The One Reason I Don’t Veil at Mass

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Veiling.

As a relative newcomer to the Church, I usually like to stay away from those lively, in-house hot buttons. I feel like a newly adopted kid giving her new family relationship advice – what do I know about it, anyway? I haven’t been part of the conversation that started so many years ago. Even for subjects that I do know some things about – like say feminism – the whole conversation has been reframed in a new and completely different context, and I just need to sit and listen for a while before I say a word.

But veiling.

I keep coming back to this one.

You see, as a Protestant, I practiced veiling – only, we called it “covering.”

Image result for desiree hausam headcovering
Summer, 2013

Same difference. Here’s a shot of my girls and I outside our old Presbyterian church (before we got banned – but that’s a different topic).

Sola Scriptura

We adopted this practice because of Sola Scriptura. Our personal interpretation of the Bible (informed by a variety of Bible teachers) was that women should veil in worship, and so we did. At times, a couple of other women in the congregation covered as well, but it was a minority position and tended to cause some in-house tension. At the end of my time there, I was the only woman who practiced it – along with being part of the only family who didn’t sing the hymns. Every Sunday felt like my own personal protest, staged against my brothers and sisters whom I dearly loved and desired unity with. But I could not deny what I saw in the Bible. Ultimately this path led to our complete breakage from our church home of 14 years.

By the time we later washed up on the shores of the Catholic Church, I was exhausted and heartbroken from the conflicts we had been through.  Week after week, I still faced the choice: continue to veil? Or set it aside?

Well, when I learned that the official position of the Church on veiling is that it is no longer Canon Law, and is an optional practice (want more meat? Try this one), I decided to lay my veil aside, for one reason only.

I don’t veil because 99% of the ladies in my parish also don’t veil. I’ve done my time as a Protestant; I protested until it broke my heart, for the sake of my interpretation of the Bible. That’s the fate of a Protestant who takes Sola Scriptura completely seriously. But I hung all that up when I chose to submit to the inspired guidance of the Magisterium of the Church.

The Priceless Unity of the Church

For those ladies that do veil, I have nothing but respect. It’s a beautiful, reverent devotion, and it is affirmed as valid by the Church. My heart warms to see the ladies who do it. We all come from different places, and are blessed by different devotions. I am often encouraged to see the same attitude from the veiling folks:

“Whether you join us in the devotion of wearing a chapel veil or not, we are your sisters. Let us truly be in communion. Let us pray for one another.” – Birgit Jones

But I am saddened and troubled when I occasionally encounter the attitude that it is irreverent not to veil – in Facebook threads, usually.

One thing I love about the Church is that she permits so many varied expressions of true spirituality without division. We have many different vocations, devotions, practices that are approved, and we have to accept one another under the shelter of Rome. Differences exactly like the question of veiling routinely sunder the Protestant world – yet Catholics hold together, because we all agree that the Church, not us, decides who is Biblical and reverent, and who isn’t.

The unity of faith and practice that the Catholic Church has is a priceless treasure. For a former Presbyterian, used to the endless shattering of denominations, it is simply a miracle. It IS a miracle, friends – the only reason we can all hold together is through the inspiration of the Spirit to the Magisterium of the Church.

Conclusion

So, for me, with my background and experiences, to veil in a parish setting where nearly no one else does disrupts my sense of finally belonging to a community with whom I have no quarrel. To lay it aside was an act of trust in the Church – a setting aside of my Sola Scriptura conviction in favor of submitting to the Church’s conclusion on the subject. I would don my veil again in a heartbeat if the Church asked me to, but until then, I go bareheaded in trust that this, too, is reverent.

Do you veil at Mass? Why or why not? Grab some coffee, let’s chat!

If you are thinking of starting to veil, remember that Ebates members get 5% cash back at The Catholic Company!

 

Catholic Piety for Protestants No. 3: St. Patrick’s Breastplate

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

Welcome to the third post of my series on Catholic piety for Protestants and converts; in this series I am delving into some of the classic prayers of the Church. Catholic piety is not typically well understood in Protestant circles, and as a convert I found this to be an area that was both fascinating and also deeply important to my changing perceptions of the Church.

Other posts in the series: The Anima Christi, and The Peace Prayer of St. Francis.

St. Patrick’s Breastplate (or the Lorica of St. Patrick)
The Prayer

Full text:

I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today Through the strength of Christ’s birth with His baptism, Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial, Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension, Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.

I arise today Through the strength of the love of cherubim, In the obedience of angels, In the service of archangels, In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward, In the prayers of patriarchs, In the predictions of prophets, In the preaching of apostles, In the faith of confessors, In the innocence of holy virgins, In the deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through The strength of heaven, The light of the sun, The radiance of the moon, The splendor of fire, The speed of lightning, The swiftness of wind, The depth of the sea, The stability of the earth, The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through God’s strength to pilot me, God’s might to uphold me, God’s wisdom to guide me, God’s eye to look before me, God’s ear to hear me, God’s word to speak for me, God’s hand to guard me, God’s shield to protect me, God’s host to save me From snares of devils, From temptation of vices, From everyone who shall wish me ill, afar and near.

I summon today All these powers between me and those evils, Against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose my body and soul, Against incantations of false prophets, Against black laws of pagandom, Against false laws of heretics, Against craft of idolatry, Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards, Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul; Christ to shield me today Against poison, against burning, Against drowning, against wounding, So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.

***Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.***

I arise today Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity, Through belief in the Threeness, Through confession of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

***The starred portion is often used alone as an abbreviated version. Text from Our Catholic Prayers.

Impact:

There is a common Protestant misconception that Catholics don’t know Jesus, aren’t Christians, or are so distracted by Mary and the saints that they don’t think about Jesus that much.

This is maybe the #1 misconception that needs to be overcome (either that, or Sola Scriptura). Our Protestant brothers and sisters love Jesus, and they need to find out that we do, too! I have said before that conflict and confusion drove me to the doors of the Church, but Jesus pulled me inside. All I had to do was darken that door with a truly open mind, and I recognized that Jesus was there in a way that I had not found before. For me, that open mind was caused by the collapse of my previous views and my forcible ejection from my former community, but it might not have to be that way for everyone. Some of us might be a little more stubborn than others. Maybe.

There are lots of ways in which Jesus is present in the Church, but prayers like this are so accessible. It is hard to say that a Catholic doesn’t care about Christ when she is reverently praying, “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me...”

The Facts

Our Catholic Prayers says:

“St. Patrick’s Breastplate is a popular prayer attributed to one of Ireland’s most beloved patron saints. According to tradition, St. Patrick wrote it in 433 A.D. for divine protection before successfully converting the Irish King Leoghaire and his subjects from paganism to Christianity. (The term breastplate refers to a piece of armor worn in battle.)”

The prayer is also known as The Lorica of St. Patrick, and the Cry of the Deer. There have been a number of musical adaptations, including the one included below.

Further Resources

Musically, I may be in a bit of a rut, but I am finding that John Michael Talbot has sung so many of these prayers, and I have known these songs for years before I knew them as anything else. Do you have a favorite musical version?

Catholic Piety for Protestants No. 2: The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

Welcome to the second post of my series on Catholic piety for Protestants and converts; in this series I am delving into some of the classic prayers of the Church. Catholic piety is not typically well understood in Protestant circles, and as a convert I found this to be an area that was both fascinating and also deeply important to my changing perceptions of the Church.

If you missed the first post in the series, check it out here.

The Peace Prayer of St. Francis
The Prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
 
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

Impact:

My conversion happened at a crisis point in our lives. As I mentioned in my Reflection after the Easter Vigil, I was feeling pretty crushed by life when I first darkened the door of the Church. This prayer spoke to my soul, that in crisis, in rejection, in sadness, loss, and even despair, with Jesus in me, I could sow joy. I did not have to be a victim of my circumstances, always reacting, always on the defensive, but I could forget myself and serve others, even coming from a place of great lack in terms of both material goods and also emotional stamina.

In conflict with our previous church leaders, I could sow peace and pardon. In a place of despair regarding our financial future, I could lean on a strength not my own and sow hope to others.

In a place in my life where I deeply felt need of consolation and understanding, I could find purpose in offering these things to others, and forget my own craving for the comforting of my wounds. Jesus was strong enough to do these things in me, without my needing to be strong enough first.

None of these ideas were really new to me, as a believer from a Protestant background. The impact on me of many things I found in the Church didn’t always come from a place of striking difference from Protestant piety, but by an unexpected similarity met by a difference in tone and fueled by the hidden power of the Eucharist. Truths that I knew in my head and strove for in my soul sprang to life before the living reality I encountered each Sunday at the Mass.

The Facts:

Welp, friends, the first thing you find out when looking into the history of this prayer is that it didn’t actually come from St. Francis

Am I the only one that didn’t know this?

The prayer originated in France in the early 1900’s, published anonymously in a little spiritual magazine entitled La Clochette.  It became associated with St. Francis by virtue of having been published on the back of a holy card bearing St. Francis’s image, but without being attributed to him. (Dr. Christian Renoux, Franciscan Archive, 8/22/2017, 10:30 am).

The association with St. Francis makes a lot of sense, regardless of authorship; the spirit of the prayer is very much in accord with the life and spirituality of St. Francis. In the words of Jack Wintz, OFM: “Francis of Assisi may not have written the words of the prayer attributed to him, but he certainly lived them.”

Further Resources:

In closing, a musical rendition of the Peace Prayer, by John Michael Talbot. I love prayers set to good music!

 

Linked up at Reconciled To You.

Catholic Piety for Protestants Series Part 1: The Anima Christi

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

If I had to choose the single most striking thing about our transition from conservative Presbyterianism to the Catholic Church, it’d be a tough call. There are quite a number of things I have changed my mind about, and it all adds up to a different, better religious life than what I had before.

But the thing the had the biggest personal impact on me is probably not what I would have expected. Changing my mind about Sola Scriptura, Mary and the saints, the Pope, images…these are not small issues. But the thing I least expected is far more subtle, and yet had an enormous impact on my conversion. What is this mighty thing?

Catholic piety.

Protestants have a lot of different perspectives on Catholics, and so if I seem to paint with a broad brush, forgive me. I speak from what I know and where I was. And where I was, I didn’t understand Catholic piety and spirituality at all, or even really believe it existed. I looked at the Church and her strange (to me) ways, and saw scary, creepy heresy. I saw layers of medieval superstition, instead of the clean, spare brightness of the Reformed tradition. I saw people enslaved to the outer trappings of an empty tradition.

In other words, I saw a fantasy concocted in my own mind and imbibed from the world in which I moved.

As I mentioned in my Reflection after the Easter Vigil, a memory that had a huge impact on me was that of hearing a gentleman behind me at Mass in our early days of visiting; he was participating in the prayers, and his voice overflowed with genuine faith. That moment has since struck me as a turning point in my attitude toward the Church and toward Catholics. It was the moment when I really internalized the fact that I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.


Tweet: I had been dead wrong about the question of whether Catholics possessed a living faith in Jesus.


There was so much more to the journey, and so many questions that had to be explored. This could never have been “The Reason” I converted, but that experience has become symbolic to me as that time I recognized the presence of my Lord, and could never look back.

So, I want to start a series on Catholic prayers and piety; a basic rundown of some of the classic Catholic prayers and how they reveal the heart of the Catholic Church. These prayers are a wealth of spiritual truths, and I think I am not the first nor the last Protestant to be surprised at the depths of love and faith that the Church has to share with the world.

First up:

The Anima Christi
The Prayer:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Separated from Thee let me never be 
From the malicious enemy defend me 
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints 
Forever and ever
Amen
Impact:

Praying and reflecting on these ancient words pulls the mind and heart to Christ. To someone who didn’t understand that the Catholic Church is all about Jesus, listening to the entirety of a large parish recite such a Christ-centered prayer with feeling was an experience that contributed to my changing perceptions of Catholics. 

The Facts:
  • Also known as The Aspirations of St. Ignatius Loyola.
  • Dates from the early 14th century
  • Often mistakenly ascribed to St. Ignatius Loyola, but predates him. St. Ignatius often references the prayer in his Spiritual Exercises
  • Often used as a communion hymn or prayer – sometimes in responsorial fashion

(Source: New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia)

Further Resources:

In closing, I’d like to share with you a beautiful rendition of the Anima Christi by John Michael Talbot (whose music is very worth exploring). I was familiar with John Michael Talbot before I knew much of anything about Catholicism, so I knew this song long before I knew where it came from.

I plan to make this an ongoing series. Do you have a favorite prayer that you’d like me to write about? Comment and let me know!

 

Catholic Piety for Protestants Series Vol. 2: The Peace Prayer of St. Francis

Linked up at: www.theologyisaverb.com and www.reconciledtoyou.com/blog.html

Grace, Works, and a Catholic Convert

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

I used to think Catholics taught salvation by works, not grace. After all, they do teach that works are necessary for salvation, and that’s pretty much the same thing.

Right?

Well, no. I’ve mentioned before that as a new convert to the Catholic Church, I was continually surprised by the faith and piety that I encountered. I still notice, with joy and wonder, every time I go to a different parish and it, too, is jam-packed with people who obviously take their faith very seriously.

The same thing happened every time I dug into Catholic theology, including on the topics of grace, faith, works, and justification. I expected to find terrible, man-centered heresy. Instead, I found truth, and beauty.

So, I had some things wrong about grace, works, and merit before I converted.

~1~

“Catholics think they are saved by religion, not by Jesus.”

This is a common charge, and I would have said something like that, back in the day. I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption. Being a Christian does not consist in just being kind to the poor, going to church, singing hymns, or serving on parish committees, though it includes all of these. It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

A lot of Protestants, my former self included, would be confused at best to hear these words coming from a highly respected Catholic. A love relationship with Jesus Christ”? Sounds like something straight out of a Bible church to me!

~2~

“Catholics think they are saved by their merit, not grace.”

The Catholic doctrines of merit sound like a foreign language to Protestants. Words and phrases like “merit,” the “treasury of merit,” or “indulgences” communicate to Protestants concepts that Catholics do not intend or believe. The main thing to bear in mind is that “merit,” when speaking of the merits of the saints, or our merits before God, doesn’t refer to anything that comes from us. Consider this quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, found online here:

“The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.” – Catechism, Article 2, Section 1

Or this quote from St. Therese of Liseaux:

“After earth’s exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone. . . . In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” – St. Thérèse of Lisieux, “Act of Offering” in Story of a Soul, tr. John Clarke (Washington DC: ICS, 1981), 277

For a more in-depth treatment, try this post from Called to Communion.

~3~

“Catholics think they are saved by faith + works, not faith alone.” There’s no room for grace.

You know, I remember from many conversations among Reformed friends about justification the favorite saying that “we are saved by faith alone, but not by faith that is alone.” I thought that the Catholic view that works, sanctification, etc., are all a part of justification was a corruption of the Gospel, detracting from the work of Christ on the cross.

Not so. Take this quote from Saint Augustine, widely loved and respected by Protestants:

“What merits of his own has the saved to boast of when, if he were dealt with according to his merits, he would be nothing if not damned? Have the just then no merits at all? Of course they do, for they are the just. But they had no merits by which they were made just” (Letters 194:3:6 [A.D. 412]).

“What merit, then, does a man have before grace, by which he might receive grace, when our every good merit is produced in us only by grace and when God, crowning our merits, crowns nothing else but his own gifts to us?” (Letters 194:5:19).

If you want to dig into this a little more, this article from Catholic Answers is very thorough and includes a helpful compilation of quotes from the Church Fathers. Also, Jimmy Akin has a characteristically super-thorough post on Justification by Faith Alone.

~4~

The Canons Council of Orange (529 A.D.) – the Council all Calvinists should read

I’m going to get really specific here for a minute. I was a Reformed Calvinist Protestant. Anyone who is, was, or knows a Calvinist needs to read and share the Canons of the Council of Orange. (You can find it online here.) It really tears down the idea that Catholics believe that they contribute anything to their salvation that does not come from God in the first place. In trying to select some quotes, I got frustrated, because I really want to share the whole thing with you! But here is a sample:

“That a man can do no good without God. God does much that is good in a man that the man does not do; but a man does nothing good for which God is not responsible, so as to let him do it.” Canon 20

And,

“Concerning those things that belong to man. No man has anything of his own but untruth and sin. But if a man has any truth or righteousness, it is from that fountain for which we must thirst in this desert, so that we may be refreshed from it as by drops of water and not faint on the way.” Canon 22

And,

“Concerning the will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.” Canon 23

While I’m getting a little more technical than usual, some say that the Council of Trent (online here) contradicts the Council of Orange. Bryan Cross wrote a good post on that a while ago, found here.

Conclusion

So, when I was investigating the Catholic Church, I found out that my preconceptions and assumptions about the Church’s teaching on grace and works were plain wrong.  You can go as deep as you want on this topic (see some recommended reading below), but Archbishop Sheen summed up the simple truth perfectly in the quote from above:

“Christianity is not a system of ethics, it is a life. It is not good advice, it is divine adoption…It is first and foremost a love relationship with Jesus Christ.”

For Further Study

What is the Catholic Doctrine of Salvation – The Christian Freethinker

The Drama of Salvation – Jimmy Akin

Justification by Faith – Peter Kreeft

Moment by Moment: the secret of happiness for moms (and everybody else)

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

“The secret of happiness is to live moment by moment and to thank God for all that He, in His goodness, sends to us day after day.” ~ St. Gianna

So the last few years, my life has felt like one long stroll in front of a firehose. Can you relate? I don’t need to rehash all the things that have happened – some wonderful, some hard, some heartbreaking. Some I have written about, and some are just too personal to share with you all. We all have those times, and even in the times when life is on the calm side, kids get crazy. Like all day, every day crazy!

In the middle of it all, moms have to ride the crazy and be a mother to each of her kids. Every one of them is a blessing and a gift, and each one needs and deserves a mother who is present to them, now, even especially when life Just. Won’t. Stop.

How do we weather these days with grace? I’m not getting any younger, and neither are my kids. I refuse to lose these years to the crazy. My baby boy will only be two once; he can’t wait for when my life stops falling apart and we get all the pieces picked up.

I believe the answer lies in St. Gianna’s quote, above. I need to be present. I need to remain IN the present moment, not aching for the past or being crushed by fear of the future. Each day, each minute, each child, each and every glass of water and skinned knee and sibling squabble and knotted shoelace matters. It deserves my attention. It’s important. More important, even, than my big grown-up problems that never seem to go away.

I’ve also found that remaining firmly in the present moment is the best way to respond gently (or at least appropriately) to the endless stream of needs that a pack of kids will bring. The child standing in front of me has a need. I might feel impatient, because I have been responding to a lot of needs, all day long (and none of them mine). It can seem like somebody is always skinning their knee around here (but mostly it’s just Emily, over and over and over again. That poor kid is, um, accident-prone, shall we say??). But, assuming that the need is legitimate, the ones that came before don’t really matter, nor do the ones that will come after. The need in front of me is what matters.

It doesn’t matter if it’s the fifth band-aid I have doled out that morning; the bumps and bruises of childhood hurt just as much the fifth time as they did the first, and deserve as much mercy every time. (Even for the really clumsy accident-prone 4-year-old.)

It doesn’t matter to my 2-year-old that I have heard all his stories before, from siblings who told me the same ones years before he was born. He needs me to hear him, to delight in him, today.

It doesn’t matter how many glasses of water I have handed out. The kid is still thirsty, and deserves not only a glass of water, but a dose of love and cheerfulness to go with it.

I daresay that if we could apply this principle to how we think about not just our own children and routine chores, but also to how we think of those in need around us, it might revolutionize our attitude.  It’s great if we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and buried the dead yesterday. The dead may be satisfied, but I guarantee the hungry will get hungry again. Every day, just like the rest of us. One more reason I am delighted to be a part of the Catholic Church is that I get to be a part of the largest humanitarian organization in the world! One person can’t do everything (even us moms, guys. Seriously). But being part of a network where we all pitch in to see to the needs of those around us day in and day out is a privilege.

So, whether life is sailing along or falling to pieces, I’m certain that St. Gianna is right. Each moment of our lives, good or bad, has value, and has a purpose. A life lived well is really only a collection of moments used well, or moments used badly, but learned from and forgiven.


Tweet: Each moment of our lives, good or bad, has value, and has a purpose.


I love this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:

“The second remedy for the ills that come to us from thinking about time is what might be called the sanctification of the moment — or the Now. Our Lord laid down the rule for us in these words: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Mt 6:34). This means that each day has its own trials; we are not to borrow troubles from tomorrow, because that day too will have its cross. We are to leave the past to divine mercy and to trust the future, whatever its trials, to God’s loving providence. Each minute of life has its peculiar duty — regardless of the appearance that minute may take. The Now-moment is the moment of salvation. Each complaint against it is a defeat; each act of resignation to it is a victory.” (From From the Angel’s Blackboard, as quoted in a wonderful reflection on this subject by Fr. Andrew Apostoli. Emphasis mine.)

None of this is to say that we should enjoy every moment; it not a mom guilt thing. Please no! There are so many tough moments in our lives. We just don’t need to make them harder than they are by dwelling on the ones that came before, or the ones sure to come after. Sure, there will be muddy floors, broken dishes and broken hearts in the days to come. Of course there will. And of course, we carry the scars of our past. We just don’t have to live there.

Today’s trouble is enough for today. I have that on good authority.

Linked up at  www.theologyisaverb.com and www.reconciledtoyou.com/blog.html.

 

Meeting Mary on the Way to Rome: seven things I learned about the Virgin Mary when I became Catholic

(This post contains affiliate links. I receive a small commission from purchases made through affiliate links. My opinions are entirely my own. You can see my full disclosure policy here.  Thanks bunches.)

“Mary, if you are there, pray for me. Jesus, if this is wrong, show me. And forgive me.”

I prayed that little prayer silently in my head, too scared to whisper it out loud. It was the first evening that what Mark and I had both been thinking had been broached out loud – should we be Catholic?

So began my sojourn into the Catholic Church. As a staunch, old-school Presbyterian, I was terrified at the Catholic thoughts racing around my head, but there was no forgetting the things that I had recently learned, or the doubts that had been raised. After some talking, and some crying, I went to bed feeling as though my whole world was being shaken.

Over the next few weeks, I devoured all the literature I could find on Catholic “hot button” topics, and Mary was at the top of the list. I had held the opinion for a long time that Catholic beliefs about Mary were idolatrous. But, like a number of other things, once I really dug into the Catholic perspective, my objections began to crumble. In my reading, I didn’t find the “superstitious medievalism” that I expected. Instead, I found some things that I had never heard of or considered. There are some wonderful and profound truths in the Marian doctrines.

 

But first things first. Because if praying to Mary is actually idolatrous, I was going to be off the train to Rome as abruptly as I got on.

~1~

Foundation Matters

Like pretty much every other problematic doctrine we came across in our conversion, the questions about Mary brought us back to that foundational doctrinal problem of Sola Scriptura – the Protestant idea that Scripture alone is the sole authority of the church, without the Tradition of the Church.

Sola Scriptura is the lynchpin of the question of Mary. If Protestants are right that the Bible alone is the only rule of faith and practice, then it’s pretty clear that the Bible doesn’t have a lot to say about the relationship of the Church to the Mother of her Lord – not if you are lacking an infallible guide to help illumine the places that teach about her. Lacking any clear command to give her any particular honor or expect a relationship with her, Protestants insist that to do so is an extraneous invention, at best superfluous and at worst idolatrous, taking away from or even destroying our relationship with Jesus.

When Sola Scriptura fell apart for me, it was the beginning of a huge cascade of doctrinal questions and changes. I really don’t believe that many of the disputes between Protestants and Catholics can ever be resolved without resolving the relationship of Scripture and Tradition first. Until then, we’re just talking past each other.

For a quick refutation of Sola Scriptura, see here. For a longer one, try Sola Scriptura and Private Judgement by Jimmy Akin. The latter impacted me deeply when I first read it; we had been recently ejected from our Protestant church home of 14 years over a minor doctrinal dispute, and the wounds were very fresh. I’m thankful for those wounds now – they began my journey to the Catholic Church.

~2~

Don’t we only pray to God? Isn’t it the very definition of idolatry to pray to a creature?

In the many years since the Reformation, the development of a language barrier has deepened and hardened the divide between the Church and her separated Protestant brethren.

You see, when Protestants hear the term, “pray to,” it automatically says to them, “pray to a deity, for the kinds of things one prays to a deity for.”

Well, sure. Under that definition, praying to Mary would automatically be idolatrous, wouldn’t it?

But, I learned that that isn’t what Catholics mean. When a Catholic says that they are going to pray to Mary or another saint, they mean “pray” in the different, older sense that has fallen out of common usage in the modern Protestant world; as in, “I pray thee,” or, “pray proceed.” It meant (and means still) simply, “I ask you.” You could say it to literally anyone.

Catholics are simply asking Mary (and the saints) to pray for us, because “the prayer of a righteous man has great power” (James 5:16).

~3~

Even so, why would anyone think that Mary, or any other saint that has passed on, CAN or DOES pray for us?

Well, it turns out that the Church has believed this to be the case from the very earliest days. From Psalms to Revelation, from Clement of Alexandria to Augustine, we see this beautiful belief supported. This article from EWTN offers the grand tour of quotes on this subject from the Fathers.

~4~

The Rosary

Oh, the Rosary. How much my opinion has changed!

To my Protestant brain, the Rosary was the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the Catholic Church. Vain repetition? Check. Idolatrous prayer to Mary? Check. Participation in extra-Biblical traditions? Check. Belief in doctrines or events not directly stated in the Bible (like the Coronation of Mary)? Check. Some people even use images of Christ to aid their reflection – violation of the 2nd Commandment? Check!

Boom. The Rosary was one concentrated slug of Papist heresy, hung on a little string of beads.

If you had told me that in a few years, I would come to love praying the Rosary, and that I would carry one in my purse, I might have replied that I would be better off dead.

Ouch. Sorry. I changed my mind.

The Rosary is a beautiful and profound tour of the life of Christ. (It’s also not required, for the record. I used to think that to be Catholic you HAD to pray the Rosary. This is not the case.) Each decade of the Rosary leads you to reflect on a different event relating to Jesus’s birth, life, death, and resurrection. You meditate on the spiritual implications and fruit of that event, and how it impacts you where you are right now.

You know. Awful stuff, that.

~5~

So is the Rosary “vain repetition” like Jesus warned against in Matthew 6:7?

Not all repetition is vain repetition. If so, Psalm 136 would be a problem, concluding each of 26 lines with “God’s love endures forever!” One has to consider the purpose and effect of the repetition.

Father Dwight Longenecker has an excellent article on this; also see Our Sunday Visitor for more reading.

~6~

Mary’s Fiat

Not the car. I’m sorry, but growing up we had a yellow Fiat, and that’s what I always think of..convert problems, I guess!

No, Mary’s “fiat” refers to her perfect “yes,” her full submission to the will of God when she replied to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”

This is not so much something that I learned about Mary from the Catholic Church; I knew this one already. But this is a profound spiritual truth that I am learning from her. When Mary said “yes,” she held nothing back, and her entire life changed in the blink of an eye. From the ridicule she must have endured as an unmarried mother, to the sword that pierced her heart at the violent death of her Son, and all the joy and heartache in between, she was never the same.

But she said, “Yes.” Just yes. I pray the Joyful Mysteries more than any other, because I want that “yes” in my heart, too.

~7~

Further Resources

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum; linked up at Reconciled to You and Theology is a Verb.

{SQT} Simple, Frugal Lenten Decor, Tofu, and Learning as I Go

~1~

Since I’m learning to incorporate the liturgical year into family life at the same time I’m adjusting to being a new Catholic, living in a new state, being a first-time homeowner, homeschooling with some unique challenges, and recovering from a serious financial slump, I’m keeping it simple. And cheap. I spent about 20 minutes on our Lent decor, if you include the time it took to figure out where they keep the plastic flowers at Walmart.

Of course, I’d probably keep it simple and cheap no matter what. I like it that way.

~2~

First up: our Lenten front door wreath, pictured above. I love having something on the front door! I picked up a grapevine wreath for $5 at Walmart, and I got the purple flower at the same time for $2.50. I don’t have a glue gun, or florist wire, or the ability to care about that, so I just cut the stem to a good length and wove it into the wreath. It took about two minutes, minus the Walmart-roving, and this way the flower could be readily removed to make way for some other seasonal whim.

Cost: $7.50

~3~

Next, the dresser in our dining room, which houses playdoh, school games, art stuff, and various junk that I shove in there when company is coming.  I put our Advent wreath on it this Advent past, and liked it so much I decided to just leave the space for “liturgical year stuff.” (There’s probably a lent 1better name for that).

Anyway, the purple cloth is actually just my favorite t-shirt (which is at least 10 years old). On top of that is Lenten Sacrifice Beans.  I got both the idea and the free printable from Lacy at Catholic Icing. The only thing I bought for this was the purple ribbon and the flowers.

Cost: $5.00

~4~

We “buried the alleuia” this year, too. This idea I got from Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas – both talleuiahe idea itself and the inspiration to keep it simple. I was happy that I was able to fancy up the Sharpie with some glitter paint that I borrowed from the three year old, though.

I made this on Ash Wednesday, but we forgot to bury it till the Tuesday following.

Cost: free

~5~

The last thing I did was change the top of the bookshelf by the door. It’s only vaguely Lenten, with purple candles and a plain basket, which I recently snagged at the thrift store for a couple bucks. Thelent 2 rest I already had.

Cost: about $2

~6~

Lenten cooking is on my mind, and we tried tofu for the first time in years this week. Last time I made it, it was awful; I think I tried putting it in lasagna, or something equally egregious. This time, I fried it and put sweet and sour sauce on it, and it was actually quite tasty. I have a Pinterest board for Meatless and Fish dishes, come on over and visit for some new Friday ideas.

~7~

Lent seems long, just now, as sacrifices already grow tiresome and I become forgetful of the positive additions I am trying to make to my day during this time. One thing I have learned to appreciate, though, in becoming Catholic, is the sense of the value of time. The value of waiting, of walking through the process instead of skipping to the end. Honestly, I don’t fully intuitively grasp the value of fasting (and I mean fasting in a broad sense) yet, though I have read enough about it by now that I should. I don’t understand it, or why it is beneficial, but I do accept that it is, and I hope to gain a clearer vision of that in this season.

Incorporating the liturgical year into our family uncovers these kinds of gaps in understanding. It brings to mind how, as a Protestant, I would not do something I did not understand the value of or see the Biblical mandate for. Each hymn I sang, each prayer I read, all had to be screened – by me, of course. I love that I can learn by doing, by following the ancient practices of the Church and discovering the richness of it as I go.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

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The Lent when I gave up more than expected

Lent 2016 began on February 10.

On February 11, 2016, Mark sent another query letter to another job opening across the country from our home. It was no big deal. We had done this hundreds of times before. Usually, we heard nothing back.

To us, these two things had nothing to do with each other. The timing was an accident – I didn’t even notice it. But the coincidence later came to hold a permanent significance to me.

You see, I didn’t intend to give up anything for Lent last year. It was my very first serious Lent, and I wasn’t fully Catholic yet. I was still a Candidate.

I thought (with some justification) that my life in general was, at that time, penitential to a degree that I just wasn’t sure I could keep it together if it got any harder. So, I changed our family “fun jar” (where anyone can contribute their pennies and the savings can be spent on a fun outing) to a “giving jar,” I committed to pray the Morning Offering daily, and I obeyed the Friday abstinence (which I do year-round anyway). And that was it.

I had no way of knowing what Lent would really be like for me as a Candidate. That job application, for all its importance, was only part of the story of my first Lent.

The road into the Catholic Church is a long, beautiful, and sometimes painful one. At the beginning, I really didn’t understand why it had to take so long. But I found that there are some things that one can’t learn in a book, or by pulling a late night on Google (no, seriously). Some paths simply must be walked, even especially when we don’t understand, when we can’t see.  There were certain things that had to happen during Lent, for me. They were hard things, but also things that turned my heart more firmly toward Christ.

One, I needed to make my first Confession. This was a deeply difficult experience for me, which I have written more about here. In Confession, I gave uConfessional-780028p my pride. My appearance of having it all (or maybe any of it) together. I also gave up my fear – fear of judgement, of rejection. I had been rejected before, in a church where I thought I was safely at home. It was doubly tough to then bare my soul with the ruthless honesty required to make a good confession, and it took me a long time afterward to relax and believe that it was really going to be okay. (But it was, more than okay. Confession is awesome, guys, I don’t know how I lived without it).

Second, during Lent, I came to really embrace the Catholic attitude toward the Magisterium of the church. I had been Reformed, a child of Luther and Calvin, for a long time. As a passionate adherent to Sola Scriptura, what I believed had had to come down to my own interpretation of the Bible. I could be advised, informed, inspired by the church and by the great (protestant) theologians, but I couldn’t trust them. I could only, in the end, trust my own study, my own judgement of what the Bible taught. (That got me in plenty trouble.) As a Catholic, I am no longer the final authority on what the Bible is saying on any given topic. Just because it’s clear to me, doesn’t make it so. (And if “clear to me” was the same as “clear,” we wouldn’t have so many denominations.) That’s remarkably freeing, a weight of misplaced responsibility lifted – but it’s humbling, too.

Finally, during Lent, I came to something of a breaking point in my personal life. Our steady downward financial spiral and our long, fruitless job search were a torment to me. It’s seriously humiliating to have a lot of kids and be in financial trouble. It’s terrifying and all-around stressful. I spent most of my “free” time either filling out job applications, researching academic job search strategies, or finding creative ways to juggle our finances so nothing got shut off that month.

For years, I had prayed and hoped and worked for and agonized over financial stability as an obvious good – which of course it is. But not every obvious good is given to every person. This one certainly had eluded us, in spite of our neverending efforts to pull ourselves out of our mess.

As it happened, that query letter that Mark sent out on February 11 got answered, which meant we were now ready for the nail-biting joy of Skype interviews. We had had several very near misses in Mark’s job search in previous years, sometimes making it to the very final round of interviews. My prayers over those were always variations on a theme: “Please, we need this job. Please, give us the opportunity to fully provide for ourselves. Allow us the dignity of a job that pays our bills. Allow us rest from this trial.” And sometimes, when the rejection letters came, they felt like rejection letters from God Himself. I knew it wasn’t so, in my head, but I couldn’t change how I felt. The stress was unbelievable.

This was how I came, one day during Lent, during the weeks of interviews, to a broken moment of prayer, crumpled in a heap on the bathroom floor (where else can a busy mom pray?). I could no longer hold onto the hopes and dreams for our future and family that had driven me for so long. I had a death grip on my idea of the way my life ought to go, and too many of my prayers had been little more than one long, loud tantrum that it wasn’t turning out that way.

This time was different. This time, the spirit of Lent took hold of my tired heart. In that moment of prayer, I gave up those dreams for Lent. I gave up my own hopes, goals, and plans for my life and for our family. I gave up wanting what I wanted, and asked for the heart to want what God wanted, instead- even if what He wanted was for us to remain trapped in a hole that was growing ever deeper. Not just to accept it – but to want it – because what I really want is God, and for God to draw my soul nearer to him. If the best way to do that is by this or that grim trial, then I can know that what I am getting is precisely what I really wanted all along.

In that moment, I understood. For my first Lent, I had to give up myself.

After that, I was ready for Easter. I talk about that a lot more in my Reflection After the Easter Vigil.

And in a truly poetic turn, Mark got that job. Our job search and our church transition came to completion at about the same time, around that Easter of 2016.

I haven’t fully worked out yet how we will observe Lent 2017, but I will always remember my first Lent. The spirit of that season, of laying down our wordly loads and loves, and turning our hearts and lives toward the cross, dwells in the Church and in the lives of her people, of which I am privileged to be a part.

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Catholic Conversion: Seven MORE Things I was Wrong About

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I used to think the Catholic Church was creepy.

Truth, friends. As a Protestant, I was immersed in my own culture, and looking in, good grief. All this praying to dead people, and burning incense, and…the bones. I went to a cathedral in Guatemala City once, and bones. People bones. It creeped me out for days.

The thing is, we shouldn’t judge Truth on whether we’re used to it or not. The biggest barrier to my conversion to the Catholic Church was the layers and layers of confusion, misinformation, and misunderstanding that clouded my vision.

~1~

Catholics are obsessed with death.

Well, you know. The relics. The crucifixes. Good Friday. All Souls Day.

Giotto. the-crucifix- c.1317 Padua, Museo Civico

I never liked crucifixes even as a child raised outside of church. I refused to believe that Jesus had really had nails driven through His hands. It was too graphic for me, I guess.

As a convert coming in from a conservative Presbyterian background, where any pictures of Christ are considered to violate the 2nd Commandment, I had a hard time with the crucifix in church. I could hardly look at it, for months.

But I’ve found that it’s not that Catholics are obsessed with death and suffering. It’s that they don’t fear it. Not just in an esoteric, I’m going to heaven kind of way, but in an everyday mercy kind of way. They feel the call to be messengers of mercy, healing, and love in the very darkest places – including the deathbed. They know that our suffering has great value in the eyes of God, and that it is a critical part of our growth as His children.

~2~

Catholics think they have to get married to go to heaven.

I didn’t think this one myself, but friends have challenged me with it. This example highlights how otherwise highly informed Protestants have been seriously misinformed aboBS001 sut the Church. The splintering that goes on and on feeds on this kind of thing. (And it goes both ways, for sure.)

No. Of course not. Priests, nuns, etc., are celibate, for one thing, so that would be an extremely odd doctrine. Marriage is a sacrament, but so are Holy Orders, so most people don’t receive all seven sacraments in their lifetime – only a rare minority, such as perhaps a widower who then became a priest. Neither is required – it depends on one’s vocation and state of life.

~3~

Catholics live in a state of medieval superstition and fear.

This one I did think. In the sign of the cross, in the incense, in the candles, the holy water, the different gestures…I saw all these things as superstitious nonsense, silly things probably done to ward off evil spirits or something. MyFitzgeraldFairyBanquet more austere Reformed spirituality seemed more logical and more Biblical, free of outward tangible signs of spiritual realities, beyond the two sacraments I accepted at the time.

But as I mentioned in my previous list of misconceptions, we are beings who are both physical and spiritual. Catholic practice is not superstitious – these practices all express and point to spiritual realities which are, for the most part, also accepted by our Protestant brothers and sisters. But, they do so in a way that understands that people are more than just a brain, or more than just a heart. We are physical beings, and our minds and hearts are informed and strengthened by things we encounter in the physical world.

~4~

Catholicism teaches that the Pope is never wrong, which is silly, because everybody knows that popes have lived scandalously and contradicted each other.

This is one I took as a given. It was incomprehensible to me that anybody could be so gullible as to actually believe that the Pope was infallible. It was patently obvious that, throughout history, there have been immoral popes who certainly weren’t infallible. And those pesky contradictions! Catholics were, to be sure, mindless automatons who never bothered to crack open a history book.

Pope Francis in March 2013 (cropped)

It was a top objection for me, in the early days. The problems here come really from two major misconceptions, not one:

~5~

Papal infallibility means that the Pope is perfect in every way. He does not forget phone numbers, and he sure doesn’t sin.

Nope. No, no, no. It doesn’t mean that at all. Infallibility refers to what the pope teaches, not to his personal life. Popes do go to Confession, you know – which clues us in that nobody thinks they are sinless.

Catholics aren’t blind to the scandalous popes. They just know that it doesn’t have anything to do with the doctrine of infallibility.

~6~

Popes can’t be infallible because they have contradicted each other.

The historical record of this really surprised me.  As a Protestant, it was a wPope Saint John Paul II Statueorking assumption that popes had contradicted each other, not once or twice, but so many times that the whole doctrine was ridiculous.

To go into the details of the historical record is beyond the scope of this post, so I’m going to drop you some relevant links on this:

 Catholic Answers – Papal Infallibility. I love this article, and would like to quote extensive portions of it to you, but I can’t. Copyright. Please go read it!

The Christian Freethinker

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.

Plus, some books on the Papacy:

Documents Illustrating Papal Authority: AD 96-454 – E. Giles (This can also be found as a free ebook here.)

Upon This Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church (Modern Apologetics Library) – Stephen K. Ray

The Early Papacy: To the Synod of Chalcedon in 451

~7~

Catholics have gone liberal and don’t practice what they preach anymore.

I talked about this a little in my first misconceptions post, but this one keeps on surprising me. Sure, yes, there are plenty of “Catholics” who aren’t serious. There are also plenty of Evangelicals who aren’t serious, who don’t read their Bible or take their morality or faith seriously. It doesn’t mean that the Evangelicals aren’t serious.  It just means that the Evangelical churches have, well, people, in them. Those people are not all at the same place in their journey.

Worshippers pray with rosaries. Credit: User:leba12 (Wikimedia Commons).The un-serious Catholics that I met and, even more, Knew About (through hearsay) gave me an unrealistic view of the seriousness of Catholics in general. I keep meeting an endless stream of serious, sincere, practicing Catholics; I keep being surprised when I do. It’s a lovely, heart-cheering surprise, like so many facets of the Church, but I do hope my flawed, ingrained expectations begin to catch up to reality, one day.

For more Quick Takes, visit Kelly at This Ain’t The Lyceum.

You might also like:

Reading List for The Catholic Convert

{SQT} 7 Things I was Wrong About

{SQT} 7 Things I Didn’t Lose When I Became Catholic