“Redeeming Love”… a novel by Francine Rivers

March 31, 2009

My mom gave me a book to read recently. Lately, I’ve been delving quite heavily into theology and history and I was looking for an easy fiction book for a nice change of pace. This book is supposed to be based on the book of Hosea, about a prostitute loved by a man that takes her back despite her infidelity. So what do I find? In the first few chapters of this novel, we are introduced to a nice Catholic harlot who regularly shacks up with her married lover. This woman refuses to abort her child because “it’s a mortal sin.” Lovely that the author failed to notice adultery is a mortal sin as well. Let’s forget that for a moment. This Catholic woman is abandoned by her lover, and turned away by her puritanical Catholic parents, rosary in hand the entire time. The mother dies, and her eight year old daughter chucks her rosary in the garbage before she’s sold into prostitution, with musings of purgatory and Cyprian the whole way down the line.

Do I have the stomach for a book that insinuates the Catholic Church is unfaithful, like the prostitute, rescued by the Protestant man who “seeks his Father’s heart in everything”. My mom isn’t a vicious woman. I can only think she doesn’t get it, but it hurts that she recommends this book so highly. I’m looking to join a body that is hated and slandered. I will be hated and slandered with it, and hurt by every attack and misunderstanding that is flippantly thrown her way.

It’s appropriate, isn’t it? Considering the approaching days. I can remember watching The Passion in the theater for the first time. The reel broke part way through, and the entire theater was silent for ten minutes while it was fixed. My family thought it was very well done, portraying Christ’s passion and death so personally and emotionally, for a Catholic. Every Easter, we will watch it again. Every time, I will wonder how people can have been so cruel to our beloved Master. I will never understand it, but I will readily join Him as He calls me.

Reading Scripture in a New Light

March 24, 2009

Since My Paradigm Shift, the Scriptures speak to me in ways they never did before. It’s almost as if there were cataracts over my eyes and now they’ve been removed. Where passages and parables were cloudy and trite, they now reveal God Himself and His plan for Christ’s Body.

One example of this is the parable of the servants entrusted with the Master’s treasure (Matt 25:14-30). Many times, I’ve heard this parable expounded to exhort good stewardship of the “talents” that God has given us, to be active in God’s work, to be a “good and faithful servant”. While this is one truth we can gain from the story, it now speaks to me of Christ’s Church.

Notice first that the parable is describing the kingdom of heaven. The master leaves and will return, like Christ has left with the promise of returning. His people, His Body, His Church are the treasure of the Master, and they have been entrusted to His stewards, his vicar here on Earth. To me, this speaks particularly of the Pope. History will not allow us to deny the lazy and wicked Popes that have obtained the seat of Peter, like Leo X. This parable reassures me that though they may bury the Master’s treasure and fail to provide an increase, the treasure is not lost.

Most recently, I have been reading John Calvin’s dialogue in the Lausanne Articles. He uses common sense to argue against Christ’s body being spread without limit around the world in the Eucharist. Calvin says, “Thus it does not follow that, if the divinity of Christ is infinite, hence his body must also be so… I ask you if on your conscience you believe that the bodies of the children of God, when glorified, will be in all places without being limited or circumscribed and having none of the properties of their nature. Your judgment must convince you that this is an absurdity which you cannot concede. No more then ought it to be accorded to the body of Christ, which (according to the aposstle) they will resemble.”

Calvin’s objections bring to mind the multiplying of the loaves of bread (Matt 14:13-21). Christ demonstrated before thousands His ability to satisfy without being bound by the restrictions of nature. He prophesied feeding His people with the bread of life, His very Body, without limits. From five loaves, he fed thousands! How much more so would he multiply His Body in the consecrated bread, and more than amply feed everyone who hungers, that they may partake of His divine nature by consuming Him.

I never before saw these things in the Scriptures, and I’m constantly amazed. For me now more than ever, the miracles and words of Christ are purposefully designed to reveal an aspect of God’s plan. They are no longer simple morality tales, teaching us to be good little boys and girls. God Himself is reaching me through the Scriptures, drawing me nearer to Him, deapening my understanding and my relationship with Him.

Sacraments: “Everyone” or “Anyone”?

March 19, 2009

Before with my post, My Paradigm Shift, I marked the moment when I realized I had changed from a Protestant worldview to a Catholic worldview. Since then, I have wondered what it was that flipped the switch. The best I can do is to trace the force that caused the breakdown of my Protestant mindset back to a conversation with our old priest, Father Chuck, when we met with him to sign the papers to convalidate our marriage. Chris has already written a little about this, but I thought I could expand on the event a little and why this one thing got through to me when it seemed nothing else would.

Chris and I had gotten married before he had officially converted to Catholicism. I knew full well what I was getting into with him, though. He never minced words when it came to laying out his faith for me to accept him with it or reject them both. Living in Northern Ireland in a Protestant family and a Protestant neighborhood, there were many obstacles to his Catholic conversion. It turns out by immigrating to marry me, Chris was enabled to officially join the Church. It was during the process of RCIA, making preparations for the approaching Easter vigil two years ago at which Chris would take his First Communion and our daughter would be baptized, that several couples were getting their marriages convalidated.

I couldn’t understand the other couples’ cavilier attitude. They behaved as if they were just checking something off the list as they went about joining just another church. I had something of the attitude that I was already married and already said my vows, and once is good enough. Otherwise it would imply that we didn’t mean it the first time or our commitment had waned since then and our marriage needed “refresher” vows. But we met with the priest and I was ready to grumpily sign the papers under protest that my husband’s faith forced me to do all kinds of crazy things on his behalf. Chris would have none of my false sacrificial spirituality and so wanted to make sure that I was comfortable with the whole thing before we committed to it. Then we talked about convalidation.

I related my view on vow renewals, that it somehow invalidated our initial vows, and Father Chuck kindly asked why in light of the fact that Protestants rebaptize people. That’s somewhat like renewing vows, isn’t it? I can’t remember what I stammered out in reply to that, but we went on discussing exactly what convalidation was and meant. Father Chuck repeatedly called it a blessing. I thought I understood blessings, and I was fine with that. If the Catholic Church wanted to ask God to bless our marriage or give their approval for it, let them. Then occasionally he threw in the word “sacramental”, saying that a marriage outside of the Church wasn’t sacramental.

Every time the word “blessing” was mentioned, I calmed down. But every time Father Chuck said the word “sacrament”, the hairs on my neck stood up. What’s a sacrament?, I thought. Outwardly I bristled, “What do you mean my marriage isn’t sacramental!?” How dare anyone say my marriage is missing something! So I asked why the blessing of the Catholic Church was necessary to make it sacramental. Father Chuck seemed to be having a hard time warping his mind, trying to understand exactly where I was coming from and why this concept was so difficult for me. He tried to tell me we needed a priest to perform the blessing. “Why do we need a priest? We already had a pastor marry us and bless us.” Because a pastor hasn’t been ordained by the Church to administer sacraments. What’s a sacrament??

In my usual fumbling and incoherent manner, I explained to Father Chuck that I had been raised to believe that God and His grace was equally available to everyone. A lightbulb appeared over his head. He leaned back in his chair and said, “So you think that anyone is able to perform marriages and convey God’s graces?”

Well, no.

I went on conversing with myself:

Well then, who?

Certainly we cannot base it on our own spirituality. I’ve seen how that doesn’t work. We all fall short of the grace of God.

Then, who?

Only those ordained by God through the Holy Spirit.

Who has been ordained by God through the Holy Spirit?

I don’t know. But I don’t think being ordained by men who have formed a church of their own accord is the same as being ordained by the Holy Spirit. It should look like something… like something real… so those of us seeking Him can find His grace…

But I replied to Father Chuck, “Uh… yeah.” We left without signing the papers and still haven’t convalidated our marriage. I think my pride still says “How dare you say my marriage is missing something!” But that simple word change, from everyone to anyone, had worked on my thoughts for a year and a half before I began to understand it.

God gives us actual grace. He has left us actual means to come to Him and receive that grace, and those means are known as “sacraments”. However, He has not based the conferrence of His grace on our own righteousness or that of the person administering sacraments, because “not one is righteous” (Rom 3:9-10). Instead, He has given His blessing, and enabled some of us sinful creatures to serve as His instruments of grace through His ordination. That ordination can be found in Christ’s choice of the twelve disciples and His life given to them, Him living in them and through them, at the Last Supper, passed on through those men by the laying on of hands to others who would succeed them. By partaking of the sacraments, we acknowledge our utter dependence on God and His grace, denying our own merit to find these things apart from Him and His chosen.

It’s not surprising that the concept of sacraments and things sacred as blessed by those ordained by Christ through Apostolic succession was completely foreign to me. What is sacred in the Protestant world apart from the Bible? I don’t know much about those Protestant churches who retain “sacraments” as they call them, but it is not like the Catholic term. Reading through Luther’s biography, Luther the Reformer: The Man and His Career, I see the reduction of sacraments from seven to two, and the debate of any actual grace being conferred. Though Luther steadfastly held to baptism and the Eucharist and desired reform of the Catholic Church, his contemporaries were looking for a way to separate from the Church, not only from the authority of the pope but also from the power of the priests in the sacraments. If the Eucharist hold the real presence of Christ and real graces are conferred in sacraments, then the priesthood is necessary. They knew there was no turning to our own qualifications to confer God’s grace. If there was actual grace, then we needed those ordained by God. Their solution was simply to destroy the sacred, annihilate the sacraments, and maintain that God’s grace is only ephemeral and handed out on a case by case basis by the Holy Spirit working alone.

Much like the Eucharist drew Chris to the Catholic Church, the sacraments drew me in. I began to understand how God works through us and not by our own merit. This humble reliance on God’s grace was in stark contrast with the theology of glory found in my early evangelical days, complete with pastor veneration and self-proclaimed callings. Things began to fall into place. For me, Sunday fellowship began to depend on the sacraments instead of the pastor’s ability to preach a good sermon. The unity of the Church depends on God grace and our submission to Him, not on the greatness of any given man to lend logic, consistency and loyalty to his theology. All because God chose to use Father Chuck and two little words, “everyone” and “anyone”, to reveal His sacraments to me.

Small Graces

March 14, 2009

I was driving out to the park today with Chris and the kids and we were talking about cute things our daughter has done recently. I told him that she had kissed Jesus on the cross next to his bedside, and he somewhat sheepishly told me he had started that with her. She had commanded me to kiss Jesus as well. Chris asked surprised, “Did you do it??” and I said “Yes! Why not?” So he called me a dirty Catholic 😉

Thinking about it more, I realized I have never had a problem with icons, statues, and crucifixes. Accusations of idolatry seemed ridiculous to me from their first mention. The image turns my heart to Christ, not to a canvas with paint on it or a well molded piece of rock. Long before Chris came along I had kissed Jesus of my own accord. I feel moved to do so. I am the kind of person who kisses pictures of my loved ones when I miss them, sniffs shirts and blankets that smell like my babies, and has keepsakes like rocks and shells from the places I’ve been. If I do all of that to keep ordinary things in my heart, how much more will I do to keep the Lord Jesus Christ in my heart? Kissing His image is among the first thing I want to do.

In gradeschool I can remember doodling crucifixes on my notepads. Yes, crucifixes with the thorny crown and all. Repeatedly. The suffering image of Christ on the cross has always held a special fascination for me and I love to contemplate every line of his face, his expression, every wound he suffered for my redemption. What kind of man would I find on a cross dying for my sins and what unfathomable love would move Him to do that? I tried every time I doodled to portray it and always fell short, but my heart has always found Christ there on the cross and I am comforted to see Him there every Sunday.

It’s amazing the things the Lord puts in our hearts as seeds of truth. He has always drawn me toward Him and into the bossom of His Church, always giving me roadsigns to find my way home, making this sometimes difficult journey easier. I’m thankful for these small graces.

Responding to the Liturgy in Love and Unity

March 10, 2009

I’m not sure I have the delicacy or balance to be discussing the issue of orthodoxy in the Catholic liturgy. However, I have seen many extreme blog posts crying for orthodoxy, and none giving it balance urging acceptance of flaws in the Church community. I will make my best attempt to give such balance, and I beg from everyone that they not take offense. Any reference that may sound like you is not. I assure everyone that the issues I’m discussing are not just found in one or even a couple places.

There is a general cry among bloggers, especially of recent converts to Catholicism or those contemplating conversion, to have a strictly orthodox mass. There are complaints about semi-heretical music choices and flubbed wording in the liturgy. I have heard complaints about the “Judas shufflers” ducking out after communion, which happens to be my pet peeve. Worse, RCIA poorly catechizes initiates and they’re left with confused and vague notions of the Church. Most seriously, there are complaints about poor handling of the Eucharist. Since Vatican II relaxed many things including the liturgy, some believe those on the ground have taken the freedoms too far. Catholic parishes are accused of trying to be Protestant in their laxness and trendiness. Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI seems to be fighting against this backlash from Vatican II.

This isn’t the whole story. There are plenty of people who love their bishops and I’m one of them. I love Archbishop Naumann and Bishop Finn, who both have urged the priorities of life and charity in their diocese. During election time, they were hugely vocal about pro-life issues, and even now they fight FOCA and similar legislation with a vengeance. More than ever during these economic hardships, they not only urge parishioners to share with their fellow man and give to the Archbishop’s Call to Share appeal, which supports programs and charities in the area (it has already exceeded its goal of $4 million), but they also urge those in need to come forward and give their brothers an opportunity to share with them. One of our priests gives regular homilies on being a proper Catholic, stressing personal encounter with Christ and sincere and complete observance in every expression of it. There are people doing it right, and people who want to do it right, including those bloggers crying for orthodoxy.

Besides those specific examples, the Church as a whole is getting things right. Running in online apologetic circles, I’m convinced more than ever that the insipid, passive, ignorant stereotype of all Catholics is just a stereotype and there are plenty of examples of those well-versed and passionate in the Faith. Also, the Church still stands against homosexuality, contraception, and abortion where all others have fallen by the wayside. Without a strong root of faith and the blessing of God working through His children, we would never see such positive fruit.

Still, there are those who would separate themselves from the failing liturgies and unorthodox communities. Many travel a long way to find an orthodox mass to attend. But why? Doing that is not addressing the problem. I believe it may even worsen the problem by removing those few who do carefully observe from the community that so desperately needs them. What is the motivation in such a case? I do not pretend to read the hearts of men and women, but if the motivation is selfish, so that said person can distance themselves from the rotten apples and experience the pleasure of orthodoxy, then the motivation is wrong. In all things, we must be motivated by love that is not inward-looking and divisive, but outward-looking and unitive.

Some may protest from their love for God that abuses in the liturgy dishonor Him, and scandalize others, making it difficult to worship Him. Honor and glory given to God is important in itself, but is this the sole purpose of the liturgy? Don’t we all profess the same creed and say the Lord’s prayer, partake of the same divine nature in the Eucharist, to preserve unity of the Faith and of the Body of Christ? Take care with this protest that your motivation is not pure legalism. The liturgy is designed to honor God, but I believe it is designed mostly to unify the Church in the Faith. Legalistic attitudes only destroy the purpose of the liturgy and divide the Body of Christ further.

Yet another reason everyone seems to be so passionate about orthodoxy in the liturgy is because it affects our Faith. This is how we are spiritually fed and how we maintain and pass on the beliefs of our Faith. But we must not make the mistake of thinking messy liturgy causes lazy faith, rather the opposite is true. The poorly catechized and careless individuals are the source of this complaint. We can’t just fix the liturgy when it is merely a symptom. Lack of faith in the people is the real problem, but separating ourselves from them is not the answer. Instead, we must work to strengthen the faith of others by being a good example, giving our fellowship, and volunteering to teach and serve them.

My primary concern is not checking what people are saying or doing, it’s checking the motivation behind their criticism. Our words and actions must be motivated by love, or the most perfect liturgy sounding of the “tongues of men and angels” is worth nothing. For easy reference, I’ve included the entire description of a response born in love below.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13)

Maybe we should ask ourselves whether we want orthodox liturgy because it better honors God, or because it better serves a need to feel close to Him. In the latter case, we may be ignoring committed faith which overcomes that empty loss of the presence of God. This kind of faith has become vitally important for me since attending to the needs of my children make it nigh impossible to work up an emotional connect to God, especially during mass. Mother Teresa lived with this kind of emptiness for fifty years. She told Malcolm Muggeridge, who was suffering from the same:

Your longing for God is so deep and yet He keeps Himself away from you. He must be forcing Himself to do so — because he loves you so much — the personal love Christ has for you is infinite — The Small difficulty you have regarding His Church is finite — Overcome the finite with the infinite.

In an article about Come Be My Light, we hear more about abandoning our feelings and working in commitment:

Kolodiejchuk thinks the book may act as an antidote to a cultural problem. “The tendency in our spiritual life but also in our more general attitude toward love is that our feelings are all that is going on,” he says. “And so to us the totality of love is what we feel. But to really love someone requires commitment, fidelity and vulnerability. Mother Teresa wasn’t ‘feeling’ Christ’s love, and she could have shut down. But she was up at 4:30 every morning for Jesus, and still writing to him, ‘Your happiness is all I want.’ That’s a powerful example even if you are not talking in exclusively religious terms.”

I do understand that the liturgy is important, and if we are critical of it out of concern for the corporate Body of Christ and love for God, then there are certain actions available to us. The canon law says it is the duty of the priest to guard against abuses and ensure the nourishment of the faithful through “devout celebration”. It also declares the right of the faithful to take their opinions and needs to the priest, adding that we should act in concern for the common good of the Church and in reverence and obedience to the priest.

Canon 528 §2. He is to work so that the Christian faithful are nourished through the devout celebration of the sacraments and, in a special way, that they frequently approach the sacraments of the Most Holy Eucharist and penance. He is also to endeavor that they are led to practice prayer even as families and take part consciously and actively in the sacred liturgy which, under the authority of the diocesan bishop, the pastor must direct in his own parish and is bound to watch over so that no abuses creep in.

Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

§2. The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

Can. 218 Those engaged in the sacred disciplines have a just freedom of inquiry and of expressing their opinion prudently on those matters in which they possess expertise, while observing the submission due to the magisterium of the Church.

Can. 223 §1. In exercising their rights, the Christian faithful, both as individuals and gathered together in associations, must take into account the common good of the Church, the rights of others, and their own duties toward others.

§2. In view of the common good, ecclesiastical authority can direct the exercise of rights which are proper to the Christian faithful.

Throughout, we must be careful of our own behavior. Working for the common good means not only striving for the sanctification of your community through faithful observance, but also avoiding divisive and negative language toward the Church. If our efforts outlined above and our requests directed toward those in authority meet with overruling, we must submit quietly. Love and obedience guide the sound walk of the Catholic faithful. Above all, behave in a manner worthy of the gospel, and, in every thing we do, build up the Body of Christ.

The frustration of living with rejected efforts and careless liturgies may be hard to deal with, but take heart. St. Josemaria Escriva contemplates the dual-natured Body of Christ, that of humanity and that of divinity, in In Love with the Church. Perhaps he can help us see past the despairing treason in the Church, and love her, flaws and all.

In the visible body of the Church, in the behavior of men who make it up here on earth, we find weaknesses, vacillations, and acts of treason. But that is not the whole Church, nor is it to be confused with this unworthy behavior. On the other hand, here and now, there is no shortage of generosity, of heroism, of holy lives that make no noise, that are spent with joy in the service of their brothers in the faith and of all souls.

I would also like you to consider that even if human failings were to outnumber acts of valor, the clear undeniable mystical reality of the Church, though unperceived by the senses, would still remain. The Church would still be the Body of Christ, our Lord himself, the action of the Holy Spirit and the loving presence of the Father.

The Church is, therefore, inseparably human and divine…

It would be a serious mistake to attempt to separate the charismatic Church, supposedly the sole follower of Christ’s spirit, from the juridical or institutional Church, the handiwork of men, subject to historical vicissitudes. There is only one Church…

Faith, I repeat. Let us believe more, asking the Blessed Trinity, whose feast we celebrate today, for greater faith. Anything can happen, except for the thrice holy God to abandon his spouse.

I believe we should approach the Church in the same way we approach marriage. A marriage based on unrealistic expectations is doomed to fail. One in which both partners are grounded in reality, aware of their duties and committed to them, and willing to overlook a good deal of imperfection is bound to be happy and fulfilling. Like in a marriage, we need things from the Church, but she needs us as well. Although we go to her so that our needs can be met, our duty is to perform our specific function with perfection. We must know our place and perfectly fulfill our call, trusting that Christ will fulfill his promise and meet our needs in return.

Despite the loss of orthodox liturgy, we are still needed to serve the broken Church in the hope of healing her. Your broken and sinful communities need you. If you know more about the faith than the RCIA instructor, get certified as a catechist, and volunteer to teach. Befriend your fellow Catholics, join the community, be a good example of how a devout Catholic should behave at mass. Request traditional songs of your choral director. I requested Latin hymns to the chagrin of our old choral director, but she complied. You may be surprised how God can use your effort.

I urge everyone, do not abandon your communities, do not rob them of your fellowship — you are needed right where you are! Don’t separate yourselves from them because they are not good enough. None of us are. Don’t grumble, and do not speak out of turn and correct those in authority over you unless it’s serious enough that the mass may not be valid. Be certain that you strive for personal perfection in the body of Christ because of a sincere and holy love for Christ and his Spouse, and not out of an obtuse legalism. When our motivation is always, first and foremost, love for God, and, secondly, love for our neighbor, then we will not go wrong.

Say the Black, Do the Yellow

March 5, 2009

“Say the black, do the red” In other words, stick to the entire liturgy. Not only say what you’re supposed to say, but do what you’re supposed to do. I don’t. I say the black and do the yellow, for cowardice.

Only two Sundays ago I began saying the entire liturgy. Before that, I had skipped the confiteor and the creed. I couldn’t in good conscience ask the “blessed Mary, ever virgin” to pray for me if I wasn’t convinced of her perpetual virginity. Neither could I confess a belief in the “one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” when I couldn’t say for sure if the Catholic Church was Christ’s church. Those following my blog may have read my recent posts on Mary and Tradition. After looking into these two “problems”, I am convinced to the point of being able to profess belief in them, but it wasn’t easy.

Every step I have made on the road of accepting Catholicism has been deliberate and painful. It’s almost a year ago now that I started crossing myself. I labored over this small expression so much that I can remember exactly when and how I started. During the Good Friday mass, I surreptitiously crossed myself, hoping nobody would notice in case I did something wrong like holding my fingers weird. Nobody did notice, not even Chris. It was about a month later that I told him I was doing it, and he still hadn’t noticed.

Our old parish had a rather large Hispanic sub-community and a separate Spanish mass. There were a couple catechists in RCIA that we spent a little time with. I hope nobody takes this the wrong way, but I’ve always envied the ease with which the Hispanics of my acquaintance do these things. They cross themselves and kiss their crucifix and leave it for others to accept them the way they are. It’s beautiful. I wish I could do that.

So what is my problem? It feels weird. I have a naturally self-conscious nature, so it’s hard for me to get over feeling like I’m on display. I know that in reality nobody is paying attention to me, but I have an unnatural fear that someone will glance my way when I muddle up the gestures for lack of experience. It feels like there’s a floating neon sign above my head that says, “This one’s a Protestant!!! She’s not supposed to be doing this. Stop her!” So I still don’t genuflect or kneel or even cross myself with holy water at the entrance. Two extremely wiggly little children give me ample excuse to skip these things, and even prevent me from following through on a resolve to begin a gesture from time to time. Somehow, though, I feel like I’m cheating. My excuses are dwindling and I’m left only with my fear of a new thing.

I know I’m making a big deal out of nothing. These gestures are an outward expression of our inward prayerfulness. They give God honor that is due Him. I want to give these things to Him. I could just do it, but this is how hard it can be to change. I was raised to be suspicious of all things Catholic and apparently that doesn’t disappear with just knowledge to the contrary. Once I build up the courage to say the black and do the red, I wonder how long it will take me to be comfortable and feel at home with it, or if I ever can.

My Son’s Baptism

March 1, 2009

My son was baptized today, the first Sunday of Lent. This was a different experience for me than my daughter’s baptism two years ago. At her baptism, which was during the Easter Vigil, I can remember thinking, “I know this is special. I know this is supposed to mean something.” I tried to cherish the moment, but in all honesty it was lost on me.

Although like at any other organized group event I was flustered and my head was spinning, I approached Chris Jr.’s baptism with a more secure knowledge in what was actually going on. I knew what we were asking for when we asked the priest to baptize him, and I wanted it this time. All this mad research I’ve been doing since beginning blogging has been invaluable to get me to this point.

Take, for example, my post on grace and free will. In summation, the Catholic stance on these matters is that we can do nothing without God’s help. We cannot even turn to God without His grace, yet we can at any time reject His grace in our lives by our own will. So if you apply the concept of our utter dependence on God’s grace to a baby, you see that it doesn’t matter that they can’t make the decision for themselves, because they can’t turn to God of their own power anyway. Also, the Catholic affirmation of free will, that we can turn from God and indeed lose our salvation and fall from His grace, silences the protest that a baby’s fate has been decided for him.

The Catechism has rather powerful language to describe the event. Baptism is a sacrament in which the grace of justification is conferred. The gift of faith is given gratuitously by God through no proceeding merit on our part. Through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit on the water, the baptized are “born of water and the Spirit” (John 3:5). We die to this sin and are given new life in Christ (Rom 6:3-6). Sins are washed clean through faith in Christ and by His merit. All sin is forgiven (Acts 2:38), including personal sin and original sin, that sinful nature into which we are born. We are made to belong to the body of Christ. For babies, baptism means original sin is washed clean and they are imprinted with God’s gift of faith, with the mark of those who belong to Christ.

I don’t pretend that I can fully wrap my brain around such things. The nature of a sacrament is something completely foreign to me. But it is wonderful to be able to appreciate my son’s baptism and the real grace of God in his life.

We can ask for God’s grace of faith for our child, wash clean the stain of original sin, promise to bring him up in the Faith, and graft him into the body of Christ, with this simple sacrament. Why would anyone not want to give these things to their child? So without reservation, I made the sign of the cross on my son’s forehead. I affirmed the Faith, and promised to bring him up in it. I asked the priest to baptize him. And I watched, as he was washed in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, made into a new creature and a little man of God.