Catholics for Choice!

Week Seven: Our Reversion Stories

“Catholics for Choice!” by Julie Robison
“Young Woman at the Well.” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“Becoming Myself By Getting Closer to Him” by Trista at Not a Minx

This is the seventh post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

John Henry Newman says conversion is “nothing more than a deeper discovery of what we already desire.”

It’s easy to look at my religious upbringing and say, Julie, I’m sorry, but you’ve been brainwashed.

I’ve gone through the whole ordeal: infant baptism, First Communion in the second grade, Confirmation in the eighth grade, thirteen years of Catholic schooling and 23 years of (at the very least) weekly Mass.

Where does brainwashing start, however, and formation end? That is, after all, the purpose of religious catechesis: to teach how to carry on the faith; to introduce the child to God in Three, and thus encourage a relationship; to give proper and virtuous character formation; to give order to the soul.

I think many Catholics have been failed in this sense; they have not been introduced to the fullness of the faith in their younger years, given instead a bland version of Christianity, with vague mentions toward the more specific doctrines. No one is inspired by blah, and I am sadly not surprised so many of my friends are not really practicing this life-abundant faith anymore, as well as a few dear family members.

I wasn’t always the kind of Catholic I am today. I wasn’t always itching for more, or even really concerned with truth. My high school religion classes certainly didn’t provide much intellectual stimulation. I went to Mass every week growing up and didn’t think twice about the last time I went to Confession. I didn’t know if I believed that the Eucharist was actually the Body of Christ, and the wine actually became the Blood of Christ. I just knew the faith; I struggled explaining it to people.

But the Mass is where I came back; the Mass, and more specifically the Eucharist, is what caused my reversion. Newman also said, “Catholicism is a deep matter; you cannot take it up in a teacup.”

Catholicism is universal- going to Mass, you know the same Mass with the same readings and liturgy is happening around the world. One sees people of all backgrounds, ages, and both genders in the pews, waiting to go forward to receive Christ or a blessing. For those who disagree with the Church, I say this- it is easy to text-proof. It is a cop-out to Christ, in my opinion, to take one or ten lines from the Bible, and then agree or disagree. Catholics believe in context. We look at the Bible as a whole, just as we look at salvation history as a whole. The mistakes of men happened, and happened frequently; and still, the Catholic Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, persists abundantly.

It was at college where I was set on fire: discussions with my roommate and friends; in preparing to defend Catholicism for my Introduction to Western Religion class (I talked at least 10-20 minutes every class period as the “token Catholic”), as well as reading the Great Books and other great Catholic and non-Catholic writers; being touched by the witness of Christians of all stripes around campus.

The witness was not always positive, which could have weakened my faith if my zeal for truth and understanding had not been awakened so fiercely. When I was younger, I always wanted to fight for a cause: now, older and praying for wisdom, I knew what it was. In true Eliot fashion, I returned to the end, and made it my beginning.

I’m purposefully avoiding discussing any specific details of my reversion, for the very reason that everyone, be it convert or cradle Catholic, comes to Christ in their own way. In the Easter season, and especially as we are in Holy Week, the holiest time of the liturgical calendar, we are re-reminded that everyone is called to conversion. Every adult Catholic in the Church must choose Christ, and their heart is called to conform to his, out of love of him. We are in his Church because we are made for love, and so we love: ourselves, our family, our friends, our enemies, our fellow humans and, above all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

As Pope Benedict XVI said, there is only way to the Father, and that is through the Son, who says, I am the way. But that way is so big, it accounts for all who will come. God does not impose himself, but he always beckons us towards him. By finding new life in Christ, a person loses the worldly restraints and gains completion of who they always were and are meant to be. Not that finding Christ makes anything easier, per se, but it changes everything. The Word becomes reality, and are not just words on a page of a sacred book.

Flannery O’Connor’s 1955 short story “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead” gives an excellent example of what happens when religion becomes a subjective choice and not a pursuit of objective Truth. The stranger (“his kind friend”) is talking to the main character, Tarwater, as he digs his great-uncle’s grave, the man who rescued and raised him:

“It should be clear to you,” his kind friend said, “how all your life you been tricked by that old man. You could have been a city slicker for the past years. Instead, you been deprived of any company but his, you been living in a two-story barn in the middle of this earth’s bald patch, following behind a mile and plow since you were seven. And how do you know the education he give you is true to the fact? Maybe he taught you a system of figures nobody else uses? How do you know that two added to two makes four? Four added to four makes eight? Maybe other people don’t use that system. How do you know if there was an Adam or if Jesus eased your situation any when He redeemed you? Or how you know if He actually done it? Nothing but that old man’s word and it ought to be obvious to you by now that he was crazy. And as for Judgment Day,” the stranger said, “every day is Judgment Day.”

They used to be smaller.

 My latter half of my sophomore year of college was a particularly difficult semester for me, and I considered not returning to campus. My roommate and I both agreed I was being spiritually attacked by the Devil as prayer was a nearly impossible task; I was taking way too many upper-level classes while minoring in overcommitments; I was dealing with difficult post-romantic relationships. My sanity was saved by the prayers, love and fellowship of my roommate and my academic advisor’s family, whom I became particularly close with that year.

 That would have been a shame if I had left too, since my junior and senior years were really when I blossomed on campus. On a whim, that next fall semester, I began going to on-campus Mass on Thursdays regularly. This would set the stage for me going to Mass daily as a statehouse reporter, post-college, and the new model for how I deal with difficulties. In the past, I would just go for a run if I was upset or angry. There, studying in cold Michigan snowbank, where I was stressed out and freezing, running was not always an immediate option. So I began to re-learn how to pray. My dear friend Julia was an integral part of this, since we would make plans to take a study break around the same time nightly rosary happened.

I felt like I had turned a dark corner in my life, and there was Christ, the light. Even though I am twenty-something, as a cradle Catholic, I sometimes feel like the worker who has found his way to the vineyard at mid-day, receiving my equal wages alongside the early and later day workers. Every day is a constant surrendering of my will to God’s will: I’m impatient, demanding, skeptical, and easily distracted from priorities. By choosing Christ, every day, I am focused and grounded. Choosing Christ is about having a relationship with him; being part of his Church is integral to that, and participating in the sacraments is one way to show my love for him, and to get to know him better. The pay-offs are not always immediate, but I do know they have eternal consequences.

I desire God and so, I desire his will be done in my life. I am not convinced by the argument that one cannot choose God, or that one cannot choose to believe in God. That is exactly what belief is- a choice. Part rationale and part faith, belief is the logical action towards a seemingly risky venture. When you believe a person can do something, you believe this because they have demonstrated the ability, not because they actually did it. But Jesus already proved himself to us, which takes out the risk factor in believing in him.

This is the mystery of our Christian faith: Christ came, Christ died, Christ rose again. And yes, there are still times when I must pray the words of the boy’s father in Mark 9:24 – “I do believe! Help my unbelief!

Non-Christians like to look at Blessed Mother Teresa and say, Look! She struggled with belief and had spiritual dry periods- ergo, God isn’t real. But isn’t the fact that she persisted in the faith and did not lose hope in God and his great mercy despite these doubts mean anything?

The Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life, calms all of these conflicts. There is only one Church who has stayed true to the Gospels, despite its occasional sordidness and wrong turns, with the help of God, and alongside billions of saints, angels, lay people, consecrated religious and believers of all shades – the great chain of time and space, faith and reason, intellectuals and the simple minded – all comprehending the same truth: that Christ is King, and came to save us.

And me- little me – who am I to argue? It is through the sanctifying grace and mercy of God that I am Catholic, and that I persist in my Catholicism. Pope Pius XII said, “The Catholic Church herself is an historic fact. Like a great mountain-range, she bestrides the history of the past two thousand years. Whatever may be the attitude toward her, it is impossible to escape her.”

Consider me trapped, then: freely, out of love, and most joyfully. The smallest taste of truth is enough to keep me begging for me, earnestly, and to tell people where I have found such nourishment: in Christ, our Savior; in God, his Father; in the Holy Spirit; in the communion of saints; and in Christ’s bridegroom, the Roman Catholic Church. I choose to believe, and thus hold these truths to be incomparable, and sufficient.

“When we have traveled all ways, we shall come to the End of all ways, who says, ‘I am the Way.'” –St. Ambrose (explanation of Psalm 118)

“After losing those human consolations you have been left with a feeling of loneliness, as if you were hanging by a thin thread over the emptiness of a black abyss. And your cries, your shouts for help, seem to go unheard by anybody. The truth is you deserve to be so forlorn. Be humble; don’t seek yourself; don’t seek your own satisfaction. Love the cross – to bear it is little – and our Lord will hear your prayer. And in time, calm will be restored to your senses. And your heart will heal, and you will have peace.”  — St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way

“Push back again the age as hard as it pushes against you. What people don’t realize it how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when, of course, it is the cross.” –Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being

Going to the Mattresses: One Girl’s Take on Faith and Feelings

Week Five: My issue(s) with the Church

“Going to the Mattresses: One Girl’s Take on Faith and Feelings” by Julie Robison
“Half-Measures” by Elizabeth at Startling the Day
“The Church’s Self-Fulfilling Prophecy” by Trista at Not a Minx


This is the fifth post of a Lenten blog post series called “Bright Maidens.” We three are from the oft-mentioned, widely-speculated upon demographic of young, twenty-something Catholic women. We’re here to dispel the myths and misconceptions- please join us for the discussion!

In the Gospel reading at Mass today (John 5:1-16), Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he met a man who had been ill for 38 years. Jesus saw him lying on the ground and asked him if he wanted to be well. The man  replied, that he was trying to get to the healing pool. Jesus then commanded him to get up, pick up his mat, and walk. Later, Jesus met the same man in the temple area and said, “Look, you are well; do not sin any more, so that nothing worse may happen to you.”

Last Friday, I heard Peter Kreeft say the great line of, “The Church is not the Magesterium.”

To clarify our terms- the Catholic Church ostentatiously has a very extensive and elaborate hierarchical system. In more recent years, the priesthood has come under attack- not only because many priests violated their sacred promises and the laws of God, but because an out-pouring of acceptable anti-Catholicism is seeping into the culture.

It is easy to look at the priests and say, they’re not doing their job. But that would only be looking at the Church by its skeleton, not its body. What of the lay people? Those whom, because they are not bound by Holy Orders, think they know better than the Church. Many think, for example, because a priest does not have sex, he must not know anything about it, forgetting that he lives his life in self-controlled celibacy. Or if he’s a priest, he’s repressing homosexual desires or molesting small children. All of these, even as thoughts, do grave injustice to the honor and dignity of the priesthood.

It is easy to say- priests are just men. But what is different is that they have set themselves apart. They have vowed to live the high road. When one priest does wrong to another person, it affects the entire foundation of the priesthood. When they do wrong, the consequences are clear.

But what about when lay people do wrong? What are the consequences there, when they do not attend Mass every week? What happens when Catholics don’t know their catechism? What happens when Catholic schools don’t teach the faith? What happens when parents and families do not reinforce religion in the home?

Well, fortunately for you dear reader, I can tell you.

I won’t be speaking from statistics, although they’re out there- like Pew finding a decent amount of Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence and support legalized abortion. I’ll be speaking from experience as a cradle Catholic: Mass every Sunday with the family, Catholic schooling Kindergarten through senior in high school, and all the high holy days in between.

I’ve encountered a lot of feelings and poor reasoning, which is one reason I am fascinated by Aquinas and canon law. I love reason and logic, and talking about one’s childhood in a high school religion class teaches one nothing of either. It is not surprising then, that I left high school with my Catholic faith not firmly planted, although still a strong aspect of my identity.

I went to a non-Catholic college, where the student population was roughly 40 percent Catholic, 60 percent Protestant. In the first few days of college, I had a great experience of sitting on the floor of my dorm room with my roommate, also Roman Catholic, talking to the girls across the hall: a Lutheran, an Evangelical Baptist, a Presbyterian (USA) and a non-denominational Christian. The conversation was fun, respectful and informative. I am still friends with all those girls, and very close with most of them. The importance of spiritual friendships in Christ is an essential part of living the Christian life.

The ability to verbalize ones beliefs is not only important for people who share the Christian faith, but those who do not. Richard Weaver said in ‘Ideas Have Consequences’ that, “Nothing can be done until we have decided whether we are primarily interested in truth.”

The Catholic Church is in dialogue with the Jews, Muslims, and, most recently, Atheists. I recently stumbled across a wonderful non-profit resource called “Why I’m Catholic”, which features really great conversion stories. Today’s story is from a former neopagan witch. Yep, you read that right. She used to be a witch, and now she’s a Roman Catholic. Isn’t God’s grace so bountiful?!

Before I launch into my Masters, I help out with RCIA, to get more personal experience. Talking with those people is so humbling and glorious; I love listening to how they found wholeness and truth in the Catholic Church. Many times, it was not an easy decision, and their friends and family do not support them. I became initially interested in helping out at RCIA because of the decent amount of friends I have who have converted/ are converting to Catholicism as well. It is not just reason and intellect which brought them into communion, but cor ad cor loquitur – heart speaking to heart, as it says on Cardinal Newman’s coat of arms.

Their story of how they found their way back to the Church is not one, however, that only non-Catholics can experience. I too came back more fully into my Catholic faith in college, literally diving into its rich intellectualism, long history, Church Fathers, consistency, and promise to uphold and defend justice, mercy, love, forgiveness and the Gospels, as well as the countless witnesses and conversations with Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Furthermore, I love natural law, and I love the reasoning behind Church teachings, many of which can be supported using non-religious defense.

But I also hold very strongly to the belief that belief is a choice, and that, every day, I have to choose God, as he first chose me. To follow Christ, you also have to want to be cured, like the beggar. (Spiritually cured, of course, although physical cures are miraculously possible as well.)

Last night at RCIA, Fr. George asked me to talk about reconciliation, since one of my Lenten spiritual practices is going to Mass more than once a week and going to confession at least once a week. One of the most important reasons to frequently take communion and to go to confession is because it will heal you. Through God’s grace, the sacraments endow the recipient with the grace and moral courage needed to face an unloving world and desires not in your best spiritual interest, even if it is what you think you physically want.

Libby Edwards, the lady mentioned above, who converted from neopaganism to Catholicism said it best: “Witchcraft offers incredible freedom, but oh, it’s a clever lie.” This is why the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel asks him to “protect us in battle. Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”

The priest said during the homily today that it is not just physical ailments which keep us down- it is spiritual ones. Things we don’t want to change about ourselves. Maybe we don’t want to stop swearing, or drinking a lot, or dressing a certain way, or using contraception, or doing whatever we want, whenever we want. It’s our life, right? But, oh! How even some of the Catholics closest to me have forgotten that we are not our own; that we were bought at a price.

 I take issue with the namby-pambiness I have witnessed among fellow Roman Catholics: be it from parents to teachers, from the community of believers to the individual, from the rectory for the home- there is a need to call for more faithfulness among the faithful. I have encountered too many feelings, and not enough faith. I have encountered too much fear, and not enough faith. I have encountered too much ignorance, and not enough faith. It is the promise we make at Confirmation to be soldiers for Christ- but how can we fight for truth if we do not follow our own leader?

Venerable John Paul II said, be not afraid. This is why he started the New Evangelization movement at the start of the third millennium. Modernity and people want to be different and counter-cultural, but they miss the point of life when they dress alternatively, or act scandalous, or listen to hip music. To truly be counter-cultural, one takes up the cross to follow Christ. The Catholic Church was established by Christ, who gave us the sacraments, to sustain us with grace and faith; the hierarchy, to ensure apostolic succession; and the laws, to survive faulty human judgment.

The Catholic Church survives and flourishes today, even after 2,000 years human fallibleness. The Catholic Church is more than bad priests. The Catholic Church is more that wayward lay people. The Catholic Church is just one part of the communion of saints, which is filled not only with the faithful believers, but the saints and the angels, those in heaven and those in purgatory, and a living, viable Trinitarian God. My issue with the Church isn’t the Church itself – it is the people within and outside the Church, wasting their earthly opportunity to find true happiness and joy.

I remember reading a book in my Intro to Western Religion class, where so many of the theologians’ final question was this: they wanted to know what happened to Paul on his way to Damascus and what he saw. I don’t think it matters specifically to them- I think we’re all walking to Damascus. If God hasn’t done it already, he just might knock you on your back if he has to get your attention. Or maybe, if you’re struggling with something, then hold on to God and wrestle him like Jacob, until you extract your blessing.

We all have a role to play in this life; may we find the moral courage to answer the call! The Catholic Church is here to support us through this life, to help us reach the next life, if we only let her.

And as a final hurray for the Catholic Church, here is a Eucharistic processional through the streets of NYC. I get chills every time I watch this:

“Speak up for what you believe. Love the Church. Defend her teaching. Trust in God. Believe in the Gospel. And don’t be afraid. Fear is beneath your dignity as sons and daughters of the God of life. Changing the course of American culture seems like a huge task. But St. Paul felt exactly the same way. Redeeming and converting a civilization has been done once. It can be done again. But we need to understand that God is calling us to do it. He chose us. He calls us. He’s waiting, and now we need to answer him.” 
-Archbishop Charles J. Chaput