I have had two very different, but very good Mass experiences recently. On Saturday I watched the nearly 2.5 hours long broadcast on EWTN of the Solemn Pontifical Mass in honor of the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. This Mass was in the Extraordinary Form (Usus Antiquior, Traditional Latin Mass, old Mass, etc.), and it was stunning, truly stunning.

Then, on Sunday evening, because of our crazy weekend schedule, my family ended up attending a 7:30 PM Mass at our local Newman Center, which we have not attended before (we’ve been to the Sunday morning Mass years ago). This Mass, as you might guess, was in the Ordinary Form (Novus Ordo, new Mass, etc.), and it was also wonderful.

If you have been following this blog you know I have become increasingly interested in the old Mass. It seems more and more clear to me that the new Mass (and especially the many abuses of the new Mass) has been a kind of tragedy for the Church. I am not alone, however I tend to take a less strident, trenchant, vehement, or angry stance towards Vatican II or the Novus Ordo than do many traditionalists. I have concerns, but I do not label myself a traditionalist. Still, I think the traditionalists largely have it right. Therefore, you might find it curious that I would find the Mass Sunday evening to have been a joy. Here’s why:

  1. The church was packed. Lot’s of youth (mostly college students as you would expect), but also the elderly, families, etc.
  2. Everyone was singing loud. (Yes, the music was contemporary, a bit praise and worshipy, but it was very good) Everyone recited the creed loudly too. A lot of enthusiasm in the church that evening.
  3. The homily was good, not great, but it was very encouraging. I could tell the students in the row in front of us were paying attention. And it was a call to give one’s life to Christ and pursue the divine life.
  4. After Mass everyone was gathering outside, lot’s of energy, lots of chatting and fellowshiping. There was a buzz in the air. There is LIFE in this parish.
  5. BUT also… this church has chairs and no kneelers, and little room between rows to allow people to kneel even if they wanted to. So many, especially the boomers and elderly, do not kneel at all but remain standing. However, all the youth kneeled in reverence. My family did too (we are used to that coming from our own parish). A few others did as well. This told me that the youth are seeking reverence. Some of them will eventually discover the TLM, but they are also bringing reverence into the NO. I found this encouraging.
  6. AND… my eldest daughter, almost 18 yrs old, is in need of a Catholic community to join. Although our local Newman Center is not our family parish, I would be delighted to see her “plug in” to this group where there’s communal life suited to her spirit and age group, but with all ages present too. I could tell this evening Mass, and the various indications of the community surrounding it, was a revelation to her. I am encouraged.
  7. At the end of Mass there were announcements for an upcoming spring formal dance, and also that dinner would be served after Mass (at 8:30 PM!) with cake for April birthdays. I could tell my family thought this sounded fun, but we couldn’t stay.

At the Pontifical High Mass celebrated by Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of Portland, Oregon, he gave a homily that stressed the Novus Ordo and TLM are two forms of the one Roman Rite, and that they should inform and mutually enrich one another. I believe his Excellency thinks that if given a chance the TLM will naturally attract more and more Catholics. He specifically called out the youth, who have shown so much interest in the TLM. I’m sure he also believes that the NO Mass can sometimes have a positive action that is encouraging and leads one closer to Christ.

In case you wanted to hear his words, here is the Archbishop’s homily:

I came away from this weekend very encouraged. I felt the Pontifical Mass and the National Shrine was a potential turning point in the resurgence of the Traditional Latin Mass in this country. I also felt the Novus Ordo Mass at our local college campus parish, with its energy and community, was beautiful in its own way. And the reverence shown by the youth at the NO Mass indicates that the fields are ready for harvest, and also that, for all its faults, true reverence can actually be found at a Novus Ordo Mass. This is why I cannot be a hard-core traditionalist. I love, love, love the traditional Mass, and I pray every day it (and many other old Catholic traditions) continues to grow in popularity and becomes common in our archdiocese. On the other hand, There are places, like this Newman Center parish, where the new Mass is linked to a vibrant and dynamic college culture. For some reason it seems to be working.

Perhaps one form is more about worshiping Christ and the other more about celebrating the Church (which, of course, is the body of Christ). If I had to pick one it would certainly be worshiping Christ, but I wonder how the two can come together more. My desire is to know Christ and become holy. I pray for these things for my family, and for their ultimate salvation. And I want to fellowship with other Christians in these pursuits. These things are more important than which form prevails. However, I also believe the majority of problems in the Church today can be traced to poor worship and a lack of faith — both of which go together (as we see again and again in Church history and the ancient history of Israel). The resurgence of the TLM will, I believe, help bring back a focus on worship proper to Christ our King, and thus promote faith.

Finally, a bone for you traditionalists: As the Novus Ordo Mass began my daughter, who has of yet, since becoming Catholic, only experienced NO masses (mostly at an older and more solemn church we normally attend, but NO nonetheless), leaned over to me and said this Mass seemed very Protestant to her. I have to say, in a way, she was right.

 

This is a talk given at The Roman Forum in 1988 by Michael Davies on why there is a traditionalist movement in the Church. In his singular style Davies gives a good overview of the concerns that prompted the formation the movement.

The audio/video was edited and made available by Vox Catholica, a traditionalist resource sympathetic to the SSPX. I am grateful for this resource, and I feel they have done an excellent job in presenting it. However, just so I am clear at this time, although I am somewhat sympathetic of the SSPX, I am not personally supportive of them, at least not at this time given their standing with the Church, but I find the lecture very much worth listening to. I also pray the SSPX would be fully reconciled with the Church, and eventually given their due as God sees fit.

Archbishop Sample
Archbishop Sample incensing the altar

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample of the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon was the celebrant at an important Mass on April 28, 2018.

This Mass, held at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., was done according the 1962 Missal, in Latin of course. This form of the Mass is the Roman Rite, but it was in the Traditional Latin Mass form (rather than the Novus Ordo, or Mass of Pope Paul VI of 1969/70, know my most Catholics today, and also of the Roman Rite). The Traditional Latin Mass is also known as the Extraordinary Form, or usus antiquior (older use). This term, usus antiquior, was mentioned by his Excellency more than once in his homily. One key reason for choosing this form was to commemorate the ten year anniversary since Pope Benedict XVI issued his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. For Catholic traditionalists the motu proprio was a huge event in the recovery of the old Mass and Catholic Tradition, and hence the reason to celebrate.

As I understand it, the Archbishop is not a strident traditionalist, and his homily confirmed that, but he has taken a leading role in promoting the Latin Mass in the United States and elsewhere. Having him celebrate this Mass makes sense. He is also my Archbishop, which makes this rather exciting for me.

This was only the second time since 1969 that Mass has been celebrated in the Traditional Form at the National Shrine. If you did not get a chance to be there or watch it live on EWTN, I’m sure it will be shown again, and eventually made available online. I admit I watched the entire Mass. There was also running commentary, which some might find distracting but I found helpful and not intrusive. I am still very much learning about the Traditional Latin Mass.

Here are some images (screengrabs) from the live EWTN broadcast:

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William F. Buckley Jr. was a faithful Catholic who preferred the Traditional Latin Mass and did not like the changes brought about by Vatican II or, perhaps more appropriately, the abuses in the name of Vatican II. In 1980 he devoted an episode of his television program Firing Line to discussing these changes, as well as the censure of theologian Hans Kung which had just happened.

On the show his guests were Msgr. Joseph Champlin, Michael Davies, and Malachi Martin. Fr. Champlin was a prolific author and vocal advocate of the new Mass, and a more liberal approach to Catholicism. Michael Davies was also a prolific writer and defender of the old Mass, warrior against the new Mass, and apologist of traditional Catholicism and those who continued to practice it, including Archbishop Lefebvre. Malachi Martin was also a prolific author, former Jesuit, advocate of the old Mass, frequent critic of the Church, television personality of sorts and, some would say, showman to a fault.

Here is the program:

I do not think this is one of Firing Line’s best episodes. Though the topic is of great interest to me, the guests are interesting, and the fact it stands as a kind of time capsule, nonetheless it lacks focus. On the one hand, the topic is just too big for an hour of television. On the other this is more like “inside baseball,” which, in fact, it needs to be but also suffers from. I wondered at times if the audience was bored stiff, thoroughly confused, or both.

Quick takes on each participant:

WFB: Always erudite, but his arguments remain more on the surface, expressing his personal proclivities and, I’m sure unintentionally, providing an excuse for viewers to assume he represents the old guard of stuffy Catholicism afraid of the new and exciting world of modernity and a more youth-oriented Church. And when he pushed on certain topics his interlocutors merely went their own way.

Fr. Champlin: My immediate response was negative. He seemed to represent exactly the kind of wimpy sentimentalist evasive liberal priests that turned the Church away from a cross-carrying, suffering servant, heroic virtue loving, proud-to-be Catholics, and hopeful to be martyrs Catholicism. Of course these are all stereotypes and we should be careful. Nonetheless, my inclinations are probably basically true. In light of a particular section of this program it is worth noting this observation about Fr. Champlin:

He is remembered in his own diocese of Syracuse (where he has served as Vicar of parish life and worship) for his fervent promotion and encouragement of Communion in the hand (when the practice was unlawful in the U.S.), thereby adding to the spirit of disobedience in which that practice was cultivated. He was also prominent in defending an aberrant policy of “Eucharistic hospitality” in the Diocese of Syracuse (which, in effect, permitted Protestants to receive Holy Communion in clear defiance of the restrictions contained in Vatican directives.) [From here.]

He also was wishy-washy on contraception in his popular book on marriage, “Together for Life.”

I must say, however, that clearly Fr. Champlin was “ganged up on” a bit. He was obviously (perhaps by design?) the only advocate of the new Mass, surround by three passionate and articulate advocates of the old. I think he did an excellent job of maintaining his composure and articulating his position.

Mr. Davies: He comes across a bit like a crusader, and his emotions nearly get the better of him several times. However, of all the participants he is the one I find most compelling. Like him I was a Baptist who converted to the Church. Like him I also have some Welsh blood in me, but not the Welsh culture or accent (actually his accent is from Somerset) . At times he seems ready to explode with information, which makes sense given his life’s undertaking of studying these things (and perhaps his passionate spirit). In short, compared with the others, only his arguments were actually compelling as arguments, though he did not have time to articulate them given the nature of television and the format of the show. He also kept his composure, and I hope he was able to pique the curiosity of many viewers to consider his views and his books.

Mr. (or is it Fr.?) Martin: Always entertaining, Mr. Martin loved the sound of his own voice. He seemed to be making an attempt to turn to show towards himself. I did not feel he contributed substantially to the discussion and, in fact, was a distraction. However, I do believe with a different format, for example a two hour discussion that was allowed the guests to ramble a bit more, and where he sat down with the others as a members of the group, he might have fit within the program better. Still, I never know how far to trust him.

My wife and I chose to homeschool our children. This immediately placed upon us the need to have a plan on how we would do this. Consequently we faced the question of what method or approach should we chose. We ended up with what is commonly called Christian Classical Education, an approach we think is best, but we have been open to other ideas, and have tried to enter into a dialectical process with other homeschoolers and educators on this topic. We also looked to the Bible to see what we might find there, and to Saint Paul, one of the Church’s greatest evangelists and theologians, we naturally turned.

I published a version of this essay several years ago. I feel it is worth republishing again, with slight modifications.

Bartolomeo_Montagna_-_Saint_Paul_-_Google_Art_Project

I doubt if Saint Paul ever developed a detailed educational foundation or curriculum or program in the way that we might today. He may have thought about the right approach in some formal way as he spread the Gospel, but he certainly didn’t lay one out in his letters.  And I doubt he ever founded a school (of course, if he did I doubt he would have used the word “classical” in its name). But still, as I ponder what Christian Classical Education is or might be, I wonder what Paul would contribute towards a philosophy of education. Without trying to turn this into an overwhelming project for which I am unprepared, I want to briefly look at only two verses from Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi. He writes in Philippians 4:8-9:

(ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(RSVCE) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

(KJV) Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

[Note: I’m providing three common translations to help give a broad sense of the passage.]

Consider St. Paul’s list:

  • What is true
  • What is honorable/honest
  • What is just
  • What is pure
  • What is lovely
  • What is commendable/gracious/of good report
  • What is excellent/virtuous
  • What is worthy of praise

What do we do with such a list? (Imagine going to your local school board and proposing that the district’s curriculum be revamped to begin with this list. Ha! I dare you.)

And then about this list St. Paul says to think about these things.

To think. In the minds of our modern educators, and most of the rest of us, thinking is almost tantamount to doing nothing. Ever see someone thinking? What are they doing? On the outside they are often quite still, maybe staring into the distance. In effect, they are doing nothing. And yet, they are doing a great deal. Now if they are not thinking alone, not staring placidly off into space, then they are probably in dialogue with someone. But a true dialogue can seem to be unfocused and wandering, which is also antithetical to teaching in the modern sense.

Our modern education system is partially based on a sense of urgency–we cannot afford to waste time with thinking when we have so much knowledge to get into those little brains. We have become slaves to the bullet-pointed list. It is a system that must swap dialogue with lecture. The material must be covered, we cannot slow down, and then slow down some more. But this modern system denies the existence of the human soul and its mysterious needs and movements. Is that what we want?

Paul says to think about these things.

What is thinking? I know nothing about the brain as a subject of scientific study. I know there are chemicals and electrical impulses involved, but more than that? I know nothing. However, I gather thinking is a mystery of our minds, of our humanity. I use the word mystery because I doubt science can ever, truly plumb the depths and workings of thinking. Thinking is a mystery because it is a force of great power that seems to have no substance, no true existence, no way to completely contain it and control it as a totality. We can guide it, use it, encourage it, welcome it, and share it, sometimes even fear it, but we cannot entirely subdue it. To think is to ponder, to wonder, to suppose, to engage, to meditate. More importantly, thinking is to take an idea into oneself, into one’s soul, and turn it over and over and make it one’s own, or to reject it in favor of another.

So then we ponder and wonder, suppose and engage, meditate and bring into our souls

  • What is true
  • What is honorable/honest
  • What is just
  • What is pure
  • What is lovely
  • What is commendable/gracious/of good report
  • What is excellent/virtuous
  • What is worthy of praise

Can you think of any better education? I can’t.

Paul could have left it there, but he goes on. He writes, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me…” Don’t pass over this. Consider that Paul is able to confidently write that the Philippians have directly experienced him in such a way that they have:

  • learned from Paul
  • received from Paul
  • heard from Paul
  • seen in Paul

This list is somewhat cryptic, but I think we can get a glimpse into how Paul was a teacher. First the Philippians learned from Paul. He saw himself as a teacher. He had intention. He knew what he wanted to teach them. And he taught them thoroughly enough, with enough feedback, to know that they learned. He is confident of that. Then he says they have received. This implies a giving, a handing over, and a taking in. There was something that he left with them, something they now have. He can write to them because he knows they have what he gave. In this sense they are more like Paul than they were before. One of the primary goals of the classical educator is that his pupils will one day become his colleagues. The Philippians are now colleagues of Paul; they have something that Paul has, something he gave them and they received.

Third he says they heard from him. Teaching often involves speaking and hearing, but sometimes we forget what a gift is language. If you are like me then you love Paul’s letters, but you would really love to hear him speak, to ask him questions, to sit at his feet, to get into a deep dialogue with him over beers. Paul engaged their minds as God intended, as their minds were designed to function, by using language. We sometimes hear that apocryphal story of St. Francis exhorting his followers to preach Christ at all times and, when necessary, use words. There’s a valuable lesson in that story, but Paul was not afraid to use words right up front. Preaching Christ requires using words. Speaking to another also requires presence. Paul was with the Philippians, in person, in the flesh; they heard his voice, knew its sound, picked up on nuances of meaning in the subtleties of his voice and body language. To hear in this way, that is, to listen to ideas spoken, is a profoundly human experience. We do not know if the Philippians heard Paul because he formally preached to them, or lectured them, or led them in Socratic dialogue, or engaged in casual conversation, but they heard.

Finally, and this may be the most important, they saw. Paul presented himself as an example. He lived what he taught. Or better yet, he embodied the logos. The Gospel, the good news of Christ, the content that Paul taught, handed over, and spoke, was also visible in his life and actions. Paul could rightly say, “look at me.” The best teachers embody the logos.

Can we find more about how Paul taught? Yes, I’m sure we can. But just from these two verses we get something of great depth. We find that Paul, with confidence, can say the Philippians

  • learned from Paul
  • received from Paul
  • heard from Paul
  • saw in Paul

And what did they learn?

  • What is true
  • What is honorable/honest
  • What is just
  • What is pure
  • What is lovely
  • What is commendable/gracious/of good report
  • What is excellent/virtuous
  • What is worthy of praise

From this alone we can know that Paul was a master teacher in the fullest Christian Classical model. How this will look in your own teaching will be unique, but there is no better foundation that I can find.

And then Paul writes:

“…practice these things…”

Paul both taught in person and was writing to the Philippians with an Ideal Type in mind, that is the complete or perfect Christian, that is Christ. Christ is the logos. We are Christians and therefore seek to embody the logos in our lives. It is not enough to merely find the idea of the Ideal Type good or fascinating or excellent. One must put it into practice. To practice is to work and persevere at imitation, it is a form of becoming. To imitate is to behold, to embrace, to take into one’s being and seek to embody the Ideal Type in one’s life and actions. True knowledge is, in this sense, incarnational. It has a form. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” To put on Christ implies that when others look at us they see Christ. Ideas have consequences. Others will know us by our fruits, which are visible signs of an inner reality. Are we putting into practice these things?

David Hicks wrote: “To produce a man or woman whose life conforms to the Ideal in every detail is education’s supremely moral aim.” (Norms and Nobility, p. 47) Is this not also the passion of Paul, that the Philippians live’s would conform to the Ideal of Christ in every detail? And how are the Philippians to do this?

“…practice these things…”

Now, if you haven’t noticed, I have not defined what Christian Classical Education is or how to do it. Partly this is tactical; I don’t have a clear answer. On the other hand I will offer a quote from Andrew Kern:

Education is the cultivation of wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, goodness, and beauty so that the student is better able to know and enjoy God.

I cannot think of a better, more fundamental description of what a Christian Classical Education is all about. There is a lot in there, and a lot of room for developing strategies of teaching, but if this is what we are aiming for, if this is what we are building on, if this is our longing, then consider again the words of Saint Paul:

(ESV) Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

(RSVCE) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.

(KJV) Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Those things, which ye have both learned, and received, and heard, and seen in me, do: and the God of peace shall be with you.

Do that and the God of peace will be with you.

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Not a few Catholics are troubled by Pope Francis. I can understand this. There are reasons for their concern, and many of their arguments make sense to me. But I even see a few critics who appear to have literal conniptions, blown gaskets, and serious bouts of distemper. Yet, I just can’t go there. In a sense I am with them, and I am not with them. Here’s what I mean:

I grew up in a Protestant faith which was rather Fundamentalist in tenor. I was trained to be very sensitive to doctrinal variations and the places at which lines ought to be drawn between various churches that claim a to be Christian. We didn’t use the word heresy, I don’t think Protestants use that word often for obvious reasons, but we certainly leveled the evil eye at all the heretics that surrounded us. But the word heresy is certainly appropriate for Catholics to use. The Church has a long history of battling false views of Jesus, man, and the gospel, going all the way back to the apostles. Although my own views have changed over the years, and I eventually entered the Catholic Church, I find myself giving a lot of sympathy to those who are called to battle heresy. Perhaps this makes me too sensitive, old habits die hard, but I have similar worries as do the critics of Pope Francis.

On the other hand, I have also come to see that the narrow way into the Kingdom of God (for it truly is a narrow way) also allows for a myriad of unique individual journeys on the path to faith. And those journeys are extremely hard to judge. This, I believe, is how we experience God’s Providence in our lives and in the lives of others. The lives of the saints not only challenge us to live holy lives, they also challenge us regarding the “process” because each saint is so different and unique compared to the others — and compared to us. Studying the saints is both eye opening and humbling. I want to be open to how God will surprise us. This is something Pope Francis frequently emphasizes.

So while I sympathize with the pope’s critics, I also realize two things: 1) God is in control, and 2) the best way to do battle is through the pursuit of holiness, prayer, and love.

First–God is in control. Let’s be honest, many of us respond to such statements by quickly saying, “Oh, of course, God is certainly in control, still…” or “Yes, yes, that’s a given, but…” Frankly, I don’t believe most of us truly believe that God is really in control, or at least we don’t act as if we emotionally, viscerally own this truth deep in our beings. We fret, we worry, we have conniptions and all that. But if we are Christians we ought to believe it, and that belief ought to have real concrete implications on our actions, words, and feelings. It seems to me that a lot of the ranting and raving, sometimes even foaming at the mouth, at nearly everything Pope Francis does, grows directly from roots that are not planted firmly in the radical faith that God is good, God is love, and that it is God who fights our battles. We pray, we submit, we serve, we love, we show mercy, we work hard at being Christ to others, and it is God who fights for us, His Church, and the the life of the world.

Second–holiness, prayer, and love. One of the great and shameful signs of sin dwelling in us is our pervasive tendency to see sin in others and not in ourselves. Christ says to take the log out of our own eyes before we take the speck out of our brother’s eye. We insist there is no log. Or we downplay it, excuse it, and dismiss it. The pope got a lot of praise, but even more criticism for saying, “Who am I to judge.” A lot of judgers then piled on. I think it very likely that was not the best moment of the pope’s pontificate, and even a closer look at the context of that utterance gives one pause, but truly, who am I to judge. My holiness is so inadequate that what I actually should say is that I don’t even have the time or the energy to judge the pope.

I have friends who make their living examining issues within the Church and writing articles about them. Part of their job is to be professional judges of various decisions and actions of Church leadership, and sometimes they are quite critical of the Holy Father and various Bishops. They are smarter than I, and more in tune with what’s going on, but even then, I cannot go along with them too much. I listen, but I hold back. I appreciate their work and observations. I even agree with them much of the time. And sometimes on this blog I will be critical as I am trying to sort out my understandings of Catholicism. But in general, I feel called to humility. It is not my place to criticize the pope or bishops. Instead, I am trying to seek holiness and, frankly, I am not good at it. I don’t really know how to do it.

Lately I’ve been called to prayer. So I pray for the Church and the pope every day. I pray for my parish and our priests. I pray for holiness. I read the Bible and the catechism every day. I do this not because I’m holy, but because I’m not. I look at myself and I have to say, “Who am I to judge.”

But I still judge. God have mercy.

Jesus save us from Hell, lead all souls to Heaven, especially those in most need of mercy. Amen.

Not very far from my home is a Carmelite Convent. It was founded in 1957. I believe there are only a handful of nuns living there, and I believe they are all quite advanced in years, but I am not sure. I have been interested in the life of prayer and contemplation. Since reading Cardinal Robert Sarah’s amazing book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise I have become even more interested in silence and its role in the life of faith and the pursuit of holiness. So I’m curious about communities who live out lives of contemplation, prayer, and often silence.

I am also curious about why a woman would enter a convent. These two videos show some of the life inside a Carmelite convent, one in England and the other in New Zealand. The first is very beautiful, but I wonder how many women would seek out such a place. The second shows what appears to be a more vibrant life and younger nuns. Of course every video has a perspective and manipulates the material to its own ends. Regardless, I find both fascinating.

Again, I can’t say whether either one of these options presented is attractive. I don’t know what young or old women think and feel about such things, except what they say in the videos and, frankly, it’s still mysterious to me at some level. Regardless, the first video seems to present a convent of old women taking care of very old women. There are just no young women at that place from what I can tell. The second video seems more attractive, more vibrant. Still both places seem to have merely a handful of nuns. I wonder what such a video (or film) might show if one had been made a hundred years ago. Would we have seen convents of hundreds rather than a dozen or less, and of all ages more well represented?

Because of my own proclivities I noticed the nuns in the first video take the Eucharist in the hand, while in the second they recieve it on the tongue. Does this matter to the life they live? Does this reflect their ages — the older nuns in the first and the younger in the second? I have heard religious groups with more traditional practices are growing while others are fading. I can’t tell from the videos, but I wonder.

Finally, I love that there are nuns, and we need their prayers. As I wrote previously, we need more nuns (and sisters).

We homeschool. This puts in a strange place within our society — a good place I believe, but not always understood. I wrote this piece below, in a slightly different form, several years ago (before we entered the Catholic Church) in response to a tendency I see within the homeschooling world, and which I feel is still relevant today.

There is a trend within the subculture of homeschooling* that is based, in large part, upon separation from society at large. This makes some sense. Homeschoolers are often defined, to a large degree, as people who want to pull their children out of mainstream society and protect them from “the world.” Certainly not all homeschoolers are this way, and I hope we are not, but it has some appeal given the many troubles this world presents.

Recently we attended a Christian homeschooling conference. As you might imagine we saw all kinds of Christians, from the young hip couple with their cool glasses and lattes to the families with 6+ children all wearing 19th century prairie outfits. The conference had numerous speakers and work sessions. One of the keynote speakers struck me as the kind of homeschooling parent I don’t want to be. I don’t mean to be unduly harsh, and I only heard the one talk (or I should say over-the-top performing-preacher show talk), but I was encouraged by his talk to more clearly define an aspect of why we homeschool and why some of our reasons stand in contradiction to his.

He began by lauding his father for taking his family to an island away from “the world” and homeschooling them. In other words, our keynote speaker was raised on an island cut off from the taint and spoilage of the wider world. He went on to say that that was a great thing and we should not be afraid to separate our children from the world on “islands” where they can be protected and safe. If you are like me you might be chafing at this idea, but it is not unwarranted, and I want to give the idea its due.

This world we live in is most certainly full of may horrible things — war, famine, crime, and all kinds of ugliness. There are also many competing ideas that challenge one’s own beliefs. A Christian parent who is interested in their children knowing God as they themselves know God may want to protect their children from those competing ideas for as long as possible. The same goes for any parent who has a worldview to which they cling. I can understand the desire to keep one’s children away from the corrosive influence of the world. To do so feels like being responsible, and in some cases it certainly is. So I know where our keynote speaker is coming from. I know that feeling. But there is more to the picture.

The concept of “the world” is a big deal in Christian teaching. Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. John the Apostle said “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” Paul the Apostle said “do not be conformed to this world.” There is a lot more to be said, and I do not intend to unpack the biblical concept of “the world” here, but most Christians know there is this thing called the world which they must avoid in some way. Christian homeschoolers might see pulling their kids out of public school as pulling them out of the world. Christian families who move to the country far from urban areas may believe they are removing themselves from the world in some meaningful way. Certainly to raise one’s family on an island would feel like the world is far away and one’s family is safe.

However, when John says “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world,” we see that the world is not so much a physical entity as it is a heart condition or a spirit. Also, when Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world,” it appears his intention was not fleeing the world but to bring it light. Elsewhere in scripture Christ followers are called to be light in the world and salt of the earth. And when we read that “God so loved the world that he gave us His son,” we get the idea that our stance towards the world may not be so simple. We may not be able to separate ourselves from the world as easily as we think for “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” comes with us wherever we go, even to an island. Also, we cannot be light or salt to the world if we decide to have nothing to do with the world. And we certainly cannot love the world as God loves the world if our stance is to flee the world which, as we have seen, may not be so easy anyway.

At that homeschoolers conference it became clear that the world could be seen most clearly in such things as 1) cities, 2) public schools, 3) government, and 4) anything other than far right politics. If one didn’t know better one could conclude that homeschooling is all about 1) getting out of the city to the country – a kind of “back to the garden” idea, 2) avoiding any kind of public education, including any education or activities that has public monies attached to it, such as a city funded soccer league, 3) having nothing to do with government or public service unless it is to defend against liberals who want to impose laws on homeschooling, and 4) assuming a political stance and championing the values of such organizations as the Christian Coalition. I may be taking a somewhat extreme critical view here, but I honestly don’t think so. This is what I see coming from much of the Christian homeschool subculture and from our keynote speaker.

But those reasons are not our reasons.

One of the great blessings of Christian truth is the incredible freedom we have. As we love God and His values we find ourselves marveling at this world He created. This world of His includes all that we find, including the incredible variety of humanity and human creativity. We might and should grieve at the evil we see in the world, but we should also love the world. We should love the cities and the arts and the culture and the governments. Wisdom dictates that we do not love folly or evil or rebellion against God. On the other hand this world is full of God’s creative work, it is His sovereignty manifest in all things everywhere, and this world is full of the people He loves – which includes all people. We have the freedom to engage in this world head on. We also have the opportunity to be light and salt. This opportunity is a great privilege. As a parent I can choose to model light and salt, or I can model the act of withdrawal.

Another great blessing is that because I know God is sovereign I can engage in this world without fear. I can live in the city or in the country, work in private business, ministry, government, or public schools, listen to Christian or secular music, visit art galleries and museums, watch popular movies, and even drink, smoke, play cards and occasionally cuss, without fear. If Jesus is my example then I can eat dinner with the most worldly people. If Paul’s theology is correct then I can eat meat sacrificed to idols. Wisdom, and the pursuit of holiness will dictate how I live, and so will my consideration the weaker brother (and I too am a weaker brother), so I may choose not to do some or most of these things at times, or ever, but there is no need for fear. But I must say that having no fear is not the same as not being scared. A man may say he is not scared of the world, and that may be true, but he may still live in fear of the world. To take one’s family away from the world and live on an island because the world is a bad place is to live in fear of the world.

We are to fear God, not the world. Our battles are not with flesh and blood, but against evil spiritual powers — sin and Satan. And it is God who fights our battles. Our greatest weapons are faith, love, and prayer.

There is another kind of separation — the separation through ideology and stereotypes. On our keynote speaker’s website promoting his daily radio program he touts the following: “There are no psychiatrists, professional counsellors [sic], bureaucrats, and seminary professors. But you will find fathers, mothers, grandparents, pastors, and friends.” Other than spelling counselors wrong this quote says a lot. There is an attitude within some quarters of Christianity that sees psychiatrists, professional counselors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors — along with scientists, social workers, and anyone from Hollywood — as being other than fathers, mothers, grandparents, pastors, and friends. Not only is this a wrongly prejudiced perspective more indicative of a passionate narrow-mindedness than of wisdom, it is also a perspective indicative of fear. There has always been a class of persons who claim victim status though they are not victims in a meaningful sense. This class is also easily manipulated by those who point to the educated, or those in government, or big city dwellers, or those in the entertainment industry, as the victimizers. Some politicians can be quite good at doing this, and so are many preachers. Our keynote speaker not only claims the victim status but uses his talents to fan the flames of fear. Fear thrives in the world of stereotypes. And just like the religious leader who prays to God, thanking God that he is not like other people, we can all fall prey to a profound blindness. What we see in Jesus is someone hanging out with the sinners. We see someone not only reaching out to everyone, but doing so without fear, and not drawing lines between himself and the rest of humanity. And, ironically, it is the religious leaders — the upstanding citizens, moral agents, family lovers, Bible teachers — who criticized Jesus for just such activities.

Where does this leave us? Our confusion, like so much in Christianity, is to make the wrong distinctions and then fall into the pit of false religion and self-righteousness. We confuse the world with superficial distinctions as “psychiatrists, professional counselors, bureaucrats, and seminary professors” rather than with a heart rooted in “lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” The world, in this bad spiritual sense, is as much alive and thriving within Christianity as it is anywhere else. When it comes to worldliness there is often no distinction between the Hollywood movie star and the megachurch pastor. In fact we bring the world with us wherever we go, wherever there is humanity, even into the nuclear family unit (a modern entity that, arguably, is the source of many problems in comparison to the traditional large extended family living and working together — but this is not the place to dive into that subject). Only through the grace of God do we have any hope to be free of the world — and that freedom can come to a professional counselor/psychiatrist working for a government agency while moonlighting at a seminary and living downtown in the biggest city as it can come to the man barricading his family against the evils of the world in some distant wilderness. Grace be to God for our hope and freedom.

But what about my charge as a parent? It is one thing to be an adult confronting the ugliness of this world, it is another for a child. As a parent I must protect my children when appropriate. I must also guide them in wisdom. I would rather my children face into the harshness of reality, guided by my example, sometimes stumbling and struggling, but learning to see themselves for who they truly are and learning to love others where they are. I also want my children to grow up without fear. If we can walk through this life together, confronting the variety of human experience and choice, and do so hand in hand, I think my children might have a decent chance of knowing good from evil, of learning humbleness, of appreciating all that God has created, and learning that goodness comes not so much from trying to avoid the stain of the world as turning to God in genuine repentance. We have come to realize that fleeing the world and taking one’s family to an island, even if those actions are clothed in the finest Christian robes of piety, could very well be an act of rebellion against God. Not necessarily, but could be.

This is one reason we homeschool, and we do so within a city context, and we listen to all kinds of music and study all kinds of art, and we are interested in politics beyond narrow “Christian” agendas, and we appreciate MLK and Gandhi, and we appreciate revised histories when they offer clarity and truth, and we don’t believe one can homeschool true faith into any child, for faith is ultimately a gift of the Holy Spirit. And we also don’t think we’ve got it all right. All we can do is move forward in humbleness (which also is a gift), looking to God for grace and mercy, and seeking goodness the best we can.


* Like many different elements of our society, homeschoolers represent a kind of subculture. However, it would be incorrect to think of it as a single or homogeneous subculture. At best it is a subculture of subcultures, and may be better described as an eclectic group of families that have a rather unique similarity regardless, and sometimes in spite, of their many dissimilarities.

Salus Populi Romani
Salus Populi Romani

Sunday

Mary, Mother of our Redeemer and Mother of the Church, we offer you the praise of the Angel of the Annunciation–Hail, full of grace! Through you the Holy Spirit gave this world Jesus its Savior–Son of God, Word made Flesh, Foundation of the Church.

Monday

Through you God’s holy people, his Church on earth, appeal for light and strength in its pilgrimage of faith. You have gone before us on the same journey and are now glorified in heaven. Be for us who are still on that journey of faith a true Star of the Sea, leading us to the presence of your Son where he sits at the right hand of the Father, enthroned in glory.

Tuesday

You were the first to believe. You persevered in prayer with the disciples in the Upper Room. You were a unique witness to the mystery of Jesus. All generations have called you blessed. Now in this Marian year God’s holy Church looks yet again to you for inspiration and help.

Wednesday

Be our Mother. Share with us your limitless faith. Take and keep us within your protective arms in a world that has largely lost faith and abandoned hope. Petition for us from your Son—as once you did so powerfully at Cana of Galilee—an increase of vocations to the priesthood and the religious life so that the Church may flourish in our time and thereby magnify his name. Touch the hearts of all our youth that they may see in every walk of life an opportunity to serve.

Thursday

Take from all our hearts the selfishness that sours relationships and keeps us centered only on ourselves. Give us hearts aflame with charity and filled with love. Make us, like the apostle John who was commended to your care, loving children of our heavenly Father, conscious always of your maternal presence in our lives.

Friday

Look favorably upon your children in our failure to provide the one flock under one shepherd for which Jesus prayed. Shine forth for us and for all the peoples as a sign of sure hope and solace as we strive to make our pilgrimage of faith hand in hand. Be our common Mother who prays for the unity of God’s family. May we see in you our model of that obedience of faith which should be found in all who listen attentively to what the Spirit is saying to the Churches.

Saturday

He who is mighty has done great things for you. Humbly we ask that you in turn may do for us these things for which we pray in the name and through the power of that most Holy Spirit who lives and reigns in the unity of the Father and the Son, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

[I posted this once before, but as I am doing some current study of both Mary and prayer, I came across this post and wanted to publish it again.]

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There are four Marian Dogmas of the Church:

  1. Mary as the Mother of God
  2. The Assumption of Mary
  3. The Immaculate Conception of Mary
  4. Mary’s Perpetual Virginity

Most Catholics and a few Protestants know about, though not always correctly, at least one or two of these dogmas. Catholics should probably know each of them well enough to explain them at a basic level. But, I have to confess, I do not know them as I should. I came into the Church several years ago and, although Mary played a role in that process, I have not spent the time I should to get to know her and to understand the richness of these four dogmas. I am working on that now.

Just recently I have heard there is also a fifth Marian dogma that is not yet an official dogma of the Church. That is Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. This dogma is linked to the 1917 Marian apparitions at Fatima, then again in 1945 in Amsterdam, and again in 1973 in Akita, Japan. As far as I can tell, and according to the video below, all are officially recognized apparitions of Mary, but I am not entirely sure. [Please take the time to look these up if you have not heard of them.]

In this talk on Mary and the fifth Marian dogma by Dr. Mark Miravalle, he emphasizes the need, and I would guess the inevitability, of the dogma of Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate becoming official Church dogma.

I feel compelled at this point to see Dr. Miragalle’s message as worthy of taking seriously, though I am no Marian scholar or expert.

Perhaps the next dogma infallibly declared by the Church will be this fifth Marian dogma. If so, I predict significant outrage from many Protestant corners. But the more I learn about Mary the more I’m so okay with that. She is so much more, in so many ways, than Protestants are capable of grasping given their paltry understanding of Mary and even, I would say, their concepts of the economy of salvation. This, I believe, is a great opportunity for prayer — that the world, and especially Protestants, would come to see Mary for who she truly is and all that she does, and especially how she relates to Christ, His Church, and our salvation. I would not be surprised if the reconciliation of the Church will come through Mary.

“If they really love Jesus, this is where they’re gonna want to be.”

Once again, here’s another example of looking into the Traditional Latin Mass and those who celebrate it, and finding people loving the beauty, history, transcendence, richness, mystery, challenge, and deep worship they do not find elsewhere.

Is democracy the best form of government? Is direct democracy or pure democracy the best form of democracy?

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This is the worst popular vote in history:

Matthew 25

15 Now at the festival the governor was accustomed to release a prisoner for the crowd, anyone whom they wanted. 16 At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas. 17 So after they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he realized that it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19 While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowds to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus killed. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” All of them said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 Then he asked, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” 24 So when Pilate saw that he could do nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took some water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 Then the people as a whole answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 So he released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

That, my friends, is an example of direct (popular vote) democracy at work.

But, of course, in what seems a strange yet significant way, Christians would not have this “scene” play out any other way, for God can and does work all things together for good, whether it’s the actions of a republic or the desires of mob rule.

Ecce_homo_by_Antonio_Ciseri_(1)

Anyway, a King is better than a republic.

This is a smaller pilgrimage that the one from Paris to Chartres, but a pilgrimage nonetheless. I am curious, once again, at the enthusiasm for traditional catholicism from young Catholics.

There are so few pilgrimage sites in the U.S. We are a young country, and a big country with infrastructure designed almost exclusively for the automobile. In other words, we have very little Catholic historical heritage compared to Europe, and a society with substantial anti-human structures. Classic style pilgrimages just won’t happen here much.

Here’s a sign attached to a fence around the tennis courts at a local private Catholic high school:

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I’m just a little curious. There is plenty of room on this sign to have included all the words from the Bible verse being quoted, but interestingly some words were left out. Here’s the complete verse:

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Notice what was left out (highlighted in blue):

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The sign also says: “Proclaim Good News!” I wonder if the school administration believes that removing the strict exclusivity of “No one” and “except” make the good news gooder. In other words, have they improved the Gospel by making it seem as though Jesus is merely one way to come to the Father? Is this easier to swallow? Less offensive?

Is it being ever so slightly evasive?

And all those ellipses: confusing, visual weird, creates suspicion. This is just a poorly designed sign. Is it an example of modern Catholic marketing?? Perhaps indicative of the post-Vatican II era? A sign of the times?

note: take this post with a grain of salt

“Irreverence at Mass is not the problem. It’s the symptom of the problem.” – Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Reverence = Deep respect for someone or something.

Every Sunday at Mass I see a mix of parishioners worshiping. I say “mix” because we come from all walks of life. Some are rich and some poor, some are more educated and some less so, some are there alone and some are with their families, and a variety of ethnicities are represented too. I also see a mix of clothing choices. A few are dressed up in their Sunday best, most are dressed in rather drab everyday clothing, and some come in clothing more suited to playing video games with one’s friends or watching a sporting event on television with a bowl of chips on one’s lap. I often see team jerseys, untucked shirts, yoga pants, bedhead hair, grown men in denim shorts, etc. And some regulars even look like tourists off the bus. (This is certainly far more common in the Novus Ordo Mass than the TLM, in my experience.)

We now live in a slob culture. The way most Americans dress, whether it’s for school, work, or church is fundamentally slobbish. [Full disclosure: I too am a slob. Even my dress up clothes are not all that nice.] Take a look at old pictures and you will see men everywhere dressed in nice shirts, ties, shiny shoes, sport coats and slacks, or suits. Consider the radical 1960’s. That was the time of throwing off convention. Right? Even then you see students so much better dressed than they are today.

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Students protesting during the 1964–65 academic year on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Women in dresses and skirts, men in suits and ties.

Even in the mid-1960’s, not all that long ago, and even at a secular university doing secular things, students still believed they had to uphold their dignity as human beings in how they dressed.

Or consider this image below from the Apollo Mission Control Center in 1972. Even as recent as this picture was taken I don’t see a single man without a collared shirt and tie. That was routine then.

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I know I don’t need to show any pictures of how people dress today. Untucked t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops are now considered acceptable for many office jobs, especially in the tech industry. Hawaiian shirts and baggy jeans are even considered appropriate for Evangelical pastors on Sunday morning. Tight and ripped pants, untied tennis shoes, and offensive t-shirt graphics are typical in many schools. I know you’ve seen it all many times.

We take all this in stride. Most people would even think it strange to make anything of it. In fact many would defend their slobbishness as not slobbishness at all. “What do you mean?! This is fine.” The truth is, we have trouble making wise judgements. We just can’t see it. The dignity of human beings has been like the frog slowly dying in the pot of water that has very slowly come to a boil. Our dignity is cooked.

Enlightenment Modernism is our worldview. It is the religion of the West. I posit that the gradually increasing and pervasive slobishness of our culture has resulted from the modernist changes to our anthropology. What we believe about what a human being is has everything to do with how and what we do with ourselves and others, and with the kinds of cultures we create. As modern society has devalued man, a devaluation that emerged out of the “loss” of human transcendence brought about by the Enlightenment (and probably earlier), and thus the loss of his God-imageness, man has become nothing more than an intelligent animal or a non-mysterious collection of atoms. Therefore, we have nothing to celebrate or uphold when we dress ourselves. Is this not the evidence we see around us?

And yet, do we not expect royalty to dress like royalty? We are children of the King. But we dress ourselves as slobs. That this is all too often expressed at Mass is all the more troubling.

We are not only made in God’s image, again we are also sons and daughters of the King. At Mass the King, our Lord and Savior, is truly before us, truly present with us. We come to worship our God and King. We are subjects in the Kingdom of Heaven. We are Christ’s body. How should we behave? How should we dress?

The real problem is, of course, not how we dress. To riff on the quote from Fr. Longenecker at the beginning of this post, our slobbishness is merely a symptom of the problem. If we Catholics dress like slobs at Mass, and if that is a symptom of a deeper problem, then what is that problem?

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Some Catholics ready for Mass in a different time.

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if we really believe “this stuff.” Are we really fully Catholic if we say in our actions that we don’t believe some of the Church’s most fundamental, most basic beliefs–like the basic anthropology that we are made in God’s image? Do we actually, truly believe we are made in God’s image? Do we believe we are God’s children? Do we believe we are now royalty through the saving work of Christ? Do we believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

Do we?

Final word: I believe the Traditional Latin Mass inherently, by its very form and structure, makes more evident the need for proper reverence, and therefore places appropriate demands on the individual to dress more in line with his nature. Thus, does it not make sense that one significant antidote to the culture disease of slobbishness is the re-establishment of the TLM throughout the land?

Years ago I bought my first rosary. This is it:

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It’s about as simple and plain as one can get. I think it was about $7.00. I now have more than one rosary, but that first rosary is in my pocket with me every day, even as I write this. I typically use this rosary to pray every morning too.

I lived more than forty seven years as a Protestant before becoming a Catholic. The last seven of those years I began searching, researching, and praying. I was being drawn to the Church and, in a sense, I think I knew it. I looked at a lot of choices, including the “emergent church” and Eastern Orthodoxy. But it was the Catholic Church that won my heart and mind.

At some point during those final seven years before entering the Church I purchased the rosary above. I did it secretly, from an online vendor. I cannot express the mix of emotions I felt, having come from a significantly anti-Catholic background. Once it arrived I kept it hidden. I had feelings of carrying contraband when it was in my pocket. I searched online for resources on how to pray the rosary. I printed a one-page guide and kept it folded in my pocket. The guide got so beat up that the creases were taped and retaped to hold it together. I guess I could have just printed a new one, but I tend to get sentimental about these things.

On more than one occasion I thought I lost the rosary. Each time I’ve prayed and then found it. I can get a little panicky about it. I’m not superstitious, but I do care a lot about this particular string of beads.

If I could afford to do so, I would have many rosaries. But it’s this one that’s most precious to me. When I got this rosary I had a strange and, frankly, bizarre feeling somewhere deep in my soul that the Catholic Church was an actual possibility for my life, and I was also convinced there was no way I could ever become Catholic. Equally strange, I really wanted to have a rosary. I had never held a rosary. It’s possible I had never even seen a rosary in real life. I had certainly never prayed to Mary. I had never prayed to anyone other than God the Father or Son. I was trained to think praying to Mary was a form of paganism. But I was weirdly compelled to explore.

So, I got the rosary and learned to pray it. And then, eventually, I began to ask Mary to solve my dilemma. Looking back this seems funny, but I wondered if Mary could get me into the Church — assuming it was God’s will, of course.

Of course she could, and she did.