Is that a question?
I’ve done very little research for this ongoing series of questions. (You’ve noticed?) I figured that, if you can’t drag a dredge through a life in its late fifties and scrape up at least a little content then, good grief, what were all those miles for? And besides, I don’t really know how to handle quotations and attributions. To say nothing of the semi-colon; someday I should learn.
Twice the Gospels record a curious statement from Jesus, which I take to mean that ultimate things are “hidden from the wise and understanding and revealed to babes.” Heaven knows I am not among the “wise and understanding,” and though I hope there is nothing juvenile in my probings, I do aspire to the childlike in my questions and explorations. And, as with a kid, may those questions be with few inhibitions. And may they be thoughtfully and kindly relentless. What the world needs now, it seems to me.
Perhaps only at the end of this world will there finally be the proper orientation of all things. Maybe our souls, if we have them, long for that consummation above all other yearnings, even as we fear the day. As a kid I wondered why anyone would avoid a search for God if there is possibly a God to be discovered. Why would one choose to live independently of that consideration? Made no sense to me. And so I dig around. And maybe in the process grace makes its way toward me. And perhaps this is the most marvelous thing.
What do I believe? I believe in the historic Christian message. I believe in the person of Jesus Christ, Son of Man, Son of God, Savior of the world. I believe that this believing is a placement of trust, rather than a mere assent to what may be the facts surrounding his existence two thousand years ago. It is a throwing in of one’s lot. A hoping and a confessing and a grasping and a cherishing. And I have trusted this Jesus, not because it brings me peace, which it does. And not because it can carry difficulty and sometimes permit confusion, which it does and will. And not because there are not dark nights of the soul, because there are. And not because I receive forgiveness, which I believe I have received and do receive. And not because in a walk with Jesus there is embedded purpose, which I’m persuaded there is.
No, in the end I believe in the Christian message because I'm convinced that what it claims about Jesus in time, space, dimension, history is actually so — that the message is in fact true. And wouldn't that be something? Yes, it seems to me that when all is said and done the problem with the Christian message is that it’s true. And therefore, for any person, it becomes the most wonderful of troubles with which to cope.
I have been a believing person since my youth. And though I have never suffered from chronic happiness, a full body scan would likely reveal deep veins of contentment and deposits of joy. To say nothing of laugh lines. But my writing here tends to express my specifically Catholic journey, which for me emerged in earnest at mid-life. My itinerary developed over time, and I suggest it, or something similar. In the end you may arrive at another destination, but I think I can promise that you will unearth considerations that had not occurred to you. There’s a danger in that of course. But, as you and I have always said, since when has a truth seeker ever needed to be afraid?
Here’s what I did, and I recommend it — search “Catholic conversion stories.” You’ll find months of stuff to poke around in. And give the personal stories themselves room to be important in this process. Beyond that, follow the links and threads and references. There will be plenty to sit with and walk with and argue with and consider. Not surprisingly I also read a lot of Catholic writers, many themselves converts. Authors whom one doesn’t normally encounter as a Protestant, only because they’re not usually part of the conversation. Some of the writers who influenced me were Thomas Howard, Richard John Neuhaus, G. K. Chesterton, John Henry Newman, Ronald Knox, Arnold Lunn, Romano Guardini, Walker Percy, Hilaire Belloc, and James V. Schall (born in Pocahontas, Iowa, so what’s not to like?).
And please, Flannery O’Connor is reason enough to become a Catholic.
What I came in touch with increasingly satisfied my mind and moved my heart, seeming both of reason and mystery. History unfolding, bearing the marks of the promised keeping of God. A place of rest and substance, offered even to me as a gift, a grace only to be received.
In the early days of my journey toward the Catholic Church I would attend Mass at St. Paul Church, Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. I sat in the back, on the right, near the confessional. Wouldn’t want to be too close to the front. Me and some homeless guys. A little chilly, wearing my jacket, with a rack of dog-eared song books and missals in front of me. Sitting and standing and kneeling through what can seem the perfunctory readings and movements of the Mass. I felt as a stranger, yet oddly at home.
And then during the Liturgy of the Eucharist we arrived at the Agnus Dei — “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us…”
And I stood there and wept.
Can you tell me why?