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)

Have Courage in Prayer

Silence. What do we do when we pray and nothing happens?

The woman begs Jesus, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

The Gospel of Matthew tells us Jesus did not respond at all; he seems to ignore her completely. To walk on in silence.

This narrative really hits home with me, having a brother suffering from a brain tumor. How difficult it is to know his need of deep healing and comfort, and my prayers – like those of the Canaanite woman – seem to fall off into silence (so it seems).

In faith, we must believe, it isn’t that the Lord doesn’t hear the woman. And it isn’t that the Lord doesn’t hear my prayers for my brother. He is asking something more, something deeper from me, and from the Canaanite woman. In fact, this Gospel shows how God works at many levels, not just for the one praying.

Let us imagine for a moment that the day of the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is over. It is evening and Jesus is sitting with his disciples. Perhaps, while stirring the coals of the fire he simply questioned them, “Remember the woman on the road today? The one calling out repeatedly?” And I can imagine the disciples answering him, “Yes, Lord. And why did you ignore her?”

This is a teaching moment. Jesus knows that there will times in the future when, after his Ascension into heaven, the disciples are going to pray to the Lord and, seemingly, not be heard. Jesus knows that the disciples are going to have the responsibility to give answer to the people’s questions, “how is it that we call out to the Lord, and we don’t see him. We don’t find healing that we are seeking. Doesn’t he hear us?”

The disciples are going to recall this story of the Canaanite woman. They are going to remember very clearly just how well Jesus heard the her plea, and they will be able to answer with conviction that yes, God hears our cries just as much. Jesus is helping the disciples understand, there is a persistence in our prayer that we are called to, especially when we don’t hear an answer, but only silence. Can we do that? Can we be people of such fervent prayer? Even when all that comes back to us is silence?

The Canaanite woman understood this. She demonstrates her comprehension when at last Jesus speaks to her; she knows she is in the presence of something greater than herself. For this reason, she can say:

“Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

A translation might read (loosely), “Yes, it’s true I don’t deserve to be in your presence, Lord, yet I believe, that even the ‘scraps’ that I get will be enough for me.”

Looking at the woman’s faith gives us room to ponder and to pray, and to ask the Lord to give us a faith like hers. But in our asking, we must be prepared for silence, and perhaps to be rebuked from time to time. Not because Jesus looks at our unworthiness (even though we are), but He sees each of us beyond the measure that we see our self. And, like the Canaanite woman, we too are called to have courage in prayer, and thus be men and women of deep, lasting faith.

___

Gospel: Matthew 15:21-28

Cheering My Love

When I first saw footage of people greeting and listening to the Pope, one aspect struck me as odd: Why did everyone cheer for him? He isn’t a rock star or a celebrity and cheering for him seemed so out of place. Shouldn’t they be bowing their heads, whispering a prayer, or just plain clapping? I wondered. What’s all the hooting and hollering about?

A few years later, while I lived abroad, I visited the Vatican and stood in St. Peter’s Square myself, moved by the beauty of the place. I found it hard to concentrate on the moment, though: there were so many people, too many languages, and a lot of movement. It didn’t feel reverent or special; I could barely hear Pope Benedict; and I wasn’t moved by my experience. If people cheered, I don’t remember it, and I certainly didn’t join in.

In 2007, I was a student at The Catholic University of America, and I had grown a lot more in the faith since my visit to St. Peter’s Square. Pope Benedict visited the United States that year, and on a hot April day, he visited The Catholic University of America to speak about Catholic Education. Students, decked out in specially-made “Benedict 16” baseball shirts, crowded onto Law School Lawn. We carried Vatican flags and sang hymns and worship songs in preparation. The excitement was palpable.

At the sight of the Secret Service escort, I began to tremble. The Pope! My Pope! Benedict XVI! Right in front of my eyes! Smiling, waving, shaking hands! The Bishop of Rome! The Vicar of Christ!

Overcome with joy, I lifted my voice and joined the roar of the crowd. The cheering finally made sense!

We cheered in thanksgiving.

We cheered with joy.

We cheered to say the words we never have the opportunity to say face-to-face:

Thank you, dear Pope, for your vocation!

(Cheer)

Thank you for your witness to Christ!

(Cheer)

Thank you for your loving guidance!

(Cheer)

Thank you for your encouragement!

(Cheer)

Thank you for praying for us!

(Cheer)

We love you!

(Cheer)

This week, I am encamped in Madrid as one of the many pilgrims from around the world who have come together to celebrate, pray, and learn with Pope Benedict XVI. This is not a penitential pilgrimage. Our faces will not be dour and lined with the weight of our sins. We are there to celebrate God’s mercy and love and to celebrate the ever-youthful Church. I’m so excited to see Pope Benedict and so ready to cheer my love!

The Assumption: Bringing Mary Close

When I first became Catholic, I had a lot of issues with Mary. How could she hear and answer our prayers? How could the Church describe her as the Mother of God? How in the world could we believe that she never sinned?

But one teaching stood out as particularly difficult: the Assumption. This one says that at the end of her life Mary, body and soul, was drawn into heaven. Difficult as that sounds, it is one of the rare infallible dogmas of the Church; all Catholics are obliged to believe it.

So when confronted with this elusive teaching, I was forced to do some digging. In my investigation I first turned to history, which seemed to back up this strange claim —or at the very least it didn’t reject it. Simply put, we have no relics, no grave, and no earthly remains of Mary.

Almost all the other apostles are still memorialized in their tombs or places of death, but when it comes to Mary, we have none of that.

If anyone throughout history wanted to disprove the Assumption—and there have been many with just that desire—all they had to do was find Mary’s body.

Just as the Jewish leaders could have squashed the Christian movement, built on Jesus’ resurrection, if they produced his rotted corpse, so the Assumption could be confuted if Mary’s body was ever found. But nobody, up and down the centuries, has ever claimed to have it. That silence spoke volumes.

History revealed to me that it was at least possible for this dogma to be true. But interestingly, as I became both persuaded by the Assumption and increasingly devoted to Mary, I experienced an odd conflict: the more I believed in Mary’s importance, the less I wanted her Assumption to be true. That might sound odd, but I reasoned that the more devotion I had for this great woman, the more disappointed I was that I had no earthly connection to her.

Back in May, I was unexpectedly invited to Rome. There I toured the relics of a number of holy men and women. I got to dwell at the tomb of Pope John Paul II, a profound spiritual hero. I prayed near the relics of St. Jerome, one of the Church’s greatest biblical scholars and another personal model. And of course, as I basked in the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica, the bones of St. Peter radiated throughout the church. Each of these experiences was profoundly invigorating, in huge part because I was physically proximate to the remains of such holy people.

But, to my great displeasure, there was no Mary. I saw plenty of frescoes and numerous mosaics depicting Mary’s face, but that’s all there was. At the end of the day, there were pictures and images—but no real relics.

Picture what it would be like to pray at the tomb of Mary, the greatest saint and perfect disciple. Imagine the ecstatic, undoubtedly powerful experience. Knowing how powerful Marian relics would be, why would God leave the remains of all these great heroes but take Mary away from us? Why would he remove her from this earth, transporting her beyond the cosmos?

To answer, we must understand the Assumption. The dogma says that God whisked Mary to heaven. But we must remember that heaven is not a place within our own space and time. It is not so much a distant realm but a deeper version of this current reality.

Much as a circle is transformed into a sphere when it moves into a third dimension, so heaven deepens and fulfills the world we currently live in. A sphere is more complete and is a fuller version of what a circle could only shadow. So it is with heaven.

Under that rubric, the Assumption shimmers in a new way. It means that through this event, God didn’t launch Mary away from our world. Instead, he brought her close to it. “The kingdom of heaven is near,” Jesus says, which suggests heaven is as close as your beating heart. If Jesus was right, the closer Mary is to heaven, the closer she is to us.

We may not be able to pray near her bones, but we have a much closer connection than that. For us, who hunger for a deep, physical connection with the holiest saint in history, this is thrilling. It means that the Assumption is not only true, but that it’s one of God’s great gifts to the world.

Yet, there’s more. The closer we move toward Mary, the closer we trek toward heaven. And it’s there we discover not only the Mother of God, but God himself.

Which cuts to the heart of this great dogma and reveals its satisfying conclusion: Mary, through her Assumption, is our gate to the divine. We’re invited to tread her same path, to join Mary “on earth as in heaven.”

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