Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thank You

Recognizing individuals need support, John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” For the past two years, three wonderful people silently supported this effort with their advice. They read my stuttering prose and suggested how to make it readable.

Rich Maffeo, my husband, encouraged me from the early months of 2005 to find my voice and tell my part of our story. Rich endured the many drafts and rewrites, as he patiently helped me with grammar and word choices. He often set aside his own agenda to read my writing, doing the laundry or the dishes so I could complete a post. He is my hero. He writes his own blog, "The Contemplative Catholic Convert".

Helen Spalding, a former Navy Chaplain, has been my Protestant sounding board. Her insights and comments taught me much about historical Protestant thought as well as the unity of the Body of Christ. Unfailingly, she responded to my posts with wit and wisdom. I count it a privilege to have received her good counsel.

Gary Presley, author of the memoir, “Seven Wheelchairs A Life Beyond Polio”, has been my Catholic sounding board. His unfailing challenges have made me a better communicator. Without doubt, his questions invariably forced me to look within my perceptions of experience to retrieve an honest description of my inner journey. I am most grateful.

My gratitude extends also to those who encouraged my efforts here. I might have given up had it not been for individuals who either posted comments or told me how valuable my writing was to their life in Christ.

Thank you all!

Saturday, May 16, 2009


A friend wrote me saying, “I sometimes think that . . . the Father speaks to us constantly, and if we were to listen but a hundredth of the time, we might all be Schweitzers or Mother Teresas.”

I agree.

God is the creator of possibilities. The Father’s plans are His own, permeated with His inspiration, and not based on our expected outcomes. Should we stop our narcissistic inner dialogue we might hear His voice, as did the prophet Isaiah. Recorded in the fifty-fifth chapter of his prophecy, God announced, "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways . . . For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (verses 8-9)

I’d memorized those words in the 1990’s, but I was ignorant of their personal scope. How painless it was for me to recite those phrases in Isaiah. Confident in my own sanctity, I heard the distant ring of metal upon metal, the sharp-edged blade of the Holy Scriptures slicing through the dross of the secular world. However, I never supposed that the virtuous blade needed to cut into my flesh and remove the calcified dross that covered my soul.

The living, active, word of God cuts through our miasma of self-absorption and accomplishes His will. The Lord does things in His time, for His reasons, and according to His plan. However, egotist that I am, I want it to be about my time, and for my reasons. All of God’s goodness should be a generous gift to me. For decades, this delusion reigned in my heart until the events I have written about in this blog captured my attention. Through those events, Jesus opened my eyes and ears to perceive Him anew.

My odyssey culminated in December.

The last month of 2006 found me slowly recovering health. I remember that December as a blur punctuated by trips to the doctor. It was a time of intense sadness as well. Two days after Christmas, Rich’s step-dad lay in a coma after massive heart failure. Dad had been so kind to me and so loving to our children. It was a very upsetting time. We were grieved for Rich’s mom and for our children who were then spending the holiday with Rich’s parents.

When we had last visited Rich’s parents during the preceding September, Rich’s conversion had become an enormous element of discord with his parents. Afterward, we decided not to visit them during the upcoming Christmas holiday to allow our children to visit their grandparents without what we expected would be further strife.

But when Dad died, we assembled as a family for the funeral to honor his life. It was the first family reunion since Rich entered the Catholic Church. Despite our grief, the deep ties of family strengthened as we rallied around Mom in her need.

And thus ends the saga of 2005-2007 I have posted here.

Yet some still wonder — did I convert?

Songwriter Andre Crouch wrote, “Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God.” St. Faustina received similar inspiration from Jesus, who directed her to proclaim the message, “Jesus I trust in you.”

The lesson about trusting in Messiah Jesus best illustrates the interior lessons I’ve learned.

This blog was not about my conversion from a Protestant to a Catholic. Rather, it examined my interior journey, written as it unfolded, with all the ugly and beautiful parts as I saw them.

The twenty-four months following Rich’s profession as a Catholic were, for me, an intense period of inner reflection with Jesus. During that time, Christ the Lord indicated where I should live: beneath the cross, where He showed me His great suffering for my sin. Jesus instructed how I should speak: with few words, directed by love, that I might learn to listen and dwell more closely to His heart. My Lord structured where and how I should go: to remain at my husband’s side, subject to guidance of Church Rules, that I might learn humility through the things I might suffer. Lovingly, Jesus sent me companions such as Oswald Chambers, St. Therese of the Child Jesus, St. Catherine of Siena, St. John of the Cross. Their words and reflections illuminated my understanding and reminded to keep my eyes fixed upon Jesus.

One Sunday, after I had been writing for a few months, a parishioner stopped me at church. She told me how much these blog posts encouraged her. What had been of importance to her was that although I faced difficulties, “You did not lose your faith.”

I believe I did not lose my faith because my Savior held me firmly. His hand rested upon my shoulder as He walked me through the turmoil, whispering in my ear how much He loved me. And I listened. From the Sacred heart of Jesus, I learned true conversion is one of a right-seeing heart.

What might seem a random series of incidents and reflections published on this blog has come to an end. As one person commented to one of my posts that I really don’t have much to complain about.

I agree.

There are more compelling tales of difficulty than mine, of others who are more challenged -- physically and spiritually – and who face greater and disheartening difficulties than those I have faced.

As to conversion, yes, I did convert. I converted from a self-satisfied, self-centered, bigoted Christian who experienced the body of Christ in a limited way, to a meeker, hopefully more child-like Christian who ever yearns to listen to the Trinity with the ears of my heart. I converted to a Christian who desires only to gaze continually toward my savior, Jesus the Messiah. Moreover, when I hang back in fear or fall into sin, my heart’s desire is to be as a toddler who rushes on tottering feet to grab hold of the cross, thankful the Messiah is there to forgive, pick me up, and renew my life in Him.

Initially, I had not wanted to share the saga of my journey, even though others urged me to do so. What good would it do? I asked myself. How could I share experiences that mystified me and left me perplexed and full of questions? Who was I that I had anything to say? The past is the past, and I just wanted to move on and let it be.

Then, in the summer of 2007, after months of hearing the Holy Spirit’s call in homilies, and through the Holy Scriptures, I gave in. I remember walking into our kitchen and declaring to my husband that I was going to write a blog. I asked him if he could help me think of a name for it. Without missing a beat he said, “Call it, Protestant and Catholic at Critical Mass.”

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Summation of 2006

For two months I have written and rewritten this post. I’m a rather private person who rarely expresses my deepest feelings to others. Thus, for me, to articulate something as intimate as God’s call on my life has not been easy.

At the entrance to the Roman Catholic church we attend there is a word engraved in the stone floor. That word is humilitas . . . humility. When the Lord spoke to my heart to follow Him and see what He would do as I supported my husband in his Catholic faith, all I could see was a harsh desert before me. When Christ placed within me a ravenous hunger to taste the Catholic culture, I was driven into a wilderness of all things Catholic: parish activities, Catholic books, Catholic internet sites, radio, and television. In that new and bewildering place, I had to discard my Protestant attitudes to see my way clearly through the shifting sands. After the first year, the dry winds of exclusion scoured away my protests, angers, and discontent. Those same winds pitted my soul with a second year of servitude, self-examination, and readjustment.

Through it all I knew intuitively that somehow this was for my good, and the process was God’s method of caring for me, just as the desert had been a place of His care for Israel. These words of Deuteronomy chapter eight resonate with me:

"You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.” And "Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son“ (Deuteronomy 8:2, 5 NASB).

By the fall of 2006 I was a ragged pilgrim in need of some clear vision about how to persevere.

My desert extended through harsh elements. For example, in a Zenit article, the writer quoted a well-known Cardinal who said non-Catholic Christians practice “a soft Christian life that does not take seriously the reality of sin and its consequences.” He then added, they are tainted "with the individualist error, which is so widespread, of thinking that Christians can relate to God on their own."

Protestantism – perceived from afar – might lead many to believe Protestant Christians have an unperfected process to be forgiven of their sins. And, I suppose, based on their observation of some Protestant televangelists, one might easily conclude Protestants are self-absorbed, worldly, and much like spoiled children.

But, sometimes perceptions can be off the mark.

Thankfully, some in our parish took the time to scrutinize my life, engaged me in conversation, challenged me, poked, and prodded to ascertain if I was indeed a Christian. The scrutiny left me breathless, often without strength, and drove me into the arms of Jesus where I learned His mercy, forgiveness, and courage. And it was there that I reflected upon the kindness of those who sought to know who I was in Christ.

St. Paul’s words to the Ephesians and Colossians about the Church and the Body of Christ taught me that as a baptized child of God I was part of Christ’s mystical body. I learned the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church recognized all Trinitarian baptisms as efficacious for salvation, acknowledging I was a Christian, part of Christ’s body. But when Rich converted to Catholicism, I discovered many Catholics believed they alone were the Body of Christ. Their statements shocked me, and I thought they must consider me dead, lost in my sins. How else could they view me? As far as they were concerned, I was not part of the living organism, the body of Christ.

That was when I began to understand why Catholics told me I could not understand the deep mysteries of Catholic faith, and I thought, surely that was why I was not permitted at the table of the Eucharist (Communion).

The more I listened, the more I learned, and the more I tried not to notice the unrelenting conversations around me of Catholic primacy – or of the rhetoric that emphasized the faults of non-Catholics, the idiocy of trusting in the Bible alone for spiritual direction and warnings about the divisiveness of schismatic Protestants.

But it was the words “individualist error” that struck home.

What I did not know that November 2006, was that there are many unofficial voices that consider themselves teachers of authentic Catholic thought and practice. These people often ignore the Roman Catholic Church’s renewed desire to dialogue with all Christians, to view all baptized Christians as brethren, and to seek a path that will lead to a unity in Christ. I did not know that the many Catholic apologists I was reading online or listening to via radio might be espousing their own view of the Church.

Words like error, used by some of the online apologists, conjured in my mind the idea of being “doomed.” Unlike the conciliatory messages I heard at Mass, they said things like, “From the Catholic perspective we see Protestantism as a single collective error with many facets that is internally fractured through the core error of insubordination to God’s Ecclesial Authority.” They also opined, “Protestantism’s aversion for not boasting by works has made it easy to completely ignore the necessity for Holiness [sic] and the mandate to ‘be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).’ That requires regular routine disciplines of bathing (confession) and shearing (penance) and health checks and eating of good food (Eucharist) and exercise (prayer).”

After encountering such examples of religious correctness, I came to wonder why I even attended services with Rich. What kind of dim-witted person was I to keep going to a place where these types of opinions were the norm? But I was no fool. I was following my Savior. And although separated from the Catholic body by its rules, I did not practice self-centered individualism, as some Catholics accused Protestantism.

I desired only singleness of heart toward God. By the fall of 2006, that had been my desire for thirty-one years. The Holy Spirit initiated such a desire in me because singleness of heart is an attribute of all Christians. It is a Christian’s deepest longing to be conformed into the image of Christ. For my part, I knew that meant God would work in me and upon me. I knew He would use the framework of my life’s journey to “will and do His good pleasure"(Philippians 2:13).

I was willing to agree with God – whatever it required. I endeavored as best I could to obey my Lord. He called, I answered. That was the only way I knew to respond.

Conversely, I was learning that most Catholics conceive of obedience to God’s call as existing within the structure of their obligations – obligations, for example, to participate in the Mass, observe Holy Days of Obligation, regular times of confession, penance, to evidence good works, as well as obedience to the ecclesiastic hierarchy.

But structural obligations made little sense to how I responded in obedience. That simply was not my culture.

My conscience was formed within a culture that accepted no other rule but of God alone as expressed through His Holy word. It was a matter of trust. I expected God to direct my steps. I had learned to hear His direction through reading Holy Scripture. So, in 2005 when I heard Him say through the Scriptures, “Be with your husband. Live out unity in your marriage,” I simply obeyed. When, within several homilies I heard Christ say, “Choose my way--- the way that is not usual or well understood,” I prayed for strength. When we sang at Mass, “Be Not Afraid,” I heard His call in the lyrics, “I go before you always; Come follow me and I will give you rest,” and I gained confidence.

The call of the Holy Spirit always comes with a price. I must humble myself, follow Him, and obey Him at any cost. His message to me was no less clear and authoritative as the Holy Spirit’s call to those within the Catholic Church to practice obedience and holiness.

St. Francis of Assisi often said concerning humility of those within the Church, “The subject should look upon his prelate not as a man, but as the representative of Him for Whose love he is subject to him. For the more contemptible is he who commands, the more pleasing to God is the humility of him who obeys.”

When I realized that God had put me in a place where I would be subject to distrust, disparagement, misunderstanding, marginalization and disregard, I wanted to give up.

However, as incredible as it might sound to the writers of the excerpts I quoted earlier, a complete and utter commitment to follow hard after my Lord Jesus overcame my paltry objections and worries. And with that commitment to obedience, a deep well of love gushed up in my heart for the very people who thought I was destined for hell.

Once the hand of the Savior rests on the soul, how can it refuse Him any desire of His most sacred heart? That heart, aflame with holy authority to empower, sets all alight with its agape Love.

I felt that flame during the summer of 2006 at a Bible Study mentioned in an earlier post. It was at that time I discovered I could listen without rancor and without offense to those who spoke disparagingly about my Protestant brethren. Jesus did that work of grace in my heart. It was nothing that came from myself. But how like Him to make His call upon my life silently, without fan-fare – and to humble me also in the process. How like Him to allow me, a non-Catholic, to participate even in small ways in the liturgy and in spiritual communion. How kind was His invitation to me to share my artistic skill and other gifts with my parish. It was one of my great joys that year to encourage Christ’s beloved body through the creation of a tapestry for Family Mass. That bright opportunity was to me like a refreshing cup of cool water on a hot summer day.

Later that fall, the wilderness still seemed far too difficult. I fell very ill. In my illness, I longed for the familiar, the simple, the pleasant . . . .

Jesus sent me His heart as His gift – and in that gift I found myself learning to lean on His wounded side, to trust in the plan that flowed from Him - and to wait upon His way, His time, and His call to be ever in the process of being conformed into His image.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Respectful Ponderings

“Jesus son of God, Jesus son of Mary.” This phrase circled around in my mind as we drove toward church for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It was late fall of 2006. Rich and I had been attending the Roman Catholic Church for almost two years.

As a Protestant, I’d never encountered the Immaculate Conception. It was not part of my Christian vocabulary. Nor did it seem appropriate to think of the mother of Jesus connected to such an unfamiliar theological attribute. Like most Protestants, I had not pondered the implications of who Mary was -- and is. To me, Catholic Christians gave the impression of being obsessed with Mary, an obsession that seemed pointless. The overabundance of St. Mary’s titles reverberated in my brain. They engendered unwelcomed questions that pestered my mind and disturbed my Protestant sensibilities. It seemed her appellations were endless: Mary, Queen of Heaven, Mary, the Mother of God, Mary, the Blessed Virgin, Mary, Holy Tabernacle for the Bread of Life, the Mother of the Church, Our Blessed Mother, Immaculate Heart . . . .

In accord with my Protestant experience, I was satisfied to leave Mary in the role of mother of Jesus. Yet, I also recognized her as a uniquely special human being. I’d never considered her just another woman of biblical history. I acknowledged the Virgin Mary played a pivotal role in God’s provision for my salvation. I considered her an excellent role model. My Protestant pastors had often reminded me of this at Christmas and on Mother’s Day.

Knowing who Mary was in relationship to the plan of salvation seemed to be enough for me.

That is probably why the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception Mass was a meaningless Catholic experience for me. Yet, shortly afterward, I began to contemplate what I knew of St. Mary’s life.

She was a Jewish virgin who lived in her parents' home. She was engaged to Joseph and had a cousin who was the wife of a priest. I knew Mary was present during some of her son’s teaching ministry. She instigated His first miracle at the Cana wedding, and she watched Him die on a cross. I knew she was in the upper room and was active in early church prayer meetings. But none of these facts told me what her spiritual relationship was to her God or why my husband, along with many Christians, held her in venerable honor – or what my response to her should be.

The Holy Spirit drove me to re-read the scriptures, and in so doing, I discovered more about the sweet Virgin. I realized Mary had found such favor with God that He trusted her with His precious gift, His son. Indeed, with the angel’s visit, the Father announced to her that she was the virgin of Isaiah’s prophesy (Isaiah 7:14). Yet, from her reaction to Gabriel, Mary showed us the humility and steely resolve only God had known to be in her heart.

Mary was probably in her mid-teens when Gabriel greeted her. I thought how phenomenal this teenager’s response was! I knew very well the self-centered nature of young adulthood. As I contemplated this, I saw the Virgin in a new light.

I wondered if St. Mary’s humility sent theologians of the past to pour over the New Testament texts that spoke of her. Did they realize the Father’s plan for mankind’s redemption centered on the response of a teenager? Had they also pondered her astonishment at the presence of an angel, and his unprecedented message to her? Did they marvel that she acquiesced without hesitation to receive the mantel of motherhood? Were they amazed that no hint of the well-used human qualifier---- “But” --- passed through her lips?

Scripture and Sacred Tradition give us no sense of a selfish will standing against that of the Father's. There was no, “Will people think I’m a liar – or crazy? And what about Joseph? What will he do when he learns I am with child?” She didn’t say, “What about my parents?” or, “What will happen to me when the town learns I am pregnant?” St. Mary knew she could be stoned for that offense. Engagement in her culture was as binding as marriage, and Mary’s pregnancy would be considered a defilement of the marriage bed. Yet, Mary offered up her life to the One who called her “blessed,” and He commanded His angel to encourage her with these words, “For with God nothing is ever impossible, and no word from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment” (Amplified Bible).

Yes, those questions might have filtered through her mind, yet the young Virgin only asked aloud how she would conceive. And, satisfied with the angel’s answer, she responded with humble acceptance.

Is it any wonder the church, from its beginning, has viewed Mary, the mother of Jesus, as the Blessed Virgin Mary? Is it any wonder she would be called by the early church, Theotokos, “bearer of God?” After all, St. Mary bore Messiah, very God and very man.

So, it seemed to me a reasonable thing that devotion for the Mother of God did not dissipate even in the lives of reformers such as Luther and Calvin. Though they took issue with some of the practices and theology of Rome, they continued nonetheless to honor the Blessed Mother. Martin Luther said, “The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.” And John Calvin wrote, “Elizabeth called Mary Mother of the Lord, because the unity of the person in the two natures of Christ was such that she could have said that the mortal man engendered in the womb of Mary was at the same time the eternal God.”

After a time, I began to see why, out of a heart full of praise to God, Roman Catholics turn loving eyes to the tender teenage girl who was the sweet vessel for our salvation.

Though I could not feel comfortable with some of the concepts attributed to the Blessed Virgin, I could at least understand the fervor of thankfulness and respect accorded to so courageous and faithful a servant of the living God. St. Paul tells us to address older women in the faith as “Mother” (1Timothy 5:2). Thus, I consider it a privilege to add my own respectful praise to my Savior by calling His mother, my mother.