Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Falling in love with the historical Church, waking up to the reality

In the first flush of conversion, I had certain ideas about the Church: how She would look, feel, and even smell. There would be Gothic cathedrals with spires pointed heavenward, incense wafting from one of those things on a chain (they’re called thuribles), and magnificent stained glass windows. Churches would be overflowing with large families praying the rosary, lighting candles, and genuflecting. All this tangible devotion would be reinforced by vestments, choirs, and organ music. We would all do the exact same things because thats just what Catholics did.

I had fallen in love with the Church.

The first time I heard Mass, I fell out of love.

My experience in Catholic churches had consisted of admiring the architecture, escaping from the heat, and checking a travel itinerary box. This would be my very first experience of the Mass.

Walking through the door, I was struck by the sheer numbers. There were people of all ages: children running through the hall, infants soothed in their mothers arms, elderly people in wheelchairs, young families that took up entire pews: it was brimming with life. It was completely different from the quiet, aging Lutheran church we attended.

But then Mass began, with singers and acoustic guitars in front of the altar singing, “Somebodys knocking at your door. Answer Jesus! Somebodys knocking at your door.”

My favorite hymn had a slightly different tone:

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.

Then I remembered Richard John Neuhaus’s conversion story, in which a fellow Lutheran asked how he could give up Bach to become Catholic. I had thought that was odd. Didnt the Church have an unparalleled wealth of music? Hadnt they cornered the market on all things transcendent?

It didnt seem like a strange question anymore. The music didnt get better, and neither did anything else. My expectations were dashed. My husband and I drove home in silence. After that rude awakening, my focus shifted from the historical church to the present reality. With this shift came more questions.

Listening to Catholic Answers one afternoon, I asked my husband. “What's Vatican II?” We werent sure, so we googled it—and descended down the rabbit hole.

And why did people refer to “liberal” and “traditional” Catholics? Wasn't “traditional Catholic” redundant?

My naivety extended to the big names in the Church. Before the desire to convert, Pope Benedict XVI had been just another pope wearing Prada shoes, one more example of the hypocrisy rampant in the Catholic Church. (Come to find out, his shoes were actually made by an Italian cobbler.) I didnt know what the Curia was, had no idea what CDF meant, and didnt have a favorite cardinal.

I just knew I wanted to be part of the Church, because I had come to realize the Truth was found in Her, and only in Her.

It was exhilarating, that moment when it hit me: “I'm going to become Catholic.” But as I experienced more of the modern church, and began RCIA, Patrick Coffins greeting to converts, “Come on in! Its a mess,” started to make sense.

So did the words of Hilaire Belloc, which no longer seemed merely witty:
The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.
But Gods promise remains: the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church. It can be hard to believe—amidst the challenges of our time and the ever-present scandals. But there is no other option than absolute fidelity to the Bridegroom and His Bride.

Just like the couple united in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, whose young love is transformed into something more precious with time, so the Church in our day demands more than a feeling, an inner stirring. She requires deep devotion and prayer, and ever greater adherence to the Truth, come what may. Because the reality remains: She is the bride of Christ, and the Truth is found nowhere but in Her. Conversion to the one true faith remains the greatest, most life-altering decision a person can make—even if things are a bit of a mess.

Faith or The Church Triumphant, by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 1664–1665
St. Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou,
O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God,
thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

  follow us in feedly