How to go to Confession
(Insert token scary howling wind and foreboding crash of thunder here.) Confession scares people who have no idea what it is.
When I first began looking into Catholicism, confession seemed like some sort of arcane ritual where the priest decided he would be God and forgive sins or something like that. It all seemed magical in an occult and paranoia-inducing sense of the word. But it’s nothing scary, and nothing like that. I’ll go into the theology of confession a bit before we get to the ‘How To’.
Confession was not devised by the Church to secure power, nor is it a way for priests to play God. Christ works his saving grace through men to save, the equivalent would be an honest look at what evangelicals believe about the sinner’s prayer, and how it takes both a minister and the prayer for salvation to occur, at least in most theologies. The act of confession is a bit more modest though, and only states that God grants outwardly, through the words of the priest the inward grace of spiritual renewal, just like when we take communion the bread and wine as Christ confer to us the grace and spiritual renewal of eating and drinking the fruit of the Tree of life.
A common myth is that confession is automatic, and that regardless of whether someone is sorry, it works. That’s not true, because without real repentance, the act is invalid.
Some people have also argued that confession is too shameful, too heavy a burden, whereas I’d argue that those who argue this probably don’t have good community in their gatherings. To confess our sins is shameful, and indeed dreadful and harsh, but if we are prodigals, we must return to the Father’s house. You cannot enter into the house without passing through the gate which is Christ, and He has established that we should confess our sins and receive forgiveness on behalf of the Church. Jesus was indeed kind and loving, but he confronted people on their sins, and exacted from them a true repentance that seems almost inconceivable without some sort of public and private accountability for sins.
If you have further questions or want to discuss this, please leave a comment, I’d love to answer some questions.
Anyways, here’s the long and the short of confession:
1. You always have the option to go to confession anonymously, that is, behind a screen or face to face. I like going face to face, it hurts more, but it’s worth it to tell the truth when looking at someone. It makes me feel like i am looking at myself honestly when I do this.
2. After the priest greets you in the name of Christ, make the sign of the cross. He may choose to recite a reading from Scripture (I have never had this happen, usually he just waits for me to begin), after which you say: “Bless me Father for I have sinned. It has been (state how long) since my last confession. These are my sins.”
The whole point of this is to come back into the family. In Brazilian culture we are strongly Catholic and so even when I greet my parents or grandparents, I do not greet them with ‘Hello,’ I greet them with “Bless me, (Father, Mother, Grandpa, Grandma…etc.),” so this was not an issue for me. I understood immediately the desire to ask for a blessing, especially when one has done wrong.
3. Tell your sins simply and honestly to the priest. And keep it short. If you’re in confession at the common time, other people want to confess their sins too, and you should be as brief and exact as possible. If you have some time you might even want to discuss the circumstances and the root causes of your sins and ask the priest for advice or direction. However, do not expect a counseling session, save that for your own schedule when you can meet the priest one-on-one at a time outside scheduled parish confession.
4. Listen to the advice the priest gives you and accept the penance from him. Then make an Act of Contrition for your sins. There are others, but that’s the standard one, and usually there are prayer cards with this prayer on them in the confessional for first timers and people who forget.
5. The priest will then dismiss you with the words of praise: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good. You respond: “For His mercy endures forever.” (This is a scriptural reference, for those of you who thought that Catholics don’t like scripture.) The priest will then conclude with:”The Lord has freed you from your sins. Go in peace.” And you respond by saying: “Thanks be to God.”
6. This is the part where you might feel a burden lifted, or spiritually aware, and open to the possibilities God has for you, it’s a very good feeling. However, remember the purpose of this sacrament is to return us to proper community and to bring us back into God’s family to properly celebrate the mass with the priest and the faithful.
7. Spend some time with Our Lord, either in Church, in prayer, in the chapel, or at a side altar thanking and praising Him for the gift of His mercy. Try to perform your penance as soon as possible, and remember that this gift of confession is so that we may be prodigals no more.
EXAMINATION OF CONSCIENCE
The examination of conscience is a Catholic dance move, it’s one that goes on secretly, it’s kind of like the pregame for mass, you go through these steps to make sure your groove is right and that you are bringing yourself to the floor with the right attitude of heart and mind. It’s about getting the right attitude mentally and emotionally and spiritually for what’s about to happen when you begin making all those signs of the cross and bows and kneels.
An examination of conscience is an essential part of Christian spirituality, whether you’re Catholic or catholic. (Because let’s be honest, no one wants to really be outside a church as awesome as the One, Holy, Catholic(meaning universal, but we can get into that later), and Apostolic Church.)
However, an examination of conscience is not an opportunity to get all caught up in all that “woe is me!” nonsense that can distract you from the real purpose of a good examination of conscience. The purpose of a good examination of conscience is not to behold your own sinfulness, but to behold where you’ve breached proper relationship with God and neighbor.
The difference between these two mindsets is incredibly important and not to be overlooked or taken lightly. What matters in the examination of conscience is not how closely i can nitpick and scrutinize myself, but how closely I can behold Christ in the midst of looking at myself both with and through Him. In 1 Corinthians 11 St. Paul talks about discerning the body so that we may eat worthily, and I suspect it is not only the mystery of the Lord’s body he is discussing, but also of each other, as the Body of the Lord. When we can come to the table having been restored by Christ, it is to celebrate His grace, and to remember His call to live in communion with God and neighbor.
So, in order to do a proper examination of conscience we start with the Ten Commandments, because those tend to cover most things. This will be slightly different from a general examination in that I wrote some of these questions myself and either added them to or substituted and combined other questions that fit together. I use this one, but have also added questions for those of you who might be married or have children.
1. I am the Lord your God. You shall not have strange gods before me.
-Do I seek God in prayer?
-Do I seek to love Him with my whole heart and through the actions of my life?
-Have I been involved with superstitious practices or have I been involved with the occult?
-Do I surrender myself to God´s word as taught by the Church?
-Have I ever received communion in the state of mortal sin?
-Have I ever deliberately told a lie in Confession or have I withheld a mortal sin from the priest in Confession?
-Are there other gods in my life? Money, Security, Power? In what ways can I bring Christ’s lordship to the forefront of my spiritual life and my earthly desires?
2. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
-Have I used God´s name in vain: lightly or carelessly?
-Have I not taken the resurrection or Christian hope seriously?
-Have I been complacent towards the duty of charity, or neglected being a peacemaker?
-Have I insulted a sacred person or abused a sacred object?
3. Remember to keep holy the Lord´s Day.
-Have I deliberately missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation?
-Have I tried to observe Sunday as a family day and a day of rest?
-Do I take seriously my own need for rest and spiritual communion with God and others?
4. Honor your father and your mother.
-Do I honor and obey my parents and the Church?
-Have I neglected my duties to my spouse, children or neighbors?
-Have I given my family and friends a good religious example?
-Do I try to bring peace into the lives of those around me?
-Do I care for the aged, the infirm, and the unborn with corporal acts of mercy?
5. You shall not kill.
-Have I had an abortion or encouraged or helped anyone to have an abortion?
-Have I physically harmed anyone?
-Have I enjoyed or approved of violence thoughtlessly? Have I supported a war without cause or too passionately?
-Did I give scandal to anyone, thereby leading him or her into sin?
-Have I been angry or resentful?
-Have I harbored hatred in my heart?
-Have I mutilated myself through any form of sterilization or self-harm?
-Have I encouraged or condoned sterilization, artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization?
-Have I carelessly approved of war or armed conflict?
-Have I participated in or approved of euthanasia?
6. You shall not commit adultery.
-Have I been faithful to my marriage vows in thought and action?
-Have I engaged in any sexual activity outside of marriage?
-Have I used any method of contraception or artificial birth control in my marriage?
-Has each sexual act in my marriage been open to the transmission of new life as well as the communion essential to proper sexuality?
-Have I been guilty of masturbation or other sexual selfishness?
-Do I seek to control my thoughts and imaginations?
-Have I respected all members of the opposite sex as persons, or have I thought of other people as mere objects?
-Am I a seductive person, or do I live in such a way as to keep myself and others from temptation?
-Do I seek to be chaste in my thoughts, words,actions?
-Am I careful to dress modestly and carry myself with dignity?
7. You shall not steal.
-Have I stolen what is not mine? Have I returned or made restitution for what I have stolen?
-Have I been guilty of excesses in either socialist/communist or capitalist practices?
-Do I waste time at work, school, and home?
-Do I gamble excessively, carry on too strong a social life, or work too much thereby denying my family of their need for me?
-Do I pay my debts promptly?
-Do I seek to share what I have with the poor? Do I give to the Church?
-Have I cheated anyone out of what is justly theirs, for example creditors, insurance companies, big corporations?
8. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
-Have I lied? Have I gossiped?Have I ruined the reputation of another person with slander?
-Do I speak badly of others behind their back?
-Am I sincere in my dealings with others?
-Am I critical, negative or uncharitable in my thoughts of others?
-Do I keep secret what should be kept confidential?
-Have I injured the reputation of the faith by living it insincerely?
9. You shall not desire your neighbor´s wife.
-Have I consented to impure thoughts and desires?
-Have I caused them by impure reading, movies, television, conversation or curiosity?
-Do I pray at once to banish impure thoughts and temptations?
-Have I taken my own relationships and friendships seriously as my opportunity for service and love?
10. You shall not desire your neighbor´s goods.
-Am I jealous of what other people have?
-Do I envy the families or possessions of others?
-Am I greedy or selfish?
-Are material possessions the purpose of my life?
That’s about it. After this, which you can do at home on the way to mass, in the Church while you wait your turn, or any time during the week, you might want to say a prayer. For some, the act of contrition prayer will do. For others, the liturgical prayer before confession will suffice. I personally enjoy St. Symeon the New Theologian’s prayer before confession:
O God and Lord of all! Who has the power over every breath and soul, the only One able to heal me, hearken unto the prayer of me, the wretched one! And, having put him to death, destroy the serpent nestling within me by the descent of the All-Holy and Life-Creating Spirit. And vouchsafe me, poor and naked of all virtue, to fall with tears at the feet of my spiritual father, and call his holy soul to mercy, to have mercy on me.
And grant, O Lord, unto my heart humility and good thoughts, becoming a sinner, who hath consented to repent unto Thee, and do not abandon unto the end a single soul, which has united itself unto Thee and has confessed Thee, and instead of all the world has chosen Thee and has preferred Thee. For Thou knowest, O Lord, that I want to save myself, and that my evil habit is an obstacle. But all things are possible unto Thee, O Master, which are impossible for man. Amen.
Brought to you by St. Benedict of Nursia.
St. Benedict of Nursia more often simply called St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine Order of monks offers to his brothers a 12 step program I think all Christians can learn from. Lent is often a time for lone reflection, like Jesus in the wilderness. However, as Christians, we’re never really alone, since we’re all One in Christ. Taking a cue from MONKROCK, I think it’s important we remember that you don’t have to be a monk to live like one. So I have enlisted the help of a monk and saint for this week’s Lenten Reflection. For more information on Benedictines search around, but there’s plenty to see.
We could all use a little recovery from time to time, most especially from the damage we do to ourselves. Most churches I was in as a protestant either had or directed people to a celebrate recovery group or another 12-step sort of program.
I think we could all use some guiding light for the dangerous and ardent or dry times in our lives. I also think that since pride is the root of the Seven Deadly Sins, overcoming pride is easily the most foundational way to live the life we’re called to in Christ. Lent can be a very dry and painful season, if we neglect to sacrifice rightly. To paraphrase my girlfriend, ‘fasting is only good if we’re not already starving’. Not only that, I think in the world of today we’re haunted by culture’s constant need to redirect us towards ourselves in negative and unhealthy ways. So I think this reflection is all about community together. Keep that in mind as you read this and ponder on humility.
The Saints are our Recovery Partners
I believe the best way to find that light, is to have a guide, that guide in my life is a collection of saints whom I turn to for guidance, because they’re my Christian role models. Often, they’re monks or other persons of great holiness who draw us away from the baseness of everyday life, and call us into the future that God desires for all of us.
We know they have heard the call of God and responded in a way we can model ourselves after.
I think Catholics should read monastic texts, but not because we should follow the rules to a T. I think we should read these texts for their value in spiritual formation. The way of perfection is a universal call, we must respond accordingly, and sometimes that may mean being inspired by the saints. Looking to our brothers and sisters in the religious life can be a well-spring of inspiration and hope in troubled times. And in any case, it can help us see new ways to fulfill our original callings.
Remember, you don’t have to be a monk to live like one.
The Catholic 12 Step Program
Brothers, divine Scripture calls to us saying:Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted(Luke 14:11; 18:14). In saying this, therefore, it shows us that every exaltation is a kind of pride, which the Prophet indicates he has shunned, saying, Lord, my heart is not exalted; my eyes are not lifted up and I have not walked in the ways of the great nor gone after marvels beyond me (Ps 130 :1). And why? If I had not a humble spirit, but were exalted instead, then you would treat me like a weaned child on it’s mothers lap (Ps 130 :2).
Accordingly, brothers, if we want to reach the highest summit of humility, if we desire to attain speedily that exaltation in heaven to which we climb by the humility of this present life, then by our ascending actions we must set up that ladder on which Jacob in a dream saw angels descending and ascending (Gen 28:12). Without doubt, this descent and ascent can signify only that we descend by exaltation and ascend by humility. Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend.
- The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes (Ps 35 :2) and never forgets it. He must constantly remember everything God has commanded, keeping in mind that all who despise God will burn in hell for their sins, and all who fear God have everlasting life awaiting them. While he guards himself at every moment from sins and vices of thought or tongue, of hand or foot, of self-will or bodily desire, let him recall that he is always seen by God in heaven, that his actions everywhere are in God’s sight and are reported by angels at every hour. The Prophet indicates this to us when he shows that our thoughts are always present to God, saying: God searches hearts and minds (Ps 7:10); again he says:The Lord knows the thoughts of men (Ps 93 :11); likewise, From afar you know my thoughts (Ps 138 :3); and The thought of man shall give you praise (Ps 75 :11). That he may take care to avoid sinful thoughts, the virtuous brother must always say to himself: I shall be blameless in his sight if I guard myself from my own wickedness (Ps 17 :24).Truly, we are forbidden to do our own will, for Scripture tells us: Turn away from your desires (Sir 18:30). And in the Prayer too we ask God that his will be done in us (Matt 6:10). We are rightly taught not to do our own will, since we dread what Scripture says: There are ways which men call right that in the end plunge into the depths of hell (Prov 16:25). Moreover, we fear what is said of those who ignore this:They are corrupt and have become depraved in their desires (Ps 13 :1).As for the desires of the body, we must believe that God is always with us, for All my desires are known to you (Ps 37 :10), as the Prophet tells the Lord. We must ten be on guard against any base desire, because death is stationed near the gateway of pleasure. For this reason Scripture warns us, Pursue not your lust (Sir 18:30).Accordingly, if the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov 15:3), if at all times the Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see whether any understand and seek God (Ps 13 :2); and if every day angels assigned to us report our deeds to the Lord day and night, then, brothers, we must be vigilant every hour or, as the Prophet says in the psalm, God may observe us falling at some time into evil and so made worthless (Ps 13 :2). After sparing us for a while because he is a loving father who waits for us to improve, he may tell us later, This you did, and I said nothing (Ps 49 :21).
- The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires; rather he shall imitate by his actions that saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me(John 6:38). Similarly we read, “Consent merits punishment; constraint wins a crown.”
- The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says: He become obedient even to death (Phil 2:8).
- The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape. For Scripture has it: Anyone who perseveres to the end will be saved (Matt 10:22), and again, Be brave of heart and rely on the Lord (Ps 26 :14). Another passage shows how the faithful must endure everything, even contradiction, for the Lord’s sake, saying in the person of those who suffer, For your sake we are put to death continually; we are regarded as sheep marked for slaughter (Rom 8:36; Ps 43 :22). They are so confident in their expectation of reward from God that they continue joyfully and say, But in all this we overcome because of him who so greatly loved us (Rom 8:37). Elsewhere Scripture says: O God, you have tested us, you have led us into a snare, you have placed afflictions on our backs (Ps 65 :10-11). Then, to show that we ought to be under a superior, it adds: You have placed men over our heads (Ps 65 :12).
In truth, those who are patient amid hardships and unjust treatment are fulfilling the Lord’s command: When struck on one cheek, they turn the other; when deprived of their coat, they off their cloak also; when pressed into service for one mile, they go two (Matt 5:39-41). With the Apostle Paul, they bear with false brothers, endure persecution and bless those who curse them (2 Cor 11:26; 1 Cor 4:12).
- The fifth step of humility is that a man does not conceal from his abbot any sinful thoughts entering his heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but confesses them humbly. Concerning this, Scripture exhorts us: Make known your way to the Lord and hope in him (Ps 36 :5). And again, Confess to the Lord, for he is good; his mercy is forever (Ps 105 :1; Ps 117 :1). So too the Prophet: To you I have acknowledge my offense; my faults I have not concealed. I have said: Against myself I will report my faults to the Lord, and you have forgiven the wickedness of my heart (Ps 31 :5).
- The sixth step of humility is that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given, saying to himself with the Prophet: I am insignificant and ignorant, no better than a beast before you, yet I am with you always (Ps 72 :22-23).
- The seventh step of humility is that a man not only admits with his tongue but is also convinced in his heart that he is inferior to all and of less value, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet: I am truly a worm, not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people (Ps 21 :7). I was exalted, then I was humbled and overcome with confusion (Ps 87 :16). And again, It is a blessing that you have humbled me so that I can learn your commandments (Ps 118 :71, 73).
- The eighth step of humility is that a monk does only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by his superiors.
- The ninth step of humility is that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent, not speaking unless asked a question, for Scripture warns, In a flood of words, you will not avoid sinning (Prov 10:19), and, A talkative man goes about aimlessly on earth (Ps 139 :12).
- The tenth step of humility is that he is not given to ready laughter, for it is written:Only a fool raises his voice in laughter (Sir 21:23).
- The eleventh step of humility is that a monk speaks gently and without laughter, seriously and with becoming modesty, briefly and reasonably, but without raising his voice, as it is written: “A wise man is known by his few words.”
- The twelfth step of humility is that a monk always manifests humility in his bearing no less than in his heart, so that it is evident at the Work of God, in the oratory, the monastery or the garden, on a journey or in the field, or anywhere else. Whether he sits, walks or stands, his head must be bowed and his eyes cast down. Judging himself always guilty on account of his sins, he should consider that he is already at the fearful judgment, and constantly say in his heart what the publican in the Gospel said with downcast eyes: Lord, I am a sinner, not worthy to look up to heaven (Luke 18:13). And with the Prophet: I am bowed down and humbled in every way (Ps 37 :7-9; Ps 118 :107).
The Final Word
Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue. All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in his workman now cleansed of vices and sins.
–St. Benedict of Nursia, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English and Latin, Chapter 7
So, for all of you non-Catholics out there, do you ever feel like you want to brush up on your know of Catholic dance moves? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Have you ever been in mass and then not known what comes next, but luckily had the person next to you to look to? Well, here’s the deal. Being Catholic is all about worship together, so it’s kinda like doing a toned down, sacred electric slide, in a sense.
I once had a friend say “Man, I feel like being Catholic is a dance party, and I just don’t have the right moves.” I never forgot those words. And so, in honor of my groove-challenged friend, and his inquiries into some dance skills, I have decided to provide. Ask and it shall be given, after all.
And seeing how Arcade Fire just took a grammy for Album of the Year, I think some congratulations are in order via a pictoral shoutout, and the dance-themed approach to this post, as well as a new sub-category called Dance Moves. I’ll be talking about the various practices of the mass and Catholic life, as dance school. It should be fun.
So, where does this “Sign of the Cross” come from?
Well, the earliest written source about the practice for the Sign of the Cross is Tertullian who wrote in the early Second Century.
“In all our travels and movements”, says Tertullian (De cor. Mil., iii), “in all our coming in and going out, in putting of our shoes, at the bath, at the table, in lighting our candles, in lying down, in sitting down, whatever employment occupieth us, we mark our foreheads with the sign of the cross”.
Tertullian was a prolific writer and provides a lot of insight to us about Church practices in his day, but for him to pay attention to this detail means it must have been rather significant. Tertullian was a man concerned with refuting heresies and providing large and sweeping defenses of the faith, so that he picks up on enough to write about this means, to me, it must have been widespread from the earliest days of Christianity.
By the Fourth Century, the practice had become standard fare in all the Churches which bore the name Christian and we see this in the writings of St. Cyril of Jerusalem who in his “Catecheses” (xiii, 36) remarks:
“let us then not be ashamed to confess the Crucified. Be the cross our seal, made with boldness by our fingers on our brow and in every thing; over the bread we eat and the cups we drink, in our comings and in goings; before our sleep, when we lie down and when we awake; when we are travelling, and when we are at rest”.
Since we saw that from the earliest days of Christianity, the sign of the cross has been written about, signing one’s forehead is a practice which likely has apostolic origins. If not the apostles during the immediate recordings of the bible, then certainly the St. Peter who had seen God heal others through his shadow and the St. Paul who had seen the power of the Eucharist in action both for life, and in fact, for death as well.
In fact, when we look at scripture I believe that Revelation 7:3, 9:4, and 14:1 are referring to the practice of signing oneself on the forehead with a little cross. In the scriptures the redeemed are “signed on the forehead”. Of course, the imagery comes from Ezekiel 9:4 where the faithful are sealed upon their foreheads with a mark of redemption. And it also reminds us of passover, and how the mind and the heart were the household of the soul in many ancient cultures.
The Dance Moves
So, let’s talk dance moves. How does one make a good sign of the cross?
First, one approaches it with prayer. This is an action to seal us, to remind us of baptism and to protect us against evil. It reminds us that the God we serve is none other than the Father, who freely gives the Son so that we might be reborn in their Spirit.
Either under your breath, out loud or in your mind you should pray “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.” or you should pray as Mexican Catholics do “By the Sign of the Cross, deliver me from my enemies, O Lord.”
Either is acceptable.Though it doesn’t hurt to pray both. Or a third which is common among rosary devotees:
By your Cross O Christ, You have redeemed the world.
or a Fourth, common among the Orthodox Christians:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
There are four options for your hands when making the Sign of the Cross. These four I got off of Fish Eaters
- Option A. With your right hand, touch the thumb and ring finger together, and hold your index finger and middle finger together to signify the two natures of Christ. This is the most typical Western Catholic practice.
- Option B. Hold your thumb and index finger of your right hand together to signify the two natures of Christ
- Option C. Hold your thumb, index finger, middle finger of your right hand together (signifying the Trinity) while tucking the ring finger and pinky finger (signifying the two natures of Christ) toward your palm. This is the typically Eastern Catholic practice.
- Option D: Hold your right hand open with all 5 fingers — representing the 5 Wounds of Christ — together and very slightly curved, and thumb slightly tucked into palm
Disco Devotionals? Well, Not Exactly.
Once you have chosen a hand position this is what follows:
Touch your forehead as you say or pray mentally, “In the name of the Father,”
Touch your breastbone, heart or the top of your belly and say or pray mentally “And of the Son”
Begin to touch your left shoulder as you say or pray mentally “And of the Holy”
Touch your right shoulder and finish the Sign of the Cross with “Spirit” either prayed out loud or mentally.
Hold on there Disco Stu:
There’s a bit more to all this than just frantically crossing yourself or the air or whatever else as often as possible. Though, I’m sure it can’t hurt anything, at least not very much.
As Christians, making the sign of the cross should be like breathing, essential to daily life. Christians should make the sign of the cross at the beginning and the end of their prayers, upon entering a Church, after receiving communion, in times of trouble, or fear, when facing temptation, when one remembers the dead, when seeing a crucifix, or anytime we wish to ward away evil, or to honor and invoke God.
Making the sign of the cross is an invitation to getting groovy with God. It’s an invitation to remembering the core of your life and my life as Christians. It’s all about remembering holiness, and getting centered so that we can be holy. It’s a devotional tool, a prayer that reminds us from Whom we proceed into this great wide world. It reminds us to act ☩ in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. It’s a reminder that religion can have dance moves outside Church, and that those moves can be used in daily life for extremely practical as well as devotional/spiritual reasons.
Remember to take your time, it’s not about rushing through it, it’s about making sure we center our minds and bodies on Christ, Our God, who calls us to eternal life. The Sign of the Cross is not only the most obviously Catholic dance move, it’s also the most popular in movies, media and everywhere else for a reason. Christians love the cross, and everything it means for the way we are sanctified and live, even right now.
Welcome to being Catholic, I hope these dance moves help you too.
For those of you who have patiently waited for a post, thanks for your patience. Life has certainly been busy. I think the prayer I am about to share is a very important one. We often seek more knowledge or other things in the Western Tradition. I think we would all do well to continue to pray for light.
I feel that we often find ourselves jaded. Wait, let me rephrase that. I often find myself jaded, and dismal, and lacking hope. I find myself forgetting to live in the power of the resurrection. I find myself lacking the imagination to live in the light. What I mean is, we forget that we can and should live in the power of the resurrection now. I forget that Christ is risen. I forget that Christ has conquered and now we live in victory.
I recently had a debate with some friends most convert to Catholicism, and I found myself depressed at the way it was handled at various moments. I watched these friends of mine, whom I love dearly defend beliefs and ideals to high heaven, but I saw very little charity. I decided to make a choice, and that choice was to be different.
The Rule I discovered as a principle to put into the conversion survival guide is this:
It’s easy to lose sight of your conversion’s reasons when you get mired down in theological and liturgical debates. But it’s best to stay focused on Christ, on the power of the resurrection and why you are in process of conversion. It’s imperative that in moments of trial we ask for God to help us find the light again.
I think that’s the most important thing about all this. Remembering to depend on God for His light in the midst of darkness.
Let’s not Get Lost:
I learned today that it’s extremely easy to get lost in minutiae of any sort on any side of the liturgical aisle, obsessions over liturgy, over theological Thomisms that few will understand, or over who has or what the best interpretation of the Second Vatican Council is. Arguing over the legitimacy or illegitimacy of the Novus Ordo, or the use of English in the rites of the Roman Catholic liturgy is going to accomplish little to build the kingdom, in my opinion.
I might be wrong, but I think that I’m rather well thought out. I know that we need to advance the Church, in all areas. We need to work hard to retain what Pope Benedict XVI calls the Hermeneutic of continuity. I think we need to discuss these things, but at the same time, we need not get lost in them. We need to work from within the life of the Church towards her future.
But even with all this focus, I did learn something else, about the power of hope…
Even when there’s no charity among Christians and we’re nearly at each others throats in arrogance, there’s still a light that emanates from a weeping man who dies outside the walls of Jerusalem. There’s still beauty in the midst of all the ugly, and that beauty is the Christ who suffers to bring us Himself.
God comes to the Godforsaken, and this proves one more thing:
The world is always ready for more of the Kingdom, always.
In a world full of darkness, this might be one of our best and most hope filled prayers.
The Prayer of Illumination:
I want to share with you, a prayer from my daily meditations, one that my Orthodox friends would know well, and one that my friends in the Western Tradition have heard me pray at one point or another. I have recently seen some very dark days not just with friends but with society. From uncharitable actions, to illness, poverty, callousness and people lacking hope, I have seen dark days recently. And so, I’d like to offer a prayer with intentions for those who are searching for light.
The Prayer goes like this:
Illumine our hearts, O Master Who loves mankind, with the pure light of Your divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Your gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Your blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well-pleasing unto You. For You are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and unto You we ascribe glory, together with Your Father, Who is from everlasting, and Your all-holy, good, and life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
We live in a sometimes scary world, and apologetics is a scary word to some.
To some people apologetics is synonymous with theology-kids and adults running about and stomping people on the head.
But this doesn’t have to be the case.
1. I dislike apologetics because it is hard.
It takes courage and fortitude to put your beliefs on the line and be willing to learn something new. Unfortunately, many people forget or act like they don’t know, or simply don’t know this. It takes character, virtue and humility. If you do not understand this, and you think the rote memorization of scriptures and facts makes you an apologist, please shut up and find a spiritual director.
Our Lord didn’t run around empirically trying to prove Himself, he didn’t have to. He made his claims, and those who believed, believed. Those who did not, were hard hearted. Apologetics is so much more than just memorizing.
Apologetics is not easy because we’re dealing with postmodern cultures in many English speaking countries, entire cultures that have forgotten what Truth is or why it might matter to our lives. It’s a difficult process to retain the Truth and translate the gospel into words understandable by postmodernists if you’re not well trained for virtue as well as information.
Does this mean apologetics is bunk?
Not at all, it just means it takes more than philosophical proofs to convince people there is a God, and only spiritual formation can exert the necessary force to make us virtuous apologists. This is not to say stop sharing the gospel, but I do want to emphasize, it’s not easy. If you’re not patient, humble and able to move beyond a classroom argument, you’re wasting your time, and everyone else’s. Ultimately apologetics is about conversation, listening, offering advice that leads to long-term relationships that build change for the better in all persons instead of trying to “win souls.”
2. I dislike apologetics because it assumes Reason is the only way to faith.
The cat is out of the bag. And it’s an ugly one. I have tons of friends who are still in Evangelical camps and some who are Catholics who think that getting a solid argument together will surely win the day. That’s the real myth here. People hold their beliefs because they are invested in them. People are not rational beings, and surely your “airtight” argument, even if done charitably can come across as arrogance.
“Unless we’re committed to actually learning something and moving on in deeper community, apologetics is a type of masturbation for the mind.”
When I was in undergrad there was one Catholic at my Charismatic University. He was always charitable one-on-one and answered questions with patience. When people came to him trying to preach to him, or expecting him to worship Mary or something, he got frustrated but who wouldn’t? (And as an aside, if you’re curious about Catholicism or any other religion, don’t expect people to perform their faith on command or live up to your stereotypes.)
Anyways, this one Catholic won me over in many ways, because of our friendship, because he was patient with me, and because he loved me more than he cared whether I became Catholic or not. We had disagreements along the way, but in the end, it was not his solid arguments that led me to faith, it was his determination to make room for me in his life, and his ability to make a place for my questions to be answered graciously and without contempt that won me over. It was that, and his own quiet piety towards his faith and his invitations to join him for prayer in his dorm some nights that exposed me to the beauty of what he believes.
It was not his in class arguments, or his frustrations that showed me his faith, it was the quiet moments, where he simply existed as a Catholic that showed me the beauty of Christ. Just think about it.
“Apologetics done incorrectly is…the ultimate danger. We might leave a trail of spiritual disaster, yet feel as if we’ve served or even worse, “suffered” for the gospel.”
3. I dislike apologetics because it is not an end-all.
Apologetics and reasoning can only go so far. We should move beyond the war of words, or at the very least make sure our apologists are connected to their community of faith and the virtues that verify our belief. Unless we’re committed to actually learning something and moving on in deeper community, apologetics is a type of masturbation for the mind. That’s the danger. We go through the motions of looking as if we’re deep, spiritual people getting together to talk about the Holy and the Beautiful and end up empty and locked away in self satisfaction.
Apologetics done incorrectly is just a show for pride and pomp. And really, that’s the ultimate danger. We might leave a trail of spiritual disaster, yet feel as if we’ve served or even worse, “suffered” for the gospel. If someone rejects our attempts to convert them, we might feel supremely justified at our “sufferings for the gospel”. Yet, we’ve had no real talk, only soundbytes that someone wrote down to convince someone or are somehow supposed to make “real” Christians out of us. I am unconvinced about the validity of this plan. Just like I’m unconvinced that learning a ton of soundbytes on American history somehow makes me a real historian. Being a Christian is not about the information on our lips, it’s about the content of our confession from our lives as well as our minds.
“Being an ass will never make you fit to suffer for the kingdom…Be holy, be beautiful, that’s how we preach the gospel.”
I am convinced that apologetics are important, but only in contact with being actual Christians, as well as an open invitation for others to see how we actually worship and live. I am certain that apologetics has a place, but it is not the chief of our defenses. The lives we live against the death-promoting cultures of the world, that’s what matters. We’re supposed to be holy hearts, not flapping gums. Life must be rich, full of love and compassion, or else it’s empty, wasted, and no good for anyone whatsoever. The same applies to apologetics. Apologetics must be full bodied and logical, full of love and compassion, connected to a community and life of faith, or else you’re wasting my time.
Move past the soundbytes, learn that the most true defense of the faith is a virtuous life, and a willingness to love your enemies in extraordinary circumstances. Speaking on behalf of the kingdom, which is what all speech by Christians should be, requires virtue, and honesty, and holiness. Apologetics is never the ends, it is always a means. And our use of the means should be righteous, and full of life and compassion. Being an ass will never make you fit to suffer for the kingdom. Argument alone is hardly saintly. Be holy, be beautiful, that’s how we preach the gospel.
Short Update: Went through the rite of acceptance, and then I felt compelled to pick a Patron Saint. The Rite itself was beautiful and thought provoking and has challenged me in ways I never thought it would. It was hard to say goodbye to my protestant faith in some ways, but I am happy with the choice I have made. So here’s my thought process on that whole deal, with a heavy focus on patron saints. Also make sure to check out the Secret Vatican Spy, She’s got a few really interesting things going on at her blog you might like to take note of. Thanks for reading.
The Patron Saints
So, I’m in the process of picking a Patron saint. I’m researching and thinking about who in the canon of saints relates to me strongly so that I might have a friend to pray with from the communion of the saints. Some people imagine this means that I’m walmart shopping for who will be my stand-in for Jesus, since I never pray to Jesus anymore now that I’m Catholic. I want to set up as many mediators between myself and Jesus as possible obviously, to protect me from the grace of Jesus, and keep myself bound to religion. I mean, I get that people don’t understand, so I’m here to dispel some myths, and let you in on my thought process.
Firstly, picking a patron saint is not like picking a pokemon, you do not send these icons or people out to do your battle for you. You do not keep them in a little necklace and let them out to fight the bad spirits whenever you see fit. You do not get a special Jesus outfit, or a challenge to “catch ‘em all” forgetting Jesus in the midst of the process.
There are three things a Patron Saint is:
1) A Prayer Partner
A patron saint is someone who we can relate to, or seek help from in our following Christ. My process in picking a patron saint has been difficult, but I often pray that St. Augustine pray with me, both him and Pope John Paul II. I ask them for prayer, not because I cannot go before the Father, but because it helps to have prayer partners. Just as in life we have people pray with and for us, for special graces or anointings, if you’re a charismatic, or just lead us in prayers of repentance or other such prayers. Patron saints do this same thing, they are pastors for all the faithful.
They are our prayer partners.
No, not the send me 35.00 and I will grant your wish or heal your entire family with this little vial of oil, but real prayer partners, the kind we can have REAL communion with because they are even more in Christ than we are. Surviving conversion can be hard, but it can be made easier when you have prayer partners, both living and dead praying with you along the way. We turn to them in Christ, with the faith that they are with Him, and with that confidence we ask them to pray with us, just like a spiritual director or pastor would who is alive.
2) A Role Model in the Faith
The saints are our role-models in the faith, they inspire us. They, are the pastors in the faith, they continue to lead us towards ever deeper communion with Christ. The communion of saints is the spiritual solidarity which binds together the faithful on earth, and the saints in heaven. It is through the unity of the same mystical body which has Christ as its head.
Patron saints are people to whom we turn for solidarity in prayer. For Catholics, in the Christian worldview there is a thin veil between life and death and that veil is made nearly invisible through Christ who is the Head of the Church, both of those who are living, and of those who are dead. Indeed the scriptures say that he is God of the Living and not of the dead (Mark 12:27).
Often when we feel alone or overburdened we turn to prayer partners in life, pastors or teachers, the saints are the guiding light of the Church in what it means to follow Jesus. They are not Jesus, no one worships saints, at least no real Catholic worships saints.
The saints are role models, just like good protestants turn to the life of St. Paul or Abraham for inspiration and guidance, the same Holy Spirit has been available in all of time and space to lead those in Christ. Those same people became foundational examples of the work of Christ, we call those people saints. Not because we are not saints, but because these people stand a cut above, and their stories of God’s interaction with them is worth remembering.
Surviving conversion into the Catholic faith is made more tenable if you have role models, maybe other converts. Some that have helped me are G.K. CHesterton and Bl. John Henry Newman. Both those men have made profound impact in my life and led me into a deeper connection with Christ through their writings, through their faith.
3) A Friend, who is praying WITH you
A Patron saint is not a mini-god or mini-goddess. They are examples, and leaders. We look to them to help us know what it means to follow Christ. Just like many Christians might look to either the apostles, or their local pastor or a pastor that they know as an example of the faith, so too the Catholic Church does this, she just does it with style. To call these people saints is not to say they are the only ones in heaven, but rather, the Church can validate that they are actively helping people on earth with their prayers from within the very presence of God.
They are not deities, they do not pray instead of you, they do not grant special favors, they pray with us to God the Father, for the final redemption of all things. They and their miracles are just like the miracles of the faithful in life, they are in and by and through Christ, and ot one thing that they do can be done apart from Him.
Good news Everyone!
Since starting this post, I have picked a patron since starting this post. and he’s an amazing man. St. Maximus the Confessor is a very special saint to me. When I first moved to Florida a while back, I got my hands on the Philokalia one afternoon, and started reading. Over and over these writings would hit home. I was in a Barnes and Noble bookstore, but I could not help it, I was in tears, and in my little corner, looking out the window, I had made a connection with a great pastor of the Church and a man of heroic Virtue.
St. Maximus reflects a personal hope as well. He is honored in both East and West, and it is my sincere hope that the Church reunites East and West into One Body. St. Maximus is not only a profoundly personal teacher through his writings, he is an symbol of what could someday happen. I often ask for his prayers with me, for the reunification of the Church, and I also seek to follow his example in courage, and boldness.
An Orthodox site offers this on St. Maximus:
As a theologian, he taught, against those who sought to compromise the Faith for the sake of political and religious unity, that Jesus Christ was the incarnate Son of God, fully divine,and fully human, thus having two complete wills, natures, and energies. For his stubborn confession of Christ the Truth, St. Maximus was persecuted by compromising imperial authorities, put on trial three times, and finally, having had his tongue and right hand with which he had so eloquently defended the Faith cut off, he was sent into exile, where he soon died on August 13, 662.
St. Maximus is also in many ways the Aquinas of the East, his writings have shaped Eastern Christianity for many generations through the writings of the saints they have complied into a book called the Philokalia. St. Maximus’ writings hold heavy academic weight and yet are spiritually available, and thus I seek to follow his profound and luminous example. If only we had the boldness to remember saints like St. Maximus who have suffered bodily harm for the Faith.
It is with his shining example in mind, that I enter into the Roman Catholic congregation, bridging a gap between East and West in my memory of this saint, and in all the outflow of my life that results from my contemplation of his teachings on Jesus. May we all be so bold. Amen.
Alright, last time on The Practical Catholic we talked about some ideas behind how to visit Protestant churches and how to be charitable in the midst of what can sometimes be an awkward transition.
I think there are three major requirements for visiting Churches that are non-Catholic in the midst of transition into full communion.
This is the big one. I don’t always agree with Protestant friends on various issues, but I have found that my most powerful fallback in times of trial is patience, and charitable action. If we intend to visit, let’s make sure it’s with the right hearts.
If you’re stuck in a situation where you have to go to a Protestant church out of necessity, be it familial or otherwise, make sure you’re praying before, and just pray with intentions for your own virtues, for patience, charity, graciousness, and love.
If you have Protestant friends who invite you to participate in an event or assist, don’t be bothered or offended at the invitation. Sometimes conversion is a grueling process of discernment, but make sure your private life is carrying on strongly enough to empower you for public “ministry” when others call on you.
Every charitable act in your process of conversion and after is an advent of the Catholic claim on who and what Christ and His Church truly are and mean to humanity.
I went to college. I learned the Catholic faith through education. Some have made the journey through visiting a Catholic parish, or through friends or other means. Look back on your journey with acceptance of your former ignorance of the beauty and glory of the faith, and be empathetic. Instead of shutting down, breathe deep the faith of the Fathers, and be actively excited to share your faith, when asked. There will be some who attempt to trap you in arguments or want to test your faith, insofar as you can handle these graciously and with humility feel free to engage.
When in a service, remember that these people are carrying on the traditions which they were handed by various ministers and movements, and their faithfulness to these things is an echo of what you have found. Don’t be snide, or arrogant, remember how you felt when you discovered God as a Protestant, and what you now know.
Sometimes it hurts to hold up a mirror to the past and look and see where we come from, but it’s in that pain and memory we can find humility and gentleness to understand the ignorance or lack of exposure of others.
My sponsor is an incredible man. He has taught me humility.
When I first began my conversion process I was excited, and full of questions and doubts, and those doubts having been answered quickly went to my head. Having a great memory for theology I could quote anyone on anything and provide a Catholic answer to any question, but I lost my heart. I lost my passion for Christ and replaced it with a passion for certainty.
I learned a lot from my sponsor thusfar, he’s the most humble man I know, and he has no qualms, no claims. He’s rather quiet, he’s shy, and thoughtful, but he’s like a human Aslan from C.S. Lewis’ great Narnia series. He’s virtuous, and while not much to behold at first glance, (unlike Aslan) he is full of the wisdom of a hard-fought battle to overcome pride. He’s genius, and thought provoking because he has no claim to greatness.
In my conversion process from Atheism, I had many people try to lord over me, and I wanted this. I wanted mentors, but they quickly became self-autocrating militant radicals who were building mini-spiritual-armies. This man on the other hand, leaves me free. As Christ’s love, he makes room for me to grow and calls me to higher standards through his example. He is someone Father Poemen of the Desert would say has truly learned the way of Christ. He does not lord over any, he has taught me what it means to be a charitable Catholic.
I have never respected any man more than this man except perhaps Venerable John Paul II. But they both taught me the heart of ecumenism. It’s not jettisoning things that make us disagree, it’s agreeing that Christ is Lord and that His Spirit has anointed us in different ways and that we can have a true sharing of gifts instead of an exchange of words, or a war of ideas.
When visiting a service which is non-Catholic, keep these things in mind and if you are seriously grieved by the process of the service keep a rosary in your pocket or purse that you can count prayers on concealed. Or just recite the Jesus prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner” and remember that all who say this prayer or one like it are fellows in one company, even if we cannot have a visible unity at the moment.
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.
I find myself sometimes asking, what will I do, once I’m a full Catholic? The answer is…I don’t know. But I do have an idea. I think I’ll join a Catholic cult and worship Mary. I can’t wait to just find all the Mary worship and finally join in. Every time I try to worship Mary in mass I get kicked out. (Funny problem, that one.)
Kassie and I have been talking about joining Opus Dei. Now, I know what you’re thinking. And yes, you’re exactly right, I’m taking my best friend/girlfriend into the middle of a Catholic cult that intends to rule the world through the petty, albeit dangerous stunts of rogue albino monks.
Well, since I am dating a spy from the Vatican, I may as well announce my plan(Doesn’t every evil genius?):
I intend to conquer the world with the Secret Vatican Spy, and we are going to do so in style(Fendi and Versace), by conquering the world under the full and powerful jurisdiction of the Jesuits, and the personal direction of Opus Dei. We intend to make full use of intense and merciless corporal mortification and will steal art, kill curators, and bribe the police as necessary to make our leaders profit in power. We will extend the reach of the secret Inquisition and torture the non-believers to keep the Church’s secrets hidden. We will crucify any who oppress us at famous Catholic sites in Rome, or at the very least Maryland. This would make us so exceedingly happy it would be disgusting.
We would be handsomely rewarded for stealing from the world to feed the Vatican coffers, and they would buy us a villa in Rome for our services to the Whore of Babylon’s favorite cult. We’d be so happy with ourselves we’d steal away into the night and make cult babies to follow in our treacherous Opus Dei footsteps. We would make so many cult babies in fact that Opus Dei would herald me as the most successful man in the world, for turning my wife into a veritable baby farm. It would be wonderful.
Ok, for those of you who are rational enough to understand I was kidding, thanks for reading on.
What Opus Dei is can be answered here and in the linked documents on that page. Opus Dei is not a treacherous organization, and to simply refute a claim of the Da Vinci Code hands down right now, Opus Dei has no monks. It’s a “secular vocation.” This means, it’s a literal calling, just like marriage and celibacy. It’s intention is to help make faith a central part of your life, and to encourage you towards a more spiritual way of living secular life. The intent is to see everyday life as opportunity to connect with God.
I mean, I’d love to join a secret Catholic conspiracy to take over the world, especially if I were to be allowed a license to Inquisition, but frankly, there isn’t anything like that in the Catholic Church. Trust me. I’ve looked.
Pastorally Motivated Questing
Moving right along, and now that we’ve poked fun at some myths and conceptions floating about due to Dan Brown’s horribly inaccurate yet wildly popular piece of fast-paced, impossible drivel let’s talk about the real Opus Dei.
I am a pastor-convert. I obviously feel called to work pastorally in the Church, but I know I’m not supposed to be a priest. What is a young convert to do? Well, Opus Dei seems to be the preliminary answer to this question. Whether I will ultimately join or not remains to be seen. However, on a totally shallow and half-joking side-note, it would be awesome to see the looks on people’s faces if it ever comes up in conversation. Seeing the sheer terror on especially the hardcore Dan Brown lovers out there or the fundamentalists who disagree with his Christology but like his conspiracy theory, would simply tickle me.
But on a serious note, Opus Dei is not a crazy cult, they are legitimate in the eyes of the entire Church, and their teachings in no way deviate from the teachings of the Church. My calling to continue to be active in service and helping others seems to fit the general mission of Opus Dei. My guess is that some of you might have already looked into organizations and fraternities and prelatures like this.
I guess the tip we can glean from this little thought project is, if you’re a former pastor, you’ll likely feel a need to be doing something. Well, you may as well do something useful, that is bigger than yourself or your local parish. I’m not discouraging involvement in your local parish, but if you’re likely to be tempted into a power struggle with your priest, or otherwise tempted by having too much energy to give, it might be time to look into something like Opus Dei.
I know that the program of spiritual instruction that they offer to their members and even non-members. As a convert, I know that I’m looking for ways to develop a rich and full-bodied Catholic life that is both interior and exterior. To do so, something like Opus Dei sounds just like what the Great Physician ordered.
I mean if it doesn’t work out, I suppose I could always continue questing for that super-secret-yet-recently-exposed-in-pop-fiction-catholic-cult and resume my plans to take over the world and worship Mary while making cult-babies with The Secret Vatican Spy.
Do Not Be an Ex-Protestant
Listen. To. Me.
Don’t do it.
This is one of the most important things you can keep in mind to survive your conversion before and after reintegration with the Roman congregation.
When I first started attending mass, once I went with a friend who brought an older woman with us to lunch afterwards. She was bitter, and angry. She was less a Catholic and more an ex-protestant. I do not claim to judge her heart, but I do claim to observe her actions as well as my own and those of many converts.
I understand that we carry hurt, we carry pain, we carry fear, and anger and sorrow. We carry anger and loss, and disillusion. But, we also carry Christ, we carry crosses, we carry one another.
I understand that this is a process, that no one is perfect and that we all go through refining and sifting. Just like in relationships, breaking up or taking off an engagement ring does not just restore you to what you once were, you have to go through a reassessment. You have to take the time to develop and to grow.
Just a note: There will be bitterness. There will be anguish. There will be sorrow.
However, this does not have to define us.
Sometimes we get caught on a strongly militant wave of emotion and we attack anything protestant. We are focused on being not-protestant instead of simply being Catholic. Instead of choosing to affirm something we seek to negate something else. If you spend all your time developing yourself by the shape of your enemies, you have nothing to stand on. If you’re determined to be an ex-calvinist, or an ex-evangelical, you’re missing the point.
And to be fair, we all have moments of anger, frustration and bitterness. We all have times where we fall short, or get caught in an “us vs. them” mentality. Converts especially bring a lot of vigor and enthusiasm and passion for the faith with them, but unless it’s eventually properly redirected towards a constructive means, it ends up like adrenaline, turning out to be poison instead of power.
Actively Making a Choice
Eventually, we all need to make a choice for the Church. We need to make a choice to lose the embattled mindset and find things to engage in.
Choose a patron, a spiritual discipline, a prelate, a penance, an indulgence, and do these things. Be for the Church, be for her active call in your daily life, not just her academic call in the thoughts of your mind. Being Catholic is about bodies engaged in worship, find a good work and do this.
You do not have to fit the entire Catholic faith into your mind, rather let yourself swim in the faith, in the scandalous freedom to be and have grace and the sacraments. Let your heart delight in the mysteries, in the call of the saints to worship and behold God. Remember why you wanted to convert in the first place. Was it logic? Or reason? Surely there was some of that. However, what about passion and presence?
Make a choice to be humble, and define yourself by the Church instead of against your “enemies” or those you used to commune with.
If you wish to lord over others, you will fail. If you want to bash others with your truth, you are disgracing the Church and her call to worship. Be an example of the Catholic life. This is your best apologetic.
Be Catholic, Be for the Church
Instead of being a douchebag ex-protestant running around trouncing evangelical Christians, be Catholic, be for the Church, for the poor, for the broken and the needy. Be for the world and all its needs, be for their redemption through your life and your participation in the cross of Christ.
Be for the Church in all her splendor and in all her humble teachings. Be for her in the same way one should be for a lover. Be available to Mother Church, be available to serve her, instead of rejoicing that you are not the husband of every ugly woman that passes by, rejoice that you have the most beautiful wife in the world. Instead of sneering over those with faith that you consider incomplete, serve them, and DO NOT be an ex-protestant.
Simply be Catholic, and watch what God does through your life, your spirituality, and your virtues. In the name of the Father, The Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
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.