Tag Archives: Catholicism

Right and Wrong in Heterodoxy, Orthodoxy, and Culture Wars

This morning, I just sat through a social activism meeting in the basement of a Catholic church, between two different proponents of the culture wars. They were all doing their best to be conciliatory. But no surprise, it wasn’t exactly successful.

It was painful.

I cried later that day about it. Both sides probably felt so dismissed and silenced, or dismissed and judged. I could feel it both ways. I admit I’m not exactly an impartial outsider of the culture wars, but I think I’ve seen enough of both sides to feel both their pain.

Also, I had the awkward advantage of being the only protestant outsider in their tense discussion of their current pope’s views. My faith doesn’t depend on Pope Francis’s theology. It’s a terribly vulnerable thing, having a leader to follow and love and fear for. Communal, shared identities inevitably become battlegrounds, and that is rough on everyone.

I’m not sure if it is worth the fight. Probably it is, I don’t know. But there is something far more important. There comes a point when each one of us must cry out to the Holy Spirit, and then follow our own conscience. In the end, we each will stand before God alone.

For it is written:

As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.


And I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will have to give account of it in the day of judgment.

And again:

Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life.

And the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to what he had done.

We will each stand before God alone. So cry out to God, and then follow your conscience. I’m not saying whatever you do is fine. Of course your choices matter, and matter so incredibly much at that. I am saying, hash it out with Him personally. Talk to Him, fight with Him, talk to Him, cry out to Him, talk to Him. Rage at Him if you must, but don’t stop talking to Him. Then, with fear and yearning, do what you think is right. Because God is righteousness. So do what you think is right, what He wants you to do. Some day you will stand with Him, face to face.

And then you will know, it was always just between the two of you.


Why I am (still) a Protestant

For the past 9.5 years I’ve been sorta planning to become Catholic, or struggling with it, or debating about it. I tried RCIA, and bailed right before Easter. I’ve read the Catechism, certain passages again and again. Went on retreats. Had big debates about Catholicism/Protestantism, with people coming from both traditions. Et cetera, etc. etc.


Finally last February I decided to join next Easter. I told my family, I was set.


And then, this summer, I realized I couldn’t. I’ve said that before, but deep down I was planning to become Catholic, someday. Some day I’d scrape up the gumption, tie my head into the right knot, convince myself just enough to swear the oaths without perjury, jump in and swim the Tiber.


But now I’m certain I never will ‘swim the Tiber’. I am certain with a calm, peaceful certainty. I know I am a Protestant with the same certainty that I know I am a woman. I was born a protestant, and I’ll die a protestant. That is how it will be. It is who I am, and I know it now.

It is very simple, really. You see, if I was an atheist or a Hindu, then the transition, the shift from:

Atheism –> Catholic Christianity

Hinduism –> Catholic Christianity

would not entail a rejection of Protestant Christianity. This conversion would not be a rejection of the faith of Luther or Calvin or Abraham Kuiper or John Teselle. But a “conversion” from:

Protestant Christianity –> Catholic Christianity

by its very nature, would entail precisely such a rejection.


And the honest truth is, I don’t think Luther was wrong. (OK, yeah, very wrong about his attitude to Jews and Peasants and the purported anti-christ and the Mass), but he was not wrong about a very fundamental thing: that the Bride of Christ, the Church, ultimately answers to God Alone. Not the upper echelons of her own administration. That an individual soul doesn’t “need” the higher administration folks to reach God, to hear His voice, to do what is right and just. Actually, sometimes (unfortunately too often) an individual soul has to ignore and disobey the upper administration folks to reach God, to hear His voice, and to do what is right and just.

And the truth of the matter is, no matter how I hem or haw around the issue, that is the truth of it. No matter how much I like papal teachings or can criticize the many errors of Calvinism… I still believe that.


But wait, you are thinking, most Catholics don’t believe that about the upper administration anymore. Vatican II’s Dignitatis Humanae and JP2’s Catechism teach that too, the importance of the individual conscience. So if they teach that now, then you can believe all that and be a good Catholic. Right? OK, that is fine, but you were born Catholic. To be a Catholic Christian, you don’t have to embrace everything some pope said in the sixteenth century, or some bull from the thirteenth century. But if I “convert” from Protestant Christian –> Catholic Christian, I am by the very fact of my “conversion”, categorically saying that that the sixteenth-century Protestant offshoot was wrong for being an offshoot. Oh, I know they were wrong about so many things, their iconoclasm, their state churches, their occasional defamation/blasphemy of sacred things, and their surrenders to rationalism and (what would become) materialist modernism and naked individualism… But they were not wrong for listening to God’s voice within their interior temple, their conscience, rather than the upper administration. Perhaps they were wrong about so many other things, ok. But they were right about that.


If you are a Catholic Christian nowadays, you can believe that too, and it is fine. But you aren’t making the shift from protestant–>catholic, you aren’t renouncing the protestant reformation/schism because you never had an affiliation to it.


But I do. And for me… I would have to “convert”. I don’t even like using that word. Going between different strands of Christianity (Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox) shouldn’t be called “converting” anyway. It is not. We all have the same Christ.


So that is the long and short of it. My blood and bones are protestant, because I believe that the interior conscience is categorically more sacred than any ecclesiastical authority, and that is just the way it is. I’ll always admire and respect Catholicism all my life. I’ll always feel that longing for their sacraments, as I kneel in the pew and watch others take and eat.


But we worship the same Christ, and we are more together than we admit, even now. And we will all admit our togetherness when we are finally all gathered together in Him, “up there.”

Heart glad and hope high

Christ is the centre, not the Successor of Peter…Christ is the reference point at the heart of the Church, without Him, Peter and the Church would not exist”….

“Truth, Goodness and Beauty…We are not called to communicate ourselves, but this trinity…the Church exists to communicate Truth, Goodness and Beauty”.

“…not everyone present belongs to the Catholic faith and others do not believe...I respect the conscience of each one of you, knowing that each one of you is a Child of God.
May God bless you”.

—Pope Francis I

He is talking about not making gerunds. I never thought I’d see this…

I’m used to the dichotomized Catholic world, divided peculiarly into two camps. There are the devout who truly believe, believe in ancient faith and holy traditions, who bow before Presence, who sing in Latin, carrying their many bright-eyed children to the altar of God, kneeling before something Holy and Beautiful and Terrible and Greater than themselves.

There is a steadfastness of heart there. A bulwark against the ravages of other things. And yes, in that distance and austere splendor, a moment of true silence, a deep comfort, like cold water from an ancient well. For all my differences, there is something there that others cannot give. They hold on to All That Has Been Lost in this age of empty modernism, their hands cling firmly, come hell and high water. Their grip is firm, the knuckles white, holding on.

But their hands can sometimes…sometimes also be rigid and closed, more intent upon holding on than on receiving, too afraid to let slip what can so easily be lost. Oh I know they have good reason to fear, for innocence and faith and hope are fragile, fragile things. Tear the fabric, and the whole weave shall unravel. One’s own soul is, as, Thomas More put it (in A Man For All Seasons), “held in a man’s cupped hands like water…and if he should spread his fingers….”

But all the same, their hands can become closed. And sometimes blind to a part of God’s truth within those with whom they disagree. For all Truth is God’s truth, it is too great a thing to become divided up and possessed. If something is truly True, than it should be so, regardless of the teller, be he Protestant or Muslim or Buddhist. Precisely because one’s creed is true, one does not possess it, one has no monopoly upon it. (Which, btw, was Paul VI’s point when he refused to use his papal powers to update things, “Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful” because she does not have that power.)

And then there are the ‘open-minded’ ones, they are welcoming and inclusive. To my joy they were OK with me being Protestant…but also OK with you being Buddhist…and Wiccan…and OK if you don’t know much about Jesus or yourself or holiness or love and it is so OK that they should let it stay that way and never tell you anything about Him…and everything is so OK that nothing really matters… And so the temple becomes as reasonable and as empty as the rest of this hollow modern world.

There is a 1973 movie, titled “Catholics” or “The Conflict,” that pretty much nails the topic–the rigidity and fragility of the traditionalists, the velvet imperialism and hollowness of the revisionists. (Link on youtube here)

Both sides get half of it…

Now there is Pope Francis.

Some conservatives are panicking, because they think he is saying, “I respect you, so you are all OK, haha, truth isn’t objective, it can be whatever you want to make it, like a play-doh ball everyone can squish any way they want–according to their personal preference.”

I don’t think that is what he is saying. I think he is saying, “the Truth is so objectively real (outside of ourselves) that we have no monopoly on Him. Truth incarnate calls the shots, not us.”

When I first heard about his anti-gerund and Christ-the-center comment, I lost control from joy, shouting and leaping about. The bright Alabama sunlight was poured out on the kitchen floor, that dear old linoleum kitchen floor. Half a dozen of my siblings were there, laughing. My father smiled.

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like men who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

What We Have Lost (or ‘what is kinda wrong with Protestantism’)

These are some things I realized in undergrad, when I had to sort through my faith and deal with doubt, etc. Part 1 and Part 2 of that story are here.

CAVEAT: What I am about to say does NOT apply to all current Protestants or the Protestant Reformers. Many are not this extreme…I don’t mean it is exactly what they believe—but it is where the thinking/behaving ends up leading. It’s a tendency, a gravitational pull, that does not necessarily always end up there, though sometimes does….and I am picking and choosing among many different types of Protestantism, stereotyping, and generalizing in order to convey a ‘feeling’ or a ‘trend’. I am very sorry for the tone of this section, it is not good for me to bash Christians, and if I was a better writer I could communicate this better, but I’m not.

    (1) Localized Holiness: They had discarded holy water and holy places and holy oil and holy blood and holy days and holy relics—because, because God was transcendent and omnipresent and must not be limited. Everywhere is special, everything created by God is blessed—but only God is holy. So defending the transcendence of God, these iconoclasts destroyed all other loci of holiness….and here five hundred years later we were left with a purely non-material ‘holy’ so far and distant, that it was easily banished across the Kantian divide…all the supernatural is neatly tucked away on the other side of that divide, stuck in a little ghetto of our mental universe….and thus everyday life had no ‘magical’ element. The church ‘sanctuary’ was ‘just a building’, the baptismal water was ‘just’ a symbol, etc…and the faith—now with all supernatural elements safely distant on the other side of the Kantian divide…could so easily be swept under the rug, or permanently exiled when it became unfashionable. And so in the early twentieth century….it was such an easy thing to let go of the supernatural for Modernism, for a respectable ‘Christianity’ that was now just a watchmaker Deist God, with no embarrassment of miracles. They had eliminated any working definition of holiness, and definition of the spiritual which could impinge upon the physical. So the supernatural realm could be easily banished, because for all intents and purposes, they had already been practicing a crypto-materialism.

    (2) Trashing Tradition: And that leads to another point—mocking tradition, defying authority, pushing for a purely individual intellectual quest for Truth in the Bible alone….and yes they found the truth of the Gospel then. But “the means can conquer the message”, and that contempt for the past, the traditions of the past, the glorification of individual human reason…..how easily it led to the triumph of Atheism, of Modernism, of Postmodernism. A new generation of iconoclasts turned on the inheritance of the Protestant Reformers in turn (Christian morality and the Word of God) and trashed that too—claiming, in the same tenor, that that too was from ancient medieval traditions (which was true).  Amsterdam printed polemic pamphlets attacking the faith of the Roman Catholic Church, and then Amsterdam printed pamphlets attacking all faith….(the New England Pilgrims had originally fled to Holland for religious freedom, but left for America because their own kids were losing the faith for secularism there)…. I don’t mean to simplify history, there was much good and faith accomplished and thriving holiness….but these things—iconoclasm/blasphemy, schism, rebellion—the swagger and the demolishing of tradition and the sacred–can turn in on itself, a positive feedback loop screeching into the microphone with a life of its own, repeating again and again, and the ‘means’ conquers the ‘message’. I am not saying one should never ‘move the ancient boundary stone’—but when it is done, there are many inevitable and unintended consequences. And the ‘moving of the ancient boundary stone’ should NEVER become something that is in turn glorified and institutionalized.

    (3) Redemptive Suffering: Ironically, this drive to downplay Mary, downplay the Eucharist in the Mass, downplay the Saints…was all originally in order to emphasize the power of Christ’s Redemptive Suffering—once and for all—on the Cross.

    But it turned in on itself, and undermined the very thing it meant to uphold….it ended with the empty cross (a mere geometrical pattern) and a dull symbolic snack (“its just bread and juice, but in it we remember…”) and—a Christian pragmatism, a definition of the Christian life that only had meaning for a Christian’s success (for God)…and no meaning for our suffering, failure, and emptiness. Our suffering had no point other than a stoic heroism, there was no need—no point—for our own bleeding and our own tears. An empty faith. Even Christ’s physical suffering was eventually downplayed, the crucifix removed, any bloody picture of him making us squirm awkwardly, and talk vaguely about justification.

    And for our own human lives, this pragmatism. Suffering endured for a clear, good objective was great (the missionaries converted many souls, the martyrs who impressed many bystanders)—but it was for the goal alone. There was nothing intrinsically valuable, sacred, with the suffering itself. There was no place for our ordinary human sufferings, our ordinary human emptiness. One should succeed for God, be a glorious missionary or a happy family unit. The mentally retarded and the celibate and the powerless, well—God loves you too—but there is nothing inherently worthy in your suffering—we must keep the barrier between Christ’s Atonement and human sufferings clearly demarcated, we mustn’t fall into the cult of saints or medieval penances or love of suffering. It was all so…common sense. No place for ‘senseless’ suffering. Priests and monks and nuns—what was the point, a wasted sacrifice.

    But in doing so…they stripped out the heart of the Christian faith. Christ suffered for our sins on the cross…and each one of our Christian lives is the way of the cross…to follow him. Yes, he gives us gladness and life and victory, and we should rightly rejoice in his grace and blessing…and yet God also gives us times of ‘senseless’ suffering, with no glory and no seeming goal but to suffer…emptiness and miscarriage and unemployment and loneliness. And in there is his heart, we find His breath in our lungs, His heart in ours, and suddenly realize that somehow, this too, is united in Christ’s suffering, to make All Things New.

    Suffering is sacred. Christ did bleed. We do eat God’s flesh, this god-man sacrifice, and in it have life. Yes, its bloody and shocking and gruesome—but that is the point—He is Holy, the flame before Mount Sinai, this fire, this God, this love. The saints have suffered, and followed Him, and they are more holy than us, and open the path for us and urge us on. Holy water is holy, and relics do heal.

    And ignoring the holiness of Mary and the saints and our own individual suffering…does not automatically ensure the primacy of our understanding of the suffering Christ as the only redeemer of the world—rather, it makes us…forget what redemption even is.

    And to reject sacred symbols and images (nevermind secular ones crowd our homes), to reject the localized holiness (in relics or places or human beings) in order to remember the transcendent….is counterproductive. Because that is not the way the human heart and mind work. If “everyone is special” then “nobody is”.

Let me explain—everyone is sacred and beloved—but to grasp this, the human heart must love and treasure and revere a person, a specific one, …and then once you know that…then realize that it extends to all. Only in revering the icon, the tabernacle, does one learn to revere humankind. At least, that was how it was for me. We need the symbol, the specific, before we can understand the general. Our minds do not grasp the omnipresence of God immediately. First teach us to revere the sanctuary of the church, and then after learning that, we learn that in all the universe, God is. We must be given the Israelites’ pillar of fire first.

That is why Luther’s cry, “the priesthood of all believers” could inspire him and other sixteenth century Christians so deeply, and feel their worth and sanctity—it was because they knew what a priest was (from the Roman Catholic tradition). Five hundred years later….the phrase means absolutely nothing to modern Protestants. So far removed from the Eastern-Orthodox/Roman-Catholic traditional church…we don’t even know what that means anymore. In an effort to not ‘limit’ or ‘localize’ the sacred…we have lost the sacred. The inheritance has been spent.

my crush on the Catholic Church, part 2

This is part of a post about why I had a crush on the Catholic Church and why Protestantism didn’t cut it. Part 1 is here

  At college I’d come to realize that there is a major takeover going on, of the Spiritus Mundi (or what Edmund Burke called “the Armed Doctrine” when it first manifested itself in the French Revolution). It is a secularist, materialist, utilitarian creed, that has come to wrest the children from ‘religious fanaticism’, and lead them to the Kingdom-of-Man-On-Earth, for the good of all of us (except the ones who are dead).  Jacobins, Enlightenment folks (Napoleon), National Socialists, Communists, American Leftists, New Atheists….it was the same. They wanted our souls, wanted us to help them kill God and build their paradise.

  Respectable modern Kant-divided Protestant Christianity has little strength for this struggle: it was not enough for me. I needed religion that was physical and medieval, holy water and the bleeding body of Christ. Real faith.

    I’ll try to explain: Main-stream Modern Protestantism had given too much ground, had abandoned ‘medieval aspects’ and in so doing had lost too much, too much that was needed—(perhaps less needed in the sixteenth century-)–but now desperately needed in the twenty-first century. Without meaning to, they have denied physical (localized) holiness, they have denied tradition, they have denied redemptive suffering within the Christian life itself.

    It wasn’t just Catholicism that made me realize these things. What also opened my eyes was second semester Freshman Year I took a Medieval Russian History class, which turned out to be basically Eastern Orthodoxy 101, taught by a wistful Soviet-raised agnostic. It was an amazing class—we were talking about icons (which I had thought of as ‘pagan survivals’), and she said simply “When you are far from home—don’t you kiss photographs of your parents?” My jaw dropped—because I had, instinctively kissed my cellphone with the that wallet photo of my family taped to it—exactly like an Icon.  Also—we read about kenoticism, and Saints Boris & Gleb– “the holy sufferers”. And holy fools (who were often just mentally retarded—but treated with reverence as God’s beloved ones.) The truth of it all struck me with force.

 Next Post on what is kinda wrong with Protestantism

my crush on the Catholic Church

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to become Catholic. There is too much of their beliefs I don’t agree with. But this is how they stole my heart.

Freshman Year was rough—I was in a Biochemistry program at the time and it didn’t help that the director of the program had a mandatory ‘class’ Freshman year where he spent class periods rambling about the stupidity of religious folk (all the ills of the world came from the British Empire & Catholic church, etc), details of our presumably active mating practices, and the ascendancy of atheism. He made us read strident atheist literature. (Trying to be ‘intellectually honest’ I read some New Atheist literature—it wasn’t rational, it was just an emotional assault.). The  emotional/existential onslaught of it all was a bit overwhelming at times. My sister was firmer than me. She wasn’t in the Biochem program, and I was the one always trying so hard to appear rational, reasonable, etc. Of course it wasn’t just the professors, but the fellow students. Every double entendre, anatomical reference, every contemptuous jab at religious/moral folk…it all seemed to me at the time an attack on The Order of Things as I had known them. I would stutter, try to smile, flee. I would go to my room and cry. I hid in my room a lot. At this time, a number of fellow homeschool families’ children (my age) started acting up, leaving the faith, having relationship issues. It seemed to be crumbling on all sides.

But something else shook me up a lot more. UPenn is a bit of a party school. And I was homeschooled since age 8, and grew up without a TV, reading Lord of the Rings and bottle- feeding half a dozen younger siblings. That was my world. I knew about “world views” and “liberals”, etc, but it was a distant/theoretical thing. Now suddenly me and my twin were in the middle of a culture of subwoofers, condoms, beer and vomit…. It was a shock. All the dorms were were coed—completely, mixed floors (and some bathrooms too), so that element was impossible not to see. The campus hook-up culture shook up my faith the most.

Just witnessing the de-sanctifying of human flesh somehow de-sanctified the whole universe. I’ll try to explain. The blasphemy of it all…the vomit, the “i was so trashed I just remember the color of his shirt“, the loud laughter over anatomy as if was just meat…it was too overwhelming, threatening the Order of Things as I knew.

Because it denied the sanctity of human flesh, and thus the sanctity of a human being. And if the human being had no sacred-ness, then there was no Soul, no Spirit, and no God himself. Because if sex isn’t sacred, than what is?

The existence of God, spirit, and beauty, all hung in the balance.

It wasn’t a rational argument that was shaking me…it was just the weight of it all. I can explain it now—but I couldn’t then, because it wasn’t a conscious thing, not a logical/rational argument, it had nothing to do with propositions or syllogisms; and had everything to do with Symbol, with Ritual. At the time, all I could say was that I was in room full of black smoke, and it was getting into my lungs and nose and mouth. I didn’t admit I was terribly shaken, I claimed I was fine, just a little troubled….

Nowhere before did I need something physical, something to hold onto in all of this. A homesickness for something outside of all this. Something clean. I remember weeping, for of all things, my mother’s tired face (her health wasn’t well at the time), I just wanted to touch her face.

I taped a wallet photo of my family to my cellphone, and held it in my hand even while sleeping, I found myself kissing it and pressing it to my heart, as it to draw strength. I also had a small child’s rosary (a fellow homeschooling catholic friend had given it to me—I kept it as a souvenir, but had never used it). Without even meaning to, I took it and held it in my hand, pressed it to my face, my eyes, my forehead, kissed it and cried.

A couple days after that, me and my twin went for the first time on the March For Life. Our struggling Penn for Life group was all of half a dozen people, we were a ‘secular’ club, but everyone in it (except for me and my twin) were Catholic. For the March, we rode the bus with the Newman Center.

There were three priests on the bus, they had the kids pray the rosary. Before the March, we went to the National Shrine, they were having mass, it was packed, we walked in as they were saying “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.” Just seeing so many declaring the truth of my faith, tears (of relief?). The priest quietly led us into a side chapel, an image of Mary. The holy statues, the burning of the candles, declaring allegiance to a Sacred realm. The priests gathered our group together, prayed for us, for our generation, for America, to see the light of Christ, the sanctity of the human life. Prayers similar to those my mother would pray at breakfast, back at home.

We went out to the mall. We stood for several hours as the people assembled, I looked up and saw the thousands as far as my eye could see coming, declaring allegiance to the existence of the Holy, and a rejection of ‘all that’ shaking me up at UPenn. It might seem strange to say that affirming the personhood of the fetus gave me strength to hold on the creed of Jesus Christ, but it was all connected for me. ‘All that’–this Spiritus Mundi–was the same thing by different names (Abortion, ultilitarianism, new atheism, materialism, campus hook-up culture). Now, none of this rationally crossed my mind at the time, I just wept.

I had expected a political protest, fuelled by a decent amount of indignant anger, the rights of Americans, the good of society, etc. Instead, all around me, crucifixes, banners of Mary, nineteenth century images of flaming hearts, thorn-pierced and bleeding, and roses and fire, the Christchild holding a white lamb, all these things, carried by parishes of SouthEast Asian immigrants, speaking with heavy accents, monks and nuns, Hispanic priests. It was religious yes, medieval religious. No attempt to look rational, reasonable, modern American. The signs, quotes from the pope “Every human life is willed and beloved of God”, “sacred”… “sanctity”…. “Jesus was a fetus!”…(at first, this last one made me cringe when I thought of my UPenn Professors..how was THAT going to win an argument?) And there was a white middle-aged woman with a wistful smile, who tearfully thanked me for being there (I think I was around the age of what her child would have been). It was wet and cold, but there were those in wheel-chairs, down syndrome children on their father’s shoulders—here they all were, the malformed, mentally-retarded, the medieval-religious, the celibate, the misfits, the third world, the ‘unintelligent’…the very thing so scorned by my Penn professors and savvy classmates. The procession, all rain coats and nose blowings, hobbling/walking/pushing along, surged through the tidy streets of the Capitol, bearing the banners and the crucifixes.

I was swept along by the force of it all. There were groups of squirrely junior high (parish?) schools, chanting about how they loved babies. The immigrant parishes. Other parishes—blue collar and plain. The nuns and the monks—Orthodox (with their big beards) and Catholic. Ordinary folk, older folk with white hair, younger families dragging along their small
children. So much…singing of…rosaries and the chaplet of divine mercy. We ended up near another pro-life College group, from Steubenville. They were singing… “Lion of Judah on the throne”. Hannah and me joined in. I dropped any pretense of this being a purely political protest.

This was about God. About the existence of the Sacred, the Holy.

The feeling of the crowd was so strong….one of repentance. Broken, weeping, love, calling out to…God. This was not a political protest, it was a pilgrimage. A witness. We finally arrived at the Supreme court steps, fenced off from us, towering above us the policemen in their sharp uniforms with their arms folded and their sunglasses. The spanking white building of with “EQUAL JUSTICE UNDER LAW” proudly stated. On the other side of the barrier, below, crucifixes and praying, images of weeping Christ and nineteenth century hearts and thorns and fire and Mary. We fell in among a Spanish-speaking parish, the priest was standing before his kneeling, praying congregation. Hannah and me kneeled too. He sprinkled Holy Water on us all, the weeping. I think they were praying the Rosary in Spanish. They gave my twin and me holy cards (sacred heart, Mary and Christ’s). Someone was handing out roses, we placed them at the bottom step of the Supreme Court, our hands through the fences.

Eventually, our group made it back to Union Station, and the National Shrine. We wandered about the chapels of the shrine, there were masses. There was an aryan Christchild doll, crowned—royalist, sentimental, ahistorical, objectified (the very things I had most reacted to in Catholicism.) But as I looked at it, grace poured through suddenly, and I saw it for what it was. “Jesus was a fetus” rang in my ears. There, up on the archway of the crypt chapel, “AND THE WORD WAS MADE FLESH”.

Everything I was seeing with new eyes. This whole time, starting with the march, I felt…something, something was flowing from God, flowing onto his people, these Catholics. Flowing yes, through the flaming hearts and the Marian banners and the Christchild. The point of all this—Making sacred the human race, through the Incarnation. Through suffering, His and ours. Sacred. Yes, the fetus, yes the child, yes the womb. The Blessed Virgin. We needed her, we needed the christchild. All of this wasn’t some nineteenth-century sentimental mush. This wasn’t alien, this was directly for now. It was the answer in symbol, in flesh, incarnate. Ritual to answer ritual, symbol to answer symbol. It was the answer, answer to the assault/charge of UPenn/World. I looked at the images, saw what they meant, these crowns and halos and gold and faces…pouring through these things, the heart of the Gospel, the reality of Christ himself, this… this grace, this rain, this incarnation. I wept. Prayed for America, for people, knelt on the kneelers, lit candles.

In the gift shop, I found a picture of a woman in blue kneeling, with a shining light coming from her face and womb. On the back was this prayer, “To Our Lady of the Unborn O Mary, mother of the unborn, protect the gift of human life which your divine Son has allowed to be given. Give strength and joy to all parents, as they await the birth of the precious child they have conceived. Give courage to those who are fearful, calm those who are anxious, and guide all of us with your motherly care, to treasure and protect the miraculous gift of human life. We ask all this through your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

It made sense now. And yet—there was nothing triumphalist about it, It wasn’t like my usual infatuations with ideals/nationalities/etc which I habitually set up on pedestals and idealize.

The Catholics here were not on some pedestal, weren’t somehow triumphantly right, shining with starlight and romanticism. No, it was rather….His people….God pouring out himself on his people, they the supplicants, ordinary humans with problems, broken and sinning and weeping, and yet….testifying to Him, calling to Him (yes, through all the flaming hearts and christchild dolls and banners and holy water and marian statues)…and he was pouring his Grace through these things. There was a humbleness in it, a grace, a rain. Because…here in the capitol they were willing to be the ‘foolishness of man’ for Him. It was their finest hour.

We got on the bus, dozing off through the night, arriving around midnight. I remember waking up on the bus, feeling the peace, this presence of prayers about me—I knew the priests were praying for us. When Hannah and me got back to campus, we were pumped. Our
international Chinese friend showed up a couple days after the March, asking for us to give her a crash course on Christianity before the biblestudy started next week on the gospel of Mark. It was a couple hours—we started with creation and ended with the second coming. Somehow, as it all tumbled out—I knew I believed again. Something outside myself pouring in. That close of January 2007 was a high point.

The rest of the semester passed by, my emotions faded, the doubts came crowding back. I was still being shaken in my ‘biochem’ class and in the goings-on in the dorms. My sister got concerned about my faith—I blew up on her, told her I was fine. We finished our freshman year, the week after finals Hannah went to a bible camp with our evangelical biblestudy. I didn’t go—I made up some excuse, but I was troubled again. Our family was coming up to fetch us the next week, so I spent that time with my paternal grandparents. My paternal grandfather is a great (nonfiction) reader, he suggested I read John Paul II’s biography (one of his heroes). I picked up his copy of “Witness to Hope”, cracked it open in the middle, read a few things about his theology, and skipped to the beginning and read a bit about the communists. It was interesting, but I didn’t feel like reading.

Then the family came—and my little sister brought me a blue plastic rosary. They burst out giggling when they gave it to me. Apparently, I was “Bekah, the Catholic”. It was half a joke, but half-serious, she had thought it was pretty at the Hispanic thrift store, bought it, and decided I could have it. Like a foreign souvenir, I carefully tucked it away. I didn’t use it—I still thought ‘praying to Mary and saints’ was not something I should do (though I had done it a few times on the March)….

I came home. The next two weeks my nerves were on edge, I blew up on people. So I knew I was disturbed, a quite anguish inside. I went to the basement and shut the door, lay on the floor. I face it, felt dizzy. What if….what if…Christianity wasn’t true? What if I just believed because of my family, my homeschool culture? What if my Biochem professor, and the New Atheists were right? Was this just…a beautiful dream I wanted to believe? I felt like I was standing on the edge of an abyss. The overwhelming convincingness of that alternate reality, there was this blackness that opened up, the universe void of God. I couldn’t run back. I felt dizzy and scared. This wasn’t something I could explain to anyone, or get rid of by rational argument. It was just this overwhelming feeling. I mumbled something to my family, I knew I was disturbed.

And then at the end of May 2007, I had this dream. It was our stressed homeschool moms trying to get us ready for church tomorrow. There was another Homeschool protestant family there, whose children were having second thoughts about Christianity. Our mothers were stressed, the house was a mess, broken casserole dish…and in middle of it, I looked, and there was John Paul II in a golden robe, watching our generation, praying for us. In my dream I knew, I realized—of course, he is praying for the faith of my generation. For us, especially for us, and for me in this crisis. I came up to him shyly, offered him my rosary to bless, he did, in a foreign language with a thick accent. I woke up that morning with a strong sense of peace. It didn’t go away.

It was “just” a dream, but…I don’t know, it was more than that too, at least, it wasn’t an ordinary dream. I bought “Crossing the Threshold of Hope” that summer, and read it carefully, soaking in the basic tenets of the Christian faith. I knew it already of course, but reading his words gave me strength, peace. I printed out some pictures of him, taped them inside my bible and by my bed.

Continued in Part 2