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The name Francis likely reveals what will be the main themes of this papacy. I’ve heard confirmations that the Holy Father chose the name Francis in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, as opposed to St. Francis Xavier or St. Francis de Sales. However, all three of these great saints have important things in common: all three of them were great evangelizers, and all three pursued a mission of building, or re-building, the Church in very difficult times.
The image of St. Francis of Assisi has often been softened in modern times into some kind of medieval hippie. But the truth is that he–like my father, St. Dominic–lived in a time when the Church was on crusade abroad, while falling to heresy and internal weakness and corruption at home. It is said that Christ Himself charged St. Francis to re-build His Church, which was falling into ruin, while Pope Innocent III had a dream in which he saw Francis physically holding up the Basilica of St. John Lateran. St. Francis also ventured into the camp of the Sultan of Egypt near Damietta with the intent of either converting him or dying in the attempt. He kissed a leper and bore the wounds of crucifixion in his own body. He had a boldness and toughness that he often doesn’t get credit for today.
St. Francis Xavier, one of the first Jesuits who studied with St. Ignatius of Loyola, was a fervent and fearless missionary to distant lands such as India and Japan–lands in which Christianity was pretty much unknown. He is said to have converted more people to the faith than anybody since St. Paul. He died just within reach of mainland China, which had been his ultimate goal.
St. Francis de Sales had close ties and working relationships with both the Jesuits and the Franciscans. As the bishop of Geneva, he strove to re-convert and re-evangelize those around him who had left the Church for Calvinism. His gentleness and intellect won many of them back. He also served as a spiritual director to many, many Catholics from all walks of life to strengthen, reassure, and instruct them. We are blessed that many of his letters and writings have survived; they are just as relevant as ever. (In fact, I give St. Francis de Sales credit for helping me to come back to the Church.)
We are again living in very difficult times. Traditionally Catholic and Christian nations are falling to radical secularism and so-called liberalism which is anything but liberal-minded. The Church is imploding due to internal weakness, divisions, corruption, and scandal. Generations of Catholics have been poorly formed and catechized and have all too easily drifted into the secular world or into other Christian communities or other religions. Meanwhile, new generations of Catholics in places like Africa and Asia, as well as very ancient communities in the Middle East, are striving amid enormous adversities, often striving for their very lives and yet nonetheless thirsting for the Gospel and the Church, and longing for the love, support, guidance, and reassurance of their brethren and the Holy Father.
In short, traditionally Catholic and Christian lands are in dire need of re-evangelization and re-conversion, the Church is in need of re-building and re-forming from within, and Catholic communities both old and new in other parts of the world are in need of building up and support. These processes have been begun by previous popes. They have laid the framework and the kindling. I believe our current pope, true to his namesake(s), is going to light it all on fire!
For myself, I can say that Pope Francis has already inspired me to greater humility, greater prayer and spirituality, and above all, greater simplicity and poverty of spirit. All the good intentions I had for this Lent, all the disciplines, all the penances, have just been kicked up to the next level. And believe it or not, this Jesuit with the name and heart of the great Saint Francises, has inspired me to live out more fully my Dominican spirituality. Of course, Dominicans always have, and always will, play an important part in any form of evangelization and building up of the Church. Dominicans, like Franciscans, are a mendicant order. I think we may get back to those roots under the influence of Pope Francis. And when the Dominicans get back to their roots–not only the spirit of poverty, but the very important roots of prayer, study, and preaching–great things are bound to happen!
As my sister St. Catherine of Siena said, “When you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire!” I think Pope Francis is going to help all Catholics everywhere to be what we should be–disciples of Christ! May it be so–amen.
This is one of my favorite days of the year. Even if the weather is still a bit on the warm side, All Hallows Eve means summer is over and autumn has begun.
That this past summer has been so arid and desolate–a real desert–makes this day all the sweeter and more rejuvenating, all the more blessed! I am so relieved to have made it here, and I thank God and all my loved ones and supporters and intercessors for seeing me through the summer.
This day is a turning point in the year, and one that always brings about good things. I can’t help but feel excitement and hope and energy!
And then, this is not only All Hallows Eve, it is also my Birthday Eve! Life can never be too bad when you’ve got all the Saints in Heaven as your patrons. :D
Greetings, dear readers! It’s been so long, and I apologize for that. Honestly, time has just gotten away from me. I often feel like this year has only just begun. But no! We are now in the midst of Spring (in this hemisphere at least) and the glorious season of Easter, springtime of the soul! So, first thing: I want to wish a joyful and blessed Easter to all of you! :D
As usual, I have been prompted by my friends and your fellow readers that I am overdue for a blog post and an update.
Not too much has changed, but the changes there have been have been quite significant. I am recently moved into a new apartment in a different part of town. I also have a new relationship with a wonderful gentleman. As you can imagine, these new circumstances have brought great joy and freshness to my life! I feel like I have finally closed an old chapter in my story and entered into an entirely new one.
I was starting to think this would never happen. It seemed like a wild fantasy, something impossible and out of reach. I yearned for it so greatly, and the yearning seemed completely ineffective and futile. I felt I would be consigned to the same place for the rest of my life. But it did happen. As gradually and delicately and naturally as a new bud opening in Spring it happened. Without my realizing it, it was happening for quite some time, until the full glory of it struck me.
The natural seasons happen much the same way, don’t they? They change over time until one day you are struck by the fact that it is Spring or Summer or Autumn or Winter. It should come as no surprise; these changes happen every single year. And yet each season is always new and extraordinary, even if we may only appreciate it for a moment.
Thinking of nature’s splendor brings to mind a very dear and special person–and this is another recent change to my life: the recent passing of Father Edward Mathias “Matt” Robinson, O.P., the spiritual director of my local Lay Dominican community. He lived to the ripe old age of 97, and will always rank as one of the most knowledgeable and wise people I have ever known, learned in the natural sciences as well as theology, philosophy, and spiritual matters–much like the patron of our local priory, St. Albert the Great! He was also known as the patriarch of the local pro-life movement. I highly recommend his online work, Fetal Life and Abortion: Human Personhood at Conception which appeals to human reason through philosophy and natural science to demonstrate the personhood and right to life of fetuses from the moment of conception. There is also a brief obituary posted there currently.
April has also brought the second anniversary of my father’s passing. Grief does strange things to time. Sometimes it feels much longer than two years, while sometimes it feels like just yesterday. The one thing that is constant is my missing him. I know he is still near to me, but there’s nothing to replace the sound of his voice or the warmth of his hand enclosing mine. How lonely life is sometimes! This too is a season that must run its natural course. I know that’s exactly what he would tell me.
And of course, I have plenty of people and things to which to devote myself in the here and now. In every time, we must be faithful to the present, so that is what I am trying to do!
I hope you all are doing well, and keep you in my prayers as always. God bless you!
I’ve been in a state of languor this Lent. Partly because of circumstances beyond my control, and partly because of my own all-too-frequent indolence. But tonight, I have remembered how I once summed up Catholicism: “There is always a new beginning.” I wrote that in the epilogue of my conversion story.
That inspired me to re-read my conversion story–something I haven’t done in many months, or maybe years. And I can truly say that it has given me a shot in the arm!
Mentally revisiting all those events and time periods… looking back over all that I’ve been through… remembering what a hard-fought battle it was… recalling junctures where things could have gone terribly wrong…
All of this has brought me back to my senses, back to myself. It has rekindled my fires and restored my sense of purpose. It has raised my eyes back up to my goal–nothing less than God Himself, for eternity, in Heaven.
That’s all I really want. And there’s no surer way to attain to that goal than to just keep on being what I am–a practicing Catholic.
So. Here I go again!
A blessed Lent to you all.
It’s been a beautiful autumn day, sunny and bright, but very cool! The leaf-turning (such as it is in these parts) has begun. The colors are rather sparse, but when you do see them, they are quite lovely! We have some maples, which are always glorious!
I am feeling much refreshed and recharged. I think my medication is working nicely; I have greater energy and emotional stability, I think. Thank God.
Prayer has been coming more easily as well. I went to church this evening after work to pray the Rosary. It is always a sublimely beautiful and peaceful place. A holy place. Today, though, it was even more so. Perhaps it was the low, autumn evening light… what a sweet and enchanting atmosphere, so redolent of this season. I looked at the Crucifix. It is life-size and dominates the entire space. And the Lord’s body looked so alive. Less like carved and painted wood, and more like living flesh. As I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries, I felt like I was there on that first Good Friday. It made me tremble. I felt such a surge of love and gratitude. It’s all too easy to look there and see just a decoration. This evening was much different. It was profound.
I’ve also felt a surge of creativity. I’m trying to drag myself away from Aubrey & Maturin (I’m almost through the 3rd book now!) so that I can work on my own writing. Of course, that includes the blog, for all love! :)
Recently, my ring broke very unexpectedly. It was the only ring I wore. Silver with a mystic fire topaz. This one.
I’d bought it for myself shortly after my fiancé, Patrick, died. I’d wanted a wedding ring just like it. At the time, I fancied it helped keep my bond with him alive and “real.” But it was just a ring I’d bought for myself. And I wore that ring through some incredibly brutal times.
I was sad when it broke, but then I realized that compared to the sadness I’d come through already, with that ring on my finger, it was as nothing. In fact, I’ve come to see it as a kind of release, a liberation. As if my ring were saying, “I belong to that time… but you do not. I’ve accompanied you far enough. You should go on ahead now. Find a new ring to go with you.”
It reminded me of a very vivid dream I had one night a few years ago. I was sitting next to Patrick. It seemed we were up on a high cliff, overlooking a sea. He was telling me that our ways must part and we must go on our own ways. He said there were other people who needed my love, and I must go to them and not linger near the past any more. It was a sweet, gentle, simply truthful scene.
I felt a definite breaking off, a definite separation. But it was a natural break, not a painful, jarring one. It wasn’t a complete destruction of the past–nothing can ever destroy the time we had together. It just shrank to a broken shard that I could carry around for remembrance, but not enter back into.
Sort of like the piece of ring I still have lying on the table. I’ll probably keep it, at least for a while. I still admire it. But I won’t be wearing it any more. I won’t be having it repaired. I’m going to let it stay broken. And get a new ring for this new time in my life.
I’m thinking about a deep red garnet. It can remind me of the Precious Blood of Christ that has purchased my new lease on life–not only this life, but the one to come. Maybe this one.
Or perhaps a lovely color-changing alexandrite to remind me of life’s transience? Perhaps this one?
What do you think? Are there any gemstones that have special significance in Catholic tradition?
This morning I went to a meeting of my parish pro-life group. We had as our guest speaker Darlene Ellison, one of our own co-parishioners and author of The Predator Next Door. She’s a wonderful lady, and gave a powerful talk… a very brave, very open talk. She spoke of how tragedy helped her begin to truly believe and live out her faith, and how, in looking back at her life, she could see that God had been subtly building her up to face the tragedy–and to overcome it, to grow from it. He brought new life and purpose from it. He brought understanding from it.
Although my story is very different from hers, I identified so much with what she was saying. I too re-discovered my faith in tragedy, and I too can see how God was working to build me up to face it, to overcome it, to grow from it.
This might sound strange, but when I think of the time leading up to Patrick’s death, it was almost as if I had premonitions at times–without fully realizing it at the time, of course. It’s really hard to describe. A lot of little things that sort of subconsciously or unconsciously jolted me with the message, “You won’t be able to have him with you much longer… but you will get through it… I will be here to see you through.”
The biggest thing I remember was the night when Patrick pointed out the church that was to become my parish church. Part of me deep inside knew that it was going to become my safe haven, my castle keep, my second home. Part of me was poised to flee to it, and when the awful time came, flee to it I did. Amid all the shock, confusion, and anguish, I gravitated to the Church, and to this church in particular. It was like a homing beacon had gone off.
People don’t always understand how I could regain my faith and my relationship with God in the midst of tragedy. I can see how it might seem counter-intuitive. We often hear of people losing their faith and turning against God or ceasing to believe in Him at all in response to tragedy and suffering, and we can hardly help but understand and sympathize with that.
I don’t really know how to explain it. Perhaps I never entirely lost the faith of my childhood. Perhaps there was still a tiny speck of faith left in me. Faith that informed me that suffering and tragedy bind us to the Cross–and to Resurrection. Faith that informed me that God would never abandon me. When I was a child, I often looked at this plaque my grandmother had at her house upon which was inscribed the poem, “Footprints.” Maybe that memory was a tiny seed that had lain dormant in me all those years, waiting for a moment in which to burst forth in all of its meaning. Waiting for the moment at which I would really need to know its meaning.
It was a moment that had to come sooner or later. No human being alive has any guarantee against it. And God generally doesn’t protect us from it. But He does enable us to weather the storm and then to grow–even flourish. He never fails to bring forth goodness from tragedy or from evil.
It is always good to have other people re-affirm these truths and re-affirm for me that I’m not really all that strange for gaining faith from tragedy. It emboldens me to tell my own story and give my own testimony to how very good and powerful God is.
The Triduum is ended with the holiest night of the year and the most sacred and splendid of all liturgies: the Easter Vigil.
The liturgy begins in darkness. The sun has set, and all the lights in the church are out. And then a new fire, begun from a spark of flint, emerges. The great Paschal Candle is lit, and from it scores of other candles, the flame being passed throughout the church. A new dawn breaks! Not with the light of the natural sun, but with the light of the Sun of Justice, Christ, our risen Lord.
And then, in the golden, dancing glow, the chanting of the sublime Exsultet (or Paschal Praeconium) begins:
Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!
Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!
Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!
Oh, the Exsultet! It is truly one of the highlights of my entire year. One of my favorite parts is:
What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.
O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!
“O happy fault”! Sure, life would no doubt be easier and better had Adam and Eve not eaten that fruit. But their fall didn’t only bring about hardship. Their fall ultimately brought Christ to us. Under the circumstances, what more could we hope for or desire than for God to become one of us, to come in Person to pay our debt and raise us up, to restore us to divine life? To allow us once more to behold the face of God!
Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!
Of this night scripture says:
“The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy.”
The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.
Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!
These are just a few excerpts from the Exsultet. But I’m sure you can see how enchanting it is and why it is something I look forward to and cherish deeply each year. It always brings tears to my eyes! It summarizes so beautifully and perfectly what this night means… and, really, what our Christian faith means!
[UPDATE]: Father Z has an excellent post dedicated to the Exsultet, including an audio file of him chanting it in Latin. Truly beautiful and not to be missed! [END UPDATE]
This is also the night when many people become new Christians and new Catholics. Bearing witness to that, standing in support of them, and welcoming them into the Holy Church is always a profoundly moving and humbling thing. I had the special privilege of sharing in the joy of my friend Susie and her husband as their son was confirmed and received Communion for the first time tonight! God bless him and all of our new brothers and sisters! They’ve been on quite a journey, and it won’t be ending any time soon!
It’s the most powerful possible testament that, despite what our society might look like and what our media might tell us, the Catholic Church isn’t old and dying. Every year she becomes younger and fresher. The Church may not be “popular,” but she still draws people to herself and to the Lord. She still has power over people. People still long for her, desire her, and strive after and pursue her. People still embrace her. She makes human beings more, much more, than just Homo sapiens sapiens. Calls us to sublimation and heroism. And people still want to be heroes and heroines, not in the eyes of society, but in the eyes of God and His Church! She makes the weak strong and the humble glorious. Who wouldn’t want that?
The neophytes aren’t the only new, fresh blood in the Church. The Easter Vigil renews all of us! It certainly renews me. I was telling Susie as we walked to our cars that I always feel so alive after the Easter Vigil Mass! It breathes new life into me. I come from it an entirely new person. We all do.
Let us praise and thank the Risen Lord for His tremendous blessings!
Christus resurrexit! Alleluia!
One of my favorite Saturday pastimes is watching Antiques Roadshow. I love seeing the huge varieties of antiques, whether valuable, or maybe not-so-valuable. I like collecting little antique things myself–especially Catholic items. Nothing huge, just little books and things. Sometimes I rescue them from used bookstores or shops. I want to make sure they find good homes.
Dearest of all, of course, are things handed down in my family–such as the little 1940s Sunday Missal that belonged to my Grand-uncle John (who was also my godfather). I’ve mentioned this missal before (see “Related Posts” below). It’s not anything spectacular or materially valuable; an antiques dealer or collector probably wouldn’t pay me anything for it. But it’s precious because it has been treasured by my family–it was important enough to my godfather to keep it, it was important enough to my father to keep it, and it is important to me to keep it and hopefully be able to pass it to somebody in the next generation. This little book represents my bond with my family, and our shared bond with our Church and our faith.
As dear as material mementos and heirlooms may be, our liturgical traditions are even more so because they are alive. They are suffused with the life of God and with the life of every creature, human and angelic, who participates in them. In them past and present, Heaven and Earth converge.
I can’t understand why any of them were ever abandoned, neglected, or rejected. If our ancestors left us chests of gold and priceless jewels, would we just suddenly one day toss them out, let them be scattered and lost, as if they had become worthless? Would we look at them and say, “Oh, all of this stuff is so old, it has no place in my life today, I’ve moved on to newer, better things, I just don’t care about it any more”? No. We might preserve them, sell them, spend them, admire them, pass them to descendants, or squander them–but all of those acts would be based on the notion that the gold and jewels were still valuable. We may have different ideas about how to best use them, but their value would not be disputed.
The value of our religious and liturgical traditions have been disputed and denied, and yet, in reality, they are far more valuable than inanimate objects like gold and jewels. Gold and jewels can be preserved or spent, admired or squandered. But our liturgical traditions can be lived, experienced, acted, and participated in! They can be used this way every day, or even every moment, in every part of the world, without ever being spent–indeed they can grow and spread and become even more valuable the more they are used!
Fortunately, as we are seeing now, even if one or more generations ceases to regard them as valuable, later generations can revive and rediscover them and restore them to their proper dignity and worth–and restore them to even greater life than they knew before! I am so very happy and grateful to see this happening in the Church today, with the Tridentine Mass, and with the Dominican Rite also. And I am so grateful for the efforts of our Holy Father Pope Benedict and all of the priests and laypeople who have seen our liturgical traditions for the infinitely valuable things they are.
The 10 months after my rejoining the Church were some of the most difficult, most harrowing of my entire life. I had seen the light… and the darkness I had lived in for many years became even darker by contrast. Leaving that darkness behind was a real trial.
Not everything was darkness, of course. I was in grief counseling with a good, wise, knowledgeable counselor at my church. At times, I could feel the pieces of myself coming back together. I could tell that God was working on me, though often in deep, secretive and mysterious ways.
But there were some pretty big stumbling blocks in my way, and falling back into old habits and affinities was ever so easy. As easy as falling off a cliff.
As one would only expect, I found some of the Church’s teachings to be very difficult and seemingly arbitrary, especially where sexual matters were concerned. Not coincidentally, some of my favorite and most addictive sins fell into that area. Until I could see why they were sinful, I really didn’t see any point in stopping them. So I went about life much as I had before, while telling myself that I was trying to understand. Furthermore, I was soon distracted by meeting some occultists–not a very surprising thing to happen, given the kinds of circles I’d lived in.
I had been pretty deeply steeped in the occult for several years, and was still quite familiar and quite comfortable with it. My life was so full of pain and turmoil that I yearned for something familiar and comfortable–and was willing to accept it without much critical thought. I was vulnerable, I didn’t really have my head screwed on straight, and these people knew how to take advantage of that. They knew how to take advantage of my nascent religious faith–my lack of knowledge, my doubts, my struggles. They planted seeds in my mind that what we were doing wasn’t evil, that it did not necessarily conflict with my religious beliefs, that they too were religious people so I had nothing to worry about. But above all, they took advantage of my loss, my sorrow, my incredible yearning to remain close to Patrick, to not let go of him and our life together. They fed me some rather fascinating threads, some techniques and theories, all seemingly very rational, even scientific. And I swallowed them hook, line, and sinker.
For months I practiced deranging my mind and senses, in search of a breakthrough into “other planes” and other worlds. I spent many sleepless hours attempting to induce trances, to trigger astral projections, to contact spirit guides, to open chakras, and all other kinds of nonsense. And I kept telling myself that it was all OK, that it wasn’t harming or endangering me in any way. That was a huge delusion! I conveniently ignored the fact that I went to Mass less and less frequently, that I had not gone back to Confession since 12 May, that I considered occult techniques more beneficial than the guidance of Scripture and Tradition, of priests and counselor, and that I was getting back into the habit of looking in the mirror to find God. I thought I had everything under control. In reality, I was becoming the same obsessive occultist that I had been before.
Meanwhile, I was perfectly at home with my pet sins from before, and was even adding new ones. I was retreating more and more into myself, and yet I was always angry at other people for allegedly shutting me out or turning against me. I was consumed with anger, with envy, with downright hatred. I blamed it on grief, but in reality, I was refusing to actually work on the grief. I would go to my grief counseling group and talk about things. I never let on to my counselor that I was living a kind of double life. I wanted to protect my double life. And it nearly destroyed me. The devil had a great big meat cleaver splitting me down the middle. His claws sank deeper and deeper into me, dragging me away from the Church.
Three Rays of Light
Things were really bad–I don’t think I can really express the horrors of that time in my life. You may be asking, as I sometimes do, “Where was God when all that was happening? Why didn’t he stop me from falling back into all that vileness?”
We must take into account the mystery of free will and free choice–the fact that I chose to turn my back on God and the faith in favor of my favorite sins and occult practices. My grief and confusion may have mitigated some of my responsibility, but there was a big measure of willful disobedience there nonetheless.
But this is also a lesson about God’s mercy. To the extent that I was suffering grief and confusion, He was very merciful to me. I describe those months as “falling off a cliff”–and yet I never hit bottom and died. I could have. But between God’s mercy and the part of me that still sought Him, I was spared.
He was still at work on me and in my life. And in the end, He did step to the forefront, in a most marvelous way! During a time when I was seeking out bizarre occult experiences, a few genuine mystical experiences sought me out quite unexpectedly.
The first one involved Patrick. He and I were sitting together in a high place, on top of a cliff. It was sort of gray and misty. He was warm, luminous, but solid, and I felt his presence more strongly than I had ever felt it when we were together in our earthly life. It’s hard to explain. But he was no shadowy dream figure or product of my imagination. He was talking rather sternly, as was his way on occasion, telling me that I couldn’t be with him in the way I wished and planned, that nothing could possibly achieve that, that trying to achieve it was foolish, deluded, and dangerous for me. He told me I was falling away, and that at that rate, he and I would only become more separated–maybe for eternity. He told me that our paths were going to be separate for a while, and I had to keep on my own path, not chase after his. He told me that there were a lot of people in the world who needed my love and my attention, and I was neglecting them. There was a very clear message, and a very strong feeling, of separation. Something final. I knew I would never see Patrick again in this life. At the same time, I knew that something would always remain… something undefinable. It would be a loving separation. It would be in my best interests, and that was all Patrick had ever thought of and desired.
The next one involved a lady in white. We were in a moonlit garden. She told me that I must come back around to seeking true wisdom, which would not be found inside me, but only in God and His Church. I would have to reach outside of myself for it. I would have to seek out an encounter with God. She told me that I must not shun or be afraid of suffering, because my suffering would help to take me outside of myself and reach out for God. It could serve a very good use for me. I don’t think I really recognized the lady in white at that time… but it wasn’t long before I did. Almost immediately thereafter, I felt an enormous urge to begin praying the Rosary. And I began to cope with my suffering and sorrow in a more genuine, head-on way, just like Mary and her Son had.
The third one was an encounter with Christ Himself. I was kneeling at the altar rail in my parish church. Before me was a tremendous light and an overwhelming presence that made me tremble from head to foot. I tried to look up, but I couldn’t look at His face. I did see His hand, still bearing the nail wound, a dark red opening near His wrist. He raised His hand to His chest, over His heart, and drew out from it a gleaming white Host. He brought it down to me. I closed my eyes and opened my mouth as if to receive the Host on my tongue. But before I could, I was seized with a horrible illness. I was struck by an intense heat, my body convulsed, my mouth filled with an extremely bitter, rotten fluid. Almost as quickly, then, the sickness vanished, and His hand brushed my face, and the vision was over. But I understood: what I had felt was the effect of the sins in my soul, and that to receive Communion while my soul was in that state was a horrible imposition on God, and a great harm to myself.
These experiences happened in quick succession… all within about a week. They happened while I slept, but… they were not like any dreams I’d ever had. Even if they had been “just dreams,” the messages were real and true. In any event, they pretty much blew any occult experience I’d ever had out of the water, and jolted me to attention! And that’s when I discovered two of the greatest, most important things of all, the things that really turned the tide:
First, I learned that God really was worthy of my trust, my faith, my obedience, and my submission. He wasn’t going to lead me wrong. Even if I didn’t always understand Him or His teachings or His demands, I could trust them. Even if I treated Him horribly, He wouldn’t send me to Hell. If I went to Hell, it was going to be because I chose to. And He and I both knew that I didn’t want to choose Hell. Part of me was still crying out for Him and longing after Him, and that was enough! As long as I was just willing to strive for Him and do my best to cooperate with Him, He was going to to be there for me, and He was going to save me. I could rely on that!
Second, and related to that, I discovered the real meaning of freedom. I looked at myself and at what was going on in my life–my sins, my stubbornness, my mistakes. And I said to myself, “I’ve had enough of this! This stuff is just bringing me down. It’s burying me. And I don’t have to let it. I have another option, and by God, I’m going to choose it! I’m going to choose Him, I’m going to be faithful to Him, and I’m going to do whatever it takes! It doesn’t matter if it’s hard or if I don’t have all the answers and all the power. He is worth it, and so am I. I am above always giving into the basest drives and desires. I am above taking the path of least resistance.” I learned that freedom meant taking responsibility for myself. And it also meant choosing something, and Someone, greater and better. It meant being able to overcome, as opposed to saying, “Oh the devil made me do it… oh, I just can’t help it… oh, it’s because I’m grieving…” etc., etc.
That was the turning point. It happened to coincide with Ash Wednesday, 1st March 2006. Almost a year since Patrick’s death. A year spent on a monstrous precipice between Heaven and Hell.
A Grueling but Wonderful Lent
I call Ash Wednesday 2006 “the point of no return” because that is when I decided once and for all that I was going to be a practicing Catholic. I wasn’t going to give less than 100% of myself to God and the Church. I was going to learn and live by every single Church teaching, without compromise. If I failed, I would simply try harder. I would struggle as much as I had to. I would go to Confession as often as needed, and I would never receive Communion unworthily again. That’s what I decided to do, and I stuck by it!
Dang if that wasn’t one grueling Lent! I was often terrified of the decision I’d made! I knew I was committing myself to something huge and really radical. I knew I was setting myself apart from the world, and I knew it was going to bring conflicts and difficulties. I knew I was going to have to learn some serious humility. Terrifying! But God was so very good to me, and as I got to know Him and rebuild my relationship with Him, person to Person, I came to love Him so much and to desire so greatly to be with Him. Whenever I committed a sin, I immediately had to be reconciled to Him, because I couldn’t bear being apart from Him and His grace. To be separated from Him felt like death to me. I went to Confession most every week.
I came to understand all the difficult teachings of the Church that had previously frustrated me. It’s amazing what you learn when you just sit yourself down at God’s feet and say, “Lord, I am all Yours! Give it to me straight, and give me the understanding I need to incorporate it into my life and give my obedience to it!” You can read as many books and listen to as many homilies or Catholic radio programs as you want, but unless you completely submit yourself to God, you aren’t going to get anywhere.
By the time Easter came around on 16 April 2006, I was truly a different person. All of my pet sins were completely gone. I was completely freed from them! I have never even thought about delving back into the occult. Every occult experience I’ve ever had is pale in comparison to what I have learned, seen, discovered, and experienced in Catholicism and in my relationship with God. God and Catholicism have opened my eyes to the wonders of creation and humanity. There’s always something new to learn and something new to appreciate more deeply. I don’t need anything else.
There is so much more I could tell about those 10 months of darkness and the subsequent Lent. Even now, I am probably doing a very poor job of describing them and just how intense and challenging they were. But looking back now, I am just so grateful for them! I am grateful that they were challenging. I’m grateful that I was forced to face the darkness in my life and then fight to overcome it. I think that I really had to be brought to the brink of destruction in order to know definitively what I wanted and which path I was going to take.
As I said before, that’s the mystery of free will and how God interacts with us. It was scary. It didn’t always make sense–I couldn’t always figure out just what God was up to! But as time goes by, I can see the wisdom and the goodness of it.
Some people I’ve talked to about it are utterly confounded by that. They say, “That’s crazy! If God did me that way, I’d just tell Him where to go! I wouldn’t put myself through that! That’s not my idea of a loving God!” I smile and say, “Oh, if only you knew Him! If only you could go through what I have–to be able to look back and see what a beautiful, fascinating, intricate tapestry He has woven in my little life! That makes everything worthwhile!” I don’t think I’ve convinced anybody yet… but I do pray for them. Especially the ones who profess to be Christians. I mean… they don’t even seem to know Him whom they profess to worship! I hope and pray that they will someday.
On the other hand, there have also been people in my life who have assumed that my conversion was just an easy, mindless thing, like somebody flipped a switch and BOOM, I was a bona fide brainwashed Catholic! Yeah, I had some really powerful mystical experiences that would make many of my former friends roll their eyes and sneer with disgust. But you know, for all their glory and power, those visions really only served as a bridge, a transition. They were merciful consolations amid vast desolation. They were a respite from the journey so far, and fuel for the journey ahead. There has been absolutely nothing easy, magical, mindless or instantaneous about my conversion, and to characterize an entire long, arduous, and still-ongoing journey as just a flash of light or a puff of smoke or brainwashing is just incredibly irrational and insulting. I pray for those people too.
By the way, I don’t think I’ve ever written about all three of those “visions” (I really don’t know what else to call them). Their exact natures can’t really be captured in words, of course. I think I’ve probably hesitated to discuss them for fear of being considered a lunatic. But I’ve reached the point where I don’t care if somebody thinks I’m a lunatic. I have so many other things to think about! I am OK with putting myself and my experiences out on the line. Because no matter how strange or absurd they make appear, those experiences are true. And I am all about speaking truth. There’s no point in saying anything if you’re not going to speak truth.
So that’s why I tried to describe them at some length. They were each wondrous and strange. I recall that I was very calm during them. Not frightened. I just took them in, absorbed them. I don’t recall saying anything myself, but just listening. That’s what I needed to do.
Listening is so important. That is literally where “obedience” comes from–a Latin expression that means to “listen to.” That’s why you have to sit yourself down at God’s feet and just open your mind, open your ears. You have to do that if you’re going to be able to practice Catholicism. Otherwise, you’re going to beat your head against the Church’s teachings, and you’re eventually going to give up on them or redefine them to suit your own tastes. And that’s not practicing Catholicism.
Epilogue: The End is Always a Beginning
Well, that’s the bulk of my conversion story. The rest of it is just what you read here! It continues on. I still struggle at times. But I’m not giving up, no matter what happens, no matter how hard I have to work, no matter what I may have to sacrifice. To put it very simply: God and the Church saved my life. Or rather, restored my life. I wouldn’t be here today without them. Or at least, I wouldn’t be who I am. You don’t just turn your back on that, or treat it lightly! You don’t pour yourself 100% into something just to let it go to pot or abandon it for the latest fad.
I have a long way to go. I’m definitely not perfect. My faith is still very much a matter of “practicing” in every sense of the word (hence my blog title). I fall flat on my face now and then, although I’ve now gotten to where my life is mostly a “controlled fall” where I can avoid being seriously injured and seriously offending God–all thanks to frequent Confession, my friends.
If I could sum up Catholicism in one phrase, it would be this: “There is always a new beginning.” After all, we worship a God who died and was resurrected, right? So, even if we seem to reach an end of some kind, we can be assured that there can be a new beginning. It might not be easy, but it will come.