Rosary Reflections – Finding Our Lord in the Temple

October 24, 2009

The fifth joyous mystery of the Rosary is the finding of Our Lord in the temple. For reference, Luke 2:41-52:

Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

When I think about these events, I can’t help but sympathize with Mary as a mother. Her child has run off, and she doesn’t know where he is, for three days! Of course, as any good mother would, Mary is freaking out. She wants to know why Jesus has put her through this. I can’t possibly understand the extent of her and Joseph’s terror though, knowing that they have lost not only their child, but their Messiah. Can you imagine the worst case scenarios going through their heads? They’ve lost their Lord. Has he perished? Will they ever be able to find him again? Have they screwed up God’s master plan and will He strike them dead in anger? They felt like this for three days.

There’s another time when Christ was lost for three days, his followers terror striken and alone. He was buried, leaving the disciples to wonder if God’s plan had been thwarted or if there was any hope left for anyone. Again, I can only imagine the despair they felt. Talk about the dark night of the soul!

Finding Our Lord in the temple after three days seems to me a clear foreshadowing of his resurrection. It is the unknown hope we are desperate for, and that God has planned all along. It is the dawn to end our dark night, which we never understood was possible. I think maybe everyone goes through dark times, feeling abandoned and alone and completely hopeless. Meditating on this mystery teaches me that God has a plan in our sufferings, that He is always in control, and that He will bring us out of the darkness in good time, whether we can see it or not.

Looking over the Edge

October 23, 2009

I blog more about my positive experiences than any negative ones. That’s what I like to focus on, or I’ll indulge my own tendencies to whine in self pity too much. But in the interest of honesty, I ought to include some more struggles into this narrative as well. After all, we all have them.

In my search for the truth, I’ve relied heavily on intellectual evidence, which is not to say that I don’t use my intuition as well. Intuition plays a vital role in answering the unanswerable questions that pop up in life. But I’ve spent a lot of my time this past year reading and debating books on faith, apologetics, logic, and philosophy. The danger that I’ve encountered in this type of thinking is that I get lost in the path of my own reasoning, and come to wonder how I got where I am. That’s another reason for my blogging–to retrace my own steps.

When I do lose my step, I have moments like the following. I was praying the rosary and focusing on the glorious mysteries with Chris, and we came down to the fifth mystery. The coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth. This is a lot harder for me to connect to than the other mysteries, since not only is there no Scripture reading to go with it, but I don’t really understand what is going on. Then I have a five second panic attack wondering, “Can this really be true? How does the Church know that Mary was crowned queen? What if they’re wrong? There’s no going back to the lost in the woods faith of Protestantism for me anymore, I know that. If the Catholic Church is wrong about this, then the whole of Christianity is blown. Which means that my entire worldview is wrong, and all the actions of my life are based on lies.

I’ve always put my own beliefs under the microscope, and checked them over to make sure everything’s as it should be. I became a Catholic convert by checking my Protestant beliefs and finding holes. I think I do it a little too much though. Instead of just operating on decisions I’ve already made, I second guess them, and not just when new information presents itself. Chris doesn’t seem to have this problem. He’s been rather solid in his certainty of Catholicism since he first understood the Eucharist. It made sense out of life for him in the way nothing else ever could, and he hasn’t really looked back. But I have fought every inch for my understanding, and with all these baby steps it can be hard to find a definitive “aha” moment to look back on in certainty. At least I’m in good company:

“I think the trouble with me is lack of faith.  I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old skeptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address.  Mind you I don’t think so–the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so.”

– C.S. Lewis

Never fear. Although I have these mini-moments of existential crisis, I also have an antidote. When I creep up to the edge of reason and look down in a whirl of terrifying vertigo, I can pull myself back and I don’t jump. Here’s why. Other than the existence of my own mind, one of the only things I am absolutely certain of is the existence of good and evil. There are horrors in the news every day, tragedies and depravities that beg the definition of sin. There are also unimaginable heights in this world, the saints who spend their entire lives devoted to loving the poor or trade their own life for another, or even small sacrifices where your friend volunteers to watch the kids even though you know she has way too much to do. People are capable of good and evil in the most profound sense. The definition of good and evil must come from outside of us, and must come from the Christian God. In brief, Catholic truths are the only ones that make sense out of good and evil, love and hate. I plan on expanding on this in another post, but for now it’s sufficient to say this is what I think. This above all else makes me certain of my beliefs.

So while I may not be the poster-child for a steadfast faith, I’m hoping that I will get there someday. I’m hoping that in praying the rosary daily, focusing on God, and asking Him to always work through me, that I will become infused with faith so that all of my daily actions flow from faith and are done for God. Right now I struggle, and more often than not wish that I could just go off somewhere to write or choose not to make dinner instead of serving my family and patiently answering all the three year old questions that I’m perpetually peppered with. I’ve a ways to go. Until then, I’m not going to just chuck my new beliefs no matter how many moments of crisis I have.

In the Midst of Cradle Catholics

October 19, 2009

I’ve been a member of the mom’s group at our church for a little while, and recently joined a Bible study with some of the women. We had our second session yesterday and I was struck, as I was at the first meeting, by the strangeness of being the “voice of orthodoxy” in a group of Catholics, when I’m not even Catholic yet. All of them are cradle Catholics, and it’s really strange the questions I was getting asked.

The first session, we were sharing a little of our background, and when it came to light that I was in RCIA I was asked, “What’s the difference between Protestants and Catholics?” This completely stumped me! I mean, where do I start? I muttered something about there’s a lot of differences and we even use the same words in a different way. When pressed, I gave a brief synopsis of “saved by faith through grace” meaning different things for Protestants and Catholics. What I should have said was something along the lines of acknowledging the authority of the church through the anointing of Christ on the Apostles and their successors vs. believing that the Bible itself is our only authority. The question took me too off guard though. It’s good practice for my coming out.

At the second session, I was more used as a different perspective. This time I was asked, “So why did you convert? What made you believe the Catholic Church was the true church?” The real clincher for me was that the Catholic Church possesses the authority of Christ through Apostolic succession. I got it right that time, and thought I’d said something common to the group. Until someone said, “What do you mean? How is that different than any other church?” Uh… I tried to explain as concisely as possible that Christ instituted the church at the Last Supper, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide His Church in all truth, that the Apostles laid hands on their successors to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that there is a direct line of those they’ve ordained from current priests and bishops going back to the Apostles and Christ. I felt like I was speaking a foreign language though.

The conversation took a weird turn, in which she said she couldn’t defend being Catholic at all. Her husband is not Catholic. She doesn’t know why she should be Catholic, other than she is and she won’t be anything else. Kudos to her for sticking with what she knows is right, even if she’s not sure why it is. That was always a problem for me when I was young. If I wasn’t as clear on my reasons, people could talk me into their perspective. This woman said she’s heard something to the effect of: Catholics just trust other people to figure things out and follow along uneducated and unquestioning. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to say that obedience doesn’t equal blind following and that we have to understand the rules of the faith if we want to grow in our faith at all! At least I had a chance to tell her, when she pointed out how screwed up the leaders of the church can be, that this is one reason the Catholics have it right. Everyone’s screwed up. We can’t let people we elect direct our faith because they’re so holy and smart. They’re not good enough. Man’s best is not good enough. That is why we trust that God is able to do His will and the Holy Spirit will direct His church through fallen and faulty men. Otherwise, we are just like the rest of them.

I wonder how common this is for cradle Catholics. I worry that not everyone who lacks apologetic prowess will be as resilient as the woman I was talking to against the reasonable sounding wolves that will question their faith. It’s a real danger for people not well educated in their faith, that someone will come along, point out a few difficulties (not inconsistencies!) of belief and *poof* they’ll turn coat faster than Benedict Arnold. It’s easy enough to see how it could happen. Chris has been scouring Out of the Labyrinth, a book “disproving” Catholicism which was written by an ex-priest who ought to have known better! It contains so many just plain wrong representations of Catholic beliefs, it’s no wonder people can show them to be unbiblical and persuade believers to turn Protestant. If you don’t know enough about what the Church teaches to point out the flaws of their arguments, what defense will you have except plain old stubbornness?

Chris thinks every parish ought to have a basic apologetics course available, on top of RCIA, since RCIA really only describes Catholicism in its most basic form. It’s a good idea. Until then, here I am, explaining orthodox Catholic beliefs to people who have always believed them but don’t know why. The leader of the group says she’s glad to have my perspective, thinks converts make the best Catholics, and says she’ll ask me many more questions. I hope I can do the Church justice. I’ve already found myself having a typical over-reaction against anything that smacks of my Protestant experiences, even when they’re alright for Catholics. The Bible study is focused on the Holy Spirit, and of course, there’s a lot of run ins with charasmatic Protestantism which I usually run from screaming. I have to watch myself and try not to let the pendulum swing too far off center. So pray for me, that I will say what God wants me to say when the time comes.

Another Thing About the Rosary

October 19, 2009

I always used to hate praying in groups. I didn’t really hate being in a group that was praying, but hated me actually talking and saying the words of prayer out loud in front of others. It makes me all stage fright and nervous, and it’s impossible to focus on God that way. With Catholic rote prayers, that’s not a problem. Now it’s nice and easy to pray the rosary with Chris. We can pray together effectively, husband and wife. Good stuff.

Don’t knock the Rosary till you try it

October 14, 2009

The Rosary is not what you think. Well. Since most of the readers of this blog actually are Catholic, it probably is what you think. But for Protestants coming from a stereotyped perspective like I have, it’s not what you think. I prayed my first rosary only three nights ago with Chris. We decided to do this after a particularly trying day where the kids were running around screaming, I was constantly pressed to thwart Chris Jr.’s life-risking escapades, and Isabel had more than one fit lasting too long for stubbornly refusing to say “please”. Days like that make me feel like I’m either working in an insane asylum or I’m losing my own mind. I get lost and dejected. It’s hard to focus and keep your patience with tedious, boring, and thankless work. I had half a mind that a better devotional life would help, so that night Chris busted out the rosary and we prayed.

I went into this, even in my converted state, thinking that Marian devotees and the rosary in particular were very superstitious. I hear people say that Mary will not fail to save those who are devoted to her, and that the rosary will “obtain” all sorts of miracles or favors. Before we started, Chris told me that the rosary is the most powerful devotion in the Church. I was skeptical. It sounded like some sort of holy spell casting or something. It turns out I didn’t understand the rosary at all.

Chris has printed off the New Advent rosary instructions, which we used and I highly recommend. Each day, there are five different mysteries that we meditate on while praying the five different decades of the rosary. I knew about the mysteries, but didn’t really understand how it worked. The New Advent page lists the mysteries and gives Scripture readings for each, which I love. Reading these scenes from the life of Christ beforehand help me recall things lost in time and memory. Surprise! It is Christ-centered. As a result, we were praying, not only to Mary, but also praying the “Our Father”, “Glory Be”, and “Oh My Jesus”, contemplating the person of Christ, who we are in Him, and our relation to Mary as our Mother since as adopted sons and daughters of God we are like Christ to her. This is more profound than I ever could have imagined! We better understand who Mary is by contemplating Christ and vice versa, and begin to understand our own place in life.

For instance, in the sorrowful mysteries, the first of which is the agony of Our Lord in the garden, Christ is facing horrible suffering and tells God the Father, “Nevertheless, not my will but your will be done.” Following Christ’s example, we begin to understand how our surrender to God’s will is a divine thing, especially in the face of suffering. Praying the Hail Mary while meditating on this reveals more of who Mary is–truly the Mother of God–an acknowledgment of Christ’s divine person, not some assertion that Mary created God.

I could go on rather incoherently explaining more of my contemplations during the rosary, but if you want to understand it, try it. I tend to think the best effects of devotional prayer are that it focuses our minds on the things of God and aligns our will with His will. That is the power of the rosary. I can definitely see how done daily it will change your life, not because it contains hocus pocus, but because faith changes you and the rosary is a tool of faith. Irenaeus (the commenter on this blog, NOT the Church Father) said once that the rosary is addictive, and I think I might already be addicted.

Catholic Fiction, or the Lack Thereof

October 9, 2009

This is a bit of a different subject for my blog, but I’m interested in hearing what everyone has to say about it. So please comment!

I’ve always dabbled in writing, mostly with the knowledge that I was only writing to put on the page and out of my mind whatever fantastical story is flitting around in my overly active imaginative mind. I haven’t ever written with the thought of it going anywhere, and hence rarely finish anything I write. Most recently, though, a certain story has plagued my thoughts and taken more shape than usual. I’m intent on finishing it and Chris encourages this. Not only does it not cost a dime for me to write in this economic downturn, but he is well aware of the gaping hole where Catholic fiction should be in the market, and he thinks it has potential.

It seems everyone is well aware of this lack of Catholic fiction, even bad Catholic fiction. If you go to a Christian bookstore, you’ll see plenty of what I call “junk novels” or “read once” novels where the storyline seems to draw people more than any kind of mesmerizing writing style (I’m thinking Ray Bradbury) and once the story is known, the novel has no more draw. The shelves are littered with books like the Left Behind series and novels by Karen Kingsbury or Francine Rivers or the like. Where are the rosaries and crucifixes? Why can’t Catholics be unashamed of their faith in book form as well? Are Catholics too good for overtly Catholic novels or Catholic “junk” novels (my writing style is nowhere near as poetic as Bradbury)? Of course there are Catholic writers like Dean Koontz, with elements of philosophy in their stories. Some are more subtle than others. But the pickings are slim.

My story didn’t begin as a search for a Catholic fiction story. It began in reaction to the market flooding with vampire/occult novels. Oh yes, I’ve read Twilight, and I liked it. I’m a big fan of sci-fi, and the supernatural edge to these stories is hard to resist. But like everything else since my conversion, I began to view the occult from a Catholic perspective. I dug up Chris’s copies of The Rite and An Exorcist Tells His Story and was rather shocked by the fantastic nature of actual occurrences. The reality of good and evil, angels and demons, and our under-reaction to them took the form of this story in my mind. Now I have on my hands a couple of ragingly Catholic, flawed characters, and a story permeated with icons and Hail Mary’s and adoration. It’s completely unavoidable unless you want to deny the reality that we live in, the necessity of exorcists, the reaction of demons to the Holy Virgin, the power in the name of Christ, and I don’t want to avoid it. I don’t want to apologize for truth that may offend others. Neither is this story an evangelical tool. Nobody gets “saved” in this story (ha! you know how I feel about that now), nor does anyone become Catholic. It’s more focused on the opposing tenets of Catholicism vs. Satanism. Spelled out, that means the most extreme forms of “deny yourself and take up the cross” vs. “do what you want”.

Now I have a very “Catholic” fiction novel on my hands, maybe categorized as “Christian Inspiration” or “Science Fiction” depending on how overt the Catholicity of the characters become or how unrealistic the fantastic elements may be. Here’s what I’m asking: Besides the obvious two things to avoid–bad writing and preachy piousness–what should I look out for? Is there a market for Catholic fiction? What would put you off in reading it? Should I even be concerned a “mainstream” audience? Or should I let the cards lie where they fall? And exactly how Catholic can I get without being preachy?

It will be several months before the story is finished and probably over a year before it’s “presentable”. I’m hoping to coax it in its current liquid and choppy form into something decent. Although the story is generally complete, it’s moldable now, so any suggestions can be (probably) easily taken into account. I hope more dedicated writers won’t take offense at my “dabbling”, but will help encourage and point me in the right direction.