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