18 April 2014

Why Convert?

I recently read a few posts about evangelicalism, the conversion of evangelicals to Catholicism and why people may or may not be converting. They all got me having inner dialogues, ultimately propelling thought on why exactly I converted. All of this thought really didn't want to bounce around in my head anymore, so I've decided to write some of those thoughts here. At any rate, I think it appropriate, with Easter just around the corner.

What Do These Articles Say?

So first off, I wanted to discuss the articles I linked above. (Now, there's more going on with these articles than what I write, so if you want, pop over to those pages and read them in their entirety. I just wanted to highlight a few portions.)

I know Young Evangelicals Are Getting High by Rebecca VanDoodewaard of The Christian Pundit has been making its rounds around the Catholic/faithful blogosphere. She writes about how evangelical Protestant youth have converted to the Catholic Church at an alarming rate. She credits this partially to the fact that churches have resorted to a watered-down faith, which is not really focused on Truth. There is mention made of Jesus Christ, but there are also "cool" youth groups, a jeans-friendly dress code and the touch-feely, sappy Mr. Rogers-like air which too often permeates church walls. [Now, the Protestant churches to which I belonged did not really have these "auras" about them (mostly because the average age of a congregant was 55), but I did observe a lot of "look how current we are" churches when I was a teenager continuing into adulthood.] The author draws a distinction between this type of church and the type of church people are really after: the former invites the world to get cozy in the pews, while the latter seeks something the world cannot offer, namely theology. The youth are sick of being babied, of being given a cookie and a pat on the head, told to return to their playthings. It's about time we've been weaned off spiritual milk to feast on sanctifying meat. For young people who have received the necessities of faiththose who have been instructed on history, prayers and doctrineconversion seemingly occurs less. Instead of being attracted to holy water and Gregorian Chant, they find those things unnecessary or even meaningless.

In Why Evangelicals Are No More Evangelical Than When They Call for the Abandonment of Evangelicalism, A Christian Thing's contributor Churl examines an article about the need to abandon Evangelicalism and argues that this push is a bit of a cliche. Since the Evangelical movement is often a rebellious one, one which says, "These rules aren't what the Church is about and this history has gone off the rails; instead, we need to focus on relationships," the movement away from evangelicalism is...evangelicalistic again. Instead, the author argues, evangelicals should not abandon their history but embrace history of "nothing less than a 2000 year old church." Continual movements away from our history would seem to discredit all those who came before us who lived and died for the faith.

From the same blog, Chinglican At Table writes What I Do Not Mean by the Catholic Thing, in which he explains the way he has heard a lot of Catholic converts talk about their conversion. "Unlike the format of rocked-out worship songs followed by a lengthy sermon, Catholicism (it is said) has liturgy, a call-and-response between people and priest," he begins. At times, he echos VanDoodewaard's concerns: modern evangelical worship doesn't seem to hold a candle to the ancient, incense-laced liturgy of the Catholic Church. Catholicism is the PhD candidate defending his dissertation while evangelicalism is the bright-eyed Freshman (my own example). Why are Protestants attracted to the Catholic Church? Well, no one likes a schism, for one. It is natural to want to be a collective group which worships together: that's part of what the Church is. The author writes:
"This is, of course, why you have to laugh when an evangelical tells you they became Catholic for substantive confessional reasons.... Take, for example, the typical conversion narrative that an evangelical Protestant might rehearse: tired of the market commodification of evangelical Protestantism, they became Catholic to practice a fuller form of the faith. This narrative, however, raises all sorts of questions. For one thing, don't Catholics also participate in the market commodification of their own faith at times?"
What Are My Immediate Thoughts?

These articles offer interesting perspectives on the matter and my thoughts were particularly provoked by the last article. Do we really convert because we mean to mend the centuries-old tear in the tapestry that is the Church? Sure, that is an excellent desire to have: Christians should be united. However, I would never say that that is the full story. I do understand the way evangelical Protestantism may become when it goes off the rails with its own market commodification, and agree when he points out that Catholicism can follow this track as well. There is no use scoffing at certain aspects or accidents of Protestantism if we entertain the same aspects or accidents in Catholicism.

As VanDoodewaard discusses, these aspects or accidents can actually be a big deal. She doesn't care so much that we've gone from listening to Tobymac to Matt Maher and "isn't that such a hypocritical stance?". Instead, she finds that so many things add up which all contribute to a generally watered-down faith, as if the youth cannot be trusted with the truth. She even makes the distinction: conversion occurs away from these churches, not from the ones which richly supply the youth with an understanding of history and theology.

What if, Churl asks, evangelical Protestant groups move away from history, even from their own history? Funnily (to me, anyway), they repeat history to make this move. If there is no call for mere revision, if we're to ignore a chunk of time, how difficult do we make it for ourselves in having to start over? Is the past truly all bad?

How Does This Assessment Match My Own Experience?

While and after converting, I became keenly aware of the differences between Protestant and Catholic faith. Of course I would be: why would I bother converting otherwise? I therefore noticed things like: "The music at Mass is generally grander, traditional and ancient, while the music at my Protestant church was generally lighter, familiar and contemporary." or "No one's up and chatting before Mass like was common practice back home." These "small" things all add up to make you realize just how strange worship can seem to someone new to either house of the faith. Perhaps we become snooty: a Catholic says, "I've put away the things of a child. I've grown up," while a Protestant replies, "I became as a child to enter the kingdom of Heaven. I don't need the rules." Really, what happens is we start sounding like grumpy old men and naive college students. We can go back and forth for hours, but we aren't addressing the real issue: why?

"The unexamined life is not worth living," so why get caught up in all the mess, when you could instead be asking, "Why?" For me, as a convert, why convert to the Catholic Church? Why did I in the past and why do I continually try to live according to the faith which has been handed down?

Two years ago, one of the university parish priest gave a homily asking just this question. Why was he Catholic instead of some other faith? Well, he believed in God, so that certainly narrowed it down. What did the Catholic Church have specifically? Apostolic succession. It was an important factor for him, and should be for anyone who hasn't examined the history of their church. He took comfort in being able to trace the line of priestshe was ordained by this man, who was ordained by the next, who was ordained by the next...all the way to St. Peter. He believed that the priesthood instituted by Christ continued throughout the years to reach him and would continue to those after him. It isn't just about mending division by hopping the river between Protestantism and Catholicism: it is about uniting oneself to the Church of Christ, the one He gave to us.

Still, there was more to my conversion than just that (perfectly good) reason. All the little differences were adding up. One of the first things I asked about the Catholic Church was "What and why are the differences?" Catholics said they believed in God, but in my Protestant circles, we never considered them as holding the same faith. Seemingly, more youth left the Catholic Church ("I was born Catholic, but I don't really believe any of it anymore.") than left Protestant churches. That was the extent of my knowledge. I didn't realize for some time that for all the differences I could point out (they have saints; they seem like a solemn bunch; Mary's supposed to be important for some reason, right?), I was clueless about the answers. I could never tell you why Catholics believed what they did, which is why I sought that information out.

I've asked questionsreflected on my freshman year of college and recounted the glorious highlights. Above all, the thing which has resonated with me the most, the reason I usually go to when someone asks why I converted, is that Catholicism holds the truth. Now, you could say these words in a very easy, almost off-handed way. Maybe that is what it sounds like to some people when I say it, mixed with a sense of self-righteousness or said far too simply, depending on the audience. Maybe it wouldn't be enough to convince my bishop that I was ready to convert, but there is so much wrapped up in that statement.

Why would music at Mass seem grander? Why would the noise from the congregation be only shuffles and coughs instead of friendly banter? Why do Catholics kneel and at times lay flat, process through the streets, have churches decked out in abundant ornamentation? Why do women wear veils, why do men go forward for communion on bent knee (instead of passing out bread while going down the aisles), and why can't you find a cry room in some churches?

There is more to Catholic Mass than gathering with other believers. There is more to Catholic Mass than singing nice songs. There is more to Catholic Mass than hearing the Word of God proclaimed and discussed. At Mass you receive the Word of God, fully and wholly in the Blessed Sacrament. Unlike any other group of Christians, Catholics believe that bread and wine are transformed at the consecration into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that at His last supper with the disciples in the upper room, He instituted the Eucharist. We believe Him when He said:
"I am the bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world. ... Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink is blood, you shall not have life in you. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live forever." [St. John 6:48-52,54-59]
For Catholics, Communion isn't merely a symbol of what took place in the upper room the night Jesus was betrayed. Catholics believe that, when the words of consecration are said, Jesus is present in a way which no other faith believes. Catholics believe that Jesus was not Incarnate just to die for us, but to offer Himself to us each day in love, to live in us. Therefore, each day when we approach the altar, we bow. Each time we partake of the Eucharist, we do so humbly. Each song we sing is in praise to Him who is before us. We adorn the altar with flowers and candles, don nice apparel and stay quiet out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament.

This belief is the belief of all beliefs. It is the reason for every "unusual" action and, I believe, the only matter which truly separates us. Everything else Protestants find wrong with Catholicism or Catholics find wrong with Protestantism pales in comparison: the saints, Mary's immaculate conception, Purgatory, the style of music played, the "cool"-ness, the "rules," the grumpy elder and naive youngster dilemma... We can discuss those matters and fall on either side or in any gray areas. We can say we converted to practice a fuller form of the faith or because we wanted to get away from the Mr. Rogers churches or because our temperament is better suited toward quiet worship. The rock of all my other beliefs is the Eucharist. The Eucharist changes everything. The Eucharist is why I need the Catholic Church.

It is a hard belief to swallow. After Jesus spoke, the Jews talked among themselves: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" "This saying is hard, and who can hear it?" Jesus turns to his disciples, saying, "Doth this scandalize you?" He knew it was received in shock, in confusion and soon in denial. St. John writes, "After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him." Jesus lost followers from what He said. He does not chase after them, telling them it was only a symbol or that he was speaking metaphorically. He lets them leave. They understood what he said and it was too much. It was fine to be on board when Jesus was talking about taking care of the poor or telling the Samaritan woman that she was right to say she had no husband because she had five husbands, but this saying was too much. He then turns to the twelve and asks, "Will you also go away?" St. Peter speaks for the group, saying, "Lord, to whom shall we go? thou has the words of eternal life."

Why convert? St. Peter's words are my words when I answer. "Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life."

13 April 2014

Around the Blogosphere

We've got some good'uns from the Internet. Here are some posts I've found encouraging, inspiring, through-provoking and/or uncannily accurate.

  • Last Supper Craft Is it okay that I don't have kids, yet I want to do this craft? Yes? Okay, good.
  • Becoming a Family of Prayer Kendra from Catholic All Year shares her encouraging thoughts on how to incorporate prayer into your daily life. "If I wait for the perfect time to really get serious about my prayer life, I will never have a prayer life at all." 
  • Austen, Aristotle and Aquinas I haven't read all of this series (I haven't read all of Austen's major works either...sorry!), but I'm interested in finishing it (Austen's books, too!). I always appreciate a good theology/philosophy/literature mash-up.

Some of my favorite images this week, as well:

How can this image not make your day better?

JP II and Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
AKA Saints.


In case we ever forget what happens at Mass.

06 April 2014

This Week

It is truly amazing how good weather changes your mood. This week, the sun has been shining and, even though it has often barely warmed to 50 degrees (Fahrenheit; Celsius would be pretty dang warm), I've had the windows open to let in the nice breeze. As it is warming up, the homeschooling year for my sister is getting closer to an end (only a month to go!) and I've been doing major Spring cleaning, I have definitely been a lot more positive and just generally happy lately. It also helps that Easter is only in two weeks! This Lent has seemed to last ages and, while I still stand by liking Lent as one of the major seasons of the liturgical year, I am definitely looking forward to some joyfulness. Anyone else feel this way?

I have a couple ideas brewing for more "serious" posts, but I thought this nice Sunday could just use some good photos I've enjoyed over the week:
Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger (to become Pope Benedict XVI).
BRB. Fangirling.

I finally watched this movie with my sister.
Yes, it is as good as everyone says.

Mexican food outing? Don't mind if I do.
Never turn down guacamole and melty cheese. Just don't.

Painted my nails for the first time in ages in two of my favorite shades:
L'Oreal Paris Color Riche Eiffel For You and Orange You Jealous

A new frozen yogurt place opened in a neighboring town.
I could eat thirty sour gummy worms. Best candy ever.
I know I already mentioned this, but seriously. Two weeks of Lent to go. Can you believe it? Does it still seem far off? We can do this!

30 March 2014

Super Sunday

It's amazing how much a couple things can happen to completely change your week and give you a really good day.

I had been feeling quite discouraged this week, being my usual stressed and over-worried self, bogged down in the middle of Lent, waiting and waiting for the sun to come out. Today, though only partially through, has vastly improved my temperament (and yeah, I know in psychology--and in general--temperament is described as a more permanent thing, not something which changes over night; I'm kind of hoping I stay more positive on a permanent basis).

My day started with Mass. Waking up on Sunday morning for Mass is, admittedly, one of my least favorite things. Don't get me wrong: I love Mass and am totally fine once I get there, but I never manage to sleep as much as I want the night before. I would rather wake up with time to slowly adjust to the day than to hop up and get down to work. I wish I were a morning person, but I'm not. It was much easier at school when Mass was also offered at night. Frankly, I like Mass most at night: candlelight Masses are beautiful.

Anyway, Mass was great, as usual. Father (strongly) encouraged the parishioners to come to a holy hour for vocations next week, during which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed. I've never gone (though this hour happens every month), but probably should. The Stations of the Cross will be prayed then as well, so it would be a nice spiritual two-in-one. Perhaps it helped that today is Laetare Sunday: Easter will come!

Walking home from Mass was beautiful. The problem with living in the Midwest is how flat the terrain is: there is nothing to block the wind, which can be incredibly unforgiving. It was a little breezy, but the sun was out too and I almost didn't need my coat. Spring is finally here!

I then had a nice breakfast at home alone (my family doesn't get home from their Church until about an hour after I do) and listened to about half of this talk by Michael Voris on the Eucharist. It is quite good and so important to stress the belief in the True Presence. We Catholics believe the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, in the form of bread and wine, is present at each Communion. This belief, more than any other, separates us from other all other religions. You can watch the video below if you like:

I then went with my mother, sister and grandmother grocery shopping, with a quick stop at Starbucks on the way. Since today (!!!) is the first anniversary of my Confirmation, I decided to get a croissant to celebrate.

Flaky goodness.
I also donated books and clothes which have been sitting in my room for ages. I still have more books and clothes that need boxing up. It is insane how much stuff I manage to accumulate. How does that happen?? With the space freed up (if only a little) from the donations, I felt inspired to tidy up my room a bit more. Now that Spring has finally shown itself, I decorated my table (with a leftover centerpiece from my aunt's baby shower; muy bonita), added a candle to my candle stand and opened the window and curtains. I love a Spring- or Summertime breeze in the house.

Yes. Christmas lights in March.
Now I'm listening to music and straight chillin', AKA doing what I do 40% of the time. Hope you guys are having a great Sunday!

Some Good Quotations

I have been seeing really excellent quotations around the internet lately from Saints, philosophers and generally cool people. Enjoy!

If the Word of God is living and powerful, and if the Lord does all things whatsoever he wills; if he said, "Let there be light", and it happened; if he said, "let there be a firmament", and it happened; ...if finally the Word of God himself willingly became man and made flesh for himself out of the most pure and undefiled blood of the holy and ever Virgin, why should he not be capable of making bread his Body and wine and water his Blood?... God said, "This is my Body", and "This is my Blood." 
— St. John Damascene

When you are before the altar where Christ reposes, you ought no longer to think that you are amongst men; but believe that there are troops of angels and archangels standing by you, and trembling with respect before the sovereign Master of Heaven and earth. Therefore, when you are in church, be there in silence, fear, and veneration.
Saint John Chrysostom

I accept joy or suffering, praise or humiliation with the same disposition. I remember that one and the other are passing. What does it matter to me what people say about me: I have long ago given up everything that concerns my person. My name is host — or sacrifice, not in words but in deeds, in the emptying of myself and in becoming like You on the Cross, O good Jesus, my Master!
— St. Faustina

Religion is actually not a crutch; it is a cross. It is not an escape, it is a burden; not a flight, but a response. We speak here of a religion with teeth in it, the wind that demands self-sacrifice and surrender.One leans on a crutch, but a cross rests on us. It takes a hero to embrace a cross. — Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Democracy and equality are good ideas in politics, but nature is not a democracy. God is its absolute monarch, angels His ministers, men His children, animals His pets, plants His decorations, minerals His construction materials, and time His land. All are good, all are precious, and all are loved, but not equally. That would be chaos, not cosmos. 
— Peter Kreeft

Happy Sunday!

25 March 2014

The HHS Mandate: An Allegory

Imagine there are these vegetarians, okay? Just chillin' with their carrots and hummus and doing their own thing and whatnot. And then these meat-eaters come along and they're like:
Hey, vegetarians! What's up? Listen up. Listen: We've decided that you guys have to eat meat now.
Vegetarians: What gives? We're morally opposed to eating animals.
Meat eaters: Oh, yeah, we know that, but WE aren't. So...yeah.
Vegetarians: You can't force us to eat meat!
Meat eaters: Are you infringing on our RIGHT to eat meat?
Vegetarians: What?? No, what the heck?
Meat eaters: Rare or medium rare?

Honestly, how outraged would people be? "You can't do that!" "Where do you get the power to inflict your views on me?" "You can't force me to do something I don't believe in!"

Yet it's completely fine if the same is done to people who believe in a bigger, more basic, more essential, more compassionate ideal: that life matters at all stages.

O Mother of the Word Incarnate, pray for us!

15 March 2014

One Week into Lent

One week down, six weeks to go!

I'm actually not counting down quite yet. Instead, I'm enjoying Lent. Is that okay to say? Enjoying Lent? Oh well. We'll see how that continues. Here's the breakdown of how my intentions are working out:

Prayer: Do a Sorrowful mysteries decade of the Rosary each day (on Sundays do a Rosary of the Glorious mysteries) and incorporate the Liturgy of Hours into my daily schedule.

This plan has worked out really well! I've also added reading St. Louis de Montfort's The Secret of the Rosary, reading a rose with each decade. There's a lot of interesting history behind the Rosary, about which I'm currently reading. I definitely recommend this book to anyone.

Reading: Read from a compilation of works by the Church Fathers.

Is it bad if I think this reading is a little dull? Maybe because all of it is pretty early so far and they kind of repeat the same things ("You're doing well, respect your bishop, avoid heresy..."). They are all good things, I'm just waiting for something really compelling or confrontational. That makes it more exciting!

Food: Abstain from sugar throughout Lent and decrease meat consumption.

Whose bright idea was it to abstain from sugar/sweets for forty days? Oh, it was me? It was me, wasn't it? Right. Brilliant. As much as I complain about it, this probably was a good idea...given how much I complain about its absence. It sounds stupid to be mortified over nixing sugarit seems completely inconsequential compared to fasting for several days or abstaining from something really importantbut it's still a challenge. Last night we had people over for dinner and my mom prepared two desserts. TWO. I'd be all over that any other time of the year, but I declined. Nutso.

Slowing Down: Spend more time outside, with family and with entertainment other than the computer.

We had a legit Spring day! It was in the high forties or fifties this week. And then it dropped to thirty and snowed for two days. Ah, the Midwest....
I've made some effort to stay out of my hermit-like existence, but it could be better. We have family visiting (for reasons I will explain below), which has encouraged me to be out and about a bit more. I really just can't wait for it to get and stay warmer. It's such a mood-lifter.

With all of my Lenten intentions, I can see a difference in my behavior (easily: I'm adding and taking away things) and especially my attitude. I tend to become frustrated or even angry easily, but that has improved (even if slightly). For example, instead of becoming annoyed immediately, I can tell myself to chill. No promises for it lasting the whole day, though. Work in progress, here.

So what else is going on?

Last Saturday, family arrived from Texas to reunite with us but also to await this darling girl:

Welcome to the world, baby cousin! Our family have been incredibly excited for the arrival of Rylin for the last several months and their waiting was over on Tuesday morning. She is sweet and quite relaxed until she's hungry: then she really lets loose. She has the entire family wrapped around her finger.

We had left for the hospital to get there just as visiting hours began. It was a very exciting time, but the day would not let up on us. Our ten year old dog, Suhn, died the same day, from causes not fully known, though by that point, age isn't too wild a guess. It was such a shock and I think we are still taken aback by it. The house is much quieter and my daily routine is completely off. His bed was just outside my room, so there's no more hearing him shifting around or letting him outside in the morning or talking to him as I walk around the house. It's mostly just bizarre. I'm happy he isn't in pain (he had an old leg injury and he hated Winter with a burning passion), but it truly is strange not to have him here anymore.

To celebrate his goofball-ness, here's a picture of him celebrating the New Year last year:

This has certainly been the longest week of 2014.

P.S. This is my 100th blog post! That just sounds wild. If you're reading, I'm happy you found your way here. Whether you've just come across my blog or you've been following it since its infancy, thank you for reading! :)