Welcome back to The Practical Catholic, today we look at one of my favorite saints, Gregory of Nyssa, and His interpretation of Spiritual warfare.
When we lay bare the hidden meaning of history, scripture is seen to teach that the birth which distresses the tyrant is the beginning of the virtuous life. I am speaking of the kind of birth in which free will serves as the midwife, delivering the child amid great pain. For no one causes grief to his antagonist unless he exhibits in himself those marks which give proof of his victory over the other. – The Life of Moses
This work of Gregory of Nyssa has formidably shaped the entire mystical Tradition, and also gives Christians both present and future a way of understanding the mystical and spiritual senses of scripture in action. This work also reflects how the Early Church reflected critically on the lives of the Old Testament figures as models for the Christian life, not out of a sense of obligation or haphazard grabbing for historical tradition, but out of a deep sense of understanding the reality of mystical continuity between Judaism and Christianity.
In this work Gregory uses Moses as a commentary on the Christian’s journey in the world using the life of Moses as an allegory for the process of the Christian life. He talks about how we can spiritually imitate the birth of Moses by imitating the virtues which he draws as spiritual realities from the life of Moses.
Gregory says that scripture shows us that the birth of virtue aggravates “the tyrant,” by which he means that the scriptures teach that virtue itself is spiritual warfare. As a former pentecostal I was exposed to the idea that spiritual warfare was something that we engage in, something that we do through targeting spirits and ideas “in the heavenly places.” Gregory offers us a very different idea, one connected to Judaism, Christianity, and virtue as the font of Christian action.
Virtue, Free Will and Spiritual Warfare
What I was taught about “spiritual warfare” had nothing to do with virtuous living, it had nothing to do with simply being a Christian. However, Gregory would have us contemplate that it is not simply the external acts of prayer or speaking in tongues that aggravate “the tyrant” but the entire virtuous life.
Gregory says that free will is the thing that brings along and delivers virtue to us amid persecution and great pain. It is an act of the will to become more virtuous, even from earliest days, the Church has affirmed that will plays an important part in the birth and continuation of virtue. Actions have everything to do with virtue. I understand that grace also plays an important role and Gregory addresses this in other parts of the work, but it is essential to retain the idea that will is formidable in the conquest over evil.
Advent Reflections with Gregory of Nyssa
I think the essential conclusion that Gregory draws is important “…No one causes grief to his antagonist unless he exhibits in himself those marks which give proof of his victory over the other.” Isn’t that the entire story of Advent? This Moses, like Jesus after Him, escapes from the tyrant who seeks His life. He brings frustration to the tyrants of the world by virtue of his existence, He causes the systems of the world grief because He is their end. Where tyrants use violence and coercion to perpetuate their power, the birth of virtue spells their demise.
Jesus spells the end of the powers of the world, as Moses before Him because the very God who supports Him is the God whose activity in history culminates in His final redemption through death and resurrection. His very existence frustrates the tyrant, and makes evil fret.
Gregory is saying that the birth of virtue inaugurates personal persecution.
But think about this:
Where other powers kill, this one seeks to conquer death through submission to it. Where other powers coerce to perpetuate themselves, this tiny infant grows in knowledge and stature, and initiates God’s justice in such a way that none before Him have done.
On a personal level, we can learn from this that the birth of the tiny infant within us is the very same power which frustrates all tyrants. The powers of honor, truth, justice, peace and friendship are how we as a people bring God’s illumination to the world and overthrow the game of thrones that the world would have us play.
Scripture has taught us to frustrate the tyrant with good works, to overthrow the bonds of the oppressor by climbing onto the cross and extending ourselves with Christ in behalf of the world. Spiritual warfare is simply letting Christ shine in us, so let us be expressions of the most dangerous child, the One who offers us war through peace, justice through his suffering, and life through his death. The birth of virtue might incite the Herods and Pharaohs of the world, but it also means their destruction through the power of the cross and the saving waters of baptism.
Let us remember the birth of Moses, who offers us an example of faithful discipleship, let us remember Jesus who offers us a coming kingdom. Let us call on Him, ever faithfully, Come Lord Jesus! Maranatha.
Here at the Practical Catholic, we’re all about ecumenism and working together. This is another post to my little themed category called the “Conversion Survival Guide” which you might want to check out if you know a convert, are a convert, or are thinking about coming into full communion with the Catholic Church.
Today’s post is about visiting Protestant Churches while in the catechetical and post-confirmation process.
I think we have a lot to learn from the separated brethren we commonly call protestants. I have three major and practical reasons for this claim.
1) We live in a post-protestant age, mostly.
Most “Protestants” are done protesting actively, and some have ceased altogether. Many Christians of the protestant traditions have stopped seeing Catholics as the enemy. Some still actively hold these views, but they’re dying off and many people are in the position of inquirers. Many are curious or could become curious through a simple dialogue that charitably undoes misconceptions without slamming the catechism down someone’s throat.
Many of my Protestant friends have grown to tolerate or even appreciate Catholicism through the charitable conversations they have had with other Catholics that were positive examples.
This is a time when many Protestants feel their lack of history, or are at the very least, beginning to feel it. Catholics have the sacraments, we have the creeds, and they have stopped protesting, but it’s still incumbent upon Catholics and Protestants to work together towards reconciling the breach we call the “Reformation.”
And if all else fails, there’s the whole, love your neighbor thing, that might be good to keep in mind from time to time.
2)There are things that Protestant churches get right.
I know this may shock you, but it’s true.
We should respect the Spirit where He is at work, and upbuild the future of reunification through the gifts and fruit of the Spirit at work in the churches. The Protestant emphasis on the gifts has been taken to the extreme, and detrimentally for persons like myself who reject the emotionalism but sometimes throw out more than is worth doing.
I want to be honest here: I am not Mr. Charitable, in fact, I’m rude, and belligerent sometimes. Sometimes I’m coarse, or mean when I am trying to be patient, or simply refuse to be patient. I do not always listen with the intent of helping someone along, but I’m learning to at the very least bite my tongue.
I am sometimes a cesspool of bitterness at my past, but I’m learning to work through it slowly. As my sponsor says: Being Catholic means working with a full set of tools. Even the tool called humility. Especially the tool called humility. This means we should learn from the activity of the Spirit where he is truly at work in other churches that bear the name Christian. If these are separated brothers and the Lord uses them, what might we learn through His activity in their midst?
I think Protestants have got the right intentions with the laity. There I said it. Priesthood of all believers: yes. Catholics rightly affirm a difference between ordained priests and the sanctified Christian laity, but we are all types of priest. Baptism or Chrismation depending on your rite/tradition are a type of ordination that are not the sacrament of holy orders, but upon enjoining themselves to the One Church through baptism all Christians are mediators of Christ’s presence spiritually. All Christians are called to religious vocation, and Protestant churches often aim right, and sometimes get it right in this respect.
I think Protestants have a good idea for contemporary worship, often but not always in bad form. What I mean is, the use of contemporary music isn’t bad, it’s just that a lot of contemporary music is theologically atrocious. The Church has for two millenia used her music to teach and affirm the gospel, not us, our emotional state, or our desire to make worship meaningful for us. Worship, like the liturgy should be about God, and His praise and our recognition of His Holiness, goodness, and the mystery that is the Eucharistic gift.
I think we have a lot to learn from each other. I do not think the Catholic Church should be more Protestant by any means, I think she should be fully Catholic. What I have noticed is that there is among some Catholics I now a fear of claiming all Truth as ours. Whereas ancients used even pagan celebrations rewritten to tell the story of the gospel, I see my friends rejecting even where Protestantism succeeds in Truth, or in things that might be truthful. I think that’s one of the biggest tragedies of our day, is the fear of being a Catholic with an ecumenical agenda that is “progressive” because one thinks that maybe Protestants might have gotten something right somewhere in there. I for one reject that such persons are “progressive” because the standards of Orthodoxy are intact and so long as we uphold the dogmas of the Church and observe the canons of the Church we may do as we wish, and in that there is freedom.
When I visited a Protestant church last week, I felt the presence of Christ’s Spirit. I do not feel ashamed for saying so. Of course he was not there bodily, but his presence was in the midst of a people seeking to call Him to themselves through song, and worship and word. I noticed a familiar feeling, and a beauty to it that was not alien to how I feel in the mass. They were not identical, but they were similar. I think it’s incumbent upon us to learn that we have 90% in common, and the 10% difference is a matter of clearing misconceptions and working with greater fervor for the spiritual transformations necessary in the laities for the reunification of all the churches with Rome.
3) No one likes a prideful windbag
Well, I mean it’s succint, it’s right there. But let’s talk about some practical tips for visitation.
If you’re a catechumen and not a Catholic, taking communion isn’t really a problem, insofar as it would cause less scandal to do so.
If you’re going to disagree with the preacher, or someone else, hide your disgust or disagreement and recognize that these pople are often trying to be as faithful as possible given the tools that they have.
If you really can not find charity in your heart while visiting another church that is not Catholic, maybe you need to reexamine your interior life, and remember that Christ is not bound to the Church, but the Church is bond to Christ. Christ may use whomever and whatever He wishes and while we disagree with the form and some of the content of the Protestant churches, we cannot deny that Christ moves in their midst.
Let’s talk about some more tips on charity next time.
That’s what some people think of my new faith. I have heard it before, and I have seen some examples. Some people I know who have forgotten the meaning of the faith, or the meaning of the interior quest and have gotten sidetracked into apologetics and not taken the time to develop. Some assume that to be Catholic means to forsake the mind.
Sometimes people see Catholics as mindless prayer drones comparable to the Cybermen in Dr. Who. And sometimes this is sadly the case, but it’s true in any religious setting big enough to have moderate participants. I have seen it in myself earlier on in this journey. People who no matter what they say seem to know only one word: Indoctrinate. They run around and no matter how eloquent their speech, the heart of everything comes down to a rigid dance that is sung to the tune of “Indoctrinate! Indoctrinate! Indoctrinate!!”. They’re all about assimilating and dehumanizing, leaving a swathe of emotional and spiritual distress in their wake.
I think we all know what I’m talking about. The person who becomes the walking catechism, the person who insists on debates on a regular basis. I have taken to sitting down, and keeping my thoughts inside. It’s been difficult at times, since I get excited about things, but I have learned there’s a lot to be said for that whole pearls before swine thing. Especially if I do not want to be or be seen as a robot. (And yes, I know that there are some people who will always perceive you thus, no matter what you say or how gracious you are. Let us pray: “Lord in your mercy! Have pity on those who perceive us as mindless robots, and get them some oil for their own hinges. Amen.”)
There’s nothing wrong with sharing, but I refuse to let myself substitute one fundamentalism for another.
My sponsor, Papa Smurf, says that that’s the real tragedy. People get out of Fundamentalism, but they don’t give up being fundamentalists, as if they never learned what the real issue was in the first place. They have simply changed churches instead of being transformed in the interior life by the sacraments and the Community of Faith.
I have tried to make journey as moral and spiritual as it is academic and theological. The blog has helped a lot in this process because it asks me to think through the faith and present my ideas and life to an audience. I think I have been learning a lot by doing this. My vacation from blogging taught me a lot of practical things, and I learned that I’m not superman along the way. I have seen friends or read stories about people who cut themselves off from all life, and the only thing that matters is their new faith, or the transition or the mass conversion of all their friends and family.
I have tried my best to make my journey broader than that.
I have seen some though who become militant in their journey. Just like the Cybermen, they violate human dignity for some higher ideal, some greater good, when Christ teaches us that he embodies every single act of charity, not acts of theological or spiritual arrogance. If this is you, go find a hug, go appreciate life, paint a picture, listen to music, be human. Where we gather according to His way, he is there. Your Protestant, Atheist, Muslim and Hindu friends don’t need an “upgrade” they need exposure to a charitable disciple. They need an evangelist who preaches with actions and then and only then, words. I mean, there’s a need for healthy separation, but being Catholic isn’t the end of thought at all. The worst testimony to your faith is to be a walking book of doctrine or the jumpy-evangelist. The best example is to be loving, thoughtful and meek.
Many of my friends from college have converted or re-verted back to the Faith, and many are success stories, and I appreciate watching them grow, but some others simply stop thinking. Some simply re-quote things, and have let dogma become their answer instead of the method by which they approach all else. They have become, as it were, thoughtless, and I understand there are practical reasons this happens from time to time, but it frustrates me to see brilliant minds left unattended. Lobotomized, as it were.
I have discovered that Catholicism has become a lens through which i see all else. Some call it Christianity, some call it Catholicism, I call it both, but its my lens, it’s my way of looking at the world. Being Christian is not about ideas, it is about a worldview. A commenter, Mike recently shared the quote “They call it Christianity, I call it consciousness” and I could not agree more. Jesus’ lordship really has a claim on me, and it is really transformative of the way I see everything else.
I have discovered the moral and spiritual lens by which I see the world, and it invites me to think, and to feel and to experience the world Christianly. Christianity and specifically the Catholic faith have invited me to see think and feel through God’s love and His call to be a disciple. I have not stopped thinking, in fact I am learning what it means to think, to feel, to have faith and to be human all over again.
If you’re a fan of American literature you might remember the “Beat Generation” people like Jack Kerouac, who were thus titled for their seeking of “the beatific vision,” in everyday life. I’m not saying they were right, or praising their loose morality, but I am saying that there’s something to the spirituality they represent which was flawed, but can find completion in the Church and her teachings. The term “beat generation” applied to a loose collective of writers with more or less one goal in mind, the spirituality of the present moment. While the beat generation sought this in roadtrips and journeys on the outside, I think that we can see that there is something to be said about interior journeys.
I don’t know about you, but I know my life is always on the move. I’ve found that keeping a strong interior life can be complicated in the midst of all this commotion, especially as I have changed cities, left home again and adventure out on my own path.
I think that my personal spiritual journey is less like building a castle, and more like taking a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage has one goal in mind, a destination. Our goal should be what the ancient saints called the “Beatific Vision.” The Beatific vision, is a soul’s absolute visual perception of God. I think that building a strong interior life is about holding this vision in everyday life. It’s less like building a fortress and more like sojourning along the way. The castle is a moving castle, the interior is a growing and wayfaring interior life towards Christ.
These three things have helped me (We’ll do a three part Series)
1) Snapshots of Spiritual Realities
- Pray Station Portable:
I’m not sure, but it seems to me that the kids I pastored assumed that prayer had to be something you sat down to do in a very reverent and quiet way at all times, and that if you were not in church (or locked away somewhere, for the older ones) you could not really be praying.What I have learned in working all this time is that I can and do indeed have time to pray in my everyday. I mean, lucky for me, I have a job where I work outside, and can listen to my phone’s podcast app on a regular basis. But in this time I have developed a growing spiritual awareness to the everyday. I usually listen to each of the offices for the Liturgy of the Hours a few times so that I can catch the general gist of it and pray along. At other times I might be running an errand and have an earphone in my ear instead of the radio listening and praying along. Now, I’m not super-spiritual holier-than-thou, I still listen to music, but it helps to take time to pray or at the very least listen to the office of readings.
The other day, on Wednesday to be exact, I was headed to lunch with a friend and the office of the readings was Ezekiel 37, the story about the dry bones. I was overwhelmed with everything. I happened to be driving by a Catholic Church, and I just had the overwhelming spiritual reassurance that God was working in my behalf, saw my sufferings and was sharing in them with me.
I felt those words echo in the depths of my soul, and I knew that the Lord was speaking to me. I don’t even know how to put it into words, but this little “pocket of prayer” gave me overwhelming spirituality, and reassurance in the midst of trial. This experience sanctified that ordinary moment into something extraordinary. Spiritual reality knocked down the door to my everyday reality and brought me back to God’s existence and work in my everyday.
The interior life I’m talking about is a wayfaring to “there and back again.” I am encouraging you to go out, as I have gone out, and gotten outside my shell and conversed with others. I am encouraging you to build a moving castle. I mean, some people don’t find it easily tenable to build a castle in one sitting, to which I say, travel, picking up things along the way, but instead of letting them fall out, bring back these precious stones, and build a castle from your journeys.
Hey all, sorry i have been absent, life has been hectic, welcome back, and thanks for the patience. Let’s get right into it.
Have you ever read that verse and been like…whoa? I know I have.
Anyways, some people i have been talking to recently feel that people received into the Church (still rather erroneously called converts) hate where they came from.
I want to say two things:
1) This is not always the case, and in fact I think it’s rarer than some assume.
2) I think that there are legitimate reasons this appears to be the case.
Jesus says that unless we hate mother, and brother, and father and sister for his sake, we are not worthy of Him. I think many people coming into full communion go through a process where they have to break from the old. They can’t put new wine in old wineskins, much less can they fit the Catholic faith which is broad and wide and deep, into the protestant/other religious life they once had which is often more shallow. The Catholic Church is like having a full set of tools in a big enough tool box. Where protestantism is like having various tools and various toolbox sizes depending on your denomination.
In fact, When I look at the verse I titled the post with I think that there’s something positive to be said about taking an axe to your former faith. I think that there needs to be a pruning, there needs to be a chipping away of the smallness of what your faith used to be. I think there needs to be a cutting away of closed doors. Sometimes this might look like a lot of shutting doors. But I think ultimately we come full circle and find that we’ve been closing extremely small doors, to throw wide the large doors to a large house, the house of the Catholic Church.
I think we find that we’ve closed some small fringe doors to mouse-holes that we’ve taken, but find that there are infinitely larger doors and infinitely larger answers and spaces for our minds to play.
I know that in my life, I’ve tried to be as Catholic as possible for the past year and a half theologically, but I don’t have everything down. In fact, the other day I said something really stupid, and it was foolish and uncharitable, to be honest. I was wrong, and sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we prune the wrong thing, we close the wrong door.
I try to remind myself that confirmation and reception are the fullness of faith, a broadening, a deepening, an opening of new paths. I focus on what new unexplored ventures await me in the counsel of the saints. I try not to be rigid about my faith and I know I still fail at being as gracious as some other converts I know. I think that the time waiting has served me well, but I’m not perfect.
I feel like I have had to close my options from some theologians I used to really enjoy, simply because I believe differently in some areas now. This is not to say I cannot have a healthy appreciation of them in the future, it just means I’m not ready for that appreciation to not dominate my life and make my reception more difficult where they might disagree with my decision to enter full communion.
There are reasons to shut the door on your former faith in some ways, and I’m not presenting an exhaustive list, but here are a few:
1) To solidify a renewed identity in your faith
2) To be stronger in your convictions
3) Because full communion is a heavily internal process
Sometimes converts are less like joyful lambs, and more like yipping chihuahuas. The bark can terrify some people, but these are moments, this is a baby learning that hitting is not ok, this is a child learning to stand on two legs, this is a gardener pruning and tending a garden and killing what she perceives as weeds.
Confirmation and reception for me, are less like uprooting a tree and planting another, and more like taking said tree, and adding a new branch. I see my reception into the Catholic faith as an ingrafting. I have learned a lot as a protestant and without my initial conversion to Christianity, I could never come into the fullness of faith.
Do I always get it right?
But I do know one thing: I am grateful for where I come from.
I am grateful for my Pentecostal/Charismatic school. I am grateful for my protestant friends, pastors and leaders. I am grateful for my own parents who raised me well in the faith so that I cannot depart from it. I am grateful for those experiences which have shaped me, as flawed and unlovely as I can be sometimes. I might be dirty with sin and sometimes with frustrations and irritations that cause me to sin against my protestant brothers and sisters, and for this, I am sorry.
I might have laid an axe to my tree, but only to cut a place where I can make room for a new and growing faith to spring up into fullness right beside it.I may have pruned some pentecostal-charismaticism, but only to fulfill my pentecostal faith with a tree that bears much fruit. I may have taken out some parts of my former faith, and I might be rough around the edges, but I still have a relationship with Jesus; I still love Him. I ask you to pray for me and talk to me along the way, if I’m really rough around the edges, pruning isn’t an easy task, and I could use some loving hands.
If you’re married, you’ll get this right off the bat. If not, you’ll know what I’m talking about too, since I’m not married.
Spouses make mistakes. We all know this. It’s not a mystery. Those we love hurt us, sometimes even very profoundly. It’s awful that this happens. That much is true. Yet, Sometimes we expect some sort of perfection from faith.
Faith is disappointing at times. But that doesn’t mean you love it any less. The disciples were disappointed that Jesus left their hopes dashed, did not conquer the Romans and in fact died a shameful death at the hands of Pagans. Yet they didn’t forsake him utterly.
I guess this is my first “Reasons I’m Catholic” post. I didn’t want to present a huge apologetic, or a fantastically solid defense of doctrine. I could do that. I have done that. Today I’m not in the mood. Today, I want to tell you something.
My Church is flawed, She is wounded, She is hurt by the failures of bishops and individuals, through sins of omission and commission. However strong she is, there seem to be people always screwing things up. Sometimes She needs my help, at others I need hers.
How can we expect faith to be anything other than an echo of marriage? If that’s the case, then Christians are the ones who run to God and His Church in their hour of need. Marriage isn’t getting all your needs met, it’s meeting the needs of others. When I join the community of Faith I marry Christ, and in some sense His people.
Despite abuses, and misunderstandings and failures in communication, I love my Church the way one loves their spouse. She has made mistakes, but she’s still Holy. She isn’t perfect, but she’s mine.
I love my Church, I love her, her songs, and her worship, her theology and presence and power. She extends fellowship to the poorest of the poor, and makes the rich tremble, she stands firm against the desecration of life, and makes peace where there is war. She incites peaceful revolutions, and upholds human dignity. Her servants, her children, stand strong in the name of virtue, and defend the cause of widows, of lepers, of those condemned to death. She is not perfect, other of her children falter, they flag, the wound her, yet she stands.
I love this woman, Church. Mother Church, for all her imperfections is still wholly perfect to me. She is filled with human beings and while some are running away in this time, or staying away from conversion for fear, I am running to her. I need her. I love her.
You may say, “She’s all corrupt from the top-down!” Yet, give her to me corrupt and I shall clean her, give her to me imperfect, and I shall wipe her tears. Give her to me, where you might cast a stone, and I will stand for her, protecting her, loving her. I have given myself to my faith, and she is mine. I have given myself to Jesus, and I am His.
Where you might sneer, or jest I shall lay down my cloak for the Bride of Christ. Where you would point fingers of accusation, I will spread my cloak over her, and place the ring that binds us in confirmation upon her finger. Where you would call me away from so strange a Church, I say that I shall run to her because of her quirks. Where you would question her son the Pope, I say, my oldest, wisest living brother in Christ likely knows the way in which Mother and Father know best.
I see her flaws, I see the wounded across history. I see their tears, but I don’t see them alone. She does too. She weeps for her faults, she repents for her mistakes. She affirms man and woman, she makes way for the celebration of life and light. She offers me the Bread of Life when I am hungry. I know she is imperfect. I know her citizens, her children can damage her image, and yet she stands. Embattled, she looks resplendent. In times of war she brings calm and offers asylum to all who would run to her houses.
When the world has cast us out, it is always she who welcomes us, calls to us and takes us in. Mother Church, with Mother Mary, and all the saints. Where my friends have failed to pray for me, her saints, her blessed children never have. Where I have been left hungry or alone, she has shown me that I am not alone, and that brothers and sisters worldwide feel this same hunger. Where I have lacked direction, she has given me libraries of counselors and saints who have all quested after the Triune God through her embrace, and real flesh and blood men and women of wisdom, and virtue; shaped in the fires of sacrifice these have shared depths of understanding that pierce through my everyday.
How shall I judge so great a lady and esteem her fallen?
Where shall I rise to stand above her? By what authority, whether heavenly, or earthly shall I judge this great and holy Mother Church? By what right shall I cast shallow and snide judgments on the bride of my Lord?
If she is who she says she is, then despite her disappointing me from time to time, it is with her I shall stand. I have made my peace with the fact that She has authority over me, and that though my water of purification was not at its time, she has asked me to let Christ make wine, and so I shall. She has told me to take hold of this new wine, and celebrate new life, and new virtue in the fullness of faith. She has called me to rejoicing, she has called me to her side, and asked me to join a family larger than any I could have dreamed of.
Where shall I stand? On the authority of the Bible? She has written it and given it to me. By the authority of secularism? She defeats every attack on logic with her compelling and powerful words of wisdom. She is the gift of the Logos Himself. By the authority of Christ? He Himself gave her over to us through the apostles. By the history of the Reformation? A rebellious priest/monk is no basis of comparison to the Church Fathers. Where shall I find the higher ground to hold her as inferior to the “freedom” which my evangelical upbringing brought to me? Certainly not in Charismatic expressions of faith, because she is their origin. The One Church has never stopped being Charismatic.
There is no authority then by which I shall presume to judge her worthy of condemnation. If this be the case, then to call her Mother, to take upon myself the surname of Catholic, is simply an act of spousal love. I have tried to refute her, I had tried to dissuade myself, but for all my damnable logic, it was love that overpowered me. I have only one choice, to Love my God, and to love my neighbor, if these are the commandments, then to be Catholic is simply the most logical and most loving way to go about these commands. No other Church has spent as much time or energy fighting poverty, or abuse or famine or suffering. She may be imperfect in my eyes at times, but it is especially in these imperfections that I must run to her. Where I notice a weakness, I must rebuild the walls of Rome with all my brothers and sisters, and together we shall love her and those she gives to us.
I love the Church, and from Her I shall never depart, she is my Mother, and it is through her Motherhood that I have come to once again call God my Father.
This is the first post on my new kick to study Opus Dei, and to begin to discern my vocation process to see if joining the prelate is my call. So, instead of offering pros and cons, as some might, I want to talk about the thoughts on my mind, and then write about the Founder of Opus Dei’s writing. So let’s get to it.
Life is moving fast. At the time you are reading this, I spent all night preparing myself to steel away into the night in Florida and arrive in the day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so that I reunite with The Secret Vatican Spy and we can continue our evil plot to take over the world.
I should have arrived by the time most of you are reading this, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be spending today meditating on the works of St Josemaria Escriva while I fly, as I give you updates via my twitter.
Anyways, Kassie and I talked these past few weeks about Opus Dei. I called my sponsor, (Yes, I still know I’m “a grown ass man” as my friend Carlos put it, who does not need a sponsor. Some things are better done with friends, even if it makes you look ridiculous,) and we talked. He likes my ideas, and is supportive of me and Kassie dating, he was “tickled” by the idea when I informed him.
He knows both of us and has known us since before we decided Catholicism is where we’re called. I have known him for a few years. I’m not sure where Kassie met him or how long they go back, but either way he’s a great Catholic leader and a trusted friend. In fact he’s so awesome I have decided to nickname him Papa Smurf.
Papa Smurf is a great guy and I am glad he’s pleased. He’s like a second father to me, and having his support was more indescribably amazing than there are words in this or any other language. He listened to the dastardly tale of a wedding, and how two Catholics met in the early Denver morning and began a glorious friendship that became something more. Anyways, he likes me dating Kassie, and he liked the idea of us looking into joining Opus Dei.
He knows my heart and supported the thought, as a convert himself, I feel reassured that his thought life on all this is just right in sync with my own. But alas, today is the day we begin discussing the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva on character from his writings found here.
Let’s look at our first passage:
Don’t let your life be barren. Be useful. Make yourself felt. Shine forth with the torch of your faith and your love.
With your apostolic life, wipe out the trail of filth and slime left by the corrupt sowers of hatred. And set aflame all the ways of the earth with the fire of Christ that you bear in your heart. -St. Josemaria Escriva
Since this is my practical, and personal blog, we won’t go into a crazy amount of depth. Just meditate on these words. Think on them, let them fill you, for if you desire, you would think and live in the same life that St. Josemaria encourages us to adopt. If you desire and so act, you too can become all flame.*
First he encourages us in fruitfulness, to till the soils in our hearts, to make sure we are at work. “Blessed is the servant who is working when the master comes.”
Be a worker, be useful, the gospel is too good to do nothing with. Allow people to see the gospel at work in you, and let your faith be matched by your love as a single torch.
It’s interesting that St. Josemaria calls our life apostolic, but it is! We are all the offspring of the apostles, and while the office and specific gifts of that office are not ours, what is ours is the evangelistic power, and the same Holy Spirit. Undo the hatred in the world with the fiery love of the gospel. Set the earth alight and to burning with the simple light, that you refuse to put under a bowl. It is this very same little light, the fire of faith and the warmth of love that shall change the world.
* This is a story about two Desert Fathers, Abba Lot, and Abba Joseph.
The story goes like this: Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
The Beginning of the End
Ultimately, with this not-so-little series my goal has been to show that both Fundamentalism and over-emphasis on “relationship” or “spirituality” without structure are both about how I am so much better than everyone else. They are both flawed overemphases of self.
At the root of Fundamentalism, and of Postmodern approaches to faith is the same mitake, one sin: pride. St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that “heresy is a species of pride rather than of unbelief” [Summa Theol. II, part 2, q. 11 art. 1.]. I think at the heart of many if not all Christian heresies, errors in the faith, is the sin of thinking we know better; we think we could do better or somehow make something better than what has clearly been established and affirmed.
I hope that with this series I have invited you into thoughtfulness, and if you have hate mail, I would love your comments too.
My attempt is to invite you into a broader view of what Catholicism is, and perhaps to see that there is more to Christianity than the fundamentalism of some, and more to Christianity than the liberalism of others. I have hoped we could all learn that the faith is deeper than we give it credit for on both sides of the great divorce from Reason in our understanding of Faith. Pope John Paul II said that “Faith and Reason are like two wings by which the human soul rises to the contemplation of truth.” I hope I’ve shown the importance of truth, and virtue in this whole process.
The Catholic Church is wider than some critics admit, and too wide for others. She is wider than disagreements with “religion” and more “progressive” than some care to admit. She upholds social values in an age where “conservatives” more and more care about fiscal policies and immigration than societal values and for the dignity of all humans, not just embryonic humans, though even these smallest of beings she preserves with all her might.
The Church is and always has been a broad place, a welcoming and large home for many children of the faith. Vatican II may not be your favorite Church document, but it’s a document of the Church and speaks to us with authority. Dislike does not give us Catholics the authority to rebel.
Losing MY Religion
I grew up in a religion that taught me about a man in heaven who wanted me to love him, and worship him. I grew up being taught that this was the most important thing in the world. I was never taught how to “play well with others” in regards to my faith. The funny thing is, we teach our children to share, to honor adults and to listen to wise counsel, but reject these notions as we grow up and think we know better.
When the Church found me, she invited me away from myself, away from my own little creation, away from a religion I had invented, and into the broad place, with wide-open doors where I could play with other Christians. Where I could celebrate God in a huge assembly, not just with some otherworldly people who had no idea I exist and who I could not relate to. She invited me to the communion table to share in Christ at the side of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of The Cross, St. Peter, St. John the Apostle, Pope John Paul II and others.
She invited me into a faith shaped by holiness and sacrifice rather than opinion and conjecture. She invited me into a faith that developed biblically and historically. She invited me into a playground where I could rest with God’s other children, and have a generous faith, a faith that had fences, but no to keep others out. She invited me to understand that these fences were to keep us safe and free from the dangers outside those curtains. She invited me to a tent of meeting, rather than a field where all manner of beast might pass by and snatch the unprotected.
She invited me away from my own idiocy and obstinate lack of virtue, to recognize others might know God better than I do, and to rise up to the level of my spiritual energies. She asked me to take a yoke upon myself, a true and great system of teachings, a new culture, a new life. She took me out of the spotlight, and invited me away from MY religion. She gave me faith in Jesus, a Mother, many brothers and sisters, and an enduring hope for the final day.
I am still developing, sometimes I am weak, sometimes I am angry, sometimes I am broken, but where I am weak and embrace the humility this brings, perhaps it is for our benefit. I know Jesus prayed that we might be one, and sometimes I come off a bit harsh, but this is my desire.
I desire that we might all learn to live together in peace. Peace cannot be had without the difficult and necessarily life-altering encounters made possible through honesty. If we cannot trust one another, we cannot live in peace. I seek that we may all learn to live together. I offer these correctives to Catholics to encourage them to seek out relationships with our separated brothers and sisters. I offer these correctives to protestants who would seek to say that we worship falsely, or are only religious without any spirituality.
I am learning to grow up, one day at a time, and I am deeply sorry where sometimes have failed in charity, or understanding. I can only offer the promise to work harder for my faith, and to embody not only an intellectual position, but a moral and spiritual one as well. My faith is slowly calling me from gripping tightly to a precious but imperfect thing, like the creature Gollum and his ring. The Church has called me into a full faith where we all share the same story, and each retelling might have a slightly different emphasis and perspective, but the story remains the same.
It’s nice to have a faith that calls me away from myself and into a broader assembly. It’s nice to have a faith that circumvents my obstinate obsession with my own opinions, on the one side or on the other. It’s nice to have a faith that strips me of a false precious, and teaches me that the reallly and truly precious thing is others. It’s nice to lose MY religion, to in the end have the religion that really matters.
I love my girlfriend. And I’m proud of her taking the blog world by storm with her blog The Secret Vatican Spy. Her latest post is awesome, and I just wanted to chime in via the blogosphere and let you know that if you don’t read her work, please do. It will help you, it will make you laugh, you might be able to relate, or at the very least, laugh along. I just wanted to recommend that you read her latest post here.
In other news, I wanted to segue from the high praise of our favorite spy into something that’s been on my mind that is related, the idea of religion vs. relationship that seems to be so widespread nowadays.
Today we’ll address one half of the problem, tomorrow, the other half. Today we talk about Fundamentalism. Tomorrow Postmodernism.
Raised to Hate Religion
Lots of people hate religion. It’s trendy to hate organized religion. It’s trendy to be against the grain of authorities anyways. Our world has sold us the idea that organization is the problem. Of course, anything organized is inherently evil. I myself converted into a highly “religious” nondenominational church where the only rule was, we hate “religion”. Organization was and is evil, it only corrupts things. But when it really boils down to it we don’t mind organized medicine, or organized law, or organized education, because there are benefits to the system, right?
Yet, it seems that when it comes to religion, my personal ideas and experiences should be catered to at all costs. I mean, if the hospital doesn’t cater to my every request and give me a profound sense of meaning, I don’t mind, as long as I’m cured. On the other hand religion for many is a therapeutic product, instead of a spiritual discipline. I think that there have been lacks of emphasis on the personal dimension of faith in the past, but the answer is not to run to the other extreme and make everything personal, and all about me.
There are problems with this sort of personalistic tendency, and the first is that, you have taken the place of all authority and essentially asserted yourself over the Holy Scriptures, the Magisterium, the Tradition, the Saints and God. And this personalism has two sides. The Fundamentalist position, and the Postmodernist position.
1) The Fundamentalist Position
This position is often characterized by a strong sense of certainty, not in the Church, or in the Tradition, or in the wisdom of the leaders of the Church, but in my tastes. Many of my Catholic friends know what I’m talking about. There are holier-than-thou people out there who think that a vernacular mass is just one step above cultic devil-worship or just a cut above a really ugly non-Catholic service. I know some people who have intimated that a Novus Ordo mass is invalid. This position hates the idea that the organization can make a decision it is unhappy with, and vehemently fights for personal preference with a minority against the majority.
Fundamentalism in this sense is, taking my own experiences and turning them into universal law. Taking my own ideas and projecting them as the way the world should will things to be. In other words, a Kantian view of metaphysics, morals and religion. This position doesn’t operate under the authority of the pope, but of a new pope, a philosophical pope, Kant’s view of the universe and not the Church’s shapes such as these. I begin to act as though my own personal experiences should simply be the way things are, and this breeds a profound arrogance. When I am the measure of my own faith, and not the Church or her saints, something is gravely wrong and I might be honoring the wrong sort of authority.
All this is is the supremacy of a very flawed position. A church “looking back to better days” is not what the Church is. In every age the Church has risen to the occasion, from the gentile inclusion to the innovation of a standard Latin mass. Believe it or not, sometimes the Church is scandalously progressive. That we have nostalgia for a yesterday that does not exist, an “earlier” Church, where the issues we face today might not have been issues simply betrays our lack of ability to live “in the now”. Let me tell you a little secret, in every age, and in all generations the Church of Jesus Christ has faced problems and challenges from within and from without, without facing these challenges head-on, we would be horribly inept at saying anything to the world of today.
The Supremacy of ME
Ultimately, this position is an organized form of dissent that says ‘anywhere this system disagrees with MY interpretation of what it should be it is wrong,’ and where we find ourselves saying that, we have found ourselves outside the Catholicity of the Church and her Teaching. It is the religion of Me, the religion of my religion, the religion of my desires and thoughts on laws and strictures of the Church.
If you disagree with the Magisterium that is fine, but unless you have a god-given authority to stand on, like obvious saintly vocation, or some other extraordinary virtues to back you up as you go gallivanting about doing so, stop trying to be Martin Luther reincarnate and be Catholic. If you want to be a protestant go do so, but don’t bring your preconceived supremacy of self to the doorstep of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and expect to be taken seriously.
I grew up in a culture and converted to a Christian faith that taught me the same, to hate religion and prize my own thoughts. They taught me to prize my opinion above all else, when Christ asked me to set myself to death. Jesus and His Church asked me to have the mind of Christ and make myself a servant. I can’t exactly serve if I am always assuming that I know best.
If I am a strong detractor of what I have come from at times, it is because I have learned a brighter path. But we’ll talk about that more, the next time.
Peace be with you.
I just finished my last Sunday as a protestant preacher. My year of covert Catholicism has finally come to an end, and I am now free to embrace the fullness of faith, fully.
I never expected it to be like this.
I am sad.
I thought there would be a sudden release, maybe a glorious light from heaven, a pillar of fire, hell I would have settled for a shooting star. I just feel a bit thoughtful.
My people gathered about me, they prayed for me, they exhorted me, and I feel happy, it’s a bittersweet happiness, but nevertheless.
I preached my last sermon from the First Epistle of St. Peter, and I loved it. It was just, thoughtful. I don’t know how to put into words how I feel.
I’m still collecting myself.
Anyways, just pray for me. I’m turning a page, and I’m not sure what adventures await as I get ready to cross the Tiber.
This week is going to be really hectic, but I have written some posts that you might enjoy. Also, make sure to tune into Kassie’s blog in case you miss me. She’s a way better blogger than I am, and I love reading her stuff.
I suppose if I were to summarize tonight and this past year: humility.
I learned to put away my desires, and support others, in thier quest for God. I know that I feel called across the Tiber, back into full communion, but the beautiful love that I experienced tonight, there are no words. I just wanted to thank you for your prayers, I’ll write about this more as the thoughts coalesce and become lucid.
So often, I am in familiar territory. I am my girlfriend Kassie‘s best friend, she’s my best friend, we get each other. Usually we can talk on the same page, even when we’re talking about things where we differ. However, I was definitely in over my head on Monday night after football.
It was after football, I felt exhausted. Kassie was sorely disappointed that the dress she thought she was buying for confirmation is not at all what she thought it was(it had blue patches that made it look like a patched tarp). Apparently the blue didn’t show up on her phone, and she thought it was an all black dress. This wasn’t a crisis, she wasn’t freaking out, but I could tell she was a bit disappointed.
Herein I will describe how I made it through.
Well, I now have a glimpse into the women’s struggle that is shopping for Church clothing. I mean, I have never shopped online for clothing, let alone clothing that was not for me. This was ridiculous.
I’ll say it again. Ridiculous. My little Texas Maiden and I decide to help her find a dress to wear for her confirmation, and it was one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I don’t mean it was trying, it wasn’t like pulling teeth. I legitimately love my girlfriend and I wanted to help her, but the experience itself was almost akin to the 12 labors of Hercules. The struggle to find an acceptably modest dress with style and class that would fit the season we’re being confirmed may as well have been trying to walk into a Calvinist service on Sunday morning and get everyone to pray the rosary and kiss an icon of St. Jude (Who I felt was more than aptly called on several times silently that night).
We looked through website after website, for dress after dress, and nothing would click. I started off with a few good choices (at least that’s what she told me,) but as we progressed I got more weary, and more exasperated by the sheer amount of selection without benefit. I was stifled by the surplus, and overwhelmed by the omnibus. There was a legion of dresses, few modest, even fewer combining said modesty with class, or style.
And we’re not ignorant first-time web shoppers, well, she’s not. I mean, we just wanted to find a black dress. I thought, “no big deal,” when the evening started, by the end of it all I may as well have undertaken singlehandedly returning all the protestants to the dutiful authority of the Holy See. We’re informed shoppers, we do our homework. We had tools on our side. We read Betty Beguiles we know where to look. We had an arsenal of energy, and a ”tag-team this undertaking” attitude as well as a general humor that made it bearable, and really it was a bit of fun, to be completely honest.
I’d picture my little Texas Flower in dress after dress, some of them making me cringe, others appealing, but not for Church. Others seemed perfect, and I’d forward a link and some were really good. But we still hadn’t found perfection.
I know some of my readers might think I’m God’s gift to Catholic women, I am orthodox, go dress shopping online and love to read, write and cook. You’re right. Well, not really, but I do have this to say: I’m not afraid of being supportive with my manhood. I’m not afraid of making room for Kassie to shine, or make demands on my time, or attention. I’m not opposed to her asking for my energy, or even asking me to undo some stereotypical masculinity. She didn’t actively ask by the way, she was already looking, I volunteered. Which she jumped at.
I’m a source for her, as a man, I’m a source she can come to for strength, encouragement, and fun. And it was fun. We looked at dresses, sometimes despairing about fashion sense in the market, sometimes wishing a blue or orange one would come in black. I enjoyed being able to just help her out, and despite my exasperation (I found a great dress, but I didn’t notice that the sides were cut-out. Not just, slits, like wildly large gaping hip-flare holes from the pits of hell, cut out.)
I didn’t mind it at all. I know I said it was a labor, but the spending time with Kassie part of it wasn’t. It was the actual finding of a modest dress that was.
I was definitely out of my league, and I knew it. I was a guppy, surfing the web with sharks. Despite that feeling though, I learned a few good things. I learned that being a man isn’t always about doing stereotypically manly things. I mean I knew that, but it’s nice to have reminders. I can just be there and spend time with my girlfriend helping her do something that makes her happy. I was available to her, just having fun and laughing. I learned that we really are awesome together, and that if we can survive dress shopping on the internet for modest clothing that even Betty Beguiles wouldn’t shake a stick at, we can survive anything.
I really did have fun, even if less than half the time I knew what I was doing. I just know that she would do the same for me if I wanted to watch football or do something really Brasilian or masculine. I figured it was the least I could do, and I ended up having a great, albeit slightly heckled time.
I mean, I didn’t end up converting the protestants, or starting an Inquisition, or even finding the right dress. Kassie found it on her own, without any help from me. I didn’t mind at all, because we had fun.
I am secure in my manhood enough to help my girlfriend shop for her confirmation dress, and develop a Catholic, loving, thoughtful manhood, one little black dress at a time.
So, today I begin the first of a series of intense farewell lunches where I say goodbye to the pastor friends I have made over the last year, and say goodbye to others that have just been here to help me along the way.
I feel simultaneously relieved to be leaving and sad to see my friends stay and myself leave. I mean, to be honest I haven’t really done much in the way of keeping in touch the past few weeks while I’ve been working myself to the bone to get ready to turn the page. I suppose the one thing that makes me contemplative today is how little I really connected at times. I tried, but everything here has felt transitory from day one, and maybe it always was. But either way, it’s been a thought-provoking experience.
I guess I just think about everything going on, and I’m glad that God has given me the grace to finish my pastorate strong, and that I have seen Him build upon what I tried to establish for my people. As I get ready to go to lunch with Ray, my methodist buddy, I just think about how it has been good times. It will continue to be good times though. If we’re all truly working towards Christ, whether it be at one table or a few different ones, wherever Christhas set Himself a table, there are my brothers and sisters.
Ray may not understand my conversion, mayhap he never will, but He has been a great friend, and an esteemed colleague throughout the year. I know I couldn’t do quite so well as a pastor without friends like him. I guess as things wind down, I look back at the year, over the acreage I have improved here at home and at my church spiritually by the grace of God, and I am pleased with the work. I look back with fondness at what has happened. The Lord has humbled me, taught me well, and will continue to do so.
I guess in closing I’d like to just offer my thanks to you, friends, who have upheld me and urged me on along the way. Thank you.
Welcome to the Conversion Survival Guide, a new category at the Practical Catholic. This is my project at developing some guidance, and really a handbook for conversion. I understand that my experiences are not comprehensive, you might feel I’m wrong. Talk to me, tell me what’s up. Anyways, let’s get to it.
I Have Some Rules that shape my Conversion Survival Guide. I feel that these might help you along too. I want to offer these things I have gleaned from the experiences I have had recently.
The first rule of the Conversion Survival Guide is:
Don’t talk about conversion.
The Second rule of Conversion is:
Don’t talk about conversion.
1) Shut up.
Look, I have one piece of advice. Sit down. Shut up. Be ready to learn. You are not the Catholic Church, you are not the Magisterium. You have a long road of unlearning ahead. I have a long road of unlearning ahead of me. I don’t mean don’t talk about conversion at all. But don’t throw it around carelessly. This is already a difficult process and letting the wrong friends or persons know about your conversion can bring a heavy burden to your doorstep. Besides, until you’ve developed the sensibility to not pick fights or take ignorance as personally as you might, you’re likely to do more damage than good.
Protestant pastoring has taught me to use feelings and intuitions rather than sources. I have to unlearn seeing myself as an authority and learn to take upon myself the light yoke of the Church and of Christ. I have to learn to read the documents that shape my faith, and I am held accountable to them. However, not only this. I need to learn to let the entire life of the Church transform me. I need her theology and her practice of the faith.
It feels like blessed relief to not have to make things up. As a protestant pastor I felt the burden to kinda “wing it” where as a Catholic, I don’t have to do that. It’s nice. But even now, it’s not just a head thing, it’s a heart thing. I have to even more actively take upon myself to learn humility, and service to the entire body of Christ.
2) Do NOT become a convert-apologist.
Seriously, shut up. Stop trying to convert everyone. They are not your flock, they’re his. They’re your friends, but they’re the Lord’s sheep. They are your spouse, but you can take your time, and be patient. Trust God to help you meekly express your faith with patience. Do your homework, but do not go about trying to reform all the protestants in your life and make them see the light you have found. Be Patient, do not lord your new faith over others.
If you want to express the validity of your faith, shut up, be patient, and suffer. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. Endure it, and in doing so people will see what kind of God you’re really serving. You will be accused of apostasy, of being “religious,” of causing scandal and of being misguided, fallen and stupid. People will not want to “talk” they will want to unload their presuppositions on you, and this will try to make you defensive.
My suggestion is to be silent, offer little to no argument. If it is a lost cause, let it be. Do not answer the source of your frustration with venomous retort, because in doing so you debase your faith. If you have nothing nice to say, go to mass. For the love of God, shut the (insert choice word here) up.
The only defense the Church needs is humble Catholics embracing their task to worship and celebrate the victory of God through their actions. This will not happen in a moment as much as in a practice of lifelong growth in humility.
As a former pastor, the temptation is to bring as many with you as possible, but the best way to do this is a humble procession ever towards Christ and His Church, not a rampaging papist-imperial march on Potluck Baptist Fellowship and brother so-and-so or deacon-JohnCalvinFan.
Let the Lord work through your determination to humility and patience, instead of leaving him a mess of spiritual fallout and poisonous representation to clean up after you. Don’t be a tornado, be a breeze, blow through refreshing others and not leaving a swathe of destruction in your wake. I understand that this is not always possible, some of us have the St. Paul anointing, and cause riots with even our most innocent actions towards devotion to the Truth. However, in the best of your ability, be at peace with others, and refresh them with the odor of Christ that flows from your wounds. Let them perceive him in the piercings upon your soul just as Thomas did with Christ.
3) Dedicate time to being silent and learning.
Take a year, and refuse to argue.
Take it upon yourself to build a foundation instead of defending a loosely gathered village of ideas. If you are looking for a fight you’ll find it, but your Catholic identity will not coagulate into a firm foundation that is as moral and spiritual as it is rational and theological.
The best theological argument for being Catholic is humility, active penance, and a charitable spirit when engaging your protestant brothers and sisters. Take a year and build a good apologetic basis, but as a defense, not an offense.
Apologetics is a spiritual and moral process as much as a logical and rational process. You cannot carry out true apologetics without humility. Drop the arguing, drop the theological talks with people who will anger you. Take up good works, that people may glorify the One who has called you into Communion.
Shut up, and let God humble you, so that when the ichor has left your heart you may be gracious and offer pearls, not to swine, but to those who will heed your words.
Not casting pearls before swine is as much about knowing who and what swine are as it is about letting the pearl develop in you through pain, and in secret. Once you have acquired this great treasure, you will recognize its value and treasure it, rather than throwing it about.
Trust me, and sit down, shut up. Or else you will regret it later. After your year is up, if you need more time, take it. It’s not a problem to need time to develop virtue, it is a problem to forego virtue and attempt to still speak the Truth. Take time and finish your conversion. Dedicate yourself to it fully. Don’t forget that there is time. There is always time to talk later. Make sure that you have become Catholic, and are not just breaking away from a former faith. Don’t define yourself by your enemies. Choose yourself for something, and in doing so, you will have made headway into the meaning of the faith. Choose a personal cause, a person, an act of penance and service, choose a healthy and helpful relationship. Dedicate yourself to it.
That’s how you survive conversion, maybe it’s not as difficult as you’ve made it.
Feedback is always welcome, even if you disagree, or want to crucify me on your front lawn. Have a nice day.
Sometimes I feel as if the next two weeks will definitively kill something in me. You may or may not know what I mean. I am about to retire from pastoring, for good.
As a pastor-convert, I feel like I’m giving up something major, something essential to me sometimes. I feel like my pastorate’s end is something I am partially unprepared for. Having a title isn’t where it’s all at, but it’s a bit strange no longer having an official title two weeks from now. It’s about the type of relationships I guess I am not entirely comfortable with losing, at times. I mean, I know what I’m about, it just makes me thoughtful.
I have answered the Church’s call, I am coming home despite my lack of foresight into what is to come. I am uncertain what my future holds in regards to where I will serve in the Church. I have been looking into both Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus as places where I might plug in after confirmation. I’d love more info if anyone can offer me some good leads.
Pastors, protestant and otherwise, people who have been in leadership in evangelical communities might have problems with the transition into the Faith. I want to help you and myself along with these loosely collected thoughts. I offer some advice in dealing with this that have helped me manage conceptually, thus far.
3 things that I have been thinking about recently in regard to my conversion:
Redirecting my pastoral energies
I know that I am overflowing with pastoral compassion and that an energy burns inside me to care for others. I am however going to have to learn about taking this energy and directing it through proper channels. Maybe counseling or teaching are in my future, I do not know. The most appropriate channel will be a developing spiritual life until I have further clarification.
I have been preparing to redirect my pastoral energies for months now, by blogging more, and taking a more active role in my iner-personal life. I have turned to my friends and colleagues for support. I asked my sponsor, (yes, I have one. Yes I know I am a “…grown-ass-man,” as a friend of mine put it; I still wanted a sponsor,) about how he dealt with the transition since he used to be an episcopal priest. He told me to trust the Lord, and let him fulfill pastoral callings in His way, through teaching, and mentoring and maybe someday teaching RCIA and other classes. There are plenty of lay vocations in the church for my skills anyways.
Thinking through Perspective
I had to decide to take upon myself a new set of lenses. I am making a moral and spiritual conversion, not just changing social clubs. This to me means, I am supposed to make a moral and spiritual transformation along the way.
I guess thinking through this I have decided to see all of this as a pilgrimage. From Los Angeles, to Rome. From eclectically mixed protestant multi-denominationalism to the entire wide and deep breadth of the Church’s Tradition. This is what to keep in mind as you make the change.
Remember, it is not easy, it is not always fun. Some converts find ultimate fulfillment, others have harder times, either way, if you’re converting to Catholicism, stand strong, find support, with priests, sponsors, friends, fellow parishioners, the Church Fathers, the Coming Home Network, get assistance, that’s the first thing.
The Second thing is to chill out, and just accept the journey. The journey home is as beautiful as the destination. The anticipation of the Eucharist is just as important as your first communion. Just as every love affair has a developing period, take this time to make moral changes and spiritual preparation for your new life. Spiritual disciplines can help you focus on what’s important. If your faith is flagging or you have second thoughts, pray with the Church. If you’re having issues with the rosary, start with the divine mercy chaplet, or the liturgy of the hours. The way we pray is the way we believe, and if we are having problems with faith, we might be flagging in prayer, though this is not always the case.
Finding a New Place in Church Life
Find a new place to plug in.
I am looking into the Knights of Columbus, and Opus Dei, but rest assured I want to take up a weekly volunteer activity, and be involved with parish life. These things will help me temper my conversion fire into a fire that will last a lifetime. Some converts start strong and then flag and flounder into bare minimums. Instead of doing that, spend time with Jesus’ people. Serve, your family, your wives and husbands, your friends, your priest.
Be of service, and you will find the peace of the Lord working through you, and in turn granting you peace. If you seek to gain peace, to gain the abundant life offered by the Church and her sacraments, participate in them frequently. Take up confession weekly, go to more masses, volunteer somewhere. Read the saints, pray with the saints, order your faith in such a way that is begins to shape your everyday, instead of just your Sunday, or your Friday diet. Let Orthodox faith fill your every breath, and let your interior life with Christ be a blessed burden, rather than a simply tiresome one.
Pastors, converts, be at peace, and do not let Church be the only thing in your life. Remember your hobbies, your passions, your interests. Remember beauty, and freedom and love. Remember your families. Remember that even if your spouse is opposed to your conversion, you can still find love in their arms. You can still find peace in interaction with them, through service. If they are radically opposed, you can undo their anger or frustration through humble service. Dear friends, fellow converts, be at peace and know that I am praying for you with all the saints.
Note: Dear friends and readers, if you have Opus Dei, or Knights of Columbus info, or just want to leave general feedback, adoring fan comments, or hate mail that calls me a part of the whore of babylon, feel free.
I have no idea how to be a Catholic man.
Have you ever felt that way?
I mean, I’m unmarried, young and thoughtful about my faith, but I often worry about how to be practically Catholic. Sometimes i worry that the Inquisition might come looking for me and find me lacking, in some way. I have no idea how to handle all this new information and all these new horizons that come before me. Sometimes I feel like I’ll be kidnapped and forced to confess to ridiculous sins. (I should probably stop basing my thoughts on conversion so close to all the Monty Python in my brain.)
I wanted to share some thoughts as the come to mind, and just share 5 things I kinda learned this week or happen to be thinking about.
Before I offer the 5, I never expected this to be a men’s blog, and I’m not sure that that’s what it is, but thanks for reading either way. I will start talking conversion more this week and things start to happen.
Anyways, here are 5 things I have learned being a Catholic man this week:
1) Life is more than we think it is, and it can’t be reduced to cause and effect
I guess what I mean is, I’m making room for mystery. Learning the practical side to a faith I have been saying yes to in my mind for three years is a big challenge. But I’m learning to embrace the mystical and the mysterious.
2)Religion is not just for women.
Having a profound and developed interior life is for real men.Real men pray the rosary because real men honor their Mama. Real men devote themselves to the service of others because real men follow the example of Christ. I have learned to develop my interior life not only helps my work, but my play, not only my discipline, but the way I go about rest.
3) Even practical catholics need rest.
I have worked over 60 hours this week, slept about 3-5 hours a night and am beat. I should learn to rest. God gives us rest, and times of peace, and we should take refuge in this. It is in our nature to rest, and to have limitations. Just because I don’t save the world every day doesn’t mean i’m a failure.
4) Trust your lady.
If you’re in a relationship, married or otherwise involved, if your lady is filled with wisdom and a love for Christ, trust her where her judgment seems right. It’s not unmanly to just, trust someone else with a decision you seem to be having issues with. Trust her, cherish her opinion, or seek clarity with Our Lady through the rosary.
5) My last thought for the night?
I have been stressed and stressing, paranoid and tired, and it’s been awful. I know I need to calm down, relax and think through things with a clear mind, thus, I am going to keep sipping this beer and watching football till I pass out.