There is Some Blue Sky! Let Us Chase it!

“Speak about Christ only when you are asked. But live so that people ask about Christ!” exclaimed Paul Claudel. Claudel, a 20th Century French poet, dramatist and diplomat, was a revert to his Roman Catholic faith. When he was 18 years old, he was an agnostic; then, during Christmas day Mass, he had a mystical vision. He reported that he heard voice say, “There is a God.”

Paul Claudel in 1927

I have high hopes that World Youth Day 2011 in Madrid will produce such a voice in more people’s heads, both participants and those who witness the pilgrims. The youth of this world have much to offer, through their steadfastness to God’s laws, and their faith and love of God. WYD is where almost a million young people come together in fellowship, so as to not let anyone “have contempt for your youth, but [to] set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity” (1 Timothy 4:12).

Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the young people in Madrid, saying, “Many of them have heard the voice of God, perhaps only as a little whisper, which has led them to search for him more diligently and to share with others the experience of the force which he has in their lives. The discovery of the living God inspires young people and opens their eyes to the challenges of the world in which they live, with its possibilities and limitations.”

He went on to say, “They see the prevailing superficiality, consumerism and hedonism, the widespread banalisation of sexuality, the lack of solidarity, the corruption. …They know that, without God, it would be hard to confront these challenges and to be truly happy, and thus pouring out their enthusiasm in the attainment of an authentic life.”

This topic is a seed falling on fertile soil for so many young Catholics. In USA Today, Anna Williams wrote a column about how “For These Millennials, Faith Trumps Relativism.” Williams writes that the liberation from moral creeds and orthodoxy has betrayed us, and that “the inevitable results are not personal fulfillment and communal harmony but selfishness and social breakdown.”

At LiveAction, Thomas Peters posted a question from Yahoo! Answers, where an 18-year-old girl was looking for a free abortion because she is “not ready for a child” and cannot use her own money, “because [she is] saving to buy a new iphone.”

 

 

My heart cries for this girl, who is in a situation where one should be filled with joy, and instead is seeking to terminate possible happiness because the gratification will not be immediate. A child is a continuation of humanity, not a burden on the earth. This is an accessible example of how desperately our culture needs God and the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church on issues of moral and faith.

Spain, though a traditionally Catholic country, is suffering spiritually. This is one reason Madrid was picked as WYD’s location. Spain’s Prime Minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, clashes with the Church over the issue of abortion and has helped change Spanish law to make it easier for women procure abortions, including removing many of the restrictions.

Earlier this month, the Vatican announced that any woman at WYD who confesses to participating in an abortion will be forgiven and once again in the body of the Catholic Church. According to Canon 1398, “a person who procures a successful abortion incurs an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.” WYD is a tangible reaching out to those women, and offering them hope for fuller life in Christ.

To ask for forgiveness in the Church is the first step towards true repentance and amending one’s life. This is why reconciliation is a sacrament in the Church, and the necessity of forgiveness on a human level alongside God’s grace. I pray that this special emphasis at WYD 2011 on forgiving abortions will help with more spiritual and emotional healing, a renewal of the Culture of Life, and to give more people the courage to witness against the evil of abortion.

Papa B celebrating the Sacraments

Our Papa B. knows there will be no lack of difficulties in the future of the Church. He says, ” But, with all my heart I say again to you young people: let nothing and no one take away your peace. Do not be ashamed of the Lord. He did not spare himself in becoming one like us and in experiencing our anguish so as to lift it up to God, and in this way he saved us.”

In the poem “L’otage,” Claudel wrote, “There is something sadder to lose than life – the reason for living;/ Sadder than to lose one’s possessions is to lose one’s hope.”

The sacrament of forgiveness gives hope to us fallen humans. The fellowship in the Church gives us a hand to guide us. Secularism is stifling because it individualistic and offers no redemption, no alternative to live, than beyond a person’s own wants and needs. But in Christ, there is more: “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance” (Romans 8:24-25).

Claudel was given the fundamental understanding in this world: there is a God. Moreover, our God gives us hope. Hope for our life, hope for eternal life, hope for redemption, hope for understanding of pain and suffering, hope for happiness; our sanctification comes from this hope. WYD is a tangible sign of hope in the world, but so are each of our individual lives. We are to testify for Christ, and how knowing him has shaped our life, and given us joie de vivre.  Let us go then, you and I, and proclaim our hope, show our joy, and live authentically for Christ. Vive Jesus!

Echoes of an Unsung Lullaby

Somewhere in my mind’s many rooms,
I hear a sound I dimly recognize–
Faint and ghostly, not quite clear–
A sound more haunting than piercing,
So distant yet so familiar to my ear:
‘Tis the echo of a song I didn’t sing.

I’m haunted by the echoes in my mind,
The echoes of a lullaby left unsung.

I can almost recall the melody,
I can almost speak the words,
The tune is nearly mine to hum:
Yet to sing this lullaby I am denied–
The very thought has left me numb–
By this song and my guilt am I decried.

I despair of hearing that accusing sound,
The echo from lullaby which was never sung.

I can but weep and beg of you who hear,
To listen to my cautionary tale,
The road I’ve not walked seemed long,
But though arduous may the journey be,
The way is filled with laughter and song,
But to stray is the path to misery.

How–I am tormented!–could I possibly know,
An unsung lullably leaves the loudest echo?

Sweet mercy may be granted even to a wretch,
Though it moves through channels mysterious,
And in time all may be lovingly reconciled
The sadness and sorrow which once I knew,
Has given me a heart both meek and mild–
The courage to confess and to be blessed anew.

Only now do these torturous echoes die down:
I hear the lullaby as sweet music to be sung.

 

—–

Reprinted with permission from the Nicene Guys, inspired by news of absolution from World Youth Day.

 

The Truth Is

I think I responded yes before I finished reading the invitation to write for virtuospla.net. In hindsight prudence would say I probably should have taken some time to prayerfully discern my involvement or obtained advice from a spiritual mentor. The truth is I’ve been waiting for something like this for six years…

Let me explain.

In my finest college days, Catholicism was a term I lived loosely; my identity was first and foremost a college student, and much further down the list possibly a weekend Catholic. To make matters worse I had an inability to relate to other “Catholic” students on campus, at least the practicing ones.

When I began questioning my faith it was more important than ever for me to find other Catholics living the faith who could assure me in my quest to re-discover Catholicism, but I simply couldn’t. I surely could have found plenty of apologetics resources or arguments for the existence of God but that’s not what I wanted, that wasn’t enough. I needed someone I could relate to and trust show me God exists. As backwards as this denial of logical reasoning is, I think most young adults find that much of their own reasoning is not only based on their own subjective experience, but also the subjective experience of others. Fact and truth has been replaced by advice and feeling.

Which brings me to my point, the beauty of virtuospla.net.

As I’ve heard it said, truths are good, living truths are better. There is a saint for every person, profession, vocation and country, and for all the variety of young adults out there there is a young adult living the faith from a similar background.

Thats why I’m so happy to be a part of this initiative. Looking through the contributers’ bios, you can see the great differences and life experiences each writer faces, yet the communion of our Catholic faith continues to bring us together.  These are young adults who are really living the faith.

The truth is young adult Catholics don’t need watered down teaching. They don’t need laser light shows after communion accompanied by Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”. Young adult Catholics need peers they can relate to, living the Gospel authentically and sharing the truth, goodness, and beauty they find there.

My hope is that through sharing my own experiences, failings and findings other young adults may benefit. I’m sure I will learn a thing or two about myself in the process.

Spiritual Heirloom

Hello, my name is Elizabeth and I’m repressed. I’m a Catholic woman, after all.

The Bright Maidens movement blossomed out of refuting this very concept. The original conversation between the Bright Maidens was a revolutionary chat ending with “How dare they tell us we’re stifled!? We’ll show them!”

We bought ink by the barrel, *ahem* pixels by the terabyte, and decided to share with the world that Catholicism preserves the Truth and the Truth doesn’t discriminate.

Those who dare to call me repressed (oh, you’d better watch out now!) tell me I am a part of a faith that wants to tie an apron around my waist, keep me from preaching or leading a parish, prevent me from seeking independence from pregnancy, and stay put in the kitchen, silent and subservient.

A) If you try putting me in the kitchen, you’re only punishing yourself.
B) No one is going to be able to silence me. I have no intention of becoming silent.
C) The Church’s teachings do not “condemn” women to these seemingly inescapable futures.

Tappie

My grandmother, Tappie, is one of the best examples of why Catholic women living by the teachings of the Church are not in want of breathing room or freedom.

There were more women than men at the foot of the Cross. Jesus revealed Himself to the woman at the well as the Messiah before He said it to others. And Mary Magdalene was the first person to see and speak to our risen Lord on the third day, Easter Sunday.

The colloquial connotation for “feminism” has nothing to do with it. Just like the apostles were ordinary men with great faith who spread and fostered a sprawling Church, these women were faithful and wholehearted followers of whom they knew to be the Son of God.

Tappie was the strongest woman I’ve ever known and was not oppressed simply by being born a female. Until Tappie’s death in April of this year, my grandmother was a mother to my mom. The old stereotype about evil mothers-in-law never made sense to me because the example I grew up watching was one of Love, albeit a firecracker, spunky Love.

The one-liner queen of the East Coast, Tappie’s wit flicked tension out of any room. God only knows where she found that wit because her father was an abusive man with whom her mother remained faithful, even when his tempers and lust got the better of him.

Searching for a more faithful Love, Tappie found and married my grandfather in her late twenties and began a life with many challenges. There were times when Tappie made $10 for groceries last a week for her four person family.

At one point, Tappie had to step into the protector role to keep her children safe and well-Loved by packing up her two sons and their suitcases. She moved hundreds of miles away with her sons and began a life that inspired my grandfather to be worthy of her.

By the grace of God, my grandfather redeemed himself, that dark phase of their life did not last long, and the spouses reunited. I’m convinced her strength in that moment, which could only be motivated by God due to the lack of support from friends and family, is what turned the situation around.

The importance of a Catholic education for her sons superseded Tappie’s desire for comfort or little luxuries, so she saved pennies to pay for Catholic grade school and high school.

Tappie had a strong devotion to Saint Jude, prayed like God was sitting next to her for her hourly prayer appointment, and thanked Him for her good fortune at Mass regularly.

I watched her sacrifice and do work for others my entire life. At the end of her life, when she could do little for herself and I contrasted her helplessness with her formerly active lifestyle, I saw that she was even stronger than I once believed.

Today 

Mothers traditionally filled the role as teacher for their children. Therefore popes had their starts under the tutelage of their mothers. Mary taught Jesus about God and how to pray.

Women are cornerstones in every single parish I’ve ever visited, teaching, organizing, and selflessly giving to maintain the breathing life of the parish.

So, what was that you were saying about women having no influence on the Church?

My grandmother was abnormally vocal, stubborn, and decisive for her era. She alone debunks the submissive stereotype for Catholic women, but her example also raises the awareness for the vast impact women have on the Church.

She chose her role as a mother and was determined to raise her children in the Catholic faith, even when trials in her path made the easier, secular option more appealing.

Her husband was in awe of her, though they were partners. This woman was the foundation for my father’s childhood. She is the foundation for my adulthood.

There and back again

A hearty greetings to one and all! I would first like to thank our gracious hosts for allowing me the opportunity to post on what is sure to be a great site. In thanks I will comply with their request to post a little bit about myself. I am my favorite topic so I try to avoid writing about myself unless it seems relevant to a given topic.

My name is Colin Gormley, as it says in the author section. I am currently employed as a software developer with the Texas Legislature Council in Austin. My wife is Hyewon Byun who is a Phd currently working as a posts-doc for the University of Texas.

For the most part I was raised a Catholic. My mother comes from a lukewarm Methodist family but converted when my family moved to Texas from New York eons ago. My father is Catholic but it is fair to say that the driving force behind the family’s faith life is my Mom.

It was not until I went to college that I encountered my first real challenge to living the faith. Even during my struggles I always held on to my Faith. My main challenge was more about how to live that life faithfully when the world seemed to reject everything I believed. It was during this time that I experienced a horrible depression and was a functioning agnostic.

Towards my final days in college I moved to another location within the dorms and encountered an Evangelical group with a small faith community. I admired their enthusiasm for Christ and for all intensive purposes was a functioning Evangelical. But even then the truth of the Catholic Faith compelled me to hold on even as I searched for how to live a life true to Christ and His Church.

It was during this time that I developed an interest in apologetics and logical defense of the Catholic Faith. My Evangelical friends had a lot of questions and I needed answers. So I turned to the Internet, that bastion of reliable information. By God’s grace I found Dave Armstrong, Catholic Answers, and an host of other orthodox information.

Eventually it was time for me to leave my Evangelical friends, though that wasn’t entirely my choice at the time. But God again stepped in and through a friend brought me to the University Catholic Center and the University Graduates and Professionals group. Through them and the grace of God I have now come full circle and made the Faith I was raised with my own.

So that is the long and the short of it. I look forward to my fellow contributors’ writings and cannot wait to see this site take off. I hope to offer what I can and I hope you enjoy what I write.

God bless and let’s get rolling…

Madonna and Child

First ever watercolor picture…. many more to come!

Elaine Golden, August 14, 2011

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Elaine-Golden-e1313149812584.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Elaine Golden is seventeen and absolutely loves drawing. She focuses on religious art using pencils and charcoals, but tries many new things. You can check out more of her work at Drawing the Line. Please contact her through her website if you have requests or would like to own some of her art.[/author_info] [/author]

The Catholic’s Guide to Local Pilgrimages

Perhaps you’re among the majority of people who will be celebrating World Youth Day from home this year. Elizabeth shared some wonderful tips earlier on how to get into the spirit of things without having to trek to Spain. But maybe you’re still longing to go on a pilgrimage. What’s a Catholic with wanderlust to do?

“To go on pilgrimage really means to step out of ourselves in order to encounter God where he has revealed himself, where his grace has shone with particular splendour and produced rich fruits of conversion and holiness among those who believe.” – Pope Benedict XVI

Although one can point to any number of iconic Catholic pilgrimage sites – Rome, Lourdes, Fatima – and get discouraged at how prohibitive it may be to visit there, keep in mind that the idea behind any pilgrimage should be the intent to visit somewhere to honor God. These visits should be special in that they offer a fresh perspective and change of pace in your faith that the daily ins and outs of your prayer life may not. You can think of it as a mini-retreat. Just because you can’t make the hike along the Way of St. James doesn’t mean that you can’t find somewhere local to journey to without taking up all your time and money.

Check out where your country’s local saints, blessed, venerables, and servants of God are from. Often the churches associated with them are hidden gems, and they will have many resources for exploring the life of the person being considered for sainthood. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about an up-and-coming saint.

For example, when I was in college, Mother Théodore Guérin was canonized. She happened to have founded the women’s college across town from where I was in school. I wasn’t Catholic at the time, and didn’t think much about what a rare treat it would have been to be there. Now, the sisters at the school have set up a shrine in her honor, and you can visit her tomb and relics.

Keep a running list of places to visit. Or, when you travel, look for local places to visit near your route or your destination. Make a point to build some time into car trips to stop at a local shrine or church. It’s a great way to break up the drive, not to mention an edifying spiritual experience. Make sure that the church is open when you plan on dropping by.

Don’t travel much? Look for what’s nearby and can be done in a day trip, including shrines, cathedrals, basilicas, and historical churches. Ask your priest or parish friends for suggestions. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many small shrines there are near where I live – out in the woods, on the side of the road. This will really connect you with how your faith is rooted to your community.

Google is your friend – trying searching for “shrine near <your town>” to get a map of nearby shrines. Be sure to sift through the results, as you may end up with some unintended suggestions, like the Shriners, or local Buddhist shrines. You can also look through local travel guides – they usually have churches with historical significance.

One of my favorite shrines that I’ve found through this are the Schoenstatt Shrines. Each shrine is a replica of the original in Germany, and it’s wonderful to think about how others are visiting identical shrines all over the world, without the need for me to leave my country. You can see if there’s a Schoenstatt Shrine near you here.

If you find somewhere nearby but out of reach due to transportation, try drumming up interest for a trip through your local parish by organizing a carpool, or even a chartered bus if there’s enough interest. If you’re more traditional, you could even arrange for everyone to make a multiple day hike, like the residents of Illinois who trekked to see the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help in Wisconsin.

Can’t find anything nearby of interest to you? If nothing else, simply try switching up your routine for Sunday Mass. Attend a different church and make a point to learn about their patron saint. Enjoy the change of pace and feeling of camaraderie amongst brothers and sisters in the faith.

A pilgrimage shouldn’t be a burden. Rather, it should be a visit to be enjoyed. While you’re saving up for that anticipated trip down the road, take some time now to familiarize yourself with Catholicism’s history in your own backyard. You’ll be sure to come away with a greater view and appreciation for the Body of Christ.

What are some of your favorite places you’ve visited in the past? What about somewhere you’re hoping to go in the future?

My Non-Apostasy Story

Every convert has a conversion story to tell: often it’s a very fascinating and even compelling story. Even the dullest convert has a tale to tell about himself which is filled with questions, discoveries, with intellectual adventures of sorts, and occasionally with “real life” adventures, a tale with its emotional highs and lows, one of drama and mystery and love. His tale is of a journey, if only an intellectual or moral journey, from his previous state of life and mind to his present Catholic one. I am not a convert, and so this cannot be such a story, yet still I think mine can be told as a long way of introducing myself. What is the conversion experience of a person who never formally converts (or reverts)? If the convert has a conversion story, then I might say that I have a non-Apostasy story, since I was born Catholic and have never left the Church.

I had a very uneventful childhood as a Catholic. Until high-school, my “default” position on all things Catholic was that I would consent to them without giving any though either way. If the Church taught something, then it must be true. To put it in other terms, I was somewhat “sheltered,” but I think that I was even more oblivious. Until I was in middle school, I assumed that everyone believed in God, and that people who believed in God were all some sort of Christian (this, despite having some Jewish friends!), and that most Christians were some sort of Catholic. Sundays were church days, and everyone went, even if we didn’t all go to the same church. For that matter, we didn’t always go to the same church, since we lived roughly at the parish boundary between two parishes:  Saint Joseph’s to the north, and All Souls to the south. The former was a large parish and offered the only Catholic school within our rural county. At St Joseph’s, the homilies were long and boring, but they were how we showed that we were sorry for our sins from the previous week; anyhow, it was more important to know how long they took than to know what was said during these (much to my parents’ chagrin). At All Souls, the poor overworked priest kept the homilies short and sharp–he had to make Glendale (45 minutes further south) by noon for the Mass there; he allowed petitions from the congregation during the Prayers of the Faithful (it was a very small parish), and these made up in duration what the homily lacked. The important part of these prayers was that my brothers and I knew what order the elderly parishioners would say them in, and indeed we would point and mouth (almost always correctly) the petitions moments before they were spoken.

Being Catholic was important, but it was not serious. I was vaguely aware that there were some people who were Christian but not Catholic—these included my Dad’s boss at the time, most of his co-workers, and my Grandparents—but the distinction was confusing enough to me that I simply ignored it. Suffice it to say that I was half-catechized, despite my parents’ (and teachers’) best efforts to get me to learn the Faith. If my childhood was a bit idyllic, then it was also a bit slothful: to me, being Catholic meant going to Mass, occasionally going to confession (especially on those occasions when I did something very bad), and being obedient to my parents (at least in the broadest sense), and loving my neighbor. All things considered, this wasn’t very hard nor unpleasant—even if the whole go to Church, read your catechism thing seemed a bit boring to me.

It was in the eighth grade that I first went to a public school: which was a bit of a culture shock to me. I lived in a rural school-district, so I avoided some of the trauma and drama which I might have encountered in an inner-city school. Still, I was shocked by the general lack of respect among my peers, both in the student-teacher interactions and in the way they treated each other. I also was surprised to discover that I was one of the smart kids—albeit also a very naïve kid—and that most kids did not get A’s in most (let alone all) of their classes, and that this was an acceptable norm in most of their families.

It was some time between middle and high-school that I learned that many of my peers also did not go to church on either Saturdays or Sundays. I also recognized one of my class-mates at church during the Christmas Eve Mass, whom I never had seen before or sense at the church. Suddenly it made sense why we could never gets seats in our parish during Christmas and Easter. My experience for most of my high-school life was as a stranger in a strange land (it didn’t help that I transferred during my junior year), so the atheism and paganism of so many of my classmates really didn’t shake my faith much; I saw their lifestyles, and I simply was not interested.

At the same time as all this was going on, my confirmation classes were to begin. There was a two-fold effect of confirmation classes beginning. The first is that it gave me a (structured) opportunity to learn about my faith and figure out what it was that I believed—though this was often times hampered by poor catechesis. The second is that a (re)-discovered the social aspect of being a Catholic. My family had largely been attending Mass at a very small country church whose parishioner age was, on average, seventy. That average has since increased, both because the parishioners have aged and because my brothers and I—who constituted an actual percentage of total parishioners—have all since moved away. Knowing and spending significant time with fellow Catholics in large numbers was not exactly a new experience—as I mentioned before, I attended a Catholic school for a few years when I was younger—but it was no longer a familiar experience either.

In order for me to get confirmed, my family had to attend the larger parish in Roseburg, St Joseph’s, which had an regular confirmation program. There was a life teen program established at this parish—I think it was the first in the archdiocese—which also meant that suddenly after-Mass socialization was becoming the norm. Such socializing continued by way of having the same core of people go through confirmation—with the mandatory classes and retreats—together.

Unfortunately, there were a few problems with this parish. First, the priest took a strange sort of tack in which he would at times pit us against not only our friends but also our families. We did not get along so well with this priest. Second, many of my peers were even less interested in the “rituals” of being a Catholic than I was. I got the distinct impression that whereas I wanted to get confirmed and felt it my duty before God to go to Mass, they were being dragged through the program as a formality by parents who were themselves only showing up for Mass because they wanted their children to finally get confirmed. I distinctly recall being one of only two boys who wore a tie to the Confirmation Mass–most barely wore t-shirts–and that the good archbishop thanked the two of us personally. This did not endear us to the pastor of St Joseph’s, who had openly encouraged the more casual approach to dressing.

I survived confirmation, and for the first time was actually beginning to take the Faith seriously. I even read (and somewhat enjoyed) the book which my Grandma gave me as a confirmation gift: Fr Thomas Peguy’s “Catechism of the Summa Theologica.” Shortly after my confirmation, there was a wide-spread falling-out between the parish and the Pastor at St Josephs; me family was a part of the “mass”-exodus away form that parish; one result of which was that the average age at the smaller parish dropped to fifty, and there were enough parishioners between the ages of 12-16 that my brothers could get confirmed there. I have only set foot in St Joseph’s once since then, and the priest’s homily was largely a tirade against those “traitorous” parishioners who had gone elsewhere.

By God’s grace my faith survived high school intact, and I left home for college at a secular university. Unfortunately, many of the good Catholics who went with me stopped trying to be good Catholics. I knew about a half-dozen Catholics who I had gone to high-school with and who came with me to OSU. After the first month, I think about about two of us were still attending Mass regularly. Much of the Catholic community there (to say nothing of the university as a whole!) frowned on doctrinal orthodoxy, and many of those who didn’t were attending Mass at their home parishes. The local Newman center did not feel like home, and so I rarely ventured there until my senior year. In short, there was little in the way of social life inside the Catholic community around campus.

Thus, while I continued to attend Mass on Sundays, I went looking elsewhere for community. I found this in a variety of places: the dormitory, the Honors College, the Ballroom dance floor, the pro-life club (through which I met most of my few Catholic friends at OSU), an independent paper with ISI connections, the physics department: all of these provided some community, indeed there was a bit of overlap between many of these groups. However, arguably the most important of these organizations was an evangelical Protestant community with which I got involved (as the honorary Catholic member). I can fairly say that for much of my time at Oregon State, my church was St Mary’s and my community was the Campus Crusade for Christ.

A fine enough community this was, and I have many friends who were at some point involved in this organization. Actually, I think that every one of my roommates from sophomore year on was active in “Cru,” and some of my closest friends to this day are people I met during the Wednesday night praise and worship sessions. I learned quite a lot about ecumenism from my time spent with this group. Moreover, I can say that while it wasn’t the Church, it did give me some appreciation for why some Catholics leave the Church, which is the lack of authentic community at many parishes. I’ll also admit to missing the Thursday night Bible studies at our favorite pub, which were organized loosely by my roommates and I but often attended by our other friends, most of whom were Cru regulars. My experiences with Cru did indeed help to keep my Christian faith alive, for I now had a community of friends to help me weather the storm of secularism which I found on campus.

Oddly enough, it was this Protestant organization which has done the most to really strengthen my Catholicism, at least from a direct and intellectual perspective. Cru provided a combination which I had never really faced before: that of people who were dedicated and thoughtful Christian who were at the same time distinctly not Catholics–and who recognized that I was a Catholic. Actually, I was for the most part the only Catholic who regularly attended their events, which made me something of a curiosity to many of them. “Wait, you mean Catholics are Christian!” was a common response from some of them. Others had a reaction which was closer to, “Wait, you think Catholics are Christian?”

Between my curious friends and my more antagonistic ones—to say nothing of the antagonistically curious and curiously antagonistic folks in between—I was asked a lot of questions about Catholicism. This was my “crisis” moment, that is, the moment at which I had to really ask myself whether or not I believe all of the Church’s doctrinal teachings, and whether I accepted all of her dogmatic conclusions. It is the time during which I transitioned from being a passive Catholic whose faith was always there in the background to being an active one who desired to really know my faith and understand it; during which I transitioned from consenting to the doctrines of the Faith to questioning them to assenting to (and at times even asserting) them. I should note here that I struggled with a few doctrines here and there—it made me realize that I really didn’t understand my faith much at all, though here and there I was surprised to find that I knew more than I’d thought, just from listening to the readings at Mass and other sundry reasons of “hidden” catechesis. And though I struggled at times to understand or explain, I was always willing to give the Church the benefit of the doubt, to assume that maybe the reason why I couldn’t see why the Church taught such and such was because my knowledge and understanding were incomplete, and not just because the Church was wrong or making stuff up.

One additional favor which Cru did for me was that they taught a couple of short apologetics courses. These attempted to provide a defense of Christianity, and not merely from the Bible but from physical, philosophical, and historical evidence and arguments. Since I was attending a secular university which was by-and-large antithetical to orthodox Christianity, I very quickly became interested in this. And since many of my new friends were curious about–and often suspicious of and even occasionally hostile towards–Catholicism, I wondered if this branch of theology could be extended into a defense and/or explanation of Catholicism. I began with Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ” and “The Case for Faith,” but then discovered G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” and James Cardinal Gibbon’s “The Faith of Our Fathers;” I read C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity,” but eventually found Fr Dwight Longenecker’s “More Christianity.” And while Strobel and Lewis and Schaeffer (and even Chesterton) made the case for Christianity, Chesterton and Newman and Keating (and all the fine folks at Catholic Answers) and a host of others were helping me to see the case for Catholicism. The former showed that it was a historical fact that Christ lived and died and rose again, but the latter showed that He also established one holy Catholic and apostolic Church to guide His people and to preserve the Faith against corruption and error. The merely Christian apologists argued that Christ’s rebukes of Peter were evidence that the gospels were true; the Catholics argued that these passages showed that the Church is true.

For perhaps the second time in my life, I became intellectually interested in both Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. But unlike with the first time, where this curiosity extended to a single interesting book, the second time has stuck with me. The second time I had a sense of urgency—literally, because I was finding myself increasingly inundated by both well-meaning and antagonistic questions about my faith. If I was too slothful to ever ask these questions for myself, then God gave me the gift of friends who would ask those questions for me. And if I had previously been uninterested in finding the answers, God gave me enough spiritual patriotism to desire defenses.

It was not lacking in certain small sacrifices. I discovered that I enjoyed apologetics: which became in turn the gateway to reading more of the Church’s theology. However, like the Pevensie children in in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” I discovered that these gifts were tools, and not (merely) toys. My faith was tested in little ways—the allure of sin, the desire for the approval of my friends (who were mostly Protestants), the occasional doubt to which I alluded above. The greatest temptation I faced during all of this time was to trust too much in my new-found abilities to understand and defend—indeed, to conflate the two. It was a sort of pride, to believe that I could defend every doctrine or teaching of the Church easily, if it was actually true. This caused me to have more trouble with those doctrines which I could not easily defend—or which required greater effort to defend—so that, though I gave the Church the benefit of the doubt for certain doctrines, I also despaired of those doctrines. They were true, but I didn’t want to touch them otherwise with a ten foot pole.

There was the flip side of that coin, which was to believe that people were being dishonest if they continued to attack a doctrine after I had given a defense of it; or if they refused to drop everything and to become Catholics once I had answered some objection or other. The same might be extended, incidentally, to my interaction with people who were not Christian at all. I suppose that it had not yet occurred to me that not everybody is convinced by the same evidence. I wanted a faith which could be proved, and not merely one to which I could give honest intellectual assent.

There was also a bit of trial of patience (and charity, for that matter) during this time, especially during my senior year at Oregon State. During this year, I had four roommates, all of whom were evangelical Protestants. We also hosted a few get-togethers, which were dominated by still more evangelical Protestants. Actually, I think that there were at most three other Catholic who visited my apartment during my senior year. Of these myriad Protestants, most were quite fair-minded, and if they had ever been coldly ant-Catholic before, many eventually warmed somewhat to Catholicism. They weren’t about to convert, but they would at least acknowledge that Catholicism was in fact a form of Christianity, albeit a separate one from Protestantism; some would even grant that the two were both separate and equal.

One roommate, however, had cooled off a bit toward Catholicism. It may or may not have had anything to do with the fact that he warmed up to it enough to date a Catholic girl, a relationship which didn’t work out. He became somewhat antagonistic towards all things Catholic. I think that all four of my other roommates, as well as a handful of friends, will recall one particular incident.

One night, he breezed through the door, looked me straight in the eye, and asked, “JC, what do you think is the thing most important to Catholics which is not also found in Protestantism?”
“Well, ” I began, “I suppose that the sacraments–”
“Right,” he said, cutting me off, “specifically the Eucharist. Here’s why the Church teaching is wrong….”

Incidents like this were blessedly few, but they certainly do have a tendency to try my patience.

By the time I finished my undergrad degree, I was finally at peace knowing that I could not convert everybody–and that I did not need to. A few years later it occurred to me that I could not convert anybody. Combined, these are among the most liberating realizations a zealous apologist can have, because they means that I no longer need to blame myself, or feel as though my arguments all fail simply because they fail to convert somebody. Actually, there is something which I more-or-less missed at the time but became aware of later, which is that some (perhaps many) of my friends did undergo a sort of conversion–and a very important one–since many admitted to having previously been somewhat anti-Catholic.

I left Oregon for Texas (with a brief stop in California), where I entered graduate school. The young-adult scene in Austin is far more vibrant than in Corvallis, and not merely as a result of a difference in the two cities’ sizes. Most of my good friends in Texas are fellow Catholics, and indeed are happily orthodox in their beliefs. Thus, for the first time my faith community and my social community are largely one and the same, and I’ve finally experienced the pleasure of discussing my faith with other people who actually agree with me. I do not regret any of my friendships with Protestants, and I do admit whole-hearted gratitude from what many of them taught me (or otherwise induced me to learn). I must also admit that while it was easier to try to be a good Christian in my undergraduate days because I was surrounded by good Christian friends, it is also much easier to try to be a good Catholic now that I am surrounded predominantly by good Catholic friends. And all this is true even if I am not tempted to become an atheist or a Protestant (respectively). It is great relief to know that I can, for example, have theological discussions without getting bogged down in apologetics, much as I still do enjoy the latter. It is nice to know that I can vent my frustrations concerning (say) the irreverence of a colleague towards the pope without having to the defend papal authority.

I still see challenges and question to my faith, both from my old friends who continue to correspond with me and (in a different way) from a number of my colleagues (I work in a department dominated by atheists and agnostics). These are, however, often more a challenge against patience (and charity) than faith, in that they really haven’t caused me much doubt. Concerning most Protestants and fair-minded atheists, I find that a lot can be cleared up quite pleasantly with simple dialogue–that much of the suspicion on the former’s part and opposition on the latter’s stems not from malevolence but rather from ignorance. I may continue to face those little everyday pressures to leave the Church against which I must always be on guard; but I find that God never lets us face more than we can handle without also blessing us with His graces. He leads us not into temptation and delivers us from evil, if we but allow Him.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that the most important person in my community of friends is my lovely wife and fellow cradle Catholic, Rebecca. The tale of how we met is best saved for another day, but suffice it to say that we did meet at UT’s Catholic center–we were both a part of the pro-life ministry there–and that she has been the most supportive person in helping me to grow in the “spiritual” side of Catholicism. I can hope that I have helped her to grow in the Faith as well (she assures me that I do). We are both lay members of the Order of Preachers, and thus are able to help each other to grow in this special vocation and this part of the Catholic community together. She has been a frequent source of joy in my life.

The majority of my close friends are now Catholics, and active, faithful ones at that:  so I now have a community to turn to in times of struggle who supports my Catholicism and not merely my Christianity. I am moreover blessed with the love of my wife, and the promise that so long as we two both live we shall each have each other’s support and companionship in our ongoing journey in the Faith. These are among God’s graces to help me along my faith journey, even if it never leads me far from home. I should add as one final note to this reflection. I mentioned before that some of my evangelical friends had a sort of conversion away from anti-Catholicism. However, one of these friends moved to Texas (and ultimately to Austin) ahead of me: that friend entered the Catholic Church along with his wife two years ago. The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

Top Five Reasons to Use Your “YOUCAT”

UPDATE TO ALL: I understand that there are issues with the YOUCAT. (1) It is not the actual Catechism nor should it be treated as such. (2) Some of the ambiguities can stimulate conversation and some of which are just in the Italian translation. (3) In an age where millions of young Catholics are terribly under-Catechized (many nominal at best), I don’t see how this resource will be damaging if it inspires many to engage their faith for the first time. The books are being handed out whether we want them to or not. Instead of bringing a scandal that is unnecessary, let’s in the words of Blessed JPII say, “Be Not Afraid!”

If you are reading this, maybe you just received your YOUCAT at World Youth Day in Madrid. Maybe you are not in Madrid (sigh), but already have one (like me–sigh again). Likely, you are someone who may have heard about the YOUCAT but don’t have one yet. once you get one, why should you use it?

#1- Because Papa Says So

When your daddy tells you to do something, you probably ought to do it. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI commissioned this project in an effort to unlock the kingdom of God for generations that have been told there is no hope. As the one who holds those keys of the kingdom received from St. Peter through his successors in the Petrine office, the Pope reminded us that “in hope we are saved”, even that our faith is grounded in a certain and confident hope (Spe Salvi). The YOUCAT is your opportunity to study your faith, so that your faith may not fail you (Lk 22:32).

"Read your YOUCAT"

#2- Because It’s YOUR Faith

“You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer.”-PBXVI foreword to the

Its time that when people ask us questions about our faith, we don’t act like a regular tracked students who got shoved into an AP class on accident (Huh?). The beauty of the Catholic faith is that it is simple. The enemy doesn’t want us to know it, so he spreads the evil rumor that Catholicism is like learning origami without hands. Sure the Church has the advantage of 2,000 years of thinking about stuff. Yet it is precisely in her simple, coherent and authoritative (Matt 7:29) teaching that she separates herself from all other teachers, and confounds the wise (1 Cor 1:27).

 

The Catholic faith has been, is and will always  be about an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ (PBXVI, Deus Caritas Est). We encounter the Risen Christ in the Sacraments of His Church, especially the Eucharist, precisely because we are humans and not angels. We touch, we taste, we smell, hear and see that God is good and his mercy endures forever (Ps 34:8). Learning your faith–with tools like the YOUCAT–empowers you to “know in him you have believed” (2 Tim 1:12).

#3- Because We Got One

The YOUCAT is not the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It’s aredacted, representation of the teachings of the  Church (CCC) in a format conducive to our image driven, too-little-time-for-much culture. Some religions don’t know what they believe. Some pretend they don’t believe anything. As Catholics, our Church is led by the Holy Spirit to infallibly proclaim the Truth (Magisterium). As such, we–as church–are people who believe.

Using the YOUCAT makes a lot of sense. If you had a debit card with a million dollars in an account, you would use it. YOUCAT=Ditto.

#4- Because Your Friends Deserve It

Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Heck, friends don’t let friends get drunk. Great friends will not only keep you out of trouble but will place you on the path to life. As young Catholics, our friendships must include a dynamic engagement of our faith. Faith should not be compartmentalized but should pervade every area of our lives. Knowing your faith is a service to your friends–a service to heaven.

#5- The Truth is the Truth

Remember, the YOUCAT is not the Catechism of the Church. it’s kind of like an official sermon meant for young Catholics.  An über faithful sermon.

Some criticize the YOUCAT‘s copious quotations from non-Catholics, but I like them. St. Paul was always apt at redeeming truth wherever he found it, and in a world where the Church has been painted as outmoded and irrelevant, the YOUCAT does a good job of putting the Church right back into the heart of the cultural conversation. I cannot see how it hurts that a catholic might, in the course of sharing his or her faith, make a reference to a more popularly known figure (there are a ton of saint quotes too). In fact, that is precisely the kind of evangelism we need to foster amongst young Catholics who find themselves living everyday in a more and more secular world.

For a full review written by another contributor for this site, Brandon Vogt, check it out here.

You can buy the YOUCAT here.

Like what I had to say? Hate it? Check me out at my blog where I discuss why I’m Catholic and other things about that @ www.almostnotcatholic.com

Tapas for World Youth Day

Planted and built up in Jesus Christ, firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7)
Happy World Youth Day! Jesus Christ is risen and He asks us to share His message of Love with everyone we can.

Right now, more than a million people (youth in age and at heart) have descended on the Spanish city of Madrid in various assorted Catholic t-shirts, carrying countless rosaries, and meeting new people who join in the Hail Mary with funny accents.

Ignitum’s very own Trista, Fabi, and Marc are over in Madrid celebrating World Youth Day among the funny accents and I’m sure you wait in anticipation for their stories! While we sit here in America, let us not twiddle our thumbs. Let’s have a stay-cation World Youth Day!

The quote at the top of this post is the 2011 WYD theme. To get ourselves in the Madrid mindset, repeat after me:

“Arraigados y edificados en Cristo, firmes en la fe.”

It was the double “r” that gave you trouble, wasn’t it? Next, redeem yourself by engaging in another Spanish culture characteristic: time for tapas!

There is no better meal than the Last Supper, or a papal Mass in Madrid as a close honorable mention, but we are setting the stage for our stay-cation World Youth Day. This requires good, Spanish food.

If you’re skilled in the kitchen, attempt some barbecued mini ribscevichefoie toast with jamon Ibéricofried black pudding (Morcilla Frita)shrimp fritters (Tortillitas de camarones), and spicy sausage and cheese tortillas. For those who cannot or do not want to set off another smoke alarm, find a Spanish restaurant and indulge in the salty, cheesy delicious finger foods.

Now that we understand the menu, we need to create the Madrid atmosphere. Invite your closest one million friends to join you at the Spanish restaurant, or at your home, and pray together.

Perhaps that number makes you uncomfortable and you’d rather invite five or six. Either way, make an effort to band together with youth, especially if that includes people whom you have never met.

This is the Catholic Super Bowl party; get rowdy with praise for Christ, people, it’s time for the Popemobile!

Instead of endzones and defensive plays, we have EWTN and blogs:

Once your one million (or half a dozen) buds are gathered, armed with tapas on paper plates and standing around the computer monitor, open the meal with a blessing for our brothers and sisters in Madrid, for the Pope that his words might inspire those in Spain who are sacrificing sleep and good hygiene to be on the ground at World Youth Day, and that this week sparks a refreshed spirit among the World’s Catholic youth.

“Over the years, I have often repeated the summons to the new evangelization. I do so again now, especially in order to insist that we must rekindle in ourselves the impetus of the beginnings and allow ourselves to be filled with the ardour of the apostolic preaching which followed Pentecost. We must revive in ourselves the burning conviction of Paul, who cried out: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16).”

-Bl. Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter, NOVO MILLENNIO INEUNTE

All of the Spanish calories in the world are nothing if we don’t allow Christ to reenergize our faith life so that we might share it with others. We are “planted and built up in Jesus Christ” and we must make the effort to be “firm in the faith” (cf. Col 2:7).

Spes et Mutatio

My darling husband, making a move on the Pontiff's Ring

Some of our contributors are off in the wilds of Spain this week, taking part in World Youth Day.  We heard from Trista on Monday, and Marc is posting (with video) all through the week at Bad Catholic.  It’s great fun, as a stay-at-home-pilgrim, to watch the joy and excitement of those lucky young people who have gone to be with the Pope during this great event.

I had personal friends who attended World Youth Day in Toronto way back in 2002, and then I was in college when Cologne, Germany, hosted Benedict XVI on not only his first World Youth Day, but his very first Apostolic visit as Pontiff. Those were heady days, the earliest months of Benedict’s reign, when all of Christendom was alive with hope, with expectation, with excitement!  The drama of a Papal funeral, then the unbearable anticipation during the Conclave–then bells, horns, streamers, shouting at that white smoke!  Dozens of us packed into the campus rectory, most still eating lunch (it was about 12:30 Eastern time when Ratzinger first appeared at the balcony), and the chaplains were alternately shouting in excitement and shushing the rest of us.  Who is it?  Where is he?  Could it be?  WHO is it??

We were all “young people,” people who by definition only remembered one Pope, and that was John Paul.  “The Pope” simply was John Paul, we had known no other, and now here was this old, philosophical, methodical, serious German sitting on Peter’s throne.

And we loved it.

Now, six years and many letters, audiences, and Apostolic visits later, Catholic youth are still fired up by Benedict XVI, because he’s our Papa.  The great change he has brought into our lives, the “radical departure,” has been nothing other than a renewed commitment to preaching the beautiful paradox of Truth–unchanging, immutable, yet forever mysterious and discovered anew.  Bringing continuity and tradition back into our lives, the Pope has brought love and given a safe haven for the millions of souls across the globe that yearn desperately for solid ground.  The secular world tells us that solid ground is old hat, is limiting, is merely there to hold us back.  In Madrid, millions of pilgrims are gathering because they know the Truth will set them free.

Stay tuned this week, look into the sites, like Seth at OneBillonStories, where 21st-Century pilgrims are sharing their experiences with the rest of us.  Pray for them.  Ask them to pray for you.  Join the throng, drink in the hope, revel in the change.  Catholicism is young again!

Taking the High Road

Today we honor Our Lady’s Assumption into Heaven. This glorious event is cause for great hope, because it is a sign that our Lord will be faithful to fulfill the promise He made to us in John 14:

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.

(v. 3-4)

Jesus made this promise to His disciples, sinners just like me and you, who doubted the Lord, despite all the times He’d proven Himself to them in the past. They had a hard time wrapping their heads around this idea of knowing the way to a place they’d never been (v. 5).

We hear Jesus’ response in John 14:6

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes the the Father except through me.

Jesus is the Road that each of us must walk upon if we wish to make it to the place He is preparing for us in His Father’s house (v. 2). But instead of just setting us on a road and wishing us the best, our Lord, in His  infinite mercy and wisdom, gives us an example to follow, a fellow Pilgrim, Our Blessed Mother, who has walked this Road and knows all the  the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious places that it leads. He gave us His Mother to be our guide along the way, leading us always closer to Her Son.

Mary’s life calls us higher because it is a direct route to the Heart of Jesus. During her life on earth, she gave her unreserved, “Yes!” to the Lord, and at the end of her life she was brought before Him body and soul – through His power and His love – without tasting death or knowing corruption.

In the same way, we who strive to be faithful to our Baptismal vows should pray to become ever more obedient to the will of God, and docile to the Holy Spirit. Then, although it is extremely unlikely that any of us will be assumed into Heaven before our death, Christ will draw us into Himself at the end of time, and we will know that perfect union with the Lord that Our Lady has lived in from the beginning. We will be given glorified bodies, and receive the crown of everlasting life, if only we will persevere in walking the Road of Mary. In this we have confidence, because all these promises have already been fulfilled in our Blessed Mother. 

As a side note: if you’re reading this, I’ve been praying for you! In fact, many of the contributors here at Virtuous Planet have just finished a novena in honor of the Assumption, offered for your intentions and the intentions of the site. So congrats, dear reader! You are thoroughly covered in the prayers of Our Lady.

Together with all the members  of the Confraternity of the Holy Rosary around the world, I will be praying a second novena for you beginning tomorrow. Below you will find the novena prayer; please join me in lifting up all the editors, contributors, and especially the readers of Virtuous Planet to the Lord through Our Lady.

If you have specific intentions you would like to have prayed for, please leave them in the comments below, or shoot me an email using the address you can find on this page of my blog, Catholic Unveiled. Pax et bonum, everyone!

Novena Prayer
August 16 – 24 

O Immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of men, we believe with all the fervor of our faith in your triumphal Assumption into Heaven, body and soul, where you are acclaimed as Queen of all the choirs of angels, and the countless multitude of saints. We unite with them in thanking and praising God who has exalted you above all the heavenly hosts.

In your mercy, dearest Mother, look down upon our struggles and our weaknesses. Help us to remain pure, mind and body, to bear the crosses of life, and to live and die in close union with your Divine Son. Intercede with Him on our behalf, and obtain the graces and favors we ask in this Novena.
(Here mention your requests.)

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful; O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

(Add your daily Rosary)

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