Friday, August 3, 2007

The Story of a Soul (my version, not St. Therese's!)

<--- (though this is the story of my soul, not hers, let's give her some credit!)
I really am excessively thankful to God for where I find myself today because it's somewhere I NEVER would have imagined myself being. Born in the excellent year of 1986 under the greatest U.S. President to ever live, I had an extremely happy childhood. I was really shy, but always happy. Now, I could go on to tell many stories of good childhood times, but this is, after all, The Story of a Soul, so we'll try to stick to the topic. I remember walking home from school with mom and Val one fine day at the beginning of 1st grade when mom informed me that starting very soon, I was going to be spending my Wednesdays from 4:15 - 5:30 at this place she called C.C.D. (the Center City Dump, as we would affectionately come to call it!) I was pretty upset because there were certainly better ways to spend my childhood than at C.C.D., (or so I thought!) All I remember about that first year of C.C.D. was being scared to death (remember, I was super shy) of having to leave the class with the aide and having to recite the Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be to her. I learned them fast, but when they asked for volunteers to go outside with her and say the prayers, my hand definitely was not one raised until I was one of the last two or three left to go. It was terrifying, but somehow I survived.

Along came 2nd grade C.C.D. which meant preparing for First Penance and First Communion. First Penance was terrifying too, as going to Confession always would be for me, at least until recent times. We all hated when we had to go with our C.C.D. classes every year. Sitting in the pews waiting as kids go in and out and you keep getting closer and closer... you got that knot in your stomach and you could feel yourself shaking out of fear. What if you messed up and forgot the order you were supposed to say stuff in? What if the priest didn't have the paper there for you to look at? How would you EVER survive? The feeling doesn't subside until you're done and the stomach knot slowly unties while you say that one Hail Mary and one Our Father. I unfortunately don't remember much about First Communion, which is extremely upsetting to me because that should be the most important day in a person's life. I think it goes to show that 2nd graders are not really ready to receive First Communion. As sad as it is to say, the best part of the day was definitely the presents and money. It's tragic that I have a better memory of the trip to KB Toys with my money than I do of receiving the Body of Christ for the first time.

C.C.D. continued on year after year. My friend Danielle and I used to think it to be highly amusing to spend the entire time drawing beards and moustaches on all the people in the C.C.D. book. Even the pictures of babies being baptized were given moustaches. Danielle and I ended up in the same class for 8th grade too. While we were supposed to be preparing to become full members of the Church and to receive the Holy Spirit, we were busy passing notes about the other kids in the class. How Christ-like of us! We never got in trouble though because we were actually the best behaved of the kids in there and we were the only ones who had the questions and answers memorized on time. Just because we were 8th graders didn't mean we didn't still have time for more facial hair on the pictures though! It makes me sad to think that the reason I took 'Ann' as my Confirmation name is because I figured it would be easy to do that. We had to fill out papers about the person whose name we were taking and hey, if I took the name 'Ann' it would be easy. I could just BS it and say that I admire Jesus' grandmother and the fact that our church was named after her. Plain and simple... I was too lazy to research any other saints. So, Ann it was. Looking back, if I could go back and re-live the experience with the knowledge I have now, I would choose a different name. No offense to St. Ann, but St. Catherine of Siena is amazing! Yes, I think I would have to choose the name Catherine.

Blame it on whatever you wish, but I honestly did not care about Confirmation. I could memorize prayers and answers to questions and I could even tell you what Confirmation was according to the strict definition, but I had no emotion attached to it. God was some abstract guy who had no real meaning for me. The Holy Spirit? Whatever. Yeah, they can put that chrism on my head, and I may even supposedly receive the Holy Spirit and be made a full member of the Church, but none of that mattered to me. Just because you can memorize prayers and answers doesn't mean you've ever actually thought about what any of it means or the implications for your life. And so, I was confirmed and amassed money from family and friends of the family. Wow, these Sacraments are REALLY efficacious in helping to roll in the big bucks!! It is disgusting to me to think about how I approached the Sacraments in those days. I only wish I could go back with the knowledge I have now and re-live those days. Everything would have so much more meaning to me now that I understand the spiritual aspect of it all rather than the financial.

So, after suffering through all those years of C.C.D., it was all over. I was confirmed, yet had no real concept of any of the Persons of the Holy Trinity. Praying wasn't a reality for me. I might ask God for help on a big test at school or something like that, but I never prayed as if there were some sort of Almighty God on the receiving end of the prayer. God was not something to take seriously. I couldn't believe mom still dragged me along to Mass. What a waste of time!! I had to spend an hour every single week sitting around at church. The Mass was not something sacred. No one had ever taught me what was going on. I could pray the prayers, but I never actually listened to what was being said. The shorter the homily, the better. After all, I did have a life to live... and Enrique Iglesias cds to listen to!! C.C.D. was over and though I'd still be dragged to Mass, at least I would never have to go to Confession again!! It would, in fact, take me 8 years before I'd confess my sins again.

I lived high school pretty much the same way. I did, however, give up my shyness, and made some great friends, most of whom I still talk to today. I was lucky to have fallen in with a good crowd. My high school years passed and I was extremely happy. I had become extremely interested in Spanish and was the star Spanish student. I was a celebrity. Everyone brought their compositions to me to correct before they had to be handed in. Since late 8th grade/early 9th grade, I knew, without a doubt, that I was supposed to be a Spanish teacher. I lived my entire high school life believing that I'd go to college, get my teaching degree, get a husband with a good job, have a kid or two, teach Spanish the rest of my life and live happily ever after. I was deluded just like most of the rest of the world thinking that I'd be able to build a happy life for myself by my own effort. God had not made His grand entry into my life yet. We'd have to wait until college for that. And so, I lived what I thought was a very happy life. And it was, to an extent. I had great friends, and a great family filled with people who were proud of me and my accomplishments. I graduated with the full intention of getting my degree and being back at Emmaus High School in four years as a teacher. I was in kahootz with some of the assisstant principals and all the Spanish teachers knew me. I pretty much was guaranteed a job the day I got my teaching degree. My plans didn't change throughout the first year of college either. The only thing that changed was that I became interested in politics. Ever since 9/11 I realized just how cool America is and how lucky I am to be an American. I also didn't understand why so many people thought George W. sucks. I never paid too much attention to politics until 12th grade, but once I started to, I realized just how cool GWB is. I took it upon myself to be his valiant defender in the face of all foes. By my love for Georgie, after whom my car received its name, I came to understand some politics and to see the different sides of the issues. I clearly realized that I fell on the conservative end of the spectrum on nearly every issue. I also came to understand the significance of the abortion issue. God wasn't even of any importance to me when I came to be avidly pro-life, which is why it really bothers me a lot when people accuse me of being pro-life only for religious reasons. As I see it, the pro-life movement is clearly supported not just by religious arguments but by science too. We'll take that up some other day though. I just have to mention the pro-life movement though because it plays a role in my later religious development.

So, politics and Spanish were the most important things in my life. I was on track to become a Spanish teacher. My life was what I believed to be perfect. Nothing could go wrong. And this is when God chose to begin to work His magic.

It was spring 2005 and I was pondering the class selection for the fall semester 2005. I had to fill in some electives and one of my friends had been saying good things about her Religious Studies class. I figured, "hey, that might be fun. After all, with all this Islam stuff going on in the world, maybe it would be a good idea to take the class. They say there's no homework and the tests are easy." So, I signed up. I didn't realize it at the time, but by my signing up for that class, God had completed the first step of my journey.

The fall arrived and I walked into Professor Butz's Religious Studies class... The Major Religions. A survey of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and a quick overview at the end of some of the newer religions like Baha'i. Well, the first day of class is clearly when it began. I never planned on finding God in a Religious Studies class at a public university. Public universities these days are, in fact, probably not somewhere you'd ever think God would show His face! Anyway, right from the first day, I was intrigued. Professor Butz chose to start the class by asking the class what we would give as the definition of religion. We started talking about how science answers the 'HOW?' and religion answers the 'WHY?' Then he got all philosophical on us and started listing the infamous "BIG QUESTIONS OF LIFE." Is there a God? What is the meaning of life? What happens after we die?, etc. And so, God began screwing with my mind. I remember driving home that day thinking about how much I was liking this class already. That night, lying in bed, I actually started thinking about those questions. And, we all know what happens when we do that! Within the next few days I very quickly realized stuff that 8 years of C.C.D. had failed to teach me. I realized that there undoubtedly is a God for the simple reason that you can't get something out of nothing unless you're God. Assuming the Big Bang happened, who put that little tiny speck there that would turn into the universe we have today? You can keep tracing stuff back farther and farther, but you eventually end up with the same question of how that speck got there. God was the only logical answer I could fathom. So, there we have a God. Now I began thinking about just how powerful God would have to be to create the entire universe and all the intricacies. Life is amazing on the big and the small scale. How God got it all to work out is beyond me. So, this guy God seemed worthy of my praise for that reason. Most of this stuff all played out on a philosophical level for me. I was just working on figuring out God at this point and I hadn't yet had time to think about the rest of the Trinity. It was only the fourth or fifth day of class and I had already begun to take up this thing they used to talk about in C.C.D. ... prayer. For the first time, I kind of felt that someone was listening on the other end of it. I didn't know too much about Him, but He was there. And so, my rampantly running thoughts kept going and I decided it was time to take a trip to the bookstore for some theological books. This crazy Professor Butz guy's class had changed me more in a week or two than I had ever been changed in my whole life. Barnes and Noble should write a thank you note to Prof. Butz because they've made a lot of money off of what he sparked in me. The first book spree cost me $127.82. Considering how expensive books can be, I guess it wasn't so bad. The other day I found the receipt from the books I bought that day, I can only laugh at myself. Some of them are books I'd NEVER even give thought to buying today. Some fundamentalist Christian apologetics anyone?! There was one good book I bought that day, though I wouldn't officially open this particular one for any real reading until a lot later: The Catechism of the Catholic Church. Though I didn't open it and start reading right away (and probably a good thing I didn't because I wouldn't have understood almost any of it at that time!) God was watching out for me and helping me to start stocking my bookshelves with at least one book that wasn't filled with heresy. Anyway, I set in on reading our textbook, some of the other books I had bought, and yes, the Bible. I had actually started the Bible a little bit even before taking the class because I figured that if all these political people that I associated with could quote it to use it to defend political positions, maybe I should know what it says too. I hadn't gotten too far in it though and what I had read, I had not read for any spiritual purpose. In my margins, however, I had written down notes about every line in there that could be used to defend my politics. So, I kept reading the Bible, though I didn't understand almost any of what it was saying. It was about the time that we started learning about Christianity in class that I arrived at the New Testament. God knew what He was doing, even though I had no idea He was doing it at the time. And so, in class I learned a lot of stuff about Christianity and about Jesus that I had never known, especially being a Catholic who had never really been told that maybe reading the Bible would be a good idea. I was amazed to discover that it was this Jesus guy who had said "The truth will set you free." And that "shining city on a hill" that Ronald Reagan talked about? Yeah, that wasn't his line, it was Jesus'!!! Though I was quite enlightened by some of the stuff I was reading in the Bible, there were far more questions that the NT was bringing up that I, in my theological infancy, could not answer for myself. So, I had to find someone to talk to about it all, someone knowledgable who could interpret some Scripture for me and answer all these other God questions that had been popping into my head since the first week of class. Well, family members were out of the question. They didn't read the Bible so how would I expect them to know anything about it? At that time I still thought priests were scary people who weren't humans (granted, very special humans) like the rest of us. They clearly couldn't answer my questions either... plus, if I'd have to go through the agony of that feeling of what it was like to have to talk to a priest at confession, it would hardly be worth my time. So, this Professor Butz guy, he seemed knowledgable. A Lutheran minister who teaches a Religious Studies class... sounds good to me. As I look back upon it, I realize just how amazingly blessed I was to have Professor Butz to answer my questions. Though he has his own biases, he's not one to proselytize, which was definitely a positive. After all, I wanted to answer all the big questions of life for myself and find ultimate truth for myself. I just wanted a little help, not someone else's preachy opinion. Anyway, back to my story: Professor Butz was my only viable option, and what a good one he was! I had already established in my mind that there was a God and now I was onto His Son and evaluating the claims of Christianity. So much of the stuff in the Gospels had my mind all ferhoodled and there was so much I didn't understand (thanks to the lack of good catechesis). I was forced for the first time in my life to truly evaluate Christianity and its plausibility. Though I had been told about Jesus in C.C.D., I'd never really thought much about any of it. Jesus was to me, just an abstract thought, not someone who actually existed in real time. Reading all this stuff was making me think a lot and I realized that though I had been told about Jesus for so many years, He was never something real to me. I had never had any sort of true faith. It hadn't been anything like a denial of Jesus, more just an ignorance of Him, which, in my ever-so-humble opinion, is something that afflicts a majority of Christians of all denominations these days. It's not really their fault that they are ignorant though, and they can't be blamed for it. The only way you can be blamed is if you've experienced God/Christ and then voluntarily choose not to pay any attention to Them. So, reading these Gospels, Paul's letters, etc. (I didn't know who St. Paul was before taking the class!) was making me somewhat skeptical, probably because there were so many things I couldn't understand. This was still my theological infancy here. After class one day, I went to Prof. Butz and asked him if he could sit down with me and answer some questions for me. How grateful I am that he consented!!! If he had known what he was getting himself into by entertaining my questions just once, I wonder if he still would have done it!?! I'm sure he never would have guessed what kinds of stuff I'd end up putting him through and that I'd be dragging him along for the spiritual ride I was embarking on! So, I wrote all my Scripture and God questions on some of my infamous notecards and we sat down before class one day to chat. When I look at the notecards from those days, I laugh at how simple the questions are. I can't believe I couldn't answer them for myself!! They were child's play compared to what was to come. Well, we didn't make it through all the cards that day so we sat down again a few days later. By the time we got to the end of the notecards, the semester was almost over. I had come to at least a basic understanding of the Bible, and for that I am extremely grateful. I was also pretty convinced about Christianity. Lucky for me, this wasn't where my at-this-point-4 month-long spiritual journey was to end. There was clearly no turning back now! Though I didn't really have too close of a relationship with God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, I had at least started praying, reading the Bible, learning some theology, and pondering the imponderables. How fortunate for me that I would have the chance to take Prof. Butz's Eastern Religions course in the spring semester!!!

And so, returning from Christmas vacation and a nice trip to Disney World with my friends, I settled into spring semester. I already had more questions in store for Prof. Butz... those notecards sure did pile up fast now that most of my time was occupied by thinking about God and how He works. It was time to get into bigger stuff. No more basic questions... it was time for me to figure out EVERYTHING and to find answers to each and every single "big question of life." It wasn't long before I started thinking about Heaven and Hell, the meaning of suffering and evil (I figured out the answer to that one in a flash of divine revelation I received while reading St. Augustine's Confessions), how the world is going to end, why God put us here, how God's omniscience can co-exist with our free will (which a certain wonderful priest out there knows is a question that still plagues me quite a bit!!), and how to get everyone to Heaven because at that time, I couldn't fathom how a loving and merciful God could send people to Hell. Those Eastern religions we were learning about also had some sort of impact on my theories. Prof. Butz must have thought I was absolutely nutzy with some of the stuff I came up with. I came up with some horribly heretical stuff, which probably didn't bother him too much because he's not 100% in line with mainstream Christianity either. (cough cough... Process Theology!, which I, for one, am proud to say I never bought into at any point in my thinking no matter how much he tries to defend it!) Anyway, he may have been talking about Process Theology, but I had my own issues too. I had to figure out a way to get all people to Heaven because, like I said, I wasn't prepared to let Hell be a possibility. So, I was inventing a sort of monotheistic Hinduism in which someone unworthy of Heaven because he didn't believe in Christ (I had been horribly influenced by the Protestant 'sola fide' belief), could simply have his soul get back in the queue line after death to be thrown back down to earth again for another try. Basically, believing in Christ was the good karma, not believing was the bad karma. You were reincarnated and your soul thrown back down to earth if you had the bad karma on your soul. Somehow, in this way, everyone would eventually get to Heaven. It also explained the decreasing birthrates among Christians because they were all getting to Heaven right away and only those who hadn't believed were getting sent back down to earth again. Yes, none of it really makes any sense as I look back on it, but I'm sure it did make sense to me then. How unfortunate it is that I didn't really give any consideration to the doctrines of the Church at that time. I still went to Mass every weekend and had actually started paying some sort of attention, but honestly, of the little bit I knew about Catholicism, none of it really seemed to make much sense at the time. I even thought some of the doctrines were absolutely crazy and unbelievably wrong. I was a Catholic and had still fallen into the deadly trap of falsely assuming things about the Church and her teachings without going to the source itself and reading Church document explaining the doctrines and teachings. Like Bishop Sheen said, "There are fewer than 100 people who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they mistakenly believe is the Catholic Church." I'll never forget the day that Prof. Butz and I were chatting and he told me, "Kim, you sound like John Calvin." I was ready to throw away not just my free will, but everyone's. Luckily I read some of Calvin's stuff and somehow came to realize that it definitely wasn't right. I picked up Hal Lindsey's "The Late Great Planet Earth" and though I didn't ever really buy into his arguments, I concerned myself with the End Times for a while. Most of the End Times books and stuff about Revelation I was reading had terrible Protestant, especially evangelical Protestant bias in it. Can you believe I even read the first two books of the Left Behind series?! The fact that History Channel was hosting "Apocalypse Week" didn't really help much either. Though I was having a grand old time reading people's claims about the Book of Revelation based on literal readings of it, I never really came too close to believing any of what they were saying... besides, if I had, Prof. Butz would have kindly rescued me. He doesn't usually impose his beliefs upon anyone, even me, his adoring student, but I know he never would have let me slip into any sort of fundamentalist Christianity. I gave up on my End Times reading one day when I ran across a delightful little quote on the internet that went something like, "Jesus didn't say to Peter 'Obsess over my second coming.' He said, 'Feed my sheep.'" Amen to that!!!

It was around this time in early spring 2006 that the brilliant idea that perhaps I should at least minor in theology popped into my head. After all, this theology stuff was taking up far more of my precious time than Spanish was and frankly, it was quite interesting. Despite all the crazy theories that I was coming up with, I really felt like God was becoming a part of my life. I started to be a nicer person because I was quite aware of the fact that He was watching everything I do. I could live with God on a philosophical level, but also on a more spiritual level. I stopped worrying about rushing to get things done and all that stuff. I gained a real sense of letting God take care of things and not worrying about anything... the fact that I wasn't worried in the slightest bit two days before leaving for Mexico even though my visa had not yet arrived goes to show just how much I was letting God take care of absolutely everything. While I was still trying to figure out the big questions of life, I knew He was there, however He was working. For quite a while there, I had a nice, fuzzy, warm, feeling inside and felt like quite a pious person and an exemplary Christian... so much for humility! None of those things Christ said about having the world hate you because you follow Him and having to endure suffering made any sense. The warm and fuzzy feeling prevailed. Being a Christian was easy and quite fun. This, unfortunately, I would find out much later, is where Protestantism, and especially fundamentalism is lacking today. They don't have the Catholic understanding of suffering. Jesus Christ is used predominantly for a good feeling and spiritual highs without always realizing that it's not just in good times, but in bad times too that we are called to be disciples of Christ. Though I don't doubt that there are some good Protestants out there who do "take up their crosses" it seems to me that especially among the fundamentalists, the 'Praise Jesus!" crowd, they are too busy worrying about "getting people saved" by thumping their Bibles and shouting Scripture to people who probably don't accept the Scriptures as having any authority at all over their lives. Though at that time I bought into very, very many Protestant views, as I look back on it all, it seems to be a somewhat superficial form of Christianity. I highly believe that the Pat Robertson's of the world are willing to be Christ's disciples in good times when He's making them money, but, while I don't want to judge them as judgement is reserved to God, I hesitate to believe that Pat would really stick by Christ if he weren't receiving benefits from it, spiritual and/or financial. That's why Protestants use crosses and Catholics use crucifixes. Like I said, I don't want to make blanket statements and I do know that there are many good Protestants, but people like Pat Robertson? Not so much.

I'm reminded of a poem we read in Spanish class down in Mexico. It was originally written in Spanish... I'll put up the English translation too.

A Cristo crucificado

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte
el cielo que me tienes prometido;
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.
Tú me mueves, señor; muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido;
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido;
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.
Muéveme, en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.
No tienes que me dar porque te quiera,
pues aunque cuanto espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

To Christ Crucified


I am not moved, my God, to give you love
by thoughts of heaven that you've promised me;
nor am I moved by thoughts of dreaded hell
for that alone, to cease offending thee.
You are what moves me, Lord;
I'm moved to see
you on a cross and mocked with every breath;
I'm moved to see your body racked with wounds;
I'm moved by your affronts and by your death.
I'm moved, in sum, by love for you so great
that I would love you were not heaven there,
and I would fear you, if there were no hell.
You need give me no prize to love you thus,
for even if what I hope I hoped not,
as I now love you I would love you still.

Would you still love and worship God if there were no Heaven to try to get into and no Hell to worry about avoiding? Would you still love God if there were no benefit in it for you? It can be hard to think about, but it's something we should be able to answer.

So, anyway, I kept on theologizing with Prof. Butz and coming up with ever-crazier theories which I called "Kim's Spiritual Unification Theory" to mirror what the quantum physicists call the Unification Theory that they are currently searching for which is basically one simple equation that can sum up all the Laws of the Universe. Though I thought I'd be able to find all my answers to my questions back then, I now have to concede that the physicists will probably complete their Unification Theory before I complete mine. I also called my 'theory' the "Theory of Everything." I planned on someday writing a book titled "The Theory of Everything: The Gospel According to Kim." I was going to enlighten the whole world with all the answers to everything they ever wanted to know about God and life's questions. I'm now, however, starting to think my book will never even come close to hitting the printing press. Maybe a book on something else, but probably not one that answers every big question of life in a concise way. Anyway, so continued my life. I was quickly realizing that Spanish teaching was no longer something that I'd be interested in doing for the rest of my life. After all, it would take away time from my theorizing. I still have high respect for all the Spanish teachers who had influenced me in high school, but sorry, despite the fact that they were practically deities to me back in the day, I had found God, the one thing that ultimately matters and I could no longer justify working towards a career doing anything else other than something related to Him. I hadn't officially changed my major at this point, but the thought was in my head and I knew it would inevitably happen sooner or later. At this point my Protestant leanings were stronger than ever. According to beliefnet.com's test, (http://www.beliefnet.com/story/76/story_7665_1.html) I ranked high on the Protestant scale. I am thankful I've been saving my results from taking their test for a while now so I can look at them all and see how my thoughts have been evolving. At this point in my journey we find ourselves in May 2006. The results of my taking the test on May 18, 2006:
Before we all freak out at the high rankings of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in matching my beliefs, let me add the important disclaimer that at this time I was under the fallacious thinking of viewing the Holy Trinity as three DISTINCT beings of DIFFERENT essences, not three DISTINCT YET CONSUBSTANTIAL beings. Huge mistake on my part. The JW's and Mormons pretty much hold to that fallacious interpretation of the Holy Trinity, which is why I ranked so high with them. Whatever way you look at it, it was a sad, sad story. I remember showing my results to Prof. Butz and he asked me if I'd ever consider leaving the Church and converting to something else. It kills me to think that I even gave any thought to that question. I thought about it for probably a week or so, and came to the conclusion that I wouldn't leave the Church because it's the only institution that so valiantly and universally holds up the pro-life message no matter what people say about the Church trying to oppress people with its morality. Of all things, it was the pro-life issue that allowed me to have at least some affection for the Catholic Church. I told him though that if the Church ever gave up its pro-life stance, I'd be out the door in a heart beat. (Nowadays, though I'd be extremely distressed if the Church ever did give up it's pro-life stance, I would NEVER think of leaving it.)

Summer ended and it was time to head off to Mexico. I hadn't officially changed my major yet and common sense tells you that if you're going to teach a foreign language, it might be a good idea to spend a semester abroad in a country where they speak the language so you can improve and learn the culture. I had all the papers in and everything paid for for the trip, so even though I was planning on changing my major, the trip was planned and everything set up, so I went. How conniving of God to send me off to an extremely Catholic country when I was pretty much convinced about the greatness and truth of Protestant beliefs! He knew what He was doing though and I thank Him for it. Gram even made me take a scapular along for the semester. I laughed to myself when she gave it to me to take, but I kept it with me in my purse anyway.

Mexico served me a lot of good in at least giving me a better appreciation of many things Catholics have that are lacking in Protestantism or in any other religion or denomination. Everyone down there was thrilled to learn that I'm a Catholic and I didn't dare tell them that though I was Catholic in name, I was pretty much a Protestant who still went to Mass. I just played along with them. I couldn't believe how crazy these people were! About 70% of them had a rosary hanging from their rear view mirror. Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer cards all over the place. Bloody crucifixes everywhere. The big street a few blocks up from the house: named after JP2! No wonder Protestantism made so much sense to me... these people were clearly ridiculous!! This was, nevertheless, a very good place for me to be. After all, it was kind of cool that you could go to Mass down there and even if you missed a few of the words that were being said, you still knew what was going on. Oh yeah, and they use the same readings down there every day as we do here and as every Catholic in the world uses. They celebrate the Sacraments the exact same way we do here... except they go to Confession much more frequently. You have a bishop here? Yeah?! We have one too!! Benedict XVI is your Pope? Yeah, he's ours too! Despite all the differences between the American and the Mexican cultures, it struck me as interesting that Catholicism was the exact same thing there as it was in America. Though so many of the doctrines of Catholicism were still something I thought was crazy, I did give some real thought to the fact that if God has a Church that harbors ultimate truth, one would imagine that it would be the same no matter where you are in the world. Well, that was kind of cool, at least.

I went to Mass every week in Mexico. Even if I had wanted to go to a Protestant church, I don't know that I could have found one there... which is a good thing as I look back on it. I also went to Mass in the chapel at school on Tuesdays at 1 p.m. because I didn't have class and figured I had no better way to spend my time. It used to bother me that no one at the school in the halls had any consideration for other people. They all thought it was great to play their music off laptops as loud as they could. At least if I went to the chapel it would be quiet and I wouldn't have to listen to that horrid music. The priest was nice too... happy to see a Catholic American since most Mexicans assume we're all Protestant. I even had him bless the rosaries I had bought for Gram. Hey, I didn't really believe it made any difference if they were blessed or not, but I knew Gram would love it. He even gave me some holy water to take home. The chapel became my favorite place to hang around. It was open all day and the only distractions were a few people coming in and out to pray before the tabernacle. I spent a lot of time there when I didn't have to be in class, and though I came to no profound realization that I belong to holy Mother Church, my feelings of thinking that everything about it was ridiculous and crazy (except the pro-life stance) became a little less intense. Perhaps it was the power of the Blessed Sacrament infiltrating me from the tabernacle without my ever realizing it. I still, though, was not really convinced that the Church was right on almost anything and even thought about making my New Year's Resolution to go on a church search through various denominations when I got back home in December.

One of my fondest memories of Mexico comes from Mass one Sunday morning towards the end of my visit. I remember that while the priest was going over to the tabernacle before Communion, an adorable little girl sitting behind me, probably about 3 or 4 years old asked her mom what the priest was doing at the tabernacle. The mom answered that he "is getting Jesus out of His home." I couldn't help but smile as the mom explained that to her daughter. On the last day of November I left the land of rosaries and prayer cards for home. I was quite excited to come home because I missed all my family, friends, Prof. Butz, and America in general. Plus, I knew I'd come back to the opportunity to put the Christmas tree up the next day. That tree is supposed to go up the day after Thanksgiving, but if I'm not home to order that it be put up, it's not going to happen. I was also really excited to make Christmas cookies. Didn't you know that Jesus did, after all, come to earth so we could eat cookies!?! Luckily, I did already understand the true meaning of Christmas too, so though I enjoy the decorations and cookies, I was aware that that's not really what it's all about.

Things were about to get VERY interesting for me. I had been informed by mom in an e-mail back in August/September-ish that Fr. Bonilla was leaving for a different parish and we'd be getting a new priest. I was kind of sad because though I was practially a Protestant at that time, I could concede that Fr. Bonilla had some pretty good homilies every once in a while. I remember sending mom an e-mail telling her that I doubted that this new guy would be as good as Father Bonilla. I was passing judgement on him from a different country and he hadn't even moved into the parish yet!

Before we get to that though, I simply must give mention to the single greatest television network to ever exist: EWTN!! I became a fan of JP2 before I realized just how true the Catholic faith is. I somehow ended up finding out that EWTN has live video streams of their shows on the internet so I could watch EWTN right from my computer. I'd check to see when JP2 stuff was going to be on and I'd watch it. Somehow, my EWTN watching evolved and I'd hit up the live video stream from ewtn.com whenever I had some free time. I used to laugh at how crazy all these Catholics were, especially when they showed a replay from a few years ago on All Saints' Day of Mother Angelica talking to a bunch of kids who had dressed up as saints and popes. Though I didn't agree with a lot of what these crazy people were saying, I kept watching for lack of anything better to do. I was especially amused by Father Groeschel. I didn't agree with everything, but I was hooked on the network. I even took up watching the daily Mass replay every night before bed. Because of the time difference, Mass was on at 11 p.m. my time and was over at midnight instead of starting at midnight and going to 1:00 a.m. So, I'd watch Mass in bed every night before falling asleep. I fell in love with Father Anthony's homilies. The other guys did good ones too, especially Father Francis, but I loved (and still do!) Father Anthony. The excitement always started building every night around 9 or 10 hoping that Father Anthony would celebrate Mass. I also happened to catch this guy they call Father Corapi. The man became my hero. The first episode of his spiritual talks that I caught was the fifth installation of the series "Fatima Today" in which he was talking about the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At this point I was still extremely Protestant on the Mary issue too so I thought almost everything he said was ridiculous, but he still kept my attention with his (to quote EWTN) "electrifying explanations of the faith." I didn't become a faithful Corapist (term I invented for Father Corapi fans... another term I've invented is "to Corap-ize" i.e. watch Father Corapi's shows, most especially for hours on end. Corap-izing is a big hobby of mine!) Anyway, I caught Fr. Corapi every once in a while, but didn't become a faithful follower until around the beginning of Lent this year when he really started making some sense. In short, though, God had begun to work through EWTN to lure me into His truth even if I thought everything the network said was crazy at first.

So, back to St. Ann's. I got back to the glorious U.S. of A. on a Thursday night. Val had come home for my glorious homecoming and so we took her back and went to Mass down at St. Joe's. This was the first Sunday of Advent. The week after that though, I'd have the opportunity to listen to this new guy they had brought in. By the time we left Mass, I knew the guy was crazy and I'd keep thinking that for a little while yet. He talked about sin and stuff like that. Who really wants to be told that he/she is sinful? Who wants to hear the truth?! (though I didn't realize it was the truth at the time). I listened to him, but let it bounce right off of me. I didn't absorb it or listen closely. I was a fan of God and what I believed was the truth, not what this guy was saying. It was around the beginning of Lent that some sort of light went on in my head. Or maybe it was EWTN clouding my mind. Maybe it was God finally forcing me to realize that what Father was saying in these homilies might have some sort of truth in it. Maybe it was me spending too much time in the company of St. Augustine's "Confessions." Probably a mix of it all.

When all the 'crazy people' start making sense, it can be kind of scary. Lent really started making sense to me. Some of Father's best homilies were produced during Lent. EWTN was showing Father Corapi's "Lenten Retreat" series which really got to me. I was spending most of Lent with the Bible. I had read it cover to cover twice before, but the first time I read it, I had seen it mostly as a political treatise in support of George W. Bush. The second time had been during Lent 2006. Though it had a little more spiritual meaning that time, it was at that time that I was formulating those crazy theories I was talking about and I was reading it too with some Protestant biases. Lent 2007 was different though. I saw things in the Bible I hadn't noticed before. I saw it from a completely spiritual perspective and a lot of the things I was learning in Prof. Butz's 'Jewish and Christian Foundations' (a basic survey of the Bible) helped me to realize that not everything that the Bible says, especially in the Pentateuch, has to be a 100% literal, historic event. I began to be able to relate events in the Bible to my life... the exodus from slavery in Egypt as a metaphor for God delivering me from the slavery of my life before I had found Him. It actually started hurting me to see the Israelites sinning against God and complaining despite all He had given them... it probably hurt me to see them doing that because deep down I know that I do it too. Seriously though, how can it not hurt you when you think long and hard about Whom you are sinning against?! The guilt was building. EWTN was really starting to make a lot of sense and Father Corapi's talks were captivating. The homilies at church just kept getting better and better. I was finally listening to Father Rich and he was kind of making some sense. I just told him this the other day, but I finally decided that he definitely wasn't crazy the Sunday of John 9 when he started by singing "This Little Light of Mine." The message of turning away from sin and letting the light of Jesus shine for a blind world was unbelievably excellent. A week or two later cleaning products were related to spiritual realities. Jesus = Mr. Clean... that was pure genius! The message of the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was coming through loud and clear from my new heros, Fr. Rich, Fr. Corapi, and the rest of the EWTN gang. I wasn't ready to open myself to its full power yet though. I still was in my mind protesting the thought that you have to tell your sins to a priest and can't take them right to God for forgiveness. That's why when I went to confession when the C.C.D. kids went this year, I didn't feel the power of it. I definitely agree that Sacraments will only work to their full extent when you open yourself to them. That's why Confirmation wasn't special for me either. I wasn't open to it and I didn't have faith that what was happening through it was actually happening. Palm Sunday came around and Father was at the summit of homiletic greatness. First, we must recall that I was reading the Bible cover to cover during Lent. It's not easy, but it CAN be done if you really stick to it. Anyway, like I had said, I had been having this real feeling of guilt and sadness over the way the Israelites sin and turn against God almost as soon as He delivers them from slavery and even after they move into Israel. I came to the realization that sin is a very, very real thing and not only real, but serious. Too many people ignore that fact these days. Something that really made me stop and think this time around reading the Bible was Genesis 4:7 when Cain is upset with God for not accepting his sacrifice. God says to Cain, "...sin is a demon lurking at the door: his urge is toward you, yet you can be his master." Sin's urge is toward us and it's so easy for us to fall captive to it. We have to try to stay away from it and master it. Lucky for us, Christ gave us the Sacraments, and what better way to fight off sin than confession?! I remember reading somewhere or another someone's opinion, though it's in my opinion a very good one filled with truth that the Devil abhors the Sacrament of Reconciliation because it's precisely then, when we are at our weakest, overtaken by sin, that we humbly acknowledge that we've allowed it to control us and we turn our backs to Satan and receive the grace of Christ to stand strong once more and avoid sin. So, anyway, reading through the Bible, especially 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, the prophets (most especially the ever-famous Isaiah 53), I came to the realization that it was all humanity's sin, including mine and yours that crucified Christ. Now, either great minds think alike or the Holy Spirit was revealing the same truth to me that he revealed to Father because on Palm Sunday when Father talked about the truth about exactly who it was saying "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" it really hit me hard. It was me and you and everyone exclaiming it. And we keep saying it every time we sin. Oh, the guilt, how horribly it hurt!!! I had realized it just a little while earlier and that hurt too, but to hear someone else say it really was no fun. During Lent especially, you should go away from Mass feeling like that. Though we do need to keep God's mercy in mind and we don't want to always be pessimistic, we can't ignore the truth of sin either. Lent is a time for repentance after all, isn't it? And as Father Corapi says, "How can you repent if you don't know what you're repenting of? Christ came to save the sinners, didn't He? Well, praise the Lord, He's come for me!" Now, after making us feel really, really bad by telling us the truth about who's crucifying Christ every time we sin, Father tacked on the very important piece of information that he and all those holy rollers from EWTN had been noting all through Lent: go to confession. It works. A few minutes is all it takes. No excuses.

And so, I spent the day pondering my sins, wallowing in guilt. Sometimes we need to do that. At 7:00, Palm Sunday, Gram and I dragged our sinful selves to church for some confession. Funny how when you go to confession with the focus on the fact that you are given the opportunity to be liberated of all your sins through the absolution given by the priest sitting in persona Christi you don't get nervous like you do when you're a C.C.D. kid looking to get in and get out a.s.a.p. When you use the Sacrament for the right reasons and have true faith that it's going to work, you'd be surprised how wonderful it can be. I wanted to talk to the crazy guy who didn't seem so crazy anymore. It was fantastic to be able to talk to him. It was like a conversation, not like me just sitting there enumerating my sins to an idle listener. It's kind of nice to be given advice on how to stay away from the sins in the future before you are absolved of them. For the first time in my life I began to think of priests as people like ourselves who actually can relate to us. Before that, priests seemed to be people, but different kinds of people. People that couldn't relate to us or give us real help. People who didn't understand. Confession with feedback from Father was just about the greatest thing ever. It kind of feels nice to get your sins off your chest... though you'll only feel the effects of the absolution if you have faith that the priest is working in persona Christi. Well, this was the first time I had gone into confession believing that. I had given up my previous Protestant bias of insisting that you just had to tell your sins to God and it would all be fine. I had left myself open to the fact that this just might work. Like I said, I had gone to confession when our 2nd grade C.C.D. kids had gone, but I still had my mind closed to the possibility that the Sacrament could actually work. Well, when you open your mind to the possibility that it can work, you'll be surprised. It actually does work. I left feeling like my soul was crystal clean and sparkling white... to steal Father's confession = carwash metaphor, I had given my windshield a good washing. And, it felt really, really good. In the Jain religion they believe that karma is actual matter that sticks to your soul (jiva, in their words), and turns it black instead of transparent. Though I don't think sin is actual physical matter, I do believe you can feel it on your soul. Lucky for me I now know the way to make a dark black soul white and sparkly again!!! A quick shout out to Father Rich to thank him for guilt tripping me into going to confession that day and for making it a painless experience!!!

And so, though I still have trouble explaining exactly why it's necessary to tell your sins to the priest rather than just going right to God, all I can say is that my experience tells me that it's the truth. I used to think God could just forgive me, but you never get to actually hear the words said out loud that you are absolved from your sins. I will say though that the fact that the priest is not absolving you of your sins by his own authority, but by the authority Christ bestowed upon the priest and by the fact that he's sitting in the person of Christ has something to do with it. Christ gave us the sacraments for our own benefit, not for His. If He's going to give you the opportunity to hear someone say out loud the magnificent words of absolution given by His authority, who would you be not to accept the invitation?!

Well, now by realizing the power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation another road block towards understanding and believing Catholicism had been removed and was no longer an obstruction. Well, if the Church, Father Rich, Father Corapi, and the rest of EWTN was right about confession, could it possibly be that they were right about lots of other stuff too that I still thought they were wrong about??? As I would find out, yes, indeed, they are right. All you have to do is read some Church documents and see what the Church actually says instead of taking it from outside sources who pervert the Church's teaching and you'll clearly realize that the Church and her doctrines might not be so crazy after all. I quickly started amassing a library of Church documents and printed out all the documents from all 21 ecumenical councils from 1 Nicaea to Vatican II. I took some trips to visit my now beloved Sue and Janet at Way to Emmaus for books about and writings of the saints. I needed some books about the Sacraments, the Mass, etc. Papal encyclicals were a must have. My bookshelf quickly filled with Catholic books as I transferred all that Protestant heresy to the closet. I still have it because I do believe in hearing all sides of stuff, but my exposure to EWTN and all this "in your face truth" as Father Corapi calls it, was quickly making me realize just how good and true the Church is. Yes, we may have some issues and there may be some problems, but I quickly realized just how fantastic my Mother, the Church is. Reading all these books and documents helped me along. There was no doubt about it, I was a Catholic. I really got into watching "The Journey Home" on EWTN. Hearing stories of all these people from various religions and denominations who found a Home in the Catholic Church was amazing. I learned a lot from listening to them. They talked about the things that made them realize that the Church has the fullness of truth. The papacy, which I hadn't given much respect to before started making sense. If, indeed, Christ did give the authority to Peter, and I believe He did, the papacy makes clear sense. Though many will say Christ never wanted the Church to be made a hierarchy, I think they are mistaken. I think any logical person would realize that a message that is to be universal and Christ wants proclaimed to all nations might end up having to have someone hold the whole thing together. The Church's hierarchy, the Pope at the top of it, is what does, in effect, hold us together and is why I can go to Mexico and the Mass is going to be the same thing there as it is here. Christ prays that we all be one just as He is with the Father (John 17:11). When I see that the Church is the same wherever you are in the world, that's a good indicator that we're on the right track. So many people don't understand the concept of papal infallibility either. It doesn't mean he's a perfect person. It means that the Holy Spirit will guide him when he declares a dogmatic teaching on faith or morals. I remember the one person on The Journey Home mentioned that it would only make sense for Christ to not leave us as orphans, but to leave someone to guide and hold together His Church on earth. It would clearly not make any sense for Christ to give authority to Peter to do this and have the authority end with Peter... after all, during Peter's life the Church had not yet grown to be too big. It would be ridiculous to think Christ would want a leader for His Church when it was small, but not when it began to grow.

As for Transubstantiation, it makes sense. Instead of me trying to defend it right here, I recommend JP2's encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia." It's quite excellent in defending our Catholic view of the Eucharist. I remember being at my cousins' Lutheran church a few times to see them sing in the kids Christmas programs, etc. Even though this had all happened during the time I was leaning Protestant, I remember sitting in their church feeling like something was missing. A big chunk of their service had some sort of resemblance to a Mass, but there was still something missing. It felt more like a social gathering than something sacred. Even the one time when they did have Communion, there was still something missing. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what it was that was missing, but I did know that I left that church afterwards unfulfilled. Father Rich would later suggest, well, maybe not suggest, but rather inform me of the truth that the thing that is missing is the Blessed Sacrament. He's right. Do I think it's a coincidence that there is but ONE single Church in which Transubstantiation is included in the deal and not only included, but is the single most important thing, "the source and summit of the Christian life?" (Lumen Gentium 11). No, it's not a coincidence.

"Céline asked the other day: 'How can God get into such a little Host?' Thérèse answered her: 'It's not surprising, since Our Lord is almighty. What does almighty mean? It means He can do whatever He wants.'" - St. Thérèse, The Story of a Soul, quoting letters her mother had written
I had already been staunchly pro-life, and now I was onto reading Humanae Vitae. Thanks to Pope Paul VI for upholding the Church’s teachings on birth control and abortion at such a time when the Western world was highly critical of such views. That’s what’s great about the Church; it upholds truth even when the gates of Hell try to prevail against it. Even before I found religion and especially the Catholic Church, I had always been pro-life and even held to that ‘old-fashioned’ view that sex is for marriage and marriage is for one man and one woman. I never really saw the problem with birth control though. The pill, yes, because it killed the already fertilized egg, but contraception that prevented conception didn’t seem to be a problem… until I read this ever glorious Humanae Vitae. It all made sense now and it didn’t take me long to come to agreement with the Church on that issue too. Some of the Church’s teachings on morality, especially sexual morality certainly seem oppressive when presented by the media, but when you actually go to the source and read the actual documents, it all makes a lot of sense. When you put together the sexual morality teachings with the Church’s view of the family and what it’s mission and purpose is, it all makes clear sense and, indeed, in my humble opinion, if all people were to follow the Church’s teachings on it and viewed marriage and family in the way the Church does, society would be in much better shape than it currently finds itself. We’d all be a lot happier, especially if we viewed kids as blessings, not as burdens or even fashion accessories. I would most highly recommend to all Father Corapi’s six talk series, “The Catholic Family: Garden of Holiness.” It’s absolutely amazing.

It was interesting that just as I was coming to realize all these fundamental truths about Catholicism, I was given the chance to defend them at school, especially in English class. Crazy feminist professor somehow got on the topic of how birth control was the greatest thing to ever happen to society and for women’s advancement. I didn’t even raise my hand before blurting out, “Birth control is a sin!” People looked at me funny. Most of them know I’m pro-life, but to hear such a radical opinion probably astounded them. I can tell you, without doubt, that though the liberal students these days like to think they are the super-cool radicals, it’s really those who stand for traditional values that are the radicals. I had quite a fun time with these people. I also had an excellent time defending the priesthood from the feminist professor who thinks the Church is probably the most oppressive thing ever and clearly doesn’t understand its teachings. She is, after all, a fallen-away Catholic with a fairly large grudge against the Church. Those horrible priests can’t relate to us. Celibate people don’t understand reality. Priests have been molesting kids since pretty much the beginning of Church’s existence. I knew for sure I was a Catholic when I felt an intense impulse to defend the faith against her accusations. That’s how I know I believe in something… when somebody attacks something I believe to be truth, I feel the need to defend. If I weren’t dedicated to it, I wouldn’t feel the need to defend it. Like Father Corapi says, “I don’t care what they think of me. I do care what they think of the message.” And, so began my career in Catholic apologetics, which I hope to continue this fall as school. There’s nothing that makes me feel better than defending the truth.

I had finally changed my major to theology back in October 2006. When I had done that I was thinking maybe I could be a Christian counselor or something. The ultimate job would be to be a super cool theologian that gets to do commentary on the History channel when they do Jesus shows. Someone a la John Dominic Crossan except not with all his ideas since he’s not right on everything. That would have been cool. Once I started realizing how right the Church is, I realized I maybe should focus my attention on bringing people to know the truth that I had found, especially people in the Church who, as I had been, didn’t understand much about the faith. As I began to realize that Mass is more than just a social gathering but is sacred time in which the Lord Himself gives Himself to us in the Liturgy of the Word and even more so in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I started thinking how amazing it must be to be a priest. I wish God had made me a guy because I wouldn’t be in the predicament I’m in right now of having to figure out what to do with my life. I’d be off to the seminary, undoubtedly. I understand why the Church ordains only males though. I was talking about this with Joe from our Respect Life group. To quote him: ‘So, it’s not the Church, it’s God?” Yes. He is actually right. I blame it on God for not making me a guy. I guess He must have different plans for me, but I still wish I could be a priest. As Father told me, we are all called to be priests, prophets, and kings when we are baptized. We can still preach the Gospel even without being ordained. And yes, I realize this. But I want to celebrate Mass. I cannot imagine anything that could be more thrilling than being a human being invoking the Holy Spirit to “come upon these gifts and make them holy.” To be able to, by the virtue of ordination, be the one to consecrate the bread and wine must be unimaginably amazing.

In the meantime, I am also being forced to re-evaluate many of the theories I had come up with to explain evil, suffering, the meaning of life, etc. Many of them that I had come up with before were clearly incompatible with many of the new things that are now making sense to me. Most of what I was theorizing before lacks any sort of connection to a Catholic understanding of things. I had come up with some of those weird theories I was talking about mostly under the guidance of Prof. Butz. When I theorize with him, he let’s me keep going and put myself in God’s place. Father Rich doesn’t let me get away with that… and I thank him for it. Even though I don’t like when Father doesn’t let me start on the premise that I am capable of knowing and understanding everything and putting myself into God’s mind, I thank him for it. I need someone to keep me in line and to remind me that I am not God and never will be.

As of now, I still have no idea what I want to do with my life, which is why I don’t like when people ask me what I’m going to do with a theology degree. I’ll figure it out somehow. I can only pray that God will show me where He wants me to go and what He wants me to do. I don’t have any real plans or goals of my own that I want to meet anymore. Only thing I care about is serving God and His one true holy catholic and apostolic Church. I just want to get to Heaven. As Father Rich most clearly stated a few weeks ago in his homily, “Our goal is Heaven.” It’s not anything in this world. When you think about eternity and how long it is, this life is in comparison a snap of the finger or the blink of an eye. And, allow me to quote Father Corapi here because I can only hope that by following the examples of my new heroes, the saints, the Blessed Mother, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, my life and entrance into eternal life will play out in the way he closes many of his spiritual talks by quoting Jesus: This life’s going to go real fast. In the twinkling of an eye you and I are going to stand before God. And I’m going to promise you something… if you repent and truly believe in the gospel when the dust settles and the smoke of battle is blown away and time gives way to eternity, you are going to stand before Almighty God and you are going to hear these beautiful words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master’s house.”

"The greatest thing about every Catholic is that he is one." – John Auyscough

“What joy to be able to say with all the fervor of my soul: I love my Mother, the holy Church!” – St. Josemaría Escrivá

1 comment:

Tiber Jumper said...

Wow~
What a great story!
Talk about metanoia!
Thanks for posting such a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit to move in a soul.
I pray that the Lord uses you mightily for His kingdom in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.