29 May 2014

Grape Soda and White Sandwich Bread

I've been thinking a lot on a scene I described a little in this post. You can go check that one out if you want, but I am going to describe it here in more detail and in a bit of a different way.

When I was in high school, the very first friend I made (by discovering we were both Geminis, no less; what an odd thing to bring people together) was a Christian. She went to an Assemblies of God church and participated in the usual Protestant teenager youth group shindigs. As we became better friends, I joined her for weekly Wednesday meetings where we would learn a bit more, take notes in our Bibles and socialize with other people our age. However, I think the biggest deal for the both of us was the music. We were both musically inclined, both played instruments, both enjoyed singing along to blaring music from her car when she got one and spent a good deal of time together sharing new bands we liked. There was a Christian music festival held in the state which I had gone to before and which people from her youth group also went to during the Summer. So at the end of our freshman year, we made plans to go to this week-long festival at the end of June/beginning of July.

(Long-winded introduction done? Nope, not yet.)

So there we were at this music festival, wandering down dusty roads weaving in and out of people with tattoo sleeves, dreadlocks or bright pink mohawks, while guitar tuning strained from one canvas tent and the thump of poor-quality bass pounded from a small corner stage. All of these wristband-clad teenagers and twenty-somethings had gathered for the love of Jesus and the love of music and it all struck me as quite simple, really.

When I think back on that week (and even on other weeks during other years when I attended), I of course remember finding the right camping spot or what it was like to see a few of my favorite musicians or sneezing dirt from my nose for a week after (you're welcome for that image). However, there is a specific scene which I think on more, especially recently.

On the penultimate day, I think during a year which celebrated a milestone anniversary of the event, the festival hosted Communion at Main Stage. Now, the grounds were huge, so when I say "main stage," I really mean a grand set-up, not some rinky dink platform. The stage was positioned in this deep basin by the lake. Standing within the hollow or sprawling along the edges of the bowl, people could fit in the thousands to watch more major and well-known artists perform (P.O.D. is a good example of a fairly popular band; they were there one year). Anyway, Communion happened this Friday night (which seems especially fitting from a Catholic perspective if any day is chosen to celebrate it). Volunteers were quite quick to begin handing out materials to everyone there: a small candlestick and an all-in-one Communion cup. It was similar to a yogurt cup which holds yogurt in the bottom with a small separate shelf to keep the granola dry until you want to mix them; so there was about a swallow of juice and a top compartment where a small round wafer lay. Words were printed on the top plastic (probably the usual "Do this in memory of me" line).

"This is convenient," I thought to myself, examining the packaging from all angles. While I was marveling, candlelight was spreading throughout the crowd as the sun fell below the horizon and someone stepped onto the stage to lead Communion. While I was expecting the man who began the festival or one of the musicians, this person was neither. He was some sort of minister, which makes sense for leading such an occasion, and he talked quite a bit about what we were doing.

Go on and tell me that candlelight isn't awesome. I dare you.

While I cannot remember much of what he said, I do remember at one point him holding up something which looked like a larger than usual pita bread and saying, "This is my body." As he lowered the jumbo-sized pita, the girls next to me nearly ate their own wafers but stopped, realizing we still hadn't been given the okay yet and one giggled, saying, "This is, like, Lutheran, or something." The others laughed and I was tempted to give them an appropriately withering look. "Can't you see that this is a big deal?" I wanted to say.

The magnitude of this Communionthere were so many people in attendance and there is something about a sea of candlelight which always just gets to mewas obvious to me, and the "celebration" (my Catholicism is showing) on stage was getting to me. I had never seen Communion happen quite in this fashion. It was as if the minister knew something which I did not. There was some sort of mystery I was not understanding.

Now, I'm not sure to which "denomination" this minister belonged. I'm certainly hoping he wasn't Catholic and sincerely doubt it, seeing as non-Catholics aren't meant to receive the Sacrament they do not believe in and because it is not a Sacrament without the proper matter (wine is required as the drink; juice is not wine. 2 + 2 = 4. Some simple facts here, guys.). So let's suppose he was Lutheran, or some other denomination which tends to regard the Sacrament as a bit more than just a "symbol" (Lutherans traditionally believed that Jesus is present in the Eucharist, but not that He completely overtakes the bread and wine; more simply: they believed the bread and wine was still bread and wine, not Jesus). Communion was not treated as mere symbol by this man, or at least it did not seem to be to me. There seemed to be something more going on, or at least "something more" was being pointed to. While others were commenting on how unusual it was, how different this Communion was, I felt as if I were waiting for something miraculous to happen.

Throughout my Communion-receiving life, I don't think I ever really thought of it as mere symbol (which I think I've said elsewhere on this blog, but I'm too lazy to find it). If I did think of it as a symbol, I thought of it as a really important, intense symbol. Whenever we did Communion at my Protestant church (only monthly, which I did find odd. If we're supposed to "do this in memory of [Jesus]," why were we only doing it once a month? We only remember His death once a month?), I would sit there in our silent moment of reflection, thinking about how sinful and poor a creature I was, thinking about how lucky I was that God died for me, trying not to take that sacrifice for granted.

Maybe every "Communion is a symbol" Protestant goes through the same thought process. Maybe everyone tries to be reverent and properly reflect on the actions being performed. Looking back on that scene, I wonder if I could hear a small voice telling me: "There is more to this." I certainly know there was more to it in another scene that same week.

I believe it was the next and last day of the week as the event was winding down that I went with a couple friends to one of the tents in the center of the grounds. The band which performed was probably a small-town band and there was a Communion service at this one too. No candles, as it was mid-day and the items distributed were far different this time. Instead of wine, even instead of juice, we had a variety of fruit-flavored sodas (including orange, which isn't even similar to grapes!); instead of a small wafer we had white sandwich bread. I'm almost laughing to myself at this point, which may appear disrespectful to some readers, but honestly. It was hard for me to grasp any sense of reverence as a musician led us with those famous words again and the sound of snaps and fizzes of soda cans filled the tent. I wasn't one to turn down a drink in the 90 degree heat, but I could not make myself finish a can. The disconnect between the Communion service the night before was as glaring in my mind as the sun reflecting off the trash bin into which I dumped the mostly-full aluminum container.

How could something which seemed so important, verging on one of the most distinct moments I'd experienced, mean just as much as half a school lunch? Carbonation is supposed to settle the stomach, but I walked away unsettled and confused. "If only someone had told me then what the Catholic Church teaches about Communion," I may catch myself thinking, but I know it is a pointless thought. No one told me then. No one told me until almost four years later. Only then could I understand those two services from a different, more solidified perspective.

I don't know if God was moving me those days to examine Communion more urgently. I don't know if my own mind sounded the alerts: "Something is right here" and "Something is wrong here." Maybe I sound too much like a legalistic, by the book, them's the rules Catholic to say that Communion should not be celebrated with grape soda and sandwich bread or to even state that no way was that as reverent as the service the night before. I don't care how comfortable it was to others: they can write their own reflection on it. Knowing that the Eucharist is such a big dealit is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed, lying on the altar, waiting for us in the priest's hands, given to us because we believe, because we are obedient to His words on the night He was to sufferI cannot look at other services the same way. I cannot help but think, "You are missing something essential here." I cannot help but wish my Christian brothers and sisters to believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist because She believed Jesus Christ when He told His disciples: "This is my body." Not "This is like my body," not "I was joking, all you followers who are running away from me because you think I am encouraging zombie-like behavior. I was only being symbolic when I said 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life within you.'" Instead: "This is my body."


[Yeah, I know: this is my dozenth post on the Eucharist. Why? Because it's a big deal. Don't expect me to stop any time soon.]

21 May 2014

Life More Abundant

I was 16 when I found out there are websites which promote anorexia.

even if the one person is yourself

Girls (and the rare boy) called these websites "pro-ana." They shared "thinspiration" images: slim, high-cheekbone girls with swaying hair, calorie-limiting diet plans and words which cut the mind more than hunger ever could.

I was shocked by these websites, to say the least. Once over the initial shock, I was determined to change the lives of these people who had let eating disorders become the focus of their lives. I would bring them hope. I would show them there was more to life. I would save them from their problems.

It was one of the more naive plans I've ever concocted. You can't go into the thick of battle without armor and expect not to get scratched. Not long after I made my "heroic" decision, I began to catch my reflection in the mirror a little more frequently. I ruminated on what I had eaten on a given day. I would think my jeans far too many sizes too large.

Like many life-changing things, I found myself in the middle before I knew I had begun. I started by skipping or severely limiting meals. No calories in, no calories to worry about getting rid of, right? However, you can't just skip meals all the time without consequence. So I found myself tearing through the the pantry, grabbing handfuls of whatever snack was closest. Part of me urged, "Yes. You need more. More. More!" while another part of me pleaded, "No. You shouldn't be doing this. Just stop. Stop. Stop!" It wouldn't take long for the guilt to settle in. When it did, I would be on the floor of my room doing every imaginable ab exercise, researching tricks to lose weight more quickly and making plans to only consume 300 calories the next day.


I knew enough to know that my actions weren't healthy, but it was like I switched off that "smart" side in my mind in favor of confusing my body. Why did I need to be reasonable when other people seemed alright enough who were in my same situation? We all knew it was wrongmaybe we even prided ourselves in still being able to point that fact out because we weren't completely "lost." We could somehow get away with not really having a problem, especially for people like me, who didn't have the obvious physical signs. I could always say I technically wasn't anorexic because I was at a "normal" weight. I could always say at least my throat wasn't burned up from forcing myself to vomit like some people did.

It was a bizarre justification system I worked with, but it worked for me. Anyway, it worked until one time I found myself in the bathroom ready to put my fingers down my throat, one voice in my head saying, "Do it" and another saying, "Stop." Until this point, my "purging" had only been through exercise: I was afraid of throwing up and hated to be sick. Forcing myself to do so was always out of the realm of possibility. Now, however, staring down the toilet as if it could bring me salvation or destruction (maybe both), that switch in my mind flipped back. 


I retreated to my room, asked a friend if they weren't too busy for a hang out (before I could convince myself to back out) and, not long after, walked out the door. As we drove around, I opened a purple folder full of my own "pro-ana" paraphernalia: those oh-so-inspirational images, diet charts, lists of "good" foods and "bad" foods.... I tried to explain why and how I'd gotten to this unbelievable point in my life, almost not believing the words I was saying. How did I get to this point?

She was unbelievably kind and tactful in her responses to what I imagine was my own hysteria. We talked, she brought me home making me agree to call her whenever I needed and we met with the pastor of our church later that week. At this meeting, he urged me to look through Scripture and note how it said we should treat our bodies. The first verse I found was: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Way harsh, right? In one way, I felt guilty reading these lines. How could I have treated myself so poorly when I am supposed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit? I should make myself a good place for God to dwell. I should respect what He has given me. Why despise such a gift? In another way, I was floored. How incredible that God could want to be with us so closely. Of course, the thought of our bodies being a temple for God is even more exaggerated when I think of the Eucharist...

The next verse I found restored my hope greatly. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17) [St. Paul's pretty much a genius with these letters to the Corinthians, no?] This verse became my favorite verse, which I recited to myself whenever I was tempted. I had taken a wrong turn, but God, by granting me some crazy amount of undeserved grace, was bringing me back. I could offer Him all of my self-centered thoughts, self-deprecating words and self-harming actions and He would give me life. I could be new because of Him.

Over time, I worked to re-wire my brain. I threw away all the images I printed off. I blocked the websites I had frequented. I made myself think of the things for which I was thankful. Very slowly I told others about my experiences, maybe to serve as a warning, maybe as "proof" to say I at least partially understood someone else's situation, maybe because sometimes I just needed to talk to someone.

In at least one way, having had this experience was good for me: it encouraged me to study psychology, to understand why and how people think, to learn how to actually be of help to someone. In other ways, it remained a struggle. After months of counting each and every calorie, I could accurately estimate the calories in nearly anything I ate. It took a long time for me to not automatically start calculating whenever I had a meal in front of me. I made myself quit counting as a penitential act during Lent of 2011. I wasn't even seriously considering Catholicism then. I'd gone to Mass a handful of times by that point and when I heard the real point of "giving stuff up" (making sacrifices which bring you closer to God), I knew what I needed to give up. I continued to stop counting even after Lent and haven't counted since then.

So what's the deal? Am I officially cured?

I certainly wouldn't say that. I experienced emotional breakdowns at college which came from bottling up my thoughts and worries until the only thing left to do was burst. While I never faced serious physical problems with my eating disorder, the psychological effects were very much present. I think the psychological effects are worse: they can pop up unannounced at any moment. If I let myself get to a certain point, I will get that "nagging feeling" in the back of my head, a serpentine suggestion to eat too much or eat nothing at all, as either route can kick-start the old routine. While I am sometimes able to tell the minuscule voice to mind his own business and back off because I have no time to entertain such thoughts today, thank you very much, other times I need the help of someone else to tell me I am better than this. Every time, I try to remember that Someone has much better things planned for me.

J.K. Rowling, smart lady that she is, once said: 

"'Fat' is usually the first insult a girl throws at another girl when she wants to hurt her.
Is 'fat' really the worst thing a human being can be? Is 'fat' worse than 'vindictive,' 'jealous,' 'shallow,' 'vain,' 'boring,' or 'cruel'? Not to me..."
Not to me.

Maybe you're one of these young girls I met on those websites. Maybe you're older. Maybe you aren't even female. Maybe you're worried about your weight. Maybe you have bigger life issues that are just too stressful right now to handle, so you've found a coping mechanism, like some of my psychology courses said you do. Maybe, like some of the other courses I took said, you are more disposed toward these thoughts because of your genetics and now you just have to work with the hand you've been dealt. Maybe other people are telling you you aren't good enough, directly or indirectly. Maybe you've been compared to other people for too long. Maybe you're making those comparisons yourself. Maybe you just wanted to help some people but you got yourself stuck instead.

Whatever the case is, living a life depreciated by a psychological disorder does not need to be the end all for you. You don't need to listen to the voice that says "more" when you're in the middle of a binge. You don't need to listen to the voice that says "do it" when you're facing one of your biggest fears. You don't need to keep quiet about this disease because "technically" you "don't count." You don't need to keep quiet about this disease because of your shame. You aren't alone.

The statistics once said 10% of teen to mid-twenties aged girls suffer from an eating disorder (I'm thinking the stats are a bit worse now, but that's only a hunch). The best way to start the healing process is to tell someone. You don't have to tell everyone you know and you don't have to go into all the gory details (you can if you want).


What you do need is a support system. You need someone to tell you that you are valued and that value comes from more than a number on a scale or a measuring tape. You need someone to tell you that you do not have to wrestle with your mind while pretending everything is fine externally. You need someone to tell you that you are so loved. You need someone to tell you that you will never be truly happy by your current method of comparison. You need someone to tell you that being healthy is pretty.

Maybe I am that person. I do hope you have someone better than I am to tell you all these things, but if I am the only one... I suppose that's another part of the hand you've been dealt. ;) Maybe the help and hope I tried to give to several people years ago is for a single person reading this blog right now. There is so much more in store for you than the anxious thoughts, the impulsive actions and the rotten seed of guilt in your stomach. There is so much more in store for you than this hurt. There is so much more.

"I am come that they may have life, and may have it more abundantly." (John 10:10)

12 May 2014


I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

This sentence was joyfully said. This sentence was easy enough to say on the 30th of March 2013. This is the sentence which I proclaimed when I entered the Church at Easter Vigil. Less than twenty words, memorized and stated with a group of three other candidates proudly before Monsignor and a church packed with Catholics, Protestants, atheists, agnosticsanyone who was willing to witness our welcome.

This sentence was joyfully said. I had anticipated saying this sentence for many months. My heart, which was racing as I walked with the other candidates to the front of the church, swelled with pride, relief and the excitement that can only be felt when one knows a great mystery is on the other side of the door which lies front of them. These words were me finally grasping the door's handle and turning it.

Balcony doors of the Palace of Versailles.
 This sentence was easy enough to say on the 30th of March 2013. However, this sentence was a long time coming. This sentence would not always fall from my mouth easily. I did not always believe these words. If I had been asked a year prior to say these words, I would have been on the fence. I would have loved for someone to tell me what my answer was, because I could not yet see it in my mind.

'What do I believe?'

If I had been asked two years prior to say these words, I would have been able to trace my uncertainty around every letter. The sentence would have ended with a dark blot of a period as if I'd let ink drip from the quill with which I wrote the words. My heart would have raced, not with excitement or anticipation, but with fear.

'What do I believe?'

If I had been asked three years prior to say these words, I would have raised my eyebrows, shaken my head, scoffed at my prompter. I would have said I had no idea what the Catholic Church taught, believed or proclaimed. I would not have thought what She taught, believed and proclaimed was revealed by God; not because I thought She lied and had nothing to do with God, but because I knew nothing about Her or Her relationship with God.

'What do I believe?'

Midwest countryside.
I was told yesterday that there are two parts to conversion: the intellectual part and the emotional part. Valuing intelligence is a good thing, but I think what mattered more for me was curiosity: what is going on here? I suppose I'm lucky enough to feel a thrill instead of despair when faced with a puzzle. The fact that I knew nothing of Catholicism wasn't a problem, because I knew I could ask. I could have history explained to me. I could have Church teaching explained to me. I was lucky enough to have a supportive environment in which to ask questions and be given the room to struggle with the answers. However, as the saying goes, curiosity killed the cat, and I would be lying if I said I never felt frustrated when my light-hearted curiosity began to feel like a stinging thorn in my side. There was always a point when "Why do you Catholics believe this?" became "Why do we Protestants not believe this?" or "Why do you Catholics do that?" became "Why do we Protestants not do that?"

Mere curiosity was not going to cut it after the facts were laid out before me. Mere curiosity would not tell me what I believed. Mere curiosity would not let concurrent Protestant and Catholic church attendance stay as such. I could not hide behind ignorance any longer. It wasn't until I was asked direct questions that I began to worry. I remember on a Summer 2011 evening lying on my bed, phone pressed to my ear in one of our usual hours-long conversations when my then-boyfriend, now-fiance, C, asked, "Where did the Protestant Bible come from?" "People?" I remember replying, as if it were a question. "People got together and decided which books belonged there." "Okay," he said with a surprising amount of patience, "Which people?" Which people? Funny how someone who was supposed to subscribe to sola scriptura Protestantism couldn't say from whence came the Scripture to which they clung. I remember that question more clearly than any other in my struggle because I think, as I counted my ceiling tiles to try to calm the wave of panic which hit me, I realized in that moment that the Catholic Church had its hold on me. It was not an oppressive, crushing hold. No. It was like realizing you had fallen in love. It was a nervous, transfixing and almost ready-to-bolt hold. I felt like Edmund Pevensie being confronted by Aslan. I had my eyes closed, but beyond the erratic drum of my heart, I could hear him breathing in front of me. I could feel his warm breath ghosting over my face. It was both exhilarating and terrifying.

Allerton Park field.
'Which people?' was only a two word sentenceso much shorter than the sentence at the beginning of this postbut so essential, such a tipping point for my faith. I had grown and accumulated knowledge, but now this quest for knowledge could no longer be my excuse. It was time for application of the knowledge I had garnered. It was time for decisions. I do not make light of that statement. Everything until then had been fairly simple. Now, however, fear began to set in. What would it mean if I kept walking down this road? What would it mean if I acceded to this knowledge? It would mean saying yes or no to certain statements. If I said yes, more yeses would follow. With each yes, I would step further and further from the faith of my family, the family which none-the-wiser conducted their lives only feet outside of my bedroom, where I still lay counting ceiling tiles.

In Introduction to Philosophy, we discussed Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. For one of the Meditations, the lecturer showed us how Descartes' beliefs were like a pyramid. He had the basic beliefs at the bottom and the more advanced beliefs at the top. When he began to doubt the certainty he could place on information taken from his senses, he had to remove that basic block of the pyramid. If you took that block out, the whole thing would topple. I was afraid because I knew the entire pyramid of faith I had built up would come toppling down if I removed so basic a block as the Bible. 
"You have listened to fears, Child," Aslan says to Susan, "Come, let me breathe on you. Forget them. Are you brave again?" My fears were real and, on that night, the breath of God was stirring against me.

I could not have been as brave to confront my questions if I had not had emotional support from my boyfriend. That's how most conversion stories go, right? Someone close to you converts or is Catholic and your head is reeling from this revelation. Scott and Kimberly Hahn are a great example of the dual-part conversion formula: Scott, a hard core Scripture scholar, was drawn to Catholicism by immersing himself in history and Church teaching; Kimberly was astounded at his conversion but later joined him. (Their almost cult-classic book Rome Sweet Home describes their journey in good detail. I recommend it to anyone considering conversion or anyone floored by the conversion of someone they know. I wouldn't say it made me desperately want to join the Church; rather I found similarities in the way I was feeling toward the Church on both sides: both drawn to it and afraid of what joining it would mean.) 

Sunset over the library.
I should be clear here: I did not convert because my boyfriend was Catholic, nor would I advise converting on the basis of a relationship. In fact, I would say definitely, definitely do not convert on that basis. I actually doubt you could truly convert in mind and heart simply because someone you love belongs to the Church (unless you are completely comfortable with a constant disjointed inner battle: then be my guest). What was truly helpful in having someone in my life who was Catholic was the ability to ask questions, seek clarification and gather support when I was in the most tumultuous throes of conversion. I never felt pressure from him to convert. I did feel pressure to figure out what I believed, though.

We should all feel this pressure. We should all have our faith tried and be able to defend it. "My breathren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience." (James 1:3) "[Y]ou shall greatly rejoice, if now you must be for a little time made sorrowful in divers temptations: that the trial of your faith (much more precious than gold which is tried by the fire) may be found unto praise and glory and honor at the appearing of Jesus Christ..." (1 Peter 1:6-7) 
One of the biggest failings I found in Protestantism was my inability to defend it. What did history say? What about these verses which support the authority of the Church, given by Christ? What about these verses which support the Catholic understanding of the Eucharist? What about the early Church?

St. Ignatius was a student of St. John and the Bishop of Antioch, living in the first and second centuries AD. "Be ye subject to the bishop," he wrote to the Magnesians. In his letter to the Smyrnaeans, he wrote, "They [Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again." Early Church writers sounded really Catholic. Why were these beliefs, which were so prevalent in the early Church, abandoned several centuries later by Protestants?

Another thing Protestants couldn't tell me is why they believed things contrary to Catholic teaching. 
Where in that Bible is sola scriptura supported? Why should I think the Papacy is all one big sham when Christ says:

"'But whom do you say that I am?' Simon Peter answered and said: 'Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: 'Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: that thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.'" (Matthew: 16:15-19)
 and also:
"Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained." (John 20:23)
Christ gives authority to St. Peter. First He says he shall be the rock of the Church, which will stand strong against the powers of evil. Second He places him in charge by giving him the keys to the kingdom; he also gives him the power to forgive sins (or not). As Peter was the leader of the disciples, Jesus sets St. Peter up to be the leader after Christ's Ascension. All of that seemed pretty clear to me when I read it, but was never discussed in Protestant circles. This lack of Protestant Catechesis confused me: why hadn't I been trained to understand the faith when it came to all of these new (but historically old) matters? Why had I never heard discussions about why Catholics, from whom Protestants broke off near five centuries (at most) ago, believed in things like the Real Presence and why Protestants didn't? How strange it was to find out later that Martin Luther believed in the Blessed Virgin Mary's perpetual virginity and Immaculate Conception, neither of which present Protestants (for the most part) support.

Campus sky.
Confusion and struggle hit me. Everything seemed tangled. I know my questions about Catholicism would not have begun as soon as they did had C not entered my life. I know the stress and tension I experienced would have had no basis if he had not asked me about my faith and I about his. While all of the worry could have been avoided, I know that I would take it all on again. I know that, as each question was answered, I could feel everything shift around me as the Catholic Church became more familiar and I began to feel hope. All the tangles were untangling. I began to feel like Catholicism wasn't some strange, ominous door; it was a door to home. I also know that the next pivotal moment of my conversion story will be remembered for the rest of my life.

C and I went on many walks in the Summer of 2012. This was easily the best Summer I've ever had, largely because of the following memory. Our walks always prompted long discussions about faith, school, books, music... I had spent the last couple months checking out Catholic books from the library which were much more captivating than my required coursework. This conversation was prompted by a question I had about The Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith. As we neared my apartment, he asked me what my thoughts were about conversion: had I thought about it any more seriously and practically? I don't know if he was looking for as serious an answer as I gave. Perhaps he thought I would shrug about it noncommittally. "Well, I'm not sure everything the Church teaches. I haven't read it all. I don't know everything
" He interrupted me with something like: "It would take more than a lifetime to read everything." However, I continued, "I know. I wasn't finished. What I'm saying is, I don't know everything, but I trust the Magisterium. I trust the authority of the Church. I'll believe what She says."

'What do I believe?'

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty,
Creator of Heaven and Earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in One Lord Jesus Christ,
the only begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation,
he came down from Heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day,
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into Heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.

'What do I believe?'

I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church teaches, believes and proclaims to be revealed by God.

07 May 2014

The Undeserved Key of Grace

Sometimes the very real choice is between being right and being loved by everyone. Of course, this is impossible. It is impossible to stay faithful to what is true, while maintaining the love and friendship of others. You cannot please everyone all the time, as the saying goes. Or to quote Scripture, "No man can serve two masters.... You cannot serve God and mammon."

People have different views. This can be a very beautiful, inspiring, creative and thought-provoking thing. At the same time, the more people there are, the more opinions there are; the more opinions there are, the more people will clash. Sometimes it works for good: our reasoning skills improve, we arrive at new conclusions, or we learn to respect the autonomy and individuality of others, the uniqueness each person contains, without which they would not be themselves. Other times, however, we check off our bullet points, develop counter-arguments, attempt amiable discourse and then the whole thing blows up.

What was once a friendship forged over years disintegrates like movie-version Voldemort at the end of the Battle of Hogwarts: just like the frayed pieces of his body and cloak floating into the air, you never quite know what is happening to the friendship until one day it is just gone (so unlike the book-version Voldemort, whose body hits the floor solidly: at least then there is a finality, a firmness, an understanding that we can at least nod at, and then depart from each other).

At some point you think, "Oh, what a pity party this is. 'It is so difficult being so right all the time.'" But that isn't what is going on. A hundred thousand times at least have I been wrong: I have knowingly led someone astray (usually myself), I have squashed the truth I do know into the deepest recesses of my mind so that I may not stumble upon it, I have taken the easier, wider paths so as not to disrupt my comfortable routine. But as the ever-used cliche states: "The truth will set you free." I used to picture that as a bird finally let free from a cage, spreading its wings in flight and disappearing into the broad, blue sky. Now, I know it isn't quite that easy.

When you're stuck in these totally awful for you repetitive motions which some people call sin, it's hard to even want to be free. You don't see the point. When you do see the point, though, you realize freedom is something worth having. Freedom isn't just handed to you. You have to work for it. So instead of seeing a bird fleeing gleefully from its cage, I picture myself in that prison cell, chipping away at the bars with some blunt object like a spoon, scraping against metal, breaking my nails, bloodying my fingers. It isn't such a lost cause: the grace of God, the help we need, is in the form of Jesus, standing on the other side of those bars, giving me a balm to sooth the cuts on my hands, taking away the spoon I have and replacing it with a key.

Maybe that spoon was the sum of my pathetic prayers, maybe the injuries I inflicted on myself are every time I remained unrepentant, maybe the balm is the completely undeserved dusting of grace I receive from a blessing and maybe Jesus is saying, "I've had what you've needed all along right here. Take this key, seek me in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Everything will become new."

It is truly an undeserved key, an undeserved grace, granted through an undeserved redemptive act by a man with undeserved punishment. Is there any point, though, in wallowing when presented with such grace? Is there much fruit in remembering fractured conversations, broken friendships and the unchangeable past beyond acknowledging our failures and firmly resolving to do good, avoid evil and amend our lives? For these can only happen by undeserved grace. Ruminating on our failures does not seem to accept the offered grace, at least not fully, and why would we not try to accept it as fully as it has been granted? Perhaps the best we can do is be grateful, humble ourselves, see what has been given to and for us and respond accordingly.

04 May 2014

Burning Hearts

A portion from today's Gospel reading (Luke 24:27-35):

Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures. As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, “Stay with us,for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. 
Then they said to each other, Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, “The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!” Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

"Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?" the disciples say to each other.

On this day after the Crucifixion and Resurrection, the disciples meet with Jesus, though they know not who he is. Their eyes have been blinded from recognizing Him. They only realize it is the One about whom they speak, who they sit with now, when He breaks bread with them again.

Now, there are the obvious signs towards the Eucharist. As they meet for a meal, Jesus blesses the food as he did only the week before. When he gives the food to them, they see Him for who He is. "He was made known to them in the breaking of bread."

I imagined, as Father went through his homily, what it would have been like to be those disciples. To hear great words from a man on Scripture, to dine with Him and then to realize who He was only for him to vanish...it would be quite the surprise. What would it have been like to look at the other disciple in shock? And then how joyous would it be, to know He is risen as He said? Their eyes were opened to the Truth both of who He was and of what was told concerning Him.

However, I do not have to wonder and be disappointed not to have been there at the time. Each day we are invited to have hearts burning for Our Lord. He reveals Himself to us in each celebration of the Mass, in the breaking of bread, in His very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

This precious gift of Our Lord transcends all limitations: Jesus was just as present at Mass this morning as He was when He spoke to the disciples. Our hearts should burn at each Mass as we remember Who is before us.