Waking Up Catholic (and Lovin’ it!)

I’m a sucker for Catholic conversion stories.

Maybe it’s a maternal thing–welcome home, welcome to the family! Or perhaps its the outsider perspective they have on doctrines and practices I’ve known all my life, making centuries-old rituals fresh and exciting again.

Reading Chad R. Torgerson’s Waking Up Catholic was no exception to my general love for converts and their stories. Written as a guide for “Converts, Reverts, and Anyone Becoming Catholic” (as it says on the cover), Torgerson presents basic Catholic doctrine in a grounded and concise manner. And just from that sentence alone, I can hear the unseasoned reader saying, “You had me at grounded and concise.”

Having gone through the RCIA process himself, Torgerson systematically answers the questions he asked throughout the process of his own conversion: What is the basis of Sacred Tradition? Why priests, and why call them “Father?” Why pray to Mary? Do we really need the Saints? Why believe in Transubstantiation, and why ever would I want to eat flesh and drink blood? As the author takes us through his own searching for answers, he becomes more like a companion, a guide, rather than a professor lecturing in a classroom.

I found it particularly interesting that the very first chapter talks about Sacred Tradition, stating that this was the main thing that sets Catholicism apart from other Christian churches. Making the case for Tradition (and correspondingly, the continuing revelation of the Holy Spirit) sets the stage for tackling the history of most other tenets of the faith. After convincing the reader of the importance of Sacred Tradition, the need for a governing body to ensure that the Tradition is faithfully passed on from one generation to the next logically becomes the topic of choice for the subsequent chapter. And on and on it goes, each section making way for the next. It takes a lot of talent (not to mention wisdom) to capture such a vast collection of doctrine and to present it in an orderly, step-by-step fashion. In fighting the urge to overwhelm, Torgerson succeeds admirably.

But the best feature of the book, by far, is the inside look into Torgerson’s life story. He shares his past judgements and misconceptions about the Church, and where necessary, subjects his own previous philosophies to scrutiny. This is not a story of naiveté or gullibility, but one of relentless searching (and finding) for Truth.

And in the end, more than a sentimental acceptance, or a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the Church, this is what really captivates me about conversion stories: the hand of God moving, guiding the heart and soul to Himself. No matter where any of us have been, His reach will always be farther and wider.

When you search for Me, you will find me; when you search for me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:13

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So, am I for the vertical, or the horizontal?, Part 1

Last week, I wrote a post about the dilemma of Liturgy being either too vertical or too horizontal. I must admit, I was a bit nervous over how some of my readers from the West–mostly Catholic bloggers themselves and mostly (if we’re naming them) veering towards the right side of the liturgical spectrum–would react. I’ve read enough from their blogs to gather that there is much disdain towards radical changes in Liturgy, and though some won’t say it, over a lot of the changes brought about by Vatican II. I deeply respect these readers and writers (and not just because *cough, cough* they follow my blog), which is why what they’ve written had me struggling with my own faith expressed through Liturgy. It was an honest searching I was led to, and am still on. And while I cannot say I already have the complete picture (there should never be an end to learning), I feel the instance I shared immediately prior to this post was a milestone for me, as far as knowing where I stand is concerned.

So with a deep breath (and a Hail Mary), I clicked on the publish button. And waited if anyone would unfollow me.

To my surprise, no one did (as far as I know…do those show up in notifications?). What’s more, I saw a number of those bloggers actually like my post (I don’t get a lot of those). Well, well, pat on the back, well done, Pauline!

Until some FB contacts messaged me to say that they liked it, too. And, since we’ve already named them, suffice to say they most probably belong to the opposite end of the spectrum.

Hmm, a post that managed to please everybody. Can only mean one of either 2 things: that I’m a really, really good writer…or a really, really spineless one.

So, for the record, here is where I stand.

I love Liturgy. I love that what we do every Sunday has ties to rituals that date as far back as the early Christian communities. I love how it is so rich in symbols and poetry, and that it is the beautiful marriage of Scripture and Tradition. I love that, no matter where you are in the world, even if the mass is celebrated in a language you do not speak, a Catholic can still follow what’s going on, know when to kneel, sit or stand, and receive the same extraordinary grace being offered at every mass across all nations. And not to forget, that apart from all these, the mass is the Mass–Christ’s Sacramental giving of Himself to all those who hunger and thirst for something bigger and beyond anything this world can offer. If only for this, I love the Mass.

And because it is Sacrament–a visible sign instituted by Christ to give grace–it is but fitting that we give our utmost in ensuring that the Liturgy we follow is appropriate, is commensurate to the Sacred Mysteries being celebrated. And this is how we must see efforts to elevate the celebration in its vertical orientation: while we can never truly give God the kind of heavenly worship He deserves, it won’t stop us from trying to get as close to that level of worship as possible.

And that is how, even though I was born pre-Vatican II, I feel I can appreciate the beauty of the Latin Mass, and Sacred (Latin) music. It is called sacred for a reason–it is a language, music and way of doing things specifically set apart for this purpose. And when done reverently, deliberately, devotedly? Wow. Chills down my spine.

And this is how I choose to think of these staunch defenders of the “traditional way”–they are pushing us, not letting us give anything less than the best, the highest we can give (thank God for that…and for them).

Now, here’s where the “however” comes in.

We must not forget why we set these rules, these standards in the first place. We do so because we want to leave little room for halfhearted, empty worship. But we must also realize that we do not have the same vantage point as God’s, who “does not see as human beings see…but looks at the heart” (I Samuel 16:7). Who are we to say that this worshiper singing the Our Father with her hands lifted up is not singing from the heart, or that this penitent touching the feet of Christ’s image on the cross is not desperately seeking His pardon and healing? Our eyes can only see what the body does, and our ears can only hear what the mouth speaks. Perhaps for most of the time, this perception is sufficient to spot those who honor God with their lips while their hearts are far away from Him (Isaiah 29:13), but for a certain remainder of worshipers, we cannot see what the Lord sees, and therefore cannot tell them that their worship is not fitting, not pleasing to the King.

Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood there and said this prayer to himself, “I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like everyone else, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get.” The tax collector stood some distance away, not daring even to raise his eyes to heaven; but he beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, I tell you, went home again justified; the other did not. For everyone who raises himself up will be humbled, but anyone who humbles himself will be raised up. –Luke 18:10-14

Don’t. Be. A. Pharisee.

There is a place for rules in Liturgy. But when it comes down to choosing between the rules and the person–the heart that is worshiping–choose the person. Consider the heart.

I really didn’t expect this to be as long as this. But, to reiterate, there really is so much to be said. Hope to see you soon for Part 2. But till then, here’s something you might want to read. I actually found myself echoing the sentiments I’ve already written about here.

What you see is what you’ve got

A little over a month ago, I had started writing a post on people’s reactions (via FB and Twitter) to Pope Francis’ now famous “Who am I to judge?” statement. But for a multitude of reasons (and distractions), it seemed to take me forever to write it, and eventually, I went on to write about other things. I had thought, maybe the Lord doesn’t want me to write about this.

Apparently, He just wanted me to wait a little more.

A few days ago, America magazine published an extensive interview with the Pope, giving us probably the most thorough conversation thus far with the man who has been captivating the world since day 1. Reading it, I discovered a deeply prayerful man (as he should be!), firmly grounded in the Ignatian ways of discernment and being a contemplative in action (those words come up a couple of times), and overall, a humble servant of Christ. There is a certain reverence for the life of the Spirit in the Church with which he speaks. It is not a careful, I-better-watch-what-I-say kind of reverence, which most of the time tries to skirt the issue. Rather, he speaks simply, practically, and truthfully, exhorting all sons and daughters of the Church to focus on the most important thing (“Jesus Christ has saved you.”), and to share this first and foremost.

Instruction from the Vicar of Christ on how to evangelize and win hearts for God.

So imagine how I was taken aback by this headline from the New York Times:

From www.nytimes.com, published September 19, 2013

From http://www.nytimes.com, published September 19, 2013

Wha-?! Are we even talking about the same interview?

It was “Who am I to judge?” all over again.

I have read both of the Pope’s interviews (the in-flight conference on his way home after WYD, as well as this more recent one), and found, both times, his words to be inspiring, convicting and firmly grounded in Truth. In a society that seems so quick to judge others (and institutions) based on a single FB status or Tweet, Pope Francis says do not judge, forgive. Do not condemn (nor condone), but console. Do not hate, love.

Be compassionate just as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven. –Luke 6:36-37

But instead of heralding this teaching on love, reactors (in the media, both traditional and social) seem to be able to see only what they want to see–that is, whatever will support their preexisting ideas and views on the matter (even if it takes statements out of context and rearranging it so that it can take on whatever meaning or tone necessary to suit one’s purpose).

I remember how, when Mother Teresa’s years of spiritual darkness became newsworthy in 2007, believers and doubters alike reacted to the news.

Aha! There is your proof! Even “the Living Saint” says God does not exist!

What faithfulness, continuing her mission even when she couldn’t feel God in prayer!

Apparently, Truth is also in the eyes of the beholder.

May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and perception of what is revealed, to bring you to full knowledge of Him. May He enlighten the eyes of your mind so that you can see what hope His call holds for you, how rich is the glory of the heritage He offers among His holy people…(Ephesians 1:17-18)

Read. Think. Pray. And be open to the possibility that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

Novena to Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth

I wanted to write something on the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, and remembered a program I watched a while back where Dr. Scott Hahn (one of my personal heroes) was explaining the role of Mary through Scripture. I then turned to Google to give me something to work with, and found this instead.

 

Not exactly what I had been looking for, but it stirred something in me nonetheless. Will you start this Novena with me today?

And just in case you’re still thinking of what to pray for, please include all the Filipino families displaced by the recent flood.

Queen of the Angels, pray for us.
Queen of Patriarchs, pray for us.
Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
Queen of Apostles, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of Confessors, pray for us.
Queen of Virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all Saints, pray for us.
Queen of Families, pray for us.
Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us.
Queen assumed into Heaven, pray for us.
Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, pray for us.
Queen of Peace, pray for us.

The New Evangelization: Getting Ready, Part 2

(This is part of a series on The New Evangelization. Read the introduction here.)

You’ve heard about those who do it, or at least those who’ve seen it happen. Perhaps even you have been unexpectedly asked the question once on your way home from work, catching you off guard, rendering you speechless, vulnerable.

“Are you saved?!”

“Ah, er, yeah, sure.”

The zealous, impassioned Born Again Christian then launches on an exegesis of John 3:16, and starts blurting out other Bible verses at lightning speed, as the meek Catholic squirms awkwardly, trying to think of the most feasible escape plan.

Are you?! Am I? Am I!

There is something admirable about the zeal with which some of our Protestant brothers and sisters evangelize. I know of many a parent (or brother/sister) asking for prayers for a family member who has started attending non-Catholic assemblies because of encounters similar to the one described above. And most of the time, the concerned family member can only watch as the son or daughter slips farther away from the Church, perhaps himself once or twice found speechless when challenged, questioned, tested.

What’s the point of going to Mass? Kneeling, standing, receiving a piece of wafer?

Why do you confess to a priest? Go directly to God!

Why do you follow the Pope? You’re supposed to follow Jesus Christ alone!

There’s no getting around it: you cannot share what you do not know. And as much as we’d wish knowledge would magically illumine our minds like a ray of light shining forth from the heavens, we cannot know what we do not take the time to study.

If you want to be a better soldier for Christ and His Church, here are just a few things you can do to get ready:

Know your Catholic Faith. There are a lot of ways to go about doing this, but the important thing is not to get too overwhelmed. Just read what you can, study what you can. But more importantly, don’t study just to know what to say when the time comes, but rather to enrich your faith. Read about what really goes on during confession, and take that with you the next time you go into the box. Especially when it comes to the Church’s stand on certain things, don’t just take other people’s word for it: go read for yourself. Nowadays, you don’t even need to go out and buy your own copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (not that I’m keeping you from doing so), it’s all available online! You don’t even need to dive into an in-depth study of the faith (again, not stopping you). But if at any time a question pops into your head, or a comment someone makes tugs at your heart, be curious enough to want to find out what the Church has to say about it, and be determined enough to act on that curiosity.

What to read? Again, if you were to look online, there are a lot of resources you can find (but please make sure it is a reliable source of Church teaching). There are a lot of Q&A books out there, such as The Catholic Answer Book and Why Do Catholics Do That?, but as I mentioned in previous posts (here and here), there is something to be said about reading the conversion stories of former Protestants, particularly pastors and theologians, who found themselves on the road to Rome. They asked the same questions you’ll probably get asked by a non-Catholic (precisely because they were staunch Catholic persecutors once themselves!), and found Truth in the answer. Refer back to this previous post for some highly recommended reading.

All scripture is inspired by God and useful for refuting error, for guiding people’s lives and teaching them to be upright. This is how someone who is dedicated to God becomes fully equipped and ready for any good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17

Know your Bible. Again, the key is not to get overwhelmed. Appreciate the fact that the written Word of God was and is of the Church, and for the Church–very much a part of our heritage as traditions and doctrines are. More and more Catholics today are picking up their bibles and allowing Scripture to touch them personally and permanently. If you haven’t yet, is not the Year of Faith the perfect time to start?

First step is to make sure the bible you have in your hand is indeed a Catholic one. How can you know? It usually says so somewhere on the cover; you would be a step ahead if you looked for an Imprimatur on the copyright page. What is the difference? Aside from the level of faithfulness to the original text, Catholic bibles contain some books that are not found in Protestant bibles (a shame, really, as some of these books–collectively called the Deuterocanonicals–contain some of my favorite passages and stories).

Second step is to simply start reading–and never stop. Set aside a time for it each day until your day won’t feel complete unless you’ve read a chapter or two. Start with the Gospels, progressively read through the New Testament after that, then it will be much more manageable to go through the Old Testament once you’ve made a habit of reading.

Just as each of us has various parts in one body, and the parts do not all have the same function; in the same way, all of us, though there are so many of us, make up one body in Christ, and as different parts we are all joined to one another. –Romans 12:4-5

Know your Church (and church). Be excited with everyone else as we find out more about Pope Francis. Know your Bishop, your Parish and Parish Priest. Be involved in the liturgy, serve in whatever way you can; offer your time, talent and treasure. Join a prayer community so that you can know more, grow more, serve more. Actively be part of Christ’s Mystical Body.

Amidst all the knowing, do not forsake our being.

Be holy. Not all of us are called to the priestly or religious life, but we are all called to live holy lives. And if we live our life according to what the Gospel teaches, Christ’s light will surely shine in us and through us. More than our what our words can say about our faith and Scripture, let our lives be testament to God’s reign in our lives. Others will see that and, we pray, would want what we have: an unshakeable faith, a living hope, an extravagant love.

(After Getting Ready, then what? Read on about Getting Down, and Getting Dirty).

Is Nothing Sacred?

Last week, I got the chance to meet up with an old friend. And you know how it goes when girls “catch up” after a long time of not seeing each other: no topic is off limits. (On second thought, even if girls got to talk 7 days a week, we’d still talk about everything under the sun. It’s just the way we’re wired, I guess.)

Both of us mothers, me to my 3 and she to her 2, we eventually got to talking about the pressure we’ve gotten from some people to practice family planning, preferably artificial. (And without specifically naming who they are, let’s just say we shared the same surprise and disappointment over their position on the matter.) These well-meaning individuals feel it is their responsibility to remind us–educate us–about the difficulties of raising too many kids, or spacing them too close together (I’ve already shared a previous experience of this). While we recognized that their comments were borne out of love and concern for our welfare, we both wondered about the same thing:

Did they really think we were oblivious to the struggles of raising kids, ignorant of the whole concept of child spacing? That, faced with yet another pregnancy sprouting much sooner than planned, we didn’t worry about the health risks, our financial capability, or the daily stress of raising both infant and toddler?

We both agreed: when you’re already struggling and worrying about something, the last thing you want to hear people say is, “Don’t you know how hard it is? Aren’t you worried?!” We do, and we are–and your comments aren’t helping.

No, I don’t think I’ll find it hard at all! *gulp*

In the course of our conversation, it was inevitable that we would talk about my recent miscarriage. I explained how certain features seen on ultrasound led to the conjecture that some chromosomal abnormality was the likely culprit for the failure to reach term. It was nature’s way of participating in the “bigger picture” of survival of the fittest–only those healthy enough to thrive can make it through.

I told her that after losing the twins, I now look at my 3 little angels with a much greater appreciation of how miraculously beautiful they are. Really, a million things could have gone wrong from conception to the rest of 9 months, but for 3 times in my life, a billion things went right. Even children born with congenital abnormalities, when we really think about it, are little miracles; they should be held, and loved, as such.

 

And because life is such a miracle that we cannot even begin to fathom the depth of how a cell divides and differentiates into a being made after the image and likeness of God, we realize that we are in way over our heads when we try to keep a miracle from happening with the use of artificial contraception. When I think about my friends who are desperately trying and praying for a child, the truth that it is God who opens and closes the womb becomes more apparent to me. How our bodies are naturally equipped with means to space births is also a marvel of God’s creative genius. There is a profound sacredness when a womb opens to welcome a fertilized egg, an embryo, a fetus, a life. Who are we to interfere with that? Do we really want to say to God, “Oh no, You don’t! Don’t You go starting another miracle, You hear me?!”

Do you not realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you and whom you received from God? You are not your own property, then; you have been bought at a price. So use your body for the glory of God. –1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Of course we have our weak moments when we worry about having enough, being enough for our children. But when we stop and think about how life comes forth by the hand of God, we are compelled to believe that the same hand will take care of us, and provide us with everything we will ever need.

In The Eyes of the Beholder

Jack, North, Tooth, Bunny and Sandy

Jack, North, Tooth, Bunny and Sandy

Just came home from watching the movie “Rise of the Guardians” with my 5-year-old (loved it!!). I liked the way they presented how each guardian (Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Sandman and of course, Jack Frost) had a center, some specific virtue or value that they defend in and for children: dreams (Sandman), childhood memories (Tooth Fairy), hope (Easter Bunny), wonder (Santa) and fun (Jack Frost…oops, spoiler alert!).

I particularly liked how Santa explained his center. With Jack holding a tiny Matryoshka doll depicting Santa with innocent, wide eyes, he describes how he brings and protects the spirit of wonder in every little child–the ability to see things afresh, to stand back and marvel at the wondrous things around us.

Mysterious Santa, Fierce Santa, Jolly Santa, and Wide-Eyed Santa

Mysterious Santa, Fierce Santa, Jolly Santa, and wide-eyed Santa

In a previous post, I recommended 2 books containing stories of converts to Catholicism. I confess, I’m addicted to these stories about searching, wanting, discovering, and falling in love, stories about stumbling upon Truth, and coming home. Whether that person was born Catholic but took a detour or two along the way, or an inbred Fundamentalist Protestant set in ways that are (usually) biased against the Catholic Church, or even an atheist who has believed more in the world than in God, and yet has found His undeniable presence in the faith of His Church–their stories are like a breath of fresh air, awakening my senses to new ways of appreciating, and embracing, the Catholic faith.

And even in real life (not that the stories I’ve read aren’t real), I cannot help but be fascinated, and attracted, to the stories and perspective of those who weren’t born and bred as I was.

Stories like that of Franz, baptized Catholic but raised as Jehovah’s Witness, taught to despise the ways and beliefs of Catholics, told never to set foot in a church lest she perish in Hell. But still, she found herself searching for Christ’s voice, and hearing it in a humble, Christmas novena mass one fateful December. And now enjoying, devouring, anything and everything Catholic, from novenas to attending daily mass, as if trying to make up for lost time.

Or young Katrina, never formally instructed under any particular religious institution, finally baptized into the Church at age 12. She has been told who Jesus is, and has been raised to do good, but now she has found, for the first time, a real expression of her faith. While learning to catch up with what other Catholics her age already know with regards to the basic tenets of the faith can be overwhelming, I see an eagerness to learn and know, to humbly follow. So nervous and intimidated right before her first confession, she walked out with an unmistakable glow. Her comment a few minutes later, “It was so…refreshing.” Indeed.

"In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven." --Matthew 18:3

“In truth I tell you, unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven.” –Matthew 18:3

Only because it is so easy to fall into the trap of taking things for granted, only because familiarity does, if left unchecked, breed contempt, do I crave to be in the company of those whose eyes have been freshly opened to Beauty. I need to be influenced by their zeal, by their hunger, by their openness…by their wonder.

Hoping that like theirs, my eyes stay as wide open as Santa’s–searching, loving, and always grateful to be home.