Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More About Your Friends and Family, plus a boat, a lion, and a deer

A man gathers his equipment to go mess around in his boat and maybe do a little fishing. He puts his boat into a river he knows little about. He vaguely recalls the guidebook saying there was a danger of some sort, but the man feels sure of himself and believes he can handle whatever comes up.

He paddles along, happily enjoying himself. The current picks up. The river carries the boat around a bend and the man sees a waterfall ahead. In a panic, the man digs his paddles into the water, but by now the boat is out of his control. He's swept over the falls in violent chaos.

The man finds himself laying on the shore below the falls. He's dazed and sore from two cracked ribs. He has a honking headache and needs a moment to sort out what just happened. Forever after the man would suffer from dizzy spells, but he feels grateful to be alive.

One day, he meets his cousin on her way to the same river that had given the man so much trouble. He warns her not to go. "It's too dangerous," he says.

"It's none of your business where I go," she says. "It's my boat. You're so sure of yourself. You think you know everything. What a hypocrite; you went down that same river. You seem just fine to me."

"I'm merely concerned for you because I care," he tells his cousin. "I'm not sure of myself, but I do know what that river holds. If you don't believe me, take a look at the guidebook. I'm no hypocrite, just a person who made a dumb choice, but survived by some miracle. And I was damaged by it."

And so it goes when one strays from the faith, recovers, and tries to warn others.

The man came off as self-possessed to his cousin, but her perception couldn't be further from the truth. (For more on that theme, see G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy- "The Maniac" chapter.)

How can you avoid being dismissed as hypocritical, preachy, self-righteous to your family and friends who knew you before you returned to or came to the faith? Change of any sort can be uncomfortable for those around us, but when it involves religion or morality, it can be downright threatening.

Pretend you dyed your hair red and went around your blond-haired family singing about how happy you are with red hair. There's bound to be some snickers, mild annoyance, and possibly a bit of jealousy from someone who wishes she thought of it first, because it does look pretty cute.

To a smoker, a former smoker is more of a perceived threat than someone who has never smoked.

If you suddenly embrace Catholicism, (Though it's probably only sudden to the observer), sing "Amazing Grace" in the streets, carry The Bible and a copy of The Catechism of The Catholic Church, and sprinkle holy water on your husband's pillow when he's not looking, the reactions of your fallen away Catholic family, your atheist husband, or your pagan best friend might be more extreme than when you dyed your hair and quit smoking.

Friends and family becoming hostile is reminiscent of what early Christian's endured, so you can offer up the discomfort to Christ. Still, it would be nice to enjoy pleasant chit-chat at Thanksgiving dinner instead of enduring sneers from a relative doing an uncanny impression of one of Nero's lions. Besides, how can you convey the beauty of the faith if you stick to topics like the weather?

The answer- Subtly.

Do you tame a deer by barging up to it with an armload of clover? The clover is sweet and good. Why won't the deer accept it? The deer can't see the clover because it's overcome by fear of you.

*A personal aside*

One of my nieces mentioned seeing an old friend of ours whom I hasn't seen in years. "How's she doing? I always liked her," I said.
"Really?" my niece said. "Well, she sure hates you."
I was flabbergasted. "Why?"
"She heard you were Catholic."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Your Family's Reaction

When you announce to your family that you're returning to (or converting to) Catholicism, how do they respond?

With smiles and hugs?
A blank stare?
A sneer?
The silent treatment?
Maniacal laughter?

Maybe you're still scared to tell them.

Consider how the families of the apostles reacted. One day Jesus walked by Matthew and said, "Follow me" and he did. When he told friends and family, were they shocked? Angry? Maybe they were glad. I don't know.

Even if your family is nice about it, if they aren't coming home to the Church with you, you may be saddened. The advice I got from a priest, from whom I received spiritual counseling, told me that the best way to "preach" to my husband was through actions, not words. By being cheerful, loving, and patient, my husband could see that my return to the Church wasn't threatening our relationship and it was in fact, a positive move. That's probably a wise attitude even if your husband (or other family) is hostile. My mom always says you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.

I'm reading The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur. I highly recommend it. The forward is written by her husband who wasn't converted until after his wife's death. He regrets that he wasn't kind to her about her faith while she lived. After she died, not only did be become Catholic, but also a priest. And he had been an atheist!

An article in this month's Faith and Family (a fabulous Catholic magazine) talks about the actor Gary Sinise, (Forest Gump, Apollo 13, et al. *He's super cute, by the way. ). His wife, Moira converted to Catholicism, but he did not. (She's pretty cute as well.) He says that it's been positive for himself and for his family. It's too bad he hasn't converted. ***Err... I don't have any other comment. It was just coincidentally on topic, so I thought I'd mention it.

Maybe you've had a completely different experience. Maybe you have a husband, wife, mother, parakeet, or whatever who has been Catholic all along and is indignant that you have sudden fervor for the Faith- like the brother of the Prodigal Son. I think this is more likely to happen with a lukewarm Catholic than another fired up with faith Catholic. That person would be happy for you. If you have Catholic grandparents- you bet that they're happy for you. If they've passed on, they're probably the ones who've been praying hardest for you and now they're having a party in Heaven right now. :)

However people react, some of them may believe that your excitement won't last- that your fervor will fade over time. No doubt it will have peaks and valleys and often the peak after an especially low valley will be very high and vice versa. C.S. Lewis talks about this in his clever satire The Screwtape Letters. This is a book I highly recommend if you have a love of subtle humor. It's written as a series of letters from a higher demon to a lesser demon about how to collect souls for He Who Must Not Be Named. (no, not Voldemort) But you must remember that it's satire, therefore not for the faint of humor. (to alter an idiom)

C.S. Lewis points out that prayer during a spiritually dry spell is very powerful. I can attest to that. That's what we mean by faith, isn't it? Putting hope in something even when you don't feeeeel it? Don't get me wrong. It's great to feel the faith. Get that electric rush when you're praying by the tabernacle or that chill when you read about the lives of saints or feel like your hearts swelling with love as you pray the Rosary. But just like marriage and parenthood, you have to attend to that other person even when you don't have that lovin' feelin'. So go ahead and pray through the dry spells. God's listening.

Oh, sorry about getting off topic. I hope it won't effect my grade. ;-)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Science and The Catholic Church

The Catholic church is not at odds with science in regard to creation.

The Church doesn't have an official position on exactly how God made the universe with its stars, planets, and all that celestial stuff. It has no official position on animal and human evolution. Pope Pius XII said that the teaching of the Church doesn't dismiss the theory that the human body may have come about from pre-existent and living matter. However, God created our souls as they are. They did not evolve and they are not inherited from our parents as our bodies are.

The processes of creation, whatever they may be, are under the guidance of God and all creation must be ascribed to God.

For more on this subject, you may like to read this piece on Adam and Eve and Evolution.

**Added on 10-23-10**
You may be interested in a book by Doctor Christopher Baglow called Faith, Science, Reason: Theology on the Cutting Edge. Dr. Baglow is interviewd on "Catholic Answers Live" on Oct. 8, 2010. You can search the podcasted archives at Catholic.com to hear that. Or check out this handy link. http://www.catholic.com/radio/calendar.php

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Sacraments

The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church are:

The Anointing of the Sick
Holy Orders

I'll focus on Communion because that's the one that'll be in the forefront of your mind as a returning Catholic. It's the most visible- long lines of people go up to receive at every mass. The Holy Eucharist is the bread and wine transformed into the body and blood of Christ. It's real and it's important. People throughout history and even today have risked death to obtain it. Taken by a prepared person it gives graces beyond measure. It puts a special life in you that helps get you into Heaven. It's a very intimate encounter with Jesus. He feeds you with his body, blood, and soul kind of like a mother nursing her child.

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:53 58).

But you cannot take it with mortal sin on your soul. If you've been away from Sunday mass, had sex outside of a valid marriage, had an abortion or used birth control, or done one of a giga billion other sins, you cannot receive Communion without going to Reconciliation (confession) first. Here's a page that can help you out with that: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/confession.php

It's good to do an examination of conscience before you go. As to the form of what to say when, don't worry. In my experience the priest is so happy you're there he's not going to chide you for not saying, "Forgive me Father for I have sinned...et al." And believe me, he's heard it all (especially if I've gone into the confessional before you. ;-) So, go ahead and be embarrassed but tell it all anyway!!!

When I first returned to the church, I could not receive Reconciliation nor Communion because I was in an invalid marriage to a man divorced from the wife he married in the Catholic church. I could do one of three things:

--continue to live as we were and not take Communion or go to Reconciliation and pray I don't die

--abstain from sex and live with my husband like brother and sister and get permission to go to Reconciliation and Communion

-- urge my husband to obtain an annulment so that we could make our marriage into a sacrament.

I chose the third option and my husband was a complete darling and put that process into motion. I also prayed that we wouldn't die before validating our marriage. The annulment is really my husband's story to tell, not mine, so I'll just talk about it in general.

An annulment declares that his first marriage wasn't actually a sacrament because certain factors were not present at the time they were married. It was still a marriage and the children resulting from it are still legitimate, but it wasn't a sacrament in the religious sense. Declaring a marriage null is a lengthy and emotional process during which the parties and witnesses (ie. Family and friends present for the marriage) are asked to give their version of the story of that marriage.

This was the most profound act of love my husband has ever done for me. Giving me a kidney would be trivial next to this. It took over a year, but it came through and then we had a convalidation of our marriage. It was a tiny ceremony in the chapel with our parents, our kids, and his brother and sister-in-law.

I'm as lucky as can be because now I may go to Reconciliation and receive Communion. Yippee!

Prior to that- I went through lots of emotion at not being allowed to go to Communion- sadness, embarrassment, shame, jealousy, fear, anger... But I was greatly comforted meditating near the tabernacle (that box thingy where the Eucharist is stored.) I recall one day in church during Communion time one of my little girls said, "Mommy, God wants you to go and eat the bread." Oh my goodness, but did I cry!