Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I did not expect to find Jesus so startlingly close at Mass. He found me. That he included me in His embrace through spiritual communion opened my heart to the Holy Spirit’s teaching.

I did not expect to explore the Passion of Christ. It explored me. What could I do but follow, seeing how great a salvation Jesus purchased with His suffering and death.

I did not expect to encounter the mystery and truth of transubstantiation. That mystery captured and transfixed me. Christ’s love melted my icy attitudes and set aside past perceptions.

Freed from the biases that had kept me from seeing, I could now, with open eyes, see the glorious worship of God inherent in the Mass. I began to participate with my whole heart, and as the Lord transformed my previous misperceptions into a clearer perspective, I reached out to my church “home” with opened arms.

I had once thought of Catholic worship as cold, devoid of joy, or personal interaction. I had experienced the camaraderie among Christians in Protestant churches we attended, but now, my experience in church was not primarily horizontal but vertical in emphasis. Here I had an opportunity to be alone with the Savior in a sanctuary where He resided not only in the person of the Holy Spirit but also in the consecrated host within the Tabernacle.

I admit my fervor to understand what my husband and others saw in the Mass drove me to scrutinize everything I encountered in the Catholic services. This investigation, and my longing to know truth, led me to pray that I might comprehend what I intellectually knew occurred at the consecration. And God answered my prayer. I suddenly grasped the authenticity of belief: the bread and the wine change into the body and the blood of Messiah Jesus.

This was no superstition or wishful thinking. The Holy Spirit impressed upon me this truth in such a way that I became convinced and now fully believe. Oh, how precious is the gift of Christ’s presence to the church.

Before the anniversary of Rich’s entrance into the Catholic Church, I was reformed too, into the renewed Christian I am today.

The Mass begins for me at home as I prepare to meet Jesus. I pray and often read my Bible just as I have done for many years. I also attend to one small gift that I have not had the occasion to give Him before. I make sure my hair and forehead are clean in anticipation of the blessing He bestows.

Time stands still the moment I step into the entrance of the church and dip my fingers into the font of holy water beside the door. I make the sign of the cross, reminding myself of my death and burial at baptism, and of my new life in the risen Christ. In some mysterious way, as I move my hand across my chest to make the sign of the cross, the crucifixion becomes terribly real and personal.

As I walk to my pew, I am greeted by silence – a holy hush that is found where the Infinite is revered. It is not simply stillness, or emptiness. It is a purposeful silence, a silence disturbed only by the echoes of kneelers lowered to the floor. It is silence broken by the soft wrap of Rosary beads against wood as the faithful pray. It is the silence of footfalls as priest and choir prepare to serve. It is the deep breath before the glorious beginning of the Mass.

I look for the golden Tabernacle because I know within it lies the bread made flesh, and I rejoice in Jesus who graces our church with His presence.

Genuflection is no longer a polite adaptation. Instead, it is an act of love for my Lord, the King of Kings. Too quickly, we have found our seat and I am on my knee, reminding myself with the little prayer: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. --Touch my forehead, fountain of all wisdom clear my mind of worthless thoughts; touch my chest, wounded Savior I am yours; touch my left and right shoulders, teacher and comforter give me wings to rise above my sinful self.

Thus begins the Mass for me – no longer ritual, but an opportunity to make an endless prayer of worship to the Trinity.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Lessons from a Saint

Sometime in January 2006 Rich brought home St. John of the Cross’ book, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” He handed it to me and said with affection, “I have seen you in such turmoil these past few months. Perhaps this will help.”

I doubted a book would help. Attending Mass with Rich might have become more comfortable and welcome, but my day to day life was like one long dark tunnel. I leafed through the book and laid it down. A moment later, I opened it again. For Rich’s sake, I gave the book a read.

Chapter after chapter of mind-numbing lists about sins and difficulties began to pile up into a mountain of woe. St. John of the Cross wrote of what may never happen, what will happen, and what might happen. I put the book down a dozen times, yet it did seem to be saying something – although I was not quite sure what that was.

Half-way through the book, it began to make sense. His message about purgation after purgation was no mere method of spirituality and growth, but rather a litany of the Father’s love for His beloved children. Our deserts and long dark tunnels were meant by God to purify our lives from all the dross (sin) we accumulate.

I was encouraged. The difficulty in which I found myself was not haphazard or happenstance, but designed by my Father to mature me. St. John, a Biblical scholar and a spiritual counselor, knew what he was writing about. His own experiences included many difficult and life-threatening times in which he had learned that helplessness brings strength to the bond between the Trinity and the child of God. The Father expressed His love for me by allowing me to be helpless so He could rescue me by removing sins buried deep in my heart. Those sins kept me from seeing Him correctly. It hampered the work of the Holy Spirit and it kept me at a distance from Jesus, my heart’s desire.

When I understood God’s purpose in bringing me through my “Dark Night,” I rejoiced, thankful for such “love divine, all loves excelling.” My Lord Jesus was determined to soften and cleanse my heart that was encased in stony sin. He wanted to make me into His likeness, as St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”

When I realized this, I wanted Jesus to take over my life more than I had ever desired it before. I determined I would not stand in the way of any purging He wanted to do.

The Holy Spirit showed me where I needed to change. These are some of the areas He helped me work on – and on which we continue to work.

Rebellion was the first. I had always wanted to have a say in what and how God would do with me. To live otherwise meant He was in complete control, and I unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) found that objectionable. Although I said I wanted Him to lead me, I thought I might decide on how we got there.

Self-will was next. I saw how dominant my will could be as Rich began talking about becoming a Catholic. It was a terrible, aggressive sin that I had practiced well. So thoroughly was it bonded to me that I could not see it as an error. Instead, I thought of it as a beneficial part of my character.

Anger clung to the first two. Although I recognized this fault as a young Christian and had tried to keep it in check, I could never root out its deep core. This flaming emotion set me to pouting and drove me into depression.

Self-pity rounded out the four. It often filled my mind with the lie that Jesus had abandoned me. I fled from problems because I thought them either too hard for me, or they were a rebuke from the Master. I did not see the problems as His loving refinement, so that I might be useful to His purpose.

Cooperating with the Holy Spirit opened my heart to His continual attention. I heard His voice clearly through our pastors, and through reading the Bible, listening to Christian music and other methods the Holy Spirit wove in and out of my life. He spoke to me so kindly, leading me out of the darkness into a place where the light of Christ could touch my heart with His life, encourage me to trust in His eternally living Presence and give me the brotherly kiss of fellowship.

Purging of my more weighty attitudes led to purging of many others.

Christ then set before me the very misconceptions and biases I had struggled with since Rich became a Catholic. They were the religious and cultural mainstay of my Protestant identity. They had been for me the only true Christianity. The Lord asked me to explore them one by one, and He helped me come to an accord of sorts with each. I would explore the Eucharist, the papacy, communion of saints, Mary, and Sacred Tradition.