It’s a bit of a long ramble tonight. Sorry, I didn’t have time to make it shorter. (Hiya, Pascal!) ;)
I don’t know how many of my readers are Catholic and how many aren’t. I assume most are but I wonder. I don’t even know how many actual readers I have. Probably a fraction of those who “follow” me ever get around to reading anything I’ve written. Well, I’m going to do what I’ve been doing, and write as if I’m addressing fellow Catholics or someone who is at least interested in Catholicism. And since this is supposed to be a post about the Blessed Virgin Mary (in the Something About Mary Every Day In May series), tonight I will write about one of my favorite Marian topics: the Rosary. Eventually. ;) Here goes.
When I was a young woman, fresh out of high school and no longer expected to accompany (I used to like that word) my family to church on Sundays, I began to search. I didn’t know what I was searching for, but I knew there had to be something. There had to be some way to know more. More about the reality, truth, the universe, more about how Christianity was supposed to work. No one could ever answer when I asked these things at home or at Sunday School or anywhere else. But I knew that someone somewhere had answers, to my questions, to my deepest longings, and I was determined to find that someone and get my answers, once and for all.
Did I ever tell you how I started praying the Rosary before I became Catholic?
If you haven’t read my conversion story or followed me on Twitter for a while, you may not know that I was a new ager and Buddhist back in 1994 when I began volunteering in a Catholic bookstore. I volunteered at first just to help put the place in order. I would grab a fast food dinner and head to the bookstore after my day job, and the store staff would lock me in and leave me to it for a few hours at a time. After a few days I even got a key. My self-appointed task was to clean every shelf in the place, figure out what things were (a daunting task for a gal raised Methodist and clueless about Catholicism), and put it all back together again in a way that made sense. The all-volunteer staff at the time had been shelving things by the “I can reach this shelf from where I’m standing, so that’s where this goes” method. Oy.
Of all the things I’d hoped to do during Lent, I’ve managed only to prove to myself that I am even weaker than I already knew. But, lucky for you, I have also spent some time listening to an audio course in Spiritual Theology taught by Dr. Brant Pitre. It’s available in DVD, CD or MP3 formats. (I bought the MP3 set so I could download it immediately and have been listening to it on my iPhone in GoodReader.)
One of the earliest purchases I made after becoming attracted to the Catholic Church in the ’90s was Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s marvelous two-volume work, The Three Ages of the Interior Life. This was the first Christian work of its kind I had ever seen and I’m so glad I got it then in a clothbound edition. I have read and re-read Volume One, and have read Volume Two through at least once.
Why do I mention Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s book? Because Dr. Pitre uses it in his course! How exciting! For me, it is. (Stop looking at me like that. I know I’m a nerd. And you do, too, if you’ve even glanced at this site before. So there.) And that’s not all. Dr. Pitre uses several others that either I had in print or Kindle format, in my Verbum library or found online in PDF or other downloadable eBook formats for free. And, before you ask, of course I’ll give you links. Kind of me, yes? (Okay, my aforementioned weakness has engendered not quite enough humility in me. Yet.)
Sources used in the course include those in the list below. I’ve listed Kindle and print formats; eBook refers to various formats available mostly through the Internet Archive for free. On the course page there’s a link to a PDF outline of the course (scroll down). I strongly recommend that you download the outline even if only as a guide for your own study. What an amazing amount of teaching and work Dr. Pitre has put together for us! Btw, this is not a complete list. But if you get the free PDFs, Fr. Dubay’s Fire Within, and Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s books listed (PDFs or Kindle), then I reckon you’ll be fine. I also reckon you already have a good and well-worn Catholic Bible and, of course, a much dog-eared copy of the Catechism. (You do, don’t you?)
Notes *The RSV is available in two different Catholic editions, the RSV-CE (Catholic Edition) and the RSV-SCE (Second Catholic Edition). I use both because I like the SCE but the CE is available in interlinear format in my Verbum software. Can I read the interlinear Biblical Hebrew or Greek? Heck, no. But I like to explore and learn so I do use it. A little. I hope to learn to use it more as time goes on.
Another form of the RSV for Catholics is the Ignatius Study Bible RSV-SCE, but is only complete through the New Testament as of this writing. You can buy the NT in separate booklets or the whole NT in paperback, hardback or leatherbound. (Several books of the Old Testament are available now in booklet format, but I don’t know when the entire OT study edition will be available.) This is such a great study help because it’s the work of Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch.
A few years ago a friend of mine who was an atheist, and pretty much unchurched in her background, asked if she could go to Mass with me. Remaining cool, calm and collected on the outside, I answered in my best deadpan (which is pretty good, actually), “Why, sure. If you want to.” And didn’t say another word about it. Carefully didn’t say another word about it. I didn’t want to blow it. And all the while my stomach was turning backflips and my inner voice was screaming, “YES! Awright! Uh huh! That’s what I’m talking about!”
A couple of months later she said, “You know, I was going to go to the park [with a mutual friend and their dogs] this weekend but I think I’d rather go to Mass with you instead.”
I controlled my response this time, too, but I know on the inside I was turning backflips again. But I didn’t want to do anything to ruin this opportunity so I still deadpanned the words, “Ok. I’ll pick you up at 10:30.” And we didn’t say anything else about it.
When Sunday morning arrived, I went to pick her up and she was ready and waiting. Eager, even. I allowed myself to feel, only now at this moment, excited and happy. We were going to do this. It was happening. God is so good.
I gave her the Catechism I’d bought for her. “You may not need it this moment. But you will need it. All these questions you’ve asked me over the last few months—the answers are in here. Most of them.”
She took the book and off we went. I knew how important this first Mass would be and I wanted it to be the first Mass, not the last. I wanted it to be a good experience, a reverent, holy experience. So I did what any sensible person in the Birmingham area would do. I took her to EWTN for Mass at their tiny chapel.
As we pulled into the parking lot, a friar walked by and she positively beamed. “Look! A monk! I’ve never seen a monk before!”
“And you still haven’t. He’s a Franciscan friar. Not a monk.”
But I can still see the look of wonder and discovery on her face. Still gives me great joy every time I remember it. Which is often.
We wandered around the grounds for a while. Then it was time to go in. Her wonder and joy had only grown every moment we were there. But when we entered the chapel, that wonder and joy overflowed. I noticed how effected she was by it all. By the simple beauty of the chapel. By the Gregorian chant led by a couple who blessed us often in those days with their voices and their willingness to lead the music. By the congregation and their responses and reverence and obvious devotion. By the humble priest and the readings and the homily that always cut me to the heart and they cut her to the heart, too.
But most of all what effected her was something she had not expected, had not known to expect: the overwhelming sense of light where she had expected a darkness (too many bad movies). And a sense that she could not have known to expect, nor how to describe or express it: the Presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle and on the Altar.
She fought back tears from the beginning of the Mass to the end. And I knew then that she was going to become Catholic. A few months later she made her decision. She wouldn’t even wait for the fall session of the RCIA to begin. Found a class beginning in April at a local parish (as Providence would have it, the only parish that offered RCIA at that time of year) and began reading everything she could get her hands on. Everything. I bought her books but quickly realized that she needed to follow her own path and follow it she did.
And then came the day of the RCIA. I was her sponsor and drove her to class and then we’d go to Mass together. Now when I went through the conversion process (as if it were over and not ongoing until the day I die), the little parish where I was to be received did not follow the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. (Thanks be to God! Some people have had wonderful times with it but I have not.) I attended classes from September leading up to Easter and there were only four of us and the Irish priest who taught us. This was a truly life-changing experience. And we were able to discuss things and ask questions and I was able to gain a deep understanding of Catholicism. I’d already been studying on my own and was able to make the most of my time with Fr. O. I will always treasure those evenings.
By the second session of the “Not Really the RCIA” people had already established a habit of turning all the way around in their seats and looking at me whenever the leader made a pronouncement. On almost anything. The deacon leader, I’d like to add. I didn’t want it to be that way. And I tried to be as tactful as I could be. I mean, who was I? Do I have a certificate or a degree in theology? Am I a theologian? A catechist? No. But I had to speak up when I heard anyone, especially anyone responsible for handing on the faith, handing on a faith which did not resemble what I know as the faith. I didn’t argue about opinion. Indeed, I only spoke up when he tried to pass off his opinion as if it were the faith. There is no need to ever attempt to hand on your opinion instead of the faith. The faith is real, it exists, it’s been pondered and expounded upon, laid bare for all to see, expressed with eloquence and attention to detail, as a full expression of reason and reasoned reasoning and meditating upon the Word, by a Church founded and taught by Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit for 2,000+ years! Why on earth would anyone in his right mind even consider trying to make up his own version and try to pass it off as the real thing? Why try to reinvent the wheel?
But I’m getting ahead of myself. At this particular session, well into the program, the deacon decided once again to pretend the Catechism did not exist and got things off to a rousing start by telling the class about some archaeological or anthropological find, I don’t even remember what it was now. And that would have been fine. But then he went further and started talking about what it meant and quickly exceeded his understanding of what it meant and I don’t think he ever did have any understanding of what the Church taught on the subject. And I say that because…the Church does not teach anything on the subject at all!
He told the class that the Church teaches evolution. But he never clarified what he meant or what the Church really teaches. He led the whole class to believe that the Church and Darwin are in agreement and he tossed out 2,000 years of Christianity and God the Creator of the universe when he did so.
Guess how many people turned to look at me as soon as the words came out of his mouth. Go on. Take a wild guess. Well, I don’t remember how many people turned to look at me but suffice it to say, ALL OF THEM. Usually there was one other sponsor there and often a seminarian who had joined us, and these would speak up, too. But I don’t think they were there that day and all eyes fell on little old me.
I sat there, knowing I had to say something. Praying to the Lord to show me what and how to say it. Not because I didn’t know what to say. But I had already over so many Sundays had to say so much already. Yet I knew I could not let this slide. I saw the way people were effected and I knew I had to do something about it. And, let me tell you, I got over being shy when I was in my early twenties. So I was not worrying about speaking up, I only wanted to do so in the right way, the best way. The way the Lord wanted me to speak up.
So I waited. It was time for break and I used that time to prepare myself. To pray. “Lord, tell me what You want me to say.”
Break ended and people wandered back into the room. Took their seats. And looked at me again. The deacon started to speak. I spoke, softly but firmly. “Before we get started, there’s something I want to say.” I know I saw him roll his eyes and his smile was tense but he let me go ahead. “There were some things said concerning evolution and an impression was given about what the Church teaches about it. And I’d like to be sure that everyone here understands exactly what the Church teaches about evolution and that is NOTHING. The Church does not teach evolution because she does not teach science, she teaches Christianity. Catholic Christianity.” The faith once handed to the apostles and then handed on by them to their successors and so down to our very day. That faith. The faith. The teachings of Christ, our Lord. Anything else and you are handing on another Gospel and as far as I know that there is frowned upon. I certainly frown upon it. And I frowned upon it in that classroom. Though I tried not to frown like St. Jerome or Moses hurling tablets of stone down the mountainside.
“The Church does speak about evolution because her children have asked her. And she has said that she sees no problem with evolution considered as change over time and sees that view as one that derives from observation using reason. How could she have a problem with that? Where she does have a problem, however, is with Darwin’s atheistic materialistic evolution which denies that there is a God or any need for a God. THAT is incompatible with the truth as known and taught by Catholicism and that she quite reasonably rejects. Just wanted to say that and get it out of the way before anyone got any wrong ideas.”
Now all this is important enough. But here is where it gets interesting. Here is where you see how important it is to speak up and defend the faith, though I do not mean pouncing on people. I just mean taking care to clear up misunderstandings and misrepresentations, especially in a setting like an RCIA class full of people who are actively, sometimes desperately, seeking TRUTH! Hoping that the Church has something to teach them on the subject and expecting a deacon leading the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults to have some sort of TRUTH TO OFFER those adults who have come seeking it!
During the break, and unknown to me, an entire family taking the class together (the boy a recent convert sponsoring both of his Protestant parents) had walked out of the classroom and out to the parking lot fully intending to leave. TO LEAVE and never come back. To never look to the Catholic Church again for any answers on any subject whatsoever because they had been told that the Church teaches evolution. They walked all the way to their car while I was praying back in the room for God to lead me to say what needed to be said because I knew, I KNEW it needed to be said and that I was going to have to be the one to say it.
But something (Someone?) stopped them. They decided to come back in and stay until this one last session was over and they would make their minds up then and there whether they would remain in the RCIA.
You see why it is important to know what you are doing? You see why you should USE THE CATECHISM and not for a doorstop in the living room or for a coaster on the end table? But USE THE CATECHISM AND TO TEACH FROM IT?
I know the deacon did not appreciate my speaking up. He spent most of his time telling these poor people lies about the Church and he spent an inordinate amount of time telling them that the Catholic Church was NO different from the Protestant church. What?! I could see on their faces: Why are we here then?!
After the class was over and my friend and I were going to Mass, that family stopped me. They told me about going out to the parking lot. About being upset. About feeling that they had been betrayed and had wasted their time. About feeling that the rug had been pulled out from under their feet. About deciding to leave and never return. About something making them stop. Deciding to come back in and finish that session and then they would make their decision. A decision that would effect the rest of their lives. And their eternity.
Can you imagine how I felt? I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach, that’s how I felt. The awesome responsibility. The knowledge that not speaking up would have meant these good people never knowing, or not knowing until who knows how much later, what the truth was about what the Church really teaches or doesn’t teach at all. The thankfulness to God that I was there that day. The thankfulness to God for leading me to say what He wanted me to. The hoping I didn’t mangle it too badly because I know how weak I am and how not up to the task I am. The anger that this deacon took his awesome responsibility so lightly that, though he had taught the “RCIA” for years, he had NEVER ONCE bothered to LEARN the least little bit about the beautiful faith of the Church he claimed to represent.
This still makes me angry. I have shared these stories with several people in that parish now and with others in the diocese because I want it to change. I want someone to teach the people who come there asking someone to teach them, and to teach them the TRUTH. This matters. This can change someone’s life and that can change who knows how many other lives. Or it can ruin lives because someone is too arrogant and lazy and dare I say ignorant to take the trouble to open a paperback book that costs less than nine dollars (even less in ebook form) and learn what it says or even just to quote from it when asked a question.
Please, I beg you, if you don’t know the faith, look up the answer in the extensive index and quote the book. Just read from the book. Don’t offer your opinion, don’t ad lib! For the love of God, JUST READ THE BOOK!
That family went on to be received into the Church and so did my friend. But many people took that class and did not decide to be received. Some had taken that class with that same deacon as many as three or four times and still had not decided to be received. I’m sure it’s because they still have not had the faith presented to them. I was not able to overcome for them the years of mangled garbage they had learned. I’m not God, after all. I’m not even a good disciple. I’m still learning that part, the living part. But I do know what the Church teaches and I understand, I think, a lot about why she teaches it. And best of all, I practice what I preach: When I teach, I teach from the book.
I just read another update on Jen Fulwiler’s lung condition. You may have read somewhere here on the blog that I suffer from sarcoidosis, which is not a lung disease but an endocrine disease. But it is attacking my lungs, among other things. So I fully and completely understood how she felt when Jen wrote that not being able to breathe was “surprisingly exhausting”. Do I ever understand that! And I nearly passed out when I read how much one month’s supply of one of her prescriptions is costing her. Oy ve! Read the update on her Conversion Diary blog.
I may have mentioned on here in a post sometime that I was ill all through Advent and Christmas and through New Year’s. (Sarcoidosis and inconsiderate belligerent people do not mix!) I lost my voice after the first Sunday of Advent (and I knew I was going to lose it when I had to sing baritone at Mass, oy!) and it still isn’t back! Do you know how hard it is to talk to an elderly father–an elderly nearly DEAF father–when you can’t speak above a whisper?!
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the inconsiderate person who made me sick was not my dad. Well, not only my dad. He has dementia so he’s got an excuse. A really good excuse, actually. But his sitter has no excuse whatsoever! I’ve been dealing with his dementia for a few years now and it’s getting worse all the time. But we’ve only had the sitter for four months and in that four months, she has done more to harm my health than anyone else since I was diagnosed in 2003. And this is permanent damage. I’m in Stage IV, and that means any inflammation that gets started in my lungs keeps going until the inflamed tissue dies. And that means that certain kinds of cleaning chemicals, etc, cannot be used around me. Period. Ever. I’ve had to leave restaurants and other public places because someone chose to spray down all the dirty tables with gallons of cleaner first, then come back and wipe them off after the food and dirtiness were loosened up–and my lungs were filled with the toxic fumes. Now I have the pleasure of that kind of incredibly harmful behavior in the home where I live. What joy.
Ah, well, offer it up, Eh? Oh, I do, I do. Unfortunately, I usually think to offer it up AFTER I get angry, resentful, frustrated and just plain aggravated. So I have to catch myself, stop myself, and re-direct myself. Easier said than done but possible and necessary. Over and over and over. To be Catholic is always to be beginning again. Conversion is an ongoing process, a constantly renewed and renewing commitment, minute after minute, day after day, year after year. I’ve been at this, being Catholic, for sixteen years now and I’ve barely scratched the surface, barely made any progress toward my heavenly home. But my feet are on the path and I know I am on the way. If I get there, it will only be because the Lord is Good and His Mercy endures forever. Amen!
Thanks for reading, comments are welcome, and please keep Jen in your prayers. And me, too, I need all the help I can get! I pray for everyone who reads the blog or even stumbles across it accidentally. So if you’re reading this, please know that you are being remembered in my daily prayers. God bless you and may His peace be with you always.
Update, Feb 3, 2020:Decided to make this post a bit more presentable since it’s been getting views recently. It looks happier now. I’ve learned a thing or two about posting since 2012. (What’s that, Miss Lucy Dawg? Oh, really? Well, yeah, I guess I still do have to learn a thing or two. Smarty.)
I posted a brief version of my conversion story on the About Me page a while back. But during a conversation here on the blog someone (Hi, Lauretta!) asked me what drew me to Catholicism. I don’t know if she knew what she was letting herself in for, but I wrote a few paragraphs by way of reply and thought I’d share that reply in a post of its own (slightly edited because I can’t ever just copy/paste anything without editing it and because it’s a post now and not a reply). Bear in mind that even though this goes into more detail than the About Me page does, I’m still leaving out a lot. I didn’t go into all the various false paths and blind alleys and dead ends I wandered into along the way before I found Him Who is The Way, the Truth and the Life. So without further ado, here’s the story of my conversion, take two. (Hey, wake up, the post is about to begin!)
I’ve been a Catholic for nearly sixteen years now and I still remember that first Lenten season as a very special and wonderful time in my life. I was received into Holy Mother Church at the Easter Vigil of 1996 and I still get tears in my eyes when I remember it. I loved the Church then. I love her more now. And I love Christ. There was a time when I thought I’d never be able to say that, and that I would never want to say that. But I fell in love with the Church and the Church led me to the Lord. I can truly say now what I said wanting to mean it all those years ago: I want Christ to draw me closer, ever closer to Him. I want to sit at the foot of the Cross and gaze upon Him, upon His beauty, in the sanctuary.
My heart is full of joy and consolations tonight. Ever since I made the commitment to return to Daily Mass, God has been pouring such grace and so many graces into my soul that I can hardly bear it. Grace upon grace upon grace, many consolations. He has deepened my ongoing conversion, He has shown me so many things, taught me so much. At every turn He has shown me something new or has revealed a depth I had not suspected was there. He has led me to places, I’ve been there at exactly the right moment and I know His hand guided me. Oh, when I listen to Him, when I let Him lead me, it is truly marvelous what He will do. He is teaching me, showing me how to become, how to be, a true disciple.
I have so much to learn. Such a long way to go. So many obstacles to remove, barriers to loving Him the way He wants me to love. So far to go…
I know it’s Lent, a time of penance and entering into the sorrowful mysteries of Christ’s Passion. I know I’m supposed to be making a retreat with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and we’re supposed to be meditating upon those sorrowful mysteries and focusing on them, trying to really enter into them and not feel too much joy right now so that we can feel that joy at Easter with all the more intensity. But at this moment my heart is so full of joy that I cannot keep it from welling up within me and overflowing and bubbling out all over the place.
And yet at the same time I am aware of so much suffering around me. I’ve been praying at two different abortion mills during Lent (during the 40 Days for Life Spring campaign and at another mill in town that is a year-round vigil site) and so far I’ve only missed three days. I’ve talked with so many people and they’ve shared their stories with me. Stories of opportunities lost and lives lost and dreams turned into nightmares… My heart suffers and breaks along with theirs. And when I hear their stories of turning around, of changed hearts and minds, love wells up within me and I know this must sound sentimental or “emo” or silly to some, but it’s much more than that.
I feel this same love when people don’t agree with me and even look down on me for being religious, being Catholic, being any sort of Christian at all. For being pro-life. For leaving Buddhism to become Catholic. “How could you?!” They think I’ve taken a giant step backward. I know I’ve made a quantum leap forward. If Buddhism helped me grow more compassionate than I already was and gave me insight into myself and others, Catholicism has expanded my heart and mind to such a degree that the world now seems a completely different place than the one I knew before. And every day when I hear the readings at Mass it is as if the Lord were speaking directly to me and every word seems to come straight from the mouth of God. It has all come alive for me. The studying has become living, living has become studying, and I don’t even know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight because the Lord has shown me so much that I feel like I’m on fire.
I hope you’re having a good and fruitful Lent as you prepare for the celebration of Easter. May the Lord richly bless your Lenten efforts and pour out upon you the riches of His grace and give you peace. Amen.
And, Joe, if you’re out there, I haven’t forgotten our conversation or what I said I’d do. I will post what I can as soon as I can. And even though you told me you don’t pray, know that I do and I’m asking for blessings and graces for you, too. Peace be with you.
I’ve been wanting to make a retreat for some time now with the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, but have not been able to be away from home for as long as a month or even a week. And I just missed a weekend Ignatian retreat in a nearby town, didn’t find out until it was over. Plus there’s that little matter of not being able to afford to give even a small stipend to the retreat center for the great gift of the Exercises. But I really want to do this. I’ve never made a retreat of any kind and I know I need to do it.
Gary Zimak to the rescue! Gary, of Following the Truth, has decided (and was prompted by the Holy Spirit) to offer the Spiritual Exercises through his podcast via iTunes or BlogTalkRadio during Lent, starting Monday, Feb. 27, through Good Friday. (See promotional YouTube video below.)
Problem solved! And no excuse either. I don’t need to go anywhere, I can just download the podcast and listen on my iPod or computer, any time and as many times as I want to. For free. And I can keep these podcasts and make a retreat a month from now or next year or five years from now.
This is a God-send. A real God-send! Thank you, Gary! I’m looking forward to this. God is so good!
God is so good and He definitely works in mysterious ways. This afternoon while I was at the prayer vigil outside Planned Parenthhod, a young man walked up to one of us and handed her a 40 Days for Life vigil banner (and those things aren’t cheap!). He told her that he stole it from us a while back, but had been thinking a lot about abortion since then. And that his ideas have changed a lot now.
Praise God and please keep this young man in your prayers, that God, Who is working in this man’s life, may bring him to the joy of conversion of mind and heart. Glory to God in the highest! His Mercy endures forever!
I know this news broke a while back but somehow I missed it. Abby Johnson, the former Planned Parenthood director who participated in a guided ultrasound abortion and had her eyes yanked open to the reality and horror of what she was doing, left that way of life behind and joined the pro-life movement. She tells her story in her new book, unPlanned, which I’ve been reading, along with countless other books, so I hadn’t gotten to the part yet where she tells how she was drawn to the teachings of the Catholic Church and decided to convert. I discovered this wonderful news tonight while reading a comment on Jill Stanek’s blog where someone mentioned it in passing. A quick websearch revealed that if I had only read further in the book, I’d have known this days ago, a couple of weeks ago, even. But better late than never, eh?
Welcome home, Abby and family, welcome home! (I’m never quite sure whether I should wait until converts have been officially received into the Church or if it’s kosher, as it were, to welcome them right away. I think I rather prefer to err on the side of exuberance and teary-eyed, praise-filled, glory-be-to-God thankfulness and shout, “Welcome home!” from the rooftop right now.) Thanks be to God Whose mercy endures forever. Praise to You, Lord, Jesus Christ!!