“It’s Time to STOP Fleeing the Cross” Re-blogged

 

 

It’s Time to Stop Fleeing from the Cross

CONSTANCE T. HULL

One of the most striking aspects of the Passion accounts is how largely alone Our Lord is in His final hours. Most of His beloved disciples, followers, and friends flee from Him and abandon Him in His hour of need. St. Peter goes so far as to deny Jesus three times in order to avoid any connection to this man whom he had referred to as the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). It is the few dedicated followers, including Our Heavenly Mother and St. John, who stay with Him to the foot of the Cross and watch Jesus be crucified and placed in a tomb.

 

As we make our way through this Lenten season, it is necessary to ponder those times when we too flee from the Cross and from Our Savior. We all do it at one point or another. A period of suffering for ourselves, a loved one, our neighbor, or even the people we encounter in our daily lives occurs and more-often-than-not we flee. We may not be able to flee physically, as in the case of illness, death of a loved one, unemployment, trauma, or any other manner of suffering, which is dished up so generously in this life. When that suffering occurs, we often block it out with distractions such as television, Internet, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, and the list goes on and on. We do anything to avoid confronting the reality of the Cross. We flee.

Fleeing from the suffering of others.

This is especially true when it comes to encountering suffering in others. Americans are largely individualistic, as are many Western European cultures. This is a trait that is diametrically opposed to the Catholic understanding of the Mystical Body. We are a communion. We are connected to one another through the Holy Spirit at the deepest levels of our being. We are the arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. of Christ here on earth. He is our head. When one part of the Mystical Body suffers, we all suffer. We may not acknowledge this reality and we may ignore it all together, but it is true nonetheless.

In loving one another as disciples of Christ, we are called to enter into the suffering of our neighbor. It isn’t easy, but there is nothing about the Cross that tells us the spiritual life and the path to holiness will be easy. Our Lord and Savior died on the Cross and He tells us we must follow Him. There is a final Cross for each and every one of us that we will face before we can enter into eternal life. Death awaits us all. The Cross comes before the Resurrection. This life is largely a series of Crosses leading us to the same fate as Our Lord. Even in this knowledge we live in hope thanks to what occurs after the Cross.

 

When Our Lord instituted His Church here on earth, He meant to unite all of mankind through a visible sign to the world of the ontological reality of the interconnectedness of humanity and the gift of salvation. Christ took on human flesh, which united Him to us in solidarity and united us to one another. It is because of this deep unity that He commands us to love our neighbor. Love requires a desire within us for the good of our neighbor. That means asking the Holy Spirit to help us gain fortitude because love requires the Cross. We need courage to enter into the Cross of our neighbor, but love compels us to do just that. We lighten the load of one another and we expand our own capacity for love when we choose to walk with those around us who suffer. Entering into the suffering of others is not just for the likes of St. Teresa of Calcutta; it is for you and me.

What does this entering into the suffer of others look like?

Most of us are not called to give up everything in order to live in the slums and serve the poor full-time. Those of us in the laity have family obligations which are an integral aspect of our vocations. The Cross of another may appear in a wide variety of ways and we must foster a habit of seeing the need in those around us. We must carry the heavy weight of our own Crosses, while also looking out for ways to lessen the burden of our neighbor. A start may be visiting someone in a nursing home or hospice, checking in on our elderly neighbors, consoling the sobbing stranger at Mass, offering assistance to the single mother, bringing a basket to a family grieving a recent miscarriage, meals for the sick, a card or note to someone you know is suffering, a phone to call, asking the clearly stressed our cashier if he/she is alright, looking into the eyes of the homeless person you give food or money too and truly seeing them as a person made imago Dei, visiting the friend who is being crushed under the weight of mental illness, and the list continues. The single greatest poverty in the West is loneliness. St. Teresa of Calcutta saw it and I have seen it with my own eyes and experienced it myself. When will we stop fleeing? The possibilities for loving our neighbor are endless because there seems to be no end the possible ways to suffer here on earth.

Will we continue to flee?

Do we flee from the Cross? Every single one of us can answer yes to this question. All of us have ignored the suffering of someone else. All of us at one point or another have found ways to avoid our own Crosses through distractions. Christ uses these Crosses to increase our capacity for love. He uses them to make us holy. It is not easy. I write this piece on the day I was due to have a brand-new baby boy, but he died last summer. At the same time, my good friend next door and her husband grieve their daughter who died at 12 weeks’ gestation a couple of days ago. I had a choice. Focus on my own grief or walk with them and grieve alongside of them. I could ignore their suffering and flee into my own shell of pain or I could seek the grace to be like Our Heavenly Mother and stand with them in this hour. By God’s grace, I chose the Cross. I have only been given this grace because He continues to teach me that it is through the Cross that we are made like Him. It is through the Cross that we become holy. It is through the Cross that we truly learn how to love. It is agonizing, torturous, heart-breaking and heart-rending at times. The pain is so intense I feel like I won’t survive, but I do and God widens my heart a bit more each time. He opens me up to more love. He will do the same in you.

What do we imagine Heaven to be?

I will tell you what it is not. It is not a bunch of individuals minding their own business holding onto their rugged individualism. The do-it-yourself attitude of the West is the anti-thesis of Heaven and discipleship. Heaven is the communion of human beings who have been conformed to the love of the Most Holy Trinity. It is communion fully realized. It is the constant giving of self. It is the continuation of love in action as the saints intercede for the living. It is the entering into the Crosses of others until the end of time. Love requires the Cross. One of the ways God prepares us for Heaven is in teaching us to enter into our own suffering and the suffering of our neighbor. The Cross is transformative. The Cross makes us saints. This Lent, let us pray for the strength and grace to enter into the Cross with Our Lord and our neighbor so that we may grow in love and holiness.

Tagged as: Best of WeekLentsufferingthe Cross

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By Constance T. Hull

Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate student theologian with an emphasis in philosophy.  Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths (www.swimmingthedepths.com).

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Seeking God’s Approval: Re-blogged

 

Seeking God’s Approval!

by Jesus is a safe harbor

I’ve lived long enough to have discovered a very important fact of life–you can’t please people. One of the things I love most about serving God and living for Him is that I no longer have to live in fear of people’s disapproval. All I have to do is concentrate on pleasing God, Who never changes, and I’ll succeed in life. It’s a freedom that I appreciate and can’t live without. I hope this message will minster to you and encourage to a God please.

“I, even I, am he who comforts you. Who are you that you fear mere mortals, human beings who are but grass, that you forget the Lord your Maker, who stretches out the heavens and who lays the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor?” Isaiah 51:1213

When studying the Bible we discover what God says about trying to be a people pleaser. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the Lord means safety.” Trying to win the approval of people can lead to disappointment, frustration, and emptiness. But seeking God’s approval brings peace, contentment, and fulfillment. Those who strive to please others are often unstable. You can’t count on them, and neither can God. They are often easily intimidated, and they can be talked into or out of something, even though their own hearts condemn them for it.

The apostle Paul was a great example of a God pleaser, and the Lord used Him mightily. In Galatians 1:10, Paul exclaims: “Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I’m trying to please God. If I were trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.” If we want to be true servants of Christ, we’re going to have to actively seek God daily, ask for His guidance, and then yield to the promptings of His Spirit. Sometimes what people want us to do and what God wants us to do will be the same, but many times they will conflict. It’s up to us to choose who we will obey. If you are in the habit of trying to please people, remember this–it can’t be done. My prayer for you today is that in everything, you’ll set your heart on pleasing God, and discover for yourself the peace and freedom that only He can give!

*****

Have a wonderful day as you remain in His loving presence. Love you all.

Jesus is a safe harbor | March 23, 2017 at 11:20 am | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p3mVVp-W8

“How to Pray Continually” Re-blogged

 

[New post] How to Pray Continually
Catholic Working Mom

New post on Catholic Working Mom

How to Pray Continually

by danardoyle

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If you have not been taking advantage of The Best Lent Ever, it is not too late.  The tips given are very practical – easy to put into practice right away – if you can “slay resistance!”  Yesterday, Matthew Kelly taught us how to pray continually as St. Paul commanded us in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.  Personally, I have had some success with attaching prayer to daily routines – like turning the ignition in the car, or brushing my teeth.

Matthew suggested setting an alarm on your phone hourly and offering that hour’s  activity for a particular person or intention.  That way we are offering all that we do each day as a prayer.  My goodness, if everyone were doing this, can you imagine how that simple act would change the world?  If you don’t want to set an alarm, you could simply tell God an intention each time you begin a new task.

I tried this yesterday with an activity that is – let’s just say “distasteful” to me – like walking the dog in the cold, dark moonlight and picking up his poop in plastic baggies by flashlight.  Ugh!  Strangely, it seemed to take some of the displeasure away, knowing that someone was benefitting from it (besides the dog)!

So what are you waiting for?  We are already 15 days into Lent.  What little tweak can you make to your daily routine to break out of routine and make this your best lent ever.

 

danardoyle | March 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm | Tags: Best Lent Ever, Lent, Matthew Kelly, pray continually, prayer | Categories: Lent, Prayer | URL: http://wp.me/p1iBYc-2eO

A Blessed St. Patrick’s Day to all

 

One of the fondest memories I have as an Irish American, was our trip to Ireland in 1987

The people were extraordinarily friendly, the food GREAT [a bakery, a Tavern and a Church in nearly every city  we visited, and the Country is Beautiful beyond words.

What a Blessing Ireland and the Irish are!

“May GOD hold you [and yours] in the palm of His hand”

Patrick

 

MARCH 17, 2017 [RE-Blogged]

Growing Up Irish in America

PATRICK J. WALSH

St. Patrick’s Day in our home was a quiet, subdued affair—no appurtenances of green, no consumption of green beer. We wore no stovepipe hats, nor any buttons of boasting Irishry. However, it was a special day, my saint’s day, the day when St. Patrick passed from the discord of time to the mystery of eternity.

My mother woke us with: “Beannachtai Padraig”—the blessings of Patrick, imparting a certain peace, for St. Patrick brought genuine hope—the faith of the Roman Catholic Church to the Irish people. Though peace ended quickly as my mother issued rapid verbal commands in the native tongue: “Comb that glib!” “Stop that seafoid (nonsense)!” “Go to scoil anois (school now)!”

My parent’s hailed from the far west of Ireland known as the Gaeltacht—Irish land, where the language once heard throughout Ireland is still spoken. They came here legally.

American celebrations on St. Patrick’s Day were alien to my family. Earlier Irish immigrants in America were politically vocal, making their presence in this country known as a way of pressuring the British government to allow democratic reforms and self-government in Ireland. The tradition of “wearing the green” was once a bold statement of Irish nationalism, today gone awry into a pantomime of Irishness sadly exhibited on Patrick’s Day.

My understanding of being Irish is one of exile and displacement. We retain our own language, songs, stories, and traditions among ourselves. Unreconstructed by modernity and scientific distortions of reality we retain a belief in the mystery of things, and intuit a harmony surrounding human existence.

Most people are surprised to learn that Gaelic/Irish is a distinctive language and culture from that of England. They think that being Irish is speaking English with a funny accent or brogue (an Irish word for shoe). The Irish are a Celtic people. Julius Caesar defeated the Celts in the Gallic Wars. Descendants of the Celts still inhabit Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man and Galicia in Spain.

England’s conquest of Ireland outlawed the Irish language and culture while denigrated the Irish as “wild,” “savage” and “barbarian,” Europe’s white savages! The Nobel Prize poet Derek Walcott says the Irish were “niggers of Europe.”

Once as a graduate student at Trinity College library in Dublin, I came across a Middle Age woodcut of an English depiction of the “wild Irish.” The Irish chieftains portrayed sported truly wild looking traditional hairdos—the envy of any new wave, punk—called a glib. It was, for me, a strange recognition. I laughed and knew why mother made me comb my hair for school.

After the battle of Culloden in 1746 the English proscribed similar edicts against the Scottish Highlanders with whom we share the same language. President Trump’s mother was a native Gaelic speaker from the Isle of Lewis. She named the home President Trump grew up in in New York, “Tara” after the ancient seat of Irish kings and Donald (Domhnall) pronounced “Doonal” is a Irish word meaning “world leader.”

In subjugating America, the English would represent Native Americans as savages, but this time “red savages.” So the Irish share with the Indian a kind of kinship. Indeed, Mohawk Indians fighting alongside Scottish troops during the French and Indian War were curious about the Highlanders evicted from their lands into British service. John Campbell, Earl of Loudon commander of the Gaelic speaking Scottish forces recorded in his diaries how Native Americans considered his troops to be “a kind of Indian.”

Like the Celts, the Indians belonged to tribes or clans. The Scots and Indians spoke a language alien to English, and dressed differently. Scots who wore skirts fascinated the Indians because they both dressed alike. By day clansman draped a blanket (in Irish plud) over the shoulder and belted it around their waste. The English corrupted this word into “plaid” denoting the pattern on the cloth. At night this blanket would be disassembled and slept in like a sleeping bag. Like the Indian the Scots tried to terrify the enemy in battle with much clamour and had their own war whoop the English rendered into the word slogan. A short list of familiar Irish words in the English lexicon includes: galore, bard, brat, glenbog, loch, whiskey, shanty, racket, colleen.

There is a tragic dimension in being Irish. It is easy to mourn the past and make a lyricism of defeat. This is the worst kind of defeatism. I have never been a professional Irishman. Times change, things change. The old order changeth and even the sun has set on Britain’s Union Jack. England’s contribution to Western civilization is well known, Ireland’s less understood. In a secular Europe the Irish work of once spreading leaning and the Christian faith has been airbrushed.

Under the rubric of multiculturalism all cultures are being reduced to an absurdity. Our age of immanence and political correctness enforced by the media compels everyone to be as alike as everyone else. This reduction of people’s and their cultural history also seeks to eradicate the eternal dimension of man. Living in such an age it is crucial to remember that man is a created being who has the capacity to transcend time. We all hold passports to eternity. I celebrate this transcendence by joining the celebration of Mass on St. Patrick’s Day.

And I am not averse to other forms of festivity. After Mass, I may go on a bit of a spree—the Irish word for fun!

Editor’s note: Pictured above is Clifden Castle, Ireland.

Tagged as IrelandIrish AmericanSt. Patrick’s Day

By Patrick J. Walsh

Patrick J. Walsh is a writer in Quincy, MA. He holds a graduate degree in Anglo-Irish literature from Trinity College, Dublin and has written for The Weekly Standard, Modern Age and several other publications.

“How to Build a Prayer Life that Transforms” Re-blogged

 

How to Develop a Prayer Life that Transforms

prayer

On Ash Wednesday a wise priest said, “For Heaven’s sake, don’t give up anything for Lent, if you’re just thinking of chocolate, coffee, alcohol, or facebook. Turn your heart to God! Free yourself of the aggravation, anger, jealousy, and hatred that separates you from him. But how, you may ask? Through prayer, daily prayer.”

Lent is a time for us all to take a good hard look at our personal regimen of prayer. Do we have one? Is it stable and ordered, or merely spontaneous, whenever we happen to feel like it? Some of us might admit to ourselves that we have never really developed one. In a world filled with constant distractions of bewildering variety, in a culture passionately committed to acquisition, celebrity, entertainment, and therapy, Christians are called all the more to communion with God through prayer.

“We pray as we live, because we live as we pray.” This wise statement from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2725) is just one of many found in Part Four, which concerns Christian Prayer. In succinct paragraphs, the Catechism explains all essential aspects of what prayer is and how and why and where we should engage in it. The text, however, is more descriptive and explanatory than prescriptive, as it should be. One prayer regimen does not fit all. “To be sure, there are as many paths of prayer as there are persons who pray, but it is the same Spirit acting in all and with all.” (#2673)

If you are interested, let me suggest a basic regimen of daily prayer, especially for those who have not yet developed one.

Following one of the earliest Christian practices, try to pray the Our Father three times per day, preferably at regular times, when you can take a short break from the day’s duties and lift your heart, mind, and soul to God, if only for a minute at a time. On the basis of the daily three Our Fathers, build up to the six daily prayers outlined below. They are tied loosely to the Liturgy of the Hours, said from dawn to dusk: Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.

1. Upon waking, get up, face east, and pray. Christians in the first centuries usually prayed facing east, which ties belief in Christ to the universe. In the east comes the dawn, the sign of hope and God’s promise to humanity. Also, the line of the horizon and the vertical trajectory of the rising sun form the Cross of Christ written in nature and the cosmos. Extend your thanks to the Lord for the new day with your whole body, heart, mind, and soul. Devote yourself, your being and your doings to God. Offer him the day. Pray the Our Father very slowly, one word or phrase per breath.

2. Mid-morning, take a brief pause from your activities. Place yourself in God’s presence, after the teaching of St. Francis de Sales. Take a moment to recall that you are God’s creation, his child, and that without him, you would not exist. Know that he is with you, above you in Heaven looking down, alive in your beating heart, and all around you in life and nature. His infinite, loving, transcendent being includes and encompasses you. Pray a Hail Mary. The Blessed Virgin is a signpost to God, and she intercedes on our behalf. Pray a decade of the Rosary if time allows.

3. At lunch, secure a quiet moment to pray the Our Father very slowly, one word or phrase per breath. Remember that the day is his, and that the goal of the Christian life is to unite your soul to Christ’s, so that he lives in and through you.

4. In the afternoon, take a five-minute break from work and pray the Angelus. If you can take a walk for fresh air and movement, pray it then. If you can pray it during the commute, do so. Detox and get ready to return to your home, the domestic church.

5. At dinner, if you have a family, be sure to pray as one, briefly, at the table. Ask everyone their favorite moment of the day. Or ask what each is most thankful for.

6. At night against face east. Examine your conscience. Be honest about your failings this day. Place your hope in Christ, the source of all hope, for tomorrow. Pray the Our Father very slowly. Make amends with all family members before going to bed.

Again, this is just a start, but it is a manageable, ordered plan to include the Lord in your day on a regular basis.

The next step is to work in lectio divina. After the six daily prayers become so natural that you miss them if you happen to skip one, add in a special time for opening your heart to God’s word. Lectio Divina is meditative, prayerful reading of Scripture, part of religious life for more than a thousand years. Once per day, pray a Psalm or read a passage from the Gospel prayerfully. You can also use the day’s Mass readings. Prepare yourself. Ask God to speak to you, “Your servant is listening.” Then read out loud or in a slow whisper, breathing each word or phrase. Free the mind to dwell on a word or image or passage. Let the inspired text speak to your soul. Mediate on the text, contemplate the scene. Be there with Christ.

Also, when you are ready, the final prayer of the day can develop into an examination of conscience. Place yourself in God’s presence and survey the day, its virtues and sins. Discern where you did what God expects of us and where you did not. Based on those observations, make a plan for tomorrow, to stay closer to God than you were today.

The regimen above does not specify times for wishes and requests to God, which Jesus encouraged us to make in a spirit of loving, filial trust. Prayers of petition can be made at any time – the Our Father includes seven – but they can be dangerous. We should not ask things of God in order to test and see if he hears and answers them to our satisfaction.  On the contrary, instead of waiting impatiently for results, we ought to consider first and foremost whether any of our prayers are pleasing and acceptable to God! He is Father and Savior, not a means for personal satisfaction.

I don’t pretend for a moment to be a spiritual authority, but I can simply say that a regimen of daily prayer has brought wondrous graces into my life, family, and work. There is no other more compelling, rational explanation. Those who readily dismiss the efficacy of prayer really ought to try it themselves, in faith, humility, and charity. They might be pleasantly, positively surprised.

Brennan Pursell

By

Dr. Brennan Pursell is Professor of History at DeSales University and the author of The Spanish Match (Sophia Institute Press, 2011), History in His Hands: A Christian Narrative of Western Civilization (Crossroad Publishing, 2011), Benedict of Bavaria: An Intimate Portrait of the Pope and His Homeland (Circle Press, 2008), and The Winter King (Ashgate, 2003). http://www.brennanpursell.com

“Jesus, Our Model” by Mother Angelica

 

Jesus, Our Model

Jesus showed us how to act and react under every circumstance. He loved us so much that He wanted to experience all the pain, joy, suffering, weakness, and the consequences of our fallen nature.

Though He was without sin, He took upon Himself our frailties and by so doing raised us up to a higher level.

Because He experienced everything we are (sin excepted), He desired that we experience everything He is.

He merited for each of us a Divine Participation in His very Nature. Through the Power of His Spirit, who pours grace into our souls, we are now sons of God and heirs to the Kingdom.

As heirs, we must resemble the Father whose children we are. As sons, we must resemble the Son whose brothers we are. As Participators, we must resemble the Spirit whose Power makes us the Beloved of Infinite Love.

This article is from “Mother Angelica on Christ and Our Lady.” Click image to preview other chapters.

His love made Him want to be like us and our love must make us want to be like Him.

Our individual personalities must be enhanced by those parallel qualities in Jesus. If we are kind by nature, then that kindness must take on Divine Kindness by Grace, which goes beyond our natural capabilities.

Those qualities of soul that do not resemble Jesus must be changed and transformed into Him. We shall all resemble Him in different ways and this variety will glorify the Father and be an unending source of joy for all eternity.

The Christian’s goal in life is to be a perfect image of Jesus, as Jesus is the perfect image of the Father. The beloved features of the Master are ever imprinted upon the Christian’s mind. The words of the Master burn in his heart as they did in the hearts of the disciples going to Emmaus. The Christian reaches up to his Savior in an increasing act of prayerful thanksgiving for his redemption and sonship.

He looks at Jesus in His strength and tries to be strong. He sees Jesus gentle to the crowds and he controls his anger. He admires the Mercy of Jesus and he forgives seventy times seven.

He feels the Compassion of Jesus and he becomes sensitive to the needs of others.

He is humbled by the humility of Jesus and he conquers his pride.

He sees Jesus heroic, courageous, and unafraid and he is assured.

He watches Jesus as He answers His enemies in a serene tone of voice — truthful, without human respect, with perfect self-control — and he tries to be like Him.

He imitates the Master’s sense of loyalty, zeal, simplicity, nobility, and loving qualities to the best of his ability. This becomes a way of life for a Christian, for he is not satisfied with giving his God thanksgiving, he desires to give Him perfect praise by imitation.

Most of all, he imitates the Master’s way of loving — with­out counting the cost — even unto death.

“And we, with our unveiled faces reflecting like mirrors the brightness of the Lord, all grow brighter and brighter as we are turned into the Image that we reflect” (2 Cor. 3:18).

Editor’s note: This article is from Mother Angelica on Christ and Our Ladywhich is available from Sophia Institute Press

Today’s “Re-blogg”

 

As a child, I thought Catholics weren’t Christians. Then my mother gave me some wise advice

How my boyhood anti-Catholicism came to an unlikely end

It is embarrassing to recall that I didn’t think my grandparents were Christians. They were Catholics, you see, and so I believed that they worshipped the chipped statue of Mary that stood atop their China hutch. I must even have thought that they intended to hoist themselves into heaven with the rosaries that hung on their bedroom mirror. As an earnest young Evangelical Protestant, I set my faith against theirs.

I only realised how stark this opposition must have been in my mind when I stumbled last week across the testimony that I read out when I was baptised at age 13. Here is what I told the people who assembled on the river bank to see my immersion:

I am a second-generation Christian, and was therefore taught the truths of the Bible my entire life, but it was not until I was three years old that I entered into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My mother was tucking me into bed and listening to my prayers. She was pregnant with my little brother Joseph, and it was this fact that sparked my interest in the Lord. “Mom,” I said, “Can I have Jesus come into my tummy, too?” My mother then led me in prayer as I accepted Jesus into my heart – or tummy, as it were. In a way, I was led to Christ by my unborn sibling.

I was a “second-generation Christian”. An unborn brother might play an unwitting role in a faith like mine, but aside from my Evangelical parents (one a former Catholic, the other a lifelong Methodist) I had no forebears in faith. Generations of Christians, my grandparents included, were neatly excluded.

When I became a Catholic, I did not cease to be susceptible to such unjust renunciations. If before I stood at risk of erasing my Catholic grandparents from my spiritual autobiography, I now faced the same risk with my parents. How could I be a good son despite the action of Christ’s dividing sword? In my journey from anti-Catholic to Catholic, I have tried to keep two things in mind: many criticisms of the Church are valid, and my reasons for becoming Catholic, whatever their merits, were based on lessons taught me by my Protestant parents.

Along with a whole generation of altar boys raised in the post-conciliar church, my father felt that drawing near to Christ meant walking away from Rome. In this or any age, the Church, however spotless, looks to human eyes like an unattractive bride.

No one knew this better than Boccaccio, who in the second tale of The Decameron describes a Catholic merchant who tries to convince his Jewish business partner to be baptised. The Jewish merchant decides to humour his friend by travelling to Rome and there see for himself how the leaders of this supposedly superior faith live. Upon his return he tells his Catholic friend what he’s seen: “It seems to me that your chief pastor and consequently all the others endeavour with all diligence and all their wit and every art to bring to nought and banish from the world the Christian religion, whereas they should be its foundation and support.”

Yet he nonetheless wants to convert: “I see that this for which they strive does not come to pass, but that your religion continually waxes ever brighter and more glorious.” This must be because “the Holy Spirit is truly the foundation and support thereof”.

Roland Barthes called this form of paradoxical persuasion “operation margarine” after an ad campaign that loudly repeated the objections to margarine, all the better to overcome them. Yet no such pitch, however clever, can really cover up the scandal of the Church’s faults. In our own time, the Church has failed to wax “ever brighter and more glorious” despite spiritual rot. Instead, child abuse settlements and closed parishes, bad catechesis and empty churches have come hand in hand. It was in this context that my father rather understandably found his way out.

Nothing about my childhood made me think that I would one day reverse his course and seek a way in. The reasons against the Church looked too great and overwhelming to be transformed even by the alchemy of operation margarine.

After all, boys who taunted and pushed were the first Catholics I knew. We lived parallel lives, theirs based around St Mary’s and mine around the state school. I would see them on the football field or railway tracks, where we would race down the rails, seeing who could go farthest without falling off. They didn’t like that I was bookish or that my favourite book was the Bible, and so they would come up and call me “Jesus boy” as they shoved me into the gravel.

I was not surprised that the Catholic boys mocked my faith. I had been taught to believe that they did not share it. Unlike the Catholics, I was a Christian. My job was to introduce them to Jesus, a man they could not see through the thicket of saints and popes thrown up by centuries of superstition.

Perhaps this attitude is what got me in trouble with the Catholics. Anyway, one day I must have come home bruised, for my mother told me that the next time one of the boys teased me, I should punch him as hard as I could. To my nine-year-old self, this was confusing. I knew that Jesus had told us to turn the other cheek, and I didn’t see how this could be squared with my mother’s advice. “Jesus wasn’t a doormat,” she said in reply to my objection. “Look at the moneychangers in the Temple.”

I didn’t think that the most natural reading, but she was my mother, so I decided she must be right. I punched the ringleader, a doctor’s son named Travis who was too surprised to hit back.

I now look back on that as the moment I became a Catholic. Rather than persist in my own reading of Scripture, I assented to the judgment of an authority I knew to be loving and gentle. The experience of that quarrel did not exactly overthrow my old prejudice and replace it with warm feelings towards every Catholic or every aspect of their church. Something more important had happened.

In talking to my Protestant mother, I had come to accept the principle of my grandparents’ Catholic belief. One cannot really know how to live by Scripture when there is no authority competent to interpret it. My mother may not have been that authority, but by listening to her I learned to listen to a mother Church which fully and finally is.

Matthew Schmitz is literary editor of First Things. This article originally appeared in the Christmas issue of the Catholic Herald. Subscribe here.  END QUOTES