, and I needed be ready for that. My feeling at the time was that I liked my job, so living here was worth a try. If things got uncomfortable, I could always find another job and move.
Here I am, 13 years later, plenty comfortable. If any “heat” has been turned on, I haven’t noticed it. As a matter of fact, my experience here has been very good. Yes, there have been lots of religious discussions over the years, but they have never, ever been heated. After I’m done typing this, I am going to the LDS service (called “sacrament meeting”) to see my son play his violin with the choir and my wife sing a duet with another church member. At first, I was very uncomfortable doing this, but not because of anything anyone did or said. They have always made me feel very welcome. Now, attending services is old hat. I know everyone, they know me, they know I am Catholic, and everything’s just fine.
My rule has become this: I attend LDS services whenever something special is happening, like today’s Christmas service. If there’s not, I stay home and spend my Sunday reading or writing. (Mass here is celebrated on Friday nights, when a priest is available to come to town.)
The culture here suits me in a lot of ways. This is a very pleasant place to live, most of the time. It’s very safe compared to other places. People take care of each other. These are all good things. Reverence for Joseph Smith, re-enactments of handcart crossings, in-depth geneology, and scouting are things that are constant staples of life here. I don’t participate in those kinds of things, and have never been pressured to do so.
The LDS missionary system, for both young people and retirees, is something I’ve grown to respect a great deal. Sacrifice is something that LDS people are asked to do that Catholic people simply aren’t. We Catholics have to search for that opportunity, while in LDS culture it’s not only expected, but they provide a clear structured way to do it. This creates another interesting aspect of LDS culture – there are a LOT of people here who speak second languages. I know people who have lived two years of their young adult lives in Italy, Germany, Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and Panama, just to name a few. Folks serve for two years, and they pay to do it, above their normal tithing. It’s admirable.
There are numerous differences between the LDS faith and Catholicism. They are NOT compatible by any stretch of the imagination. We don’t speak the same language. (In fact, one of the keys to understanding Mormonism is to know that they use a lot of the same terms as Catholics, but the terms rarely have the same definitions.) Still, the aim for the people of both religions is similar. We want to live good lives. We share a LOT of common viewpoints about the world outside our religions. These common things can and should help us live together.
I am blessed with a great family, a great town to live in, and great friends of many different faiths. Thank you God, for all my many blessings.
PRAYER OF ST. ALPHONSUS
Jesus Christ, my God, I adore Thee and I thank Thee for the many favors Thou hast bestowed on me this day. I offer Thee my sleep and all the moments of this night, and I pray Thee to preserve me from sin. Therefore, I place myself in Thy most sacred side, and under the mantle of our Blessed Lady, my Mother. May the holy Angels assist me and keep me in peace, and may Thy blessing be upon me.