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As it turns out, I have more to shake off than I realized.  And what I expected to be a refreshing rest has been more like lying on an operating table.  Once again, I should have known better–for it often happens: I reach a point where I myself cannot loosen the things that immobilize and bind and mar me.

So now, God has His chisel in hand and is slowly but surely chipping away at all the pieces that still need dislodging, chipping away at things that hold me captive and mar my form, chipping away at the barriers I’ve thrown up myself.

It’s a painful process, and difficult to remain still and be utterly trusting in God’s sure hand and eye.  The baser parts of my nature resent it and cry out, “Why are You doing this to me?  I’ve turned to You for help, and yet You cause me such pain!”  But the higher parts of my nature understand perfectly. After all, what am I but a clump of earth that God has seen fit to fashion in His own image and–wonder of wonders–to love? And if He is willing to work, again and again, to bring forth the greatness He sees in me, to liberate and purify and beautify me, then why should I complain?

It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain:

One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less. 

(HarperCollins, p. 34)

Or, as St. Augustine said, “The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because his patient is screaming for him to stop.”

There are many, maybe hundreds, of other sayings to express the idea that pain is sometimes necessary and beneficial for us.  It is one of those timeless and universal human experiences.  That gives me a little comfort.  Just a little!  So does looking forward to the final result.  It is always worthwhile.  But for now–just gotta be still and be trusting!

I attended my first High Mass in the Extraordinary Form (EF) this morning.  It was glorious!  I’ve been wanting to attend one for a while now, but there’s a story behind why I went today.

Basically, I did something really stupid last night, such that I really, really needed to go to Confession before Mass!  The only priest I could think of who offers Confession before Sunday Mass was our FSSP chaplain.  So I dragged myself out of bed before 6, and mustered up my courage to go to a new place, for a new kind of Mass, and to confess to a new priest.

I got to the monastery chapel where the Sunday EF Masses are said, and I got there in plenty of time.  But I couldn’t tell where the confessional was, and I had not seen the priest around.  I finally asked a young man sitting behind me, and he told me I needed to go outside to an adjoining building.  Well, by the time I got there, there was quite a line.  And about 20 minutes until Mass was to start.  The priest had to cut us off.

I stood there, crestfallen and uncertain what I should do.  The young lady who’d been in line ahead of me told me that Father also hears confessions after that Mass.  That was well and good, but I felt I would have to refrain from receiving the Eucharist if I confessed after Mass.  I thought about going somewhere else, in hopes of possibly finding a priest to hear my confession.

But I felt oddly compelled to attend the high Mass.  It was something more than interest or curiosity that compelled me.  Something much more powerful… something supernatural, which came from within me and from without at the same time… if that makes sense.  The phrase I have long used for it is a gravity upon my soul.  An ineffable, external force which also ignites a great longing within my soul, a willingness and eagerness to respond to the force.

So I walked back over to the chapel, which by that time was standing-room only.  I stood in the doorway, not sure where I should go or whether I could possibly find a seat.  I was feeling very uncomfortable and hot and self-conscious.  Honestly, I just wanted to disappear, and in fact, I was about to turn and slink away when a young man came and told me there was a seat up front.  I didn’t like the idea of having to refrain from Communion in front of the entire chapel (as if it were all about me, right?).  But I also didn’t want to be ungrateful for the consideration shown to me.  I hesitated, but again, I felt that compulsion.

I followed the boy to the empty spot, sat down and tried to pray, fumbled around for my missal.  All while being devastated that I couldn’t in good conscience receive Communion.  I felt sort of like there was an earthquake going on inside me.  I wondered if the people around me could tell–it seemed impossible that they couldn’t.

And then…

And then the music began, organ and choir.  A simple hymn before Mass, but it was so beautiful that I could imagine the angels in Heaven appearing and becoming audible.  Then a bell rang, and the splendidly-attired servers and priest filed in.  The priest began the chanting of the Asperges Me, and the choir and congregation took it up while the priest sprinkled holy water on everybody.  I recognized the text of the antiphon as a passage from that most excellent prayer of penitence, Psalm 51:

Thou shalt sprinkle me, O Lord, with hyssop, and I shall be cleansed; Thou shalt wash me, and I shall become whiter than snow.
(Angelus Press 1962 missal translation)

As I felt a small shower of water come down around me, I felt God’s mercy wash over me.

And I was transported.  Transported out of my worry and discomfort, transported out of my nervousness and the internal earthquake.  Transported out of everything dark and worrisome and into a marvelous light.  The chanting, the Latin language, the incense, the splendor of the chapel and the vestments and the finely choreographed movements… it all transported me.  It wasn’t about me at all, and yet I found myself in a most wonderful place.  “It is good that I am here,” I thought, echoing the sentiments of St. Peter as he stood before the transfigured Christ, dazed but fully conscious of the blessing he had received.

Yes, of course, I found the liturgy a bit strange and hard to follow along with (I still find even the low Mass challenging at times).  But it didn’t matter.  I was aware of what was going on.  A great mystery, to be sure, but a mystery into which we are meant and indeed created to enter, without fear or hesitation.  I had been compelled to do just that, and I was now part of it in some small way.  What my feeble mind didn’t grasp, my soul certainly did.  It resonated with every sound, smell, sight, and motion.

And then there were the Scripture readings and the homily.  As I listened, I thought and prayed:  “OK, Lord, so this is why You compelled me.  This is all exactly what I needed to hear, and what You wanted to tell me.”  We heard Galatians 5:16-24, where St. Paul speaks of the works of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit and how we must live in the Spirit and crucify our flesh together with Christ.  Yes… I suppose I needed that reminder.  The Gospel was Matthew 6:24-33, where Christ warns that one cannot serve both God and mammon, and that if we have faith and trust in God, we will not be anxious about provisions for the needs of the flesh, for God knows us and provides for us, as He does for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field–and then some.  “Seek ye therefore first the Kingdom of God, and His justice; and all these things shall be added unto you.”  Yes… I definitely needed that reminder!

As part of his homily upon these exhortations, Father encouraged us to pray the Rosary.  It was probably the best and most inspiring preaching on the Rosary I’ve heard!  It really moved me, almost to tears.  My prayer life of late has been… shall we say… a bit weak.  Not because I’ve been unable to pray, but, honestly, because I just haven’t made praying a priority.  (Gosh, maybe that’s why I’ve been falling to pieces lately.  Do you think?)

The Mass proceeded.  I implored the Lord for a spiritual Communion.  After Mass came Adoration and Benediction.  I once again bewailed my sins and begged for mercy.  I was still painfully aware of my separation from Him.  And the fact that it was I, not He, who had caused it.  A hard conviction to pass upon oneself.  But not a death sentence.  God doesn’t hand out death sentences (despite some all-too-popular misconceptions about Him).  Rather, I felt Him say to me, “My child, I know that you came here to be reconciled, and although things have not gone as planned, I have kept you here so that you might receive hope, healing, and encouragement to sustain and re-fortify you.”  I thanked Him profusely and reaffirmed my intention to get to Confession as soon as possible and to do better.  I marveled at how He brought that beautiful morning from the previous day’s pitiful failing.

I tried to go to Confession again after Mass, but again, there were too many penitents and not enough time.  At the time, I was still disconsolate about it.  But I decided that I would wait until Tuesday morning and go to Confession at my parish church, to my parish priest, my usual confessor.  And in the meantime, I would trust in God’s tremendous mercy and providence.

That’s what I am doing now, and with considerable peace of mind, thanks be to God. But perhaps that raises another question:  So, why go to Confession anyway? I’ll address this question in a separate post.  I was planning a similar post anyway, and what happened today provides a good context for it.

Let me just close by saying:

1. Mortal sin IS. NOT. WORTH. IT. So avoid it at all costs and save yourself a whole lot of grief!

2. But if you can’t avoid it, DO. NOT. DESPAIR. Be humble, honest, and contrite before God, and get to Confession ASAP!

In this fair month of May when we celebrate motherhood in a special way, I’ve been thinking about the ways in which I have been realizing and experiencing my own maternal nature and instincts.  It wasn’t until quite recently that I have thought of myself as having motherly qualities and indeed being a mother in spirit.  It has come with my maturing in the faith, with understanding who I am and who God created me to be, with learning what it truly means to be a woman, with developing a closer relationship with the Blessed Virgin Mary and taking her as my model, and with coming to a real appreciation for how very precious life is and how very good God is.

For many years, I had no wish to be a mother.  In fact, I was often quite hostile to the idea.  There was a time when I would sooner have had a abortion than had a child.  And yes, I would have considered it my right, the safeguard of my freedom.  How very deceived I was!  How very ignorant and at war with my own nature.

Now everything is so different.  I see womanhood and motherhood being so intrinsically linked.  I may not have children, but I still have many ways of expressing, exercising, and exploring my own motherhood.

I am not one of those people who think that animals can substitute for children, but I have learned some valuable lessons from caring for my two cats.  Lessons of joy and being childlike of course.  Also lessons of selflessness, patience, and forbearance.  There’s nothing like coming home after a long, stressful day and just wanting to kick off your shoes and collapse into your favorite chair… only to find a great big yucky hairball on your favorite chair.  And better yet, to get one mess cleaned up only to have another pop up somewhere else.  But you look into those little green eyes and somehow you manage to just overlook the messes and the tiredness and the drudgery.  Poof! They vanish.

Oh, and the expenses these little furballs can incur–I often feel that I spend more money on them than on myself.  That can cause some dismay… for a moment.  These little ones have nobody else on whom they can depend, apart from the good Lord Himself.  When I think of how well He has provided for me, who am I to begrudge what I have, even to lesser creatures?  God is much more superior to me than I am to my cats.  At least the cats and I share the status of corporeal, mortal, finite creatures.  If God loves, has mercy upon, and provides what is so small, should we not do the same?

Sure, animals aren’t people.  But in our interactions with them and attitudes toward them, we can learn how to be human, how to love, how to be motherly and fatherly.  As I wrote to one of my friends/commentors on another post, if we can’t love in small ways, how will we ever learn to love in great ways?  The smallest acts of steadfastness, patience, self-giving, tenderness, empathy, and intuition can bear good and lasting fruit.  They can grow and flourish and spill over into our relationships with other people, and with God too.

How often do I meditate upon the Incarnation and the Nativity of the Lord and picture my Lord, God, King, and Savior as a tiny, helpless babe.  How often do I long to cradle Him in my arms.  Or even when meditating upon the Passion and gazing upon the Crucifix, how often do I wish I were strong enough to bear away some of His pain and agony.  Of course, it’s all I can do just to bear the much smaller and fleeting discomforts of my own unarguably comfortable life.  Oh, and nothing is so dear to me as receiving Him in Communion!  How often am I lost in wonder at the blessed union!  For those precious moments, I can experience bearing Him in my own body just as the Blessed Mother did!  All I want is to offer Him a good, pure, and loving place within me.  No filth of sin, no weakness of constitution.  Just a beautiful, firm, and worthy sanctuary within.

I think back also to October 2007, when I spent time caring for my parents.  It was truly such a privilege for me.  It was an act of filial love, but also drew upon my maternal instincts as well.  I was actually quite nervous going into the situation.  Worried that I would be inadequate.  I mean, me caring for the two people who have always cared for me and given so greatly and freely of themselves to me my entire life… that was a huge deal, and a huge first.  But something within me responded… something graceful, peaceful, and self-assured.  A well of calmness and understanding.  It bore me up whenever I felt overwhelmed.

I feel it stir within me pretty often, when I think about it.  I often lie awake late into the night, thinking of family, friends, and other people in my life.  Sometimes I feel consternation because I don’t know what I can really do for them… other than pray.  So I do pray.  And that well comes bubbling up, reassuring me that I am doing something for them, that my love and concern are not bound by the material world with its time and space, they are not limited to sheer physical action.  And sometimes the best thing we can do is simply entrust our loved ones to God.  After all, none of us belongs entirely to each other; we all belong to God.  I have learned this from my own parents.  My own mother and father have been in situations when they could only pray and trust in God.  Situations I put them in.  And pray and trust they did.  And their prayers have been answered, perhaps more abundantly than they ever expected.  Their prayers and trust in God have helped to give me new life, and I trust that my prayers and trust will do the same for all of my loved ones.

Since returning to the Church, I have developed a particular love for our priests and seminarians.  I’ve been blessed to get to know and interact with a number of these gentlemen, each his own unique person, yet all of them among the brightest, kindest, most dedicated, most courageous, and most generous people I’ve ever known.  I can’t help but be impressed, and really quite proud!  I certainly regard them as my fathers and brothers in spirit, but I also feel a certain kind of affection, concern, pride, desire for their success, and longing to provide them support which I can only describe as “maternal.”  With priests, of course, a lady must observe a certain prudent reserve, out of respect for their consecration to the Church and for the sake of their purity and good reputation, as well as her own.  I suppose it is not too different from the more reserved love and admiration a mother feels for an adult son.  Oh, I would be so happy to see any biological, adopted, or spiritual son of mine join the ranks of the priesthood!  In the meantime, it gives me joy to support all of our current and future priests (as well as those who may be in Purgatory) with prayers, letters, attention, and when possible, the odd bit of material assistance.

Last but not least, there are the souls of the little innocents, those tiny victims of abortion.  Since becoming more involved in the pro-life movement, I have thought a great deal about those little ones.  I sense their presence around me sometimes, like little starbursts of pure light and life and love and warmth.  No poor, unhappy, desolate souls, these!  They live in the presence of God and His mother, amid the angels and the saints.  It’s a marvelous example of God transforming evil into good.  We may mourn, but they do not.  Still, I feel like they do love, appreciate, and respond to the maternal and paternal love of we who live on earth.  They love being loved by us.  They love being regarded as the eternal children they are.  And what joy they give in return, and what encouragement!  This blessed army of little souls will help lead us to victory.  And they will plead on our behalf when we reach Heaven, just as we’ve tried to plead on their behalf on earth.

Wow.  Taking time to write all of this has made me even more aware of how very rich and blessed my life is.  When my dear Patrick passed away a little over 4 years ago, I thought my life was over.  Part of mourning my loss of him was mourning my loss of ever becoming a mother.  Motherhood was narrowly defined as conceiving and bearing and raising a child of my own.  But as you see, motherhood is something much greater than that.  It is something every woman has simply because she is a woman.  Of course, having children of one’s own is a very special blessing.  But we needn’t feel bereft or inferior or desolate if we don’t have biological children.  There are so many people who need our special kind of love and devotion and nurturing and womanly genius, and even other creatures and God Himself are not beyond the sphere of motherly love!

Oh… life and love and humanity are truly wondrous and endless treasures!  We have only to open our eyes, hands, and hearts!

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.

Looking back

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.

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(Image from a painting at St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Metairie, Louisiana)

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