Thursday, June 9, 2011

My Inversion Story

On a rainy November morning, I sat in the parking lot of St. Christopher's, clutching the steering wheel of my minivan for dear life.  I had registered with the Parish, made an appointment to talk things over with Father Dave, the Associate Pastor.  The single most important thing in my mind, was scheduling the first confession I had said, in about eight years, and another nine years before that.  The last time that I had gone to reconciliation had not gone so well, since there were aspects of Catholic Doctrine about sin, that I had a different personal point of view on at the time.  Oh how things had changed.  In any case, I was nervous.

After talking in his office for about two hours, I asked Father Dave when would be a good time to have my confession heard, because even though I wasn't ready to make one right then and there, I sure didn't want to wait until Saturday to confess.  That would mean waiting until Sunday to receive the Holy Eucharist.  It was Tuesday.  Well, when I asked this, Father Dave's response startled me.  "You know, all that a confession is, is a conversation.  What do you think you've been doing here, all this time?  I don't want to assume, but perhaps there are a few things that you would like to add.  Are there?"

I couldn't help myself.  It was like pulling a wagon full of my daughters and their Girl Scout Cookies down hill, then trying to stop it mid way.  The momentum was incredible.  I was naming sin after sin.  I was even coming to realize sins that I had committed which I had not recognized before.

Once I had finished, I felt a rush of emotion.  Father Dave said the words of absolution, and then I felt an extreme relief.  It was emotional, spiritual, but tangible.  My shoulders and knees felt different.  I had never experienced anything like this before.  I had not felt this way even one time after reconciliation during my childhood and adolescence. 

I felt new and shiny.  I knew that I was free of mortal sin, and in a state of grace.  It was not even twenty four hours before I would have the opportunity to attend Mass, but I almost couldn't wait.  I had wandered into Mass at various times while away from the Church.  Once I again believed, I even attended Mass several times, but I didn't think that there was any point without receiving communion.  I now know how wrong I was (but we'll get into that in a later entry).  Oh how I was looking forward to Mass the next morning!

The day passed.  Night fell.  Dawn broke.  I showered, shaved, and dressed myself in a frenzy.  I don't even remember the drive to St. Christopher's that morning.  I do remember the feel of holy water on my forehead.  I remember the smell of the incense as I walked in.  I remember the sound of the organ playing.  I remember the feel of the kneelers against my knees.  I remember the sight of Jesus on the Crucifix, gazing upon me. 

Finally, Father Mike said the words of transubstantiation.  This was what I had been waiting for.  I had made my way half way through the line, when I panicked.  I could clearly remember being taught to take communion on the tongue, and everyone here was taking it in the hand!  My mind was frozen.  The horror of the possibility of handling the host with anything less than absolute reverence, paralyzed my ability to reason.  My hands went out in front of me, mirroring those who had gone in line before me.  As I gently placed the host on my tongue, I took a deep, settling breath, made the sign of the cross, and felt peace.  Not some greeting card peace.  Not some profound poetry peace.  No, this was the kind of peace that must have been over all things, as God gently and lovingly, breathed them into existence.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

My Reversion Story (Part II of II)

There I was, discovering my brand new "personal relationship with Jesus."  I knew that I was on to something.  Something unorganized, uncluttered, and unrestricted.  It was just me and Jesus.  Or was it?  I thought that it might be a good idea to find out what other people who followed Jesus, without all the rules, believed. 

It was time to get down to brass tacks.  I would start asking around about doctrine.  "Baptism is regenerative," some said, while others were saying "baptism is only symbolic."  On purgatory, few said "there is a purgatory, see verses x,y, and z," while most said "purgatory is found nowhere in the Bible."  Pretty much everyone I talked to agreed on one thing...Sola Scriptura.  Okay, now I was getting nowhere.  Back to the same old confusion that drove me away from Christianity.  I prayed and I prayed. 

I cruised right on through life.  Whenever anyone would ask about my religion, I would say that I had been "raised Catholic," and change the subject quickly.  Don't get me wrong, I was somewhat spiritual.  I prayed and contemplated what was and was not God's will, and tried to live accordingly.

This actually worked for me for a while.  It worked just fine, until someone started trying to really, really evangelize me.  At first, I took it with a grain of salt.  I would let the objections to Catholicism go in one ear, and out the other.  Then, I heard an objection which I was certain was based on a premise which was entirely false.  "Why do Catholics worship Mary?  Don't you know that Mary is not God?"  I was flabbergasted.  I had never heard anything in all of my Catholic education supporting this.  All that I could say was "We don't believe that Mary is God, and we don't worship her."  The conversation ended abruptly and uncomfortably with that.

I needed some facts.  I needed to know just what The Catholic Church teaches.  Well, I ran an internet search, and wasn't satisfied.  I changed the words around in the search bar, and tried again.  I repeated this formula several times, checking all the links that returned.  Finally, I found one that I was sure would be comprehensive, and authoritative: The Catechism of The Catholic Church.  I began researching the validity of the basis for all of the objections to Catholicism which I had heard.  Many of them, if not all, appeared to be straw men.  What's more, this Catechism, had references to Scripture, in support of it's doctrine!  Why hadn't I seen this document in my education?  What other aspects of Catholic faith had I missed in my years of faith formation?

I found myself, for the first time, excited by The Catholic Church.  One day, while doing a lot of driving, I accidentally found a Catholic station on the radio.  I was thrilled.  I started listening to E.W.T.N. radio whenever I was alone in the car.  On one call in show, the host, John Martignoni, was talking about answering objections to the Catholic faith.  He said that he had a website for his ministry the "Bible Christian Society," dedicated to explaining the Catholic faith and how it was indeed found in the Bible.

I began downloading the mp3s that were offered on his website.  I listened to them, over and over again.  I began checking the information in them against multiple translations of the Bible.  It was all adding up, and much more fully than the verses that were being presented by those who objected to Catholicism.

The next time someone asked me a question which challenged Catholicism, I grinned, took a deep, confident breath, and began to explain why I believed what I believed.  After that conversation, a couple of things were certain.  I would go to confession as soon as I could, attend Mass, and take the Holy Sacrament, The Eucharist.

My Reversion Story (Part I of II)

Everybody has heard accounts of "foxhole faith" before right?  You know, people who couldn't have cared less about God, or what he wanted, suddenly finding faith when staring down some terrible catastrophe?  These people get through some ordeal with sanity intact, due to their new found faith.  Well, that's not me.  I'm too stubborn.

I had to lose everything.  I had to hit the proverbial "rock bottom" and keep digging, before I could vaguely recognize that the pit in which I found myself, I could only find myself there by the grace of God. 

Through all this strife, I experienced an incredible peaceful gratitude for just being.  This wasn't a constant bliss, but a reprieve from total panic.  People around me, who were going through, or had gone through something similar, were telling me that this was the doing of "God."  Of course, they all had their own ideas of what that meant.  I was certain, at this point, that God could not be what I had been raised to believe He was.

Thus began my comparison shopping for hope.  I didn't believe then that it could be found in any organized religion.  Honestly, I tried to seriously investigate various beliefs.  There was something lacking in all of them.  Whether it was a violent creation account, the disturbing idea of reincarnation, the problematic confusion of polytheistic faith traditions, or one thing or another, every religion that I researched had irreconcilable flaws, right out the gate.

One person truly tuned in to my plight.  This person was a Christian, but most certainly not a Catholic.  They brought John 6:66-68 (As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.  Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"  Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. NAB ) to my attention.  Ultimately, the central question in these verses was the one that I had been asking all along: " whom shall I go?"  Ironic as it is, these verses and the ones immediately prior to them, among others, would eventually reel me back in to The Latin Rite of The Catholic Church.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

(About The Bible Papist) My Diversion Story

I remember the first time that someone questioned me about the biblical basis for Catholic doctrine.  I wasn't sure how to answer.  Now, I had been raised in a Catholic family.  Some people commonly refer to people such as myself as "cradle Catholics."  For almost each of the first sixteen years of my life, I had undergone some type of Catholic instruction.

I knew enough about the Bible to "know" that some of the beliefs which my interrogator held, were indeed unbiblical.  Here I was though, searching my memory for some reference to Scripture, which supported the belief which was in question.  I came up blank.  This was before Google, Yahoo, or Bing, but after I had graduated high school, long after I had stopped attending Mass, and very long after I had "finished" my faith formation.

This created a quandary.  Here were two opposing groups.  There appeared to be some Biblical truth to the claims of each, and some appeared to be contradictory to one another!  My post-Vatican II Catholic education had not prepared me for these challenges to my faith.

To compound matters, my parents had recently divorced.  My parents, especially my Mother, had been my spiritual role models until this point.  If you know anything about Catholicism, divorce is kind of a big no-no.

I was at the beginning of a very dark period in my life.  Not only had my belief in Catholicism been clouded in doubt, but Christianity as a whole.  This book, the Bible, appeared to contradict itself with every turn of the page.  Relative morality crept in to my conscience when my parents divorced.

I subsequently spent thirteen years away from my home, the Catholic Church, and most of that away from Christ.  If "The Bible Papist" has no other message, it is this: This does not need to happen to anyone else! 

To non-Catholic Christians:  In your efforts to evangelize Catholics by "proving" Catholicism "wrong," it has been my experience that this does more damage than good.

To Catholics:  If you ever face questions such as "Where is that in the Bible?," or "If you were to die today, are you certain that you will go to heaven?," there is a Catholic answer!  But more than that, Catholicism is a rich, beautiful faith.

Welcome to "The Bible Papist," and thank you for joining me on my faith journey!