Monthly Archives: August 2015

Catholics in culture

I was reading a conversion story a while ago, I can’t remember where, but the convert said that when she was growing up Protestant, she always wanted to be a Catholic. It had to do with the culture, and the tradition, and that sense that there’s something going on where you’re on the outside of a great big club and they all know something you don’t know…

I know what she means. Even when I was a Protestant and believed that the Catholic Church was one step away from (or possible a full-fledged) cult, I was wished that it wasn’t. I wished that they were right, because they had all this cool stuff: a world-wide organization, traditions that went back centuries, whole cultures where everybody did and believed the same things,  more holidays than I could ever figure out, and, again, that nagging feeling that all that stuff was significant in a way that I couldn’t understand.

And this wasn’t because I knew any Catholics, because the circles we travelled in were not overrun with them. It was from passing references in popular culture: not explicitly Catholic things, just authors who happened to be Catholic, and so populated their books with characters who just happened to be Catholic.

These are some of the authors and books that tweaked my interest in Catholicism long before I could ever have seriously considered it:

Mary Higgins Clark: A very popular author of mystery books, her characters talked about going to Mass instead of church, visited old Catholic churches in New York City as a matter of course, and were otherwise perfectly normal people. Some of my pre-conceptions that Catholics were all ignorant, poverty-stricken denizens of Third World countries who just didn’t know any better were shaken.

Dean Koontz: Kinda same things as above: without being explicit or preachy, his characters have priests for friends and go to Mass and Catholic school and are just normal people. Well, Dean Koontz’s characters are rarely normal, but you know what I mean.

Judge Benjamin, Superdog by Judith Whitlock McInerney: When I was a kid, I really loved dogs and animals and read every kids’ book about them I could find. I read most of the Judge Benjamin books, which are about a St. Bernard and his family, who happen to be Catholic. Judge Benjamin mentioning it in passing was probably the first time I had heard of the rosary. And when a new baby was born, they had her baptized, and it didn’t seem like anything crazy, it was just what they did.

I guess it’s just funny, the stuff that you notice in passing growing up, not realizing how significant all those little things are going to seem later… Was it Chesterton who said that it was all a giant conspiracy?

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A prayer in adversity

Yesterday I was talking to an old acquaintance who’s going through some stuff that makes my piddly little problems seem, well, piddly and little.

I felt really bad for him and wanted to do something to help, and since there’s nothing I can actually do to help, I looked up prayers for comfort in suffering in an old Catholic prayer book I found at the used bookstore.

It reminded me that Catholics have a different view of suffering than the rest of the world; something that I haven’t quite been able to get a handle on. Some Catholic doctrines are like the English constitution: it exists, and everybody lives by it, but it’s not actually written down anywhere, so it’s hard for an outsider to figure it out. But it is reflected in their prayers about suffering.

In adversity:

Merciful master of life, to Thee I lift up my heart, to Thee I raise my eyes in childlike confidence, for from Thee come consolation and salvation. O giver of every good gift, Lord of all, Thou does send sorrows or joys, poverty or wealth, humiliations or honors, sickness or health, life or death, just as Thy goodness and justice and wisdom demand. Certainly Thou wouldst withhold the thorns of this life if I could attain my eternal life without them. Unalloyed bliss is the portion of the blessed in heaven. While a pilgrim on this earth, I may not have complete happiness until I merit by the trials of a long probation to enjoy it in eternity.

How many are the gifts Thous hast given me in the past! Should I not bear adverse days with patience and drink the bitter chalice if Thy hand offers it to me? O infinite Wisdom, Thou canst judge beyond my understanding what will bring me safe to Thee.

Or can I entertain the thought that I deserve a better lot, that sufferings are not my due? God gave me everything that I own. If He reclaims what is His, can I complain?

Let me be consoled, O God, when Thou dost refuse my requests which might, if they were granted, do me harm. Thou knowest we are not made for this earth, and that temporal welfare is not our highest goal. And Thou alone dost know the hour when we must part from earth.

Though my life should be fraught with sorrow, what is its length beside the unending reaches of eternity? The time will come when sorrow will be turned to joy. Now, indeed, I tread a path that is obscured by darkness. Yet with Thee, O divine Leader of mankind, I know that I am safe. Shouldest Thou keep back Thy favors for a time, I will not be dismayed. I will wait in patience as long as it pleases Thee.

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” From this I know Thou wilt hear me and wilt not try me beyond my strength. Thou art my Savior, whose love ever watches over me.

O Lord, take everything from me except the confidence I have in Thee and the lesson Thou didst teach by Thy choice of innumerable pains of body and soul in preference to the royal state that could have been Thine. Let me follow Thee most constantly, even on the bloody path to Golgotha.


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Babies at Mass

Personally, I find babies at Mass to be very distracting.

Sorry, Father, but your homily will always lose out to a three-month-old Filipino baby with spiky hair, huge black eyes, and a grin that’s all gums.


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Feast day: St. Alphonsus Liguori

Today is the feast day of St. Alphonsus Maria de’Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He lived in Italy in the 1800s, was a scholar and prolific author (still in print in English!), and founded the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. He is the patron saint of confessors, those suffering from arthritis, and, slightly less well known, those suffering from scrupulosity.

I think I mentioned previously that a significant part of my decision to leave Protestant Christianity several years ago was a severe case of scrupulosity (although I didn’t know it at the time). I was continually obsessed with my sins, despaired that I would ever be able to do anything right, and lost all perspective and understanding of God’s love and grace (which is something I STILL struggle with).

Eventually, the constant, crushing guilt was too much, and I finally decided that enough was enough. I became a Deist, and experienced instant relief at the idea that God wasn’t hovering over me every minute, waiting to smite me to hell because of a minor mistake. It was the first time in years that I could consider the idea that God didn’t hate me and wanted to punish me.

When I first started looking into the Catholic Church, I knew that the only way I was going to be able to stay in Christianity was if I was able to control my scrupulosity. I did some research, and happened upon St. Alphonsus, who suffered from scrupulosity himself. I was already excited by the idea that I could ask “Hall of Fame” Christians to pray for me, and St. Alphonsus was the first one whom I petitioned early and often for help. I have a St. Alphonsus medal on my rosary, and every time I say it, I include a prayer to him for aid.

I have to say that in the last 16 months or so that I’ve been on my way into the Catholic Church, scrupulosity is one thing that has really not bothered me. Yay for intercessors in heaven!

St. Alphonsus Liguori, pray for us!

Resource: A Redemptorist community in Missouri publishes a “Scrupulous Anonymous” newsletter, and has some other articles and things about scrupulosity.

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