After a radical conversion to Christ at the age of about fifteen years old, I lived as a genuinely devout Protestant, earnestly seeking after Christ in my life as best I could. Sometimes, of course, doing a miserable job.
This Easter, after a long journey, I became a Catholic.
My journey began when a Protestant pastor—himself on a journey towards a more ancient faith—asked me the question, “What’s more important the Bible or tradition?” When I answered, like the good Protestant, that it was, “Of course, the Bible.” He followed up by asking, “But who put the Bible together?”
I began to read about Catholicism from authors who were actual Catholics, instead of reading about what Protestant authors thought, or knew, about Catholicism. I found out, in a hurry, that much of what I knew about Catholicism (from the Protestant sources I’ve read, and from the few Catholics I’d met) was inaccurate, to say the least.
I read my way into the Church through authors like Louis Bouyer, Pope Benedict XVI, Scott Hahn, Stephen Ray, and G.K. Chesterton. Then I began to live like a Catholic by going to Mass and praying the Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours.
And then I became Catholic.
If I were to distill my journey into only a few words I would say this. I’ve become a Catholic because I’ve found the Catholic faith to be historically, intellectually, spiritually, and aesthetically satisfying. Although, satisfying is hardly the right word, I’ve struggled to find a better one.
When I first started writing about my reasons for becoming Catholic I didn’t include this category because I hadn’t been around the Catholic Church long enough to understand what it meant.
I get it now, and I hope I can explain it sufficiently.
The Catholic Church is aesthetically satisfying in that the language it uses, the level of devotion and beauty, and the message it espouses, surrounds the devout Catholic in a world completely of its own. A completely Christian world.
I was recently talking to a Protestant friend—a friend who’d been baptized Catholic but left the Church—who said one of the appeals of the Catholic Church over her experience of evangelical Protestantism was the level of devotion and reverence for God. That God is truly and deeply worshiped. That’s what I mean, exactly.
In many evangelical Protestant churches Jesus is our buddy, our friend, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s that to Catholics as well. But He’s also God, King Jesus, as N.T. Wright says, and He deserves our reverence as such.
That was missing in my experience of Christianity, as an evangelical Protestant.
Likewise, the emphasis on beauty, poetry, and language in the Catholic Church is so rich, and deep, it could take a lifetime just to plumb below the surface. Take a look at any older Catholic Church, even the more modern ones, and you’ll find a richness of meaning in every aspect.
All pointing to Christ. The whole environment.
So very true for me as well.
I encourage a reading of his entire piece whether or not you're Catholic. If you are, you'll identify with much of it and will want to pass it on. If you're not, you should at least better understand pieces and parts of the Catholic faith and perhaps have more respect for her devoted adherents. Perhaps.
I've recently, within the last month or so, decided to scale a mountain. A very high mountain... for me. And note I said scale, which means not just climb to the top but actually go over it.
Here's the tough part, the counterintuitive part.
I climb the mountain... by going low. Really low. Seriously low. And I don't do low well. Really. I don't. I suck at going low.
The mountain is pride. A mountain that's done me in mucho times in the past, at work, at home, with family, with friends. A mountain that I think has been an obstacle to lots of things for me personally, the biggest likely being my walking in the will of God.
I'm not scaling the mountain alone. In fact, through trial and error, I've come to know that attempting to scale the mountain alone is an absolute sign that you've already failed the attempt.
As I've mentioned, I started this trek a few weeks ago.
I started by regularly praying the following prayer, one called the Litany of Humility:
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me. From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved… From the desire of being extolled … From the desire of being honored … From the desire of being praised … From the desire of being preferred to others… From the desire of being consulted … From the desire of being approved … From the fear of being humiliated … From the fear of being despised… From the fear of suffering rebukes … From the fear of being calumniated … From the fear of being forgotten … From the fear of being ridiculed … From the fear of being wronged … From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I … That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease … That others may be chosen and I set aside … That others may be praised and I unnoticed … That others may be preferred to me in everything… That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…
That's a tough prayer. Extremely tough. Made tough by the very mountain I'm trying to scale. Read again the list of desires, the list of fears, I'm asking to be delivered from. It's huge stuff. Very large, wide, big, huge stuff.
The first time I came across the prayer, I blanched big time, that dreaded mountain looming so large in front of me it completely obscured the deep truths found within the prayer.
Yesterday morning, I came across this from Msgr. Charles Pope. A piece partnering nicely with the prayer, a piece helping to better define what humility is... and what it isn't:
It [humility] is not to be reduced to mere human respect or flattery, or rooted in worldly and servile fear. True humility has us abase ourselves before others based on what is of God in them. The humble person does not abase himself before others for what is wicked in them. Indeed, many holy and humble people have had to rebuke the wicked and suffer because of it.
Consider our Lord, who found it necessary to rebuke the leaders of His day. Consider John the Baptist, who rebuked Herod; or the Apostles, who refused the command to speak Jesus’ name no longer. These were humble men, but they also knew that the first humility belongs to God, and that no humility toward human beings can ever eclipse or overrule the humility due to God.
Therefore the modern notion of “Who am I to judge?” is not proper humility. Rather, it is rooted more in a kind of sloth (cloaked in the self-congratulatory language of tolerance) that avoids humbly seeking truth and being conformed to it. The truly humble person is open to correcting others and to being corrected, because humility always regards the truth.
And that lead us finally to a kind of focal statement about humility: “Humility is reverence for the truth about ourselves.” Indeed, the focus of humility is always the truth.
And what is the truth? You are gifted, but incomplete.
Humility doesn’t say, “Aw shucks, I’m nothing.” That is not true. You are God’s creation and are imbued with gifts. But note this: they are gifts. You did not acquire them on your own. God gave them to you. And most often, He gave them to you through others who raised you, taught you, and helped you to attain the skills and discover the gifts that were within you. So you do have gifts. But they are gifts. Scripture says, What have you that you have not received? And if you have received, why do you glory as though you had not received? (1 Cor 4:7)
But though you are gifted, you do not have all the gifts. And this is the other truth of humility: that God and others must augment your many deficiencies. For whatever your gifts, and however numerous they are, you do not have all the gifts or even most of them. That is only possible in relationship with God and His people.
One thing I'm convinced as I earnestly strive toward the goal of scaling this mountain is that I'm not going to do so quickly, that I'll have setbacks, that the mountain will at times beat me... but only temporarily.
When the setbacks come, I'll camp out wherever it is on the mountain I'll be at the time and pray that litany, seeking the help of He who overcame this very mountain for all of us by going as low as one can go, to the very depths.
If you're not willing to overlook the man's shortcomings, his rudeness, his crudeness then you are part of the problem and you must necessarily be an Obama sympathizer.
It's what I'm learning as I interact on social media, as I read the tweets, posts and blogs, as I peruse the reactions to what's took place in the recent debate. It's a befuddling thing, a surreal thing, a baffling thing.
So now The Donald is in hot water for making a crude menstrual insult. This is as good a time as any to make a simple point, one I make to young conservative activists all the time. Just because being rude or crude is un-PC that is not, in itself, a defense of being rude or crude. You would think social conservatives in particular wouldn’t lose sight of this. But many have, at least going by my email and twitter feed. In the debate, Trump defended his long record of piggish comments about women on the grounds that we don’t have time for political correctness. I agree with that. But surely we have time for a modicum of good manners? We are now in the crazy stage where people are shouting at me that I (or Charles Krauthammer, or George Will or Erick Ericson or Kevin Williamson) must be a liberal if I don’t support Trump. Never mind that the objective evidence leans overwhelmingly that support for Trump puts your conservative convictions in doubt. Are we really going to go down the insane path of saying that real conservatives must abandon good manners and respect for women to demonstrate their purity? Count me out of that nonsense.
Count me out as well. And nonsense it is.
I'm not sure I understand fully what it is I'm seeing. I'm not sure if I'm moving in a particular direction on the political spectrum or if others are dong the moving. But the polarizing is getting worse, the extremes on either end beginning to meld.
I don't consider myself a moderate. I think I'm more conservative than I am anything else.
But if Donald Trump is going to be the candidate around which conservatives need to rally, rally without me.
We've elected one too many a narcissist in my view, I'm not about to do anything that would lead to our electing another.
Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.”
Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.
He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began...
And the Catechism is right clear as well:
2013 "All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity."65 All are called to holiness: "Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."66
In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ's gift, so that . . . doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints.67
2014 Spiritual progress tends toward ever more intimate union with Christ. This union is called "mystical" because it participates in the mystery of Christ through the sacraments - "the holy mysteries" - and, in him, in the mystery of the Holy Trinity. God calls us all to this intimate union with him, even if the special graces or extraordinary signs of this mystical life are granted only to some for the sake of manifesting the gratuitous gift given to all.
2015 The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.
I can attest to the battle aspect of pursuing holiness. I say that because frankly and bluntly, I suck at being holy. Seriously.
When I think of holy men and women, I think of those who are gentle, meek, humble, kind, quiet and sweet. I am rarely any one of those things at any one time, much less all of them at once. In fact, I think it not to be a stretch to say that I'm the opposite of those things daily.
Yet, I want to be holy. I do. I'd love to one day, when I'm dead and gone, have someone remember me as a holy person. That would be significant. That would be incredible. That would be miraculous.
I say all this because yesterday, I came across what follows:
“Holiness does not consist in never having erred or sinned. Holiness increases the capacity for conversion, for repentance, for willingness to start again and, especially, for reconciliation and forgiveness… Consequently, it is not the fact that we have never erred but our capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness which makes us saints. And we can all learn this way of holiness”
I have a huge capacity for reconciliation and forgiveness. I'm constantly willing to kiss and make up... or at least hug and do so.
I'm willing to bet many of us do who are striving to be faithful.
Pope Benedict's words are a game changer in many respects. He's suggesting that we who are earthy, we who are chief among sinners, we who offend frequently and fall way too often, we have a chance to not only be holy but... to be saintly.
I've been rather stridently passionate in voicing my disgust these last couple of days as I continue to see and gauge the reaction to the news concerning the killing of the lion named Cecil in Zimbabwe and the non-reaction in some circles of the release of the Center for Medical Progress' Planned Parenthood videos.
There's a strong possibility that perhaps I've been overly passionate, a tad too zealous, particularly toward those who while voicing their indignation about Cecil's killing have been silent about the videos. The disparity in reactions has to me been jarring and beyond my ability to understand and/or comprehend.
Many Americans call themselves pro-choice, but are uncomfortable with unlimited abortion on demand, and these videos could help tip the balance in their hearts. But even as we hope and pray that the videos accomplish this conversion, let's not forget another large population of Americans, whose hearts matter just as much: the population of women who have had abortions.
Many thousands of women regret their abortions, and are haunted even decades later by what they have done, and what has been done to them. Thousands more are troubled and wounded, but aren't ready to make the connection between their suffering and their abortions. And for every one of those thousands of mothers of an aborted child, there is a post-abortive father, too. Many of these men never had a choice in the matter, and many pushed for an abortion and later regretted it.
So let's be careful as we use the videos, how we display the preview images, and what we say about the mothers of those poor babies. There is nothing righteous about grinding someone's face in a past sin. Like everything powerful and sacred, the images of those babies should be used with great care, because they have the potential to wound and damage along with the potential to change minds. As Susan Windley-Daoust said yesterday on Facebook:
This is likely a moment when many women (and men who helped women, or told women, to get abortions) are coming face to face with the harsh reality of their past. If you are reading this and find yourself in that category, there are people who want to help ...
I did not have an abortion, but every human alive knows what it is like to be hoodwinked and to make decisions they regret.
If you have had an abortion, you are not alone. Rachel's Vinyard offers healing retreats for women wounded by abortion, and Project Rachel offers free counselling, as well as adivce for how to help a friend who has had an abortion.
And for abortion workers who want to get out of the industry, And Then There Were None offers free financial, legal, and emotional support from peers who have left the industry, and helps abortion workers find ethical new jobs,
My passion on this topic is not likely to subside any time soon as I think frankly it shouldn't but I do hope, in the light of Simcha's piece, I'll be a tad more cognizant of what might be the reason for some of the baffling silence I'm seeing in the world from certain segments of my social media aware friends.
Lord, help us all deal with this passion inducing subject and help us remember the humanity of those we disagree with.
Americans are divisible into two kinds of people, those who think I share something like this because I am secretly a Democrat longing to abort as many children as possible and those who get that I am a Catholic with common sense. The former are using unborn children as human shields to defend inhuman policies. The latter, Catholic or not, are defending sanity.
Growing conservative disaffection with Pope Francis appears to be taking a toll on his once teflon-grade popularity in the U.S., with a new Gallup poll showing the pontiff’s favorability rating among all Americans dropping to 59 percent from a 76 percent peak early last year.
Among conservatives the dropoff has been especially sharp: just 45 percent view Francis favorably today as opposed to 72 percent a year ago.
“This decline may be attributable to the pope’s denouncing of ‘the idolatry of money’ and attributing climate change partially to human activity, along with his passionate focus on income inequality — all issues that are at odds with many conservatives’ beliefs,” wrote Gallup analyst Art Swift.
But liberal fervor for the Argentine pope, who was elected to great acclaim in March 2013, has also cooled, dropping an average of 14 points.
Some observers have predicted that many who embraced the pope’s candor and his views on a range of social justice issues would temper their ardor as they realized he would not change church teachings on hot-button issues like abortion or contraception or gay marriage.
Seems to me that this proves the Pope's Catholicity... and given that I now regularly piss off both conservatives and liberals, it proves my own. It all takes me back to this older piece by Msgr. Charles Pope:
The goal is for every Catholic to learn the Catholic faith and be a principled adherent to the faith prior to any political allegiance, or worldview. Jesus is neither a Republican nor a Democrat. He is God and He does not fit into our little categories. Neither does the Church. And hence we are to some extent an “equal opportunity annoyer.” And while we may align with the views of certain political parties and groups in certain matters, we are just as likely to stand opposed to other views of the very same party in other matters.
Is the Catholic Church Republican? Democrat? And what are you? As for me:
I’m against abortion, and they call me a Republican
I want greater justice for immigrants, and they call me a Democrat
I stand against “Gay” “Marriage,” and they call me a Republican
I work for affordable housing, and stand with unemployed in DC, and they call me a Democrat
I talk of subsidiarity and they say: “Republican, for sure.”
I mention the common good, and solidarity and they say, “Not only a Democrat, but a Socialist for sure.”
Embryonic Stem cell research should end, “See, he’s Republican!”
Not a supporter of the death penalty, standing with the Bishops and the Popes against it…”Ah, told you! He’s really a Democrat!…Dye in the wool and Yellow Dog to boot!”
Hmm, and all this time I just thought I was trying to be a Catholic Christian. I just don’t seem to fit in. And, frankly, no Catholic should. We cannot be encompassed by any Party as currently defined.
True Catholicism cannot be tamed by any political party or interest group. True Catholicism will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. It will annoy both the right and the left, and will also affirm them, it has no permanent allies or opponents. As it was with Christ, most every one will have reason to hate the Church, and some will come to love the her. We are destined to be, with Christ, a sign of contradiction (Luke 2:34) that will often be opposed, for we do not simply fit into any on world agenda or party.
In the end we are called to be those who are “simply Catholic.” Every other party affiliation, membership, alliance, or connection must yield to the Faith and be judged by it. No worldly thought should ever trump the Faith which God has revealed through the Church. And, even in some matters (e.g. how best to care for the poor) that are prudential in nature, our alliance to the Church founded by Jesus Christ ought to win the day when it comes giving the benefit of any doubt. And while staying in a dialogue with our Bishops, we must also accept their leadership and respect their insights as those designated to teach, govern and sanctify. In the end we should be simply, plainly and essentially Catholic.
I was having lunch recently with family when someone mentioned being friends with a Christian who had made the decision to never make waves, who refused to give opinions, who thought it best in these divisive times to not in any way engage so that they could avoid controversy. The person relaying this to the rest of us clearly was seeing this friend's non-engagement as something virtuous.
I don't particularly remember my response but do remember making the conscious, and in hindsight cowardly, decision to not say what I was actually thinking.
There is a false, unbiblical notion of Jesus that emphasizes and isolates some of his teachings and traits, while excluding others. Hence there are many who reduce Jesus’ moral teaching to a vague notion that we should be nice and try to get along. This not only simplifies Jesus — it trivializes him.
Jesus, in describing his own ministry and why he was hated so irrationally that even Pontius Pilate had to marvel, said to Pilate: The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me (Jn 18:37). Pilate scoffed, of course, and like a 21st century secular or libertine, said, “Truth! What is that?”
But there is something funny about the truth. The opposite of the truth is not just less meaningful, or just another opinion. The opposite of true, is false. Truth has a way of dividing. It will not abide competitors. That Jesus is Lord, is true. Anything different from this is not just less meaningful or someone else’s view — it is false.
Jesus says, “I am the truth” (Jn 14:6). As such he cannot be reduced to a harmless hippie going about speaking of love and inclusion. Did he speak of these things? Surely. But he also summoned us to a choice for him or against him. To choose for him was to be saved; to choose against him was to be condemned. The same Jesus who said, “Love one another” (Jn 13:34) also said, Unless you come to believe that I AM, you will die in your sins (Jn 8:24).
In times like these we are going to have to recover a healthy sense that Jesus not only unites many in his truth, but he also divides and distinguishes by that same truth. Myopic and wistful notions that Jesus want us to be nice and get along cannot supersede his command that we love him and put faith in his truth, even if it means our own family disowns us or is “offended” by us.
In this sense Jesus did not come to “unite” in some merely sociological sense. He came to distinguish his true followers from those who actually follow the world or Satan.
Once the Truth comes into the world, what is false must be rejected. Once the Light has come into the world, the darkness must be called by its proper names: confusion and obscurity. Once the Way has come into this world all other paths are excluded and lead only to Hell. Fr. Robert Barron says well and artfully: “Jesus compels a choice.” We are free to choose, but we must choose. Tertium non datur (no third way is given)!
Yes, in times like these we are going to have to recover notions that Jesus will divide, even as he seeks to unite us in the truth. We cannot go on clinging to a “Hallmark card theology” of pleasantries about getting along and being “nice.” Jesus did not end up before Pilate and nailed to cross by soft-pedaling the truth.
The Truth divides. And some of the divisions are very uncomfortable, reaching right into our families. There are going to be “weddings” we should not attend, gatherings we must refuse, affiliations that must end, affirmations we should not give, confrontations we must make, and silence that is no longer tolerable (if it ever was tolerable).
Indeed, we have gone on too long remaining silent — even approving — while sons and daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends cohabitated, stopped attending Mass, got divorced and remarried and engaged in any number of other immoral and questionable practices.
We thought being quiet would bring peace. It did not. Compromises with the world and the devil do not bring peace but only demands for further concessions and compromises. At the end of the process we are silent, dead in our sins, and the world and the devil just have more victims. This mess we are in today happened on our watch. We who should be prophets are left shaking our heads and wondering how it got so bad. No real mystery here: silent pulpits, silent dinner tables, and suing for a false “peace in our times.”
Somewhere we bought into a notion of a fake Jesus, a harmless hippie who just wanted us to be nice and get along. But that Jesus would never have ended up before the Sanhedrin, or Pilate, or on a cross. The fake Jesus would not have had enemies at all. The fake Jesus would never have many who left him and would no longer follow him because of his teaching on the Eucharist (John 6) or marriage (Matthew 19), or his own divinity (John 8). The fake Jesus is loved by the world because the fake Jesus’ is of this world.
But the true Jesus stood accused before Pilate, and was condemned to die by a world that hated him because he was not of the world.
That is hard, dare I say brutal, honesty and well worth reading in its entirety.
I should have the courage of taking Msgr. Pope's piece and passing it along to the person with the silent Christian friend.
I really should. God grant me the opportunity... and the courage.
My priest has been a light for me personally since I first met him a number of years ago but he has particularly been a flame for me of late.
He has been no shrinking violet in the wake of the Obergfell SCOTUS decision, in fact, quite the opposite and I took a moment after Mass today to tell him so, something I think we should all be doing for our faithful and prophetic priests, particularly those who are boldly standing up for truth and who are encouraging us all to do the same.
Father Mike's homilies these last two weeks have extolled truth courageously and he hints that he has been taking some heat for it and I trust that he has as does anyone today who proclaims the Church's teachings. The lukewarm and the faithless seem to be particularly loud and passionate these days and are quick to call out those who stand with the Church against the zeitgeist.
I wish there were recordings of Father Mike's homilies, particularly these last two but sadly, there isn't. So instead, I'm posting the homily of Father John Lankeit of the Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral in Phoenix, Arizona, a homily I tripped over yesterday on Facebook.
He too has a prophetic word for us from last week I thought worthy of sharing. Set aside 20 minutes today and listen, really listen, to it:
I thank God for the Fr. Mikes and the Fr. Johns that are out there and hope that in fact there are many more. We need many more.