It's official. The Catholic Knight is retired.  I'm hanging up the helmet and passing the torch. There will be no more articles, no more commentaries, no more calls to action. THIS BLOG IS CLOSED. I've spent a very long time thinking about this, I believe the time has come, and is a bit overdue.  I want to thank my readers for everything, but most especially for your encouragement and your willingness to go out there and fight the good fight. So, that being the case, I've spend the last several weeks looking for bloggers who are fairly active, and best represent something akin to the way I think and what I believe.  I recommend the following blogs for my readers to bookmark and check on regularly. Pick one as your favourite, or pick them all. They are all great..... In His Majesty's Service, THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT

Saturday, May 19, 2007

A Conversion Story

A conversion story, like any story, is something of a reconstruction, limited by the clues available to one presently and by the gulf of time. Just as one cannot step into the same river twice, neither can one see with the same eyes one had at some previous point in life. What follows then is my reconstruction of the path by which I have become a traditional Roman Catholic. When I look back now, even with the illumination of hindsight, I cannot apprehend in one glance -- or even in many glances -- the whole of it. I see in the distance where the trail begins and bits of sunlit footpath between here and there, but much of it remains in obscurity. These are the limitations of human memory and understanding. Nevertheless, I find myself here now -- and for poignant reasons, which I will try to explain.

Leaving Protestantism
It seems logical that any convert might have two internal forces at work: the movement away from one thing and the movement toward something else. This was certainly the case for me in 1989 when I converted to the Catholic Church. For two years prior I had been moving toward Catholicism, and for several years before that I had been moving away from Protestantism. To understand more precisely the nature of this movement away, I must make clear what it was not: It was not a movement away from belief....

Trying to Find Catholicism
It is beauty that lured me at last into the Catholic Church. I am artistic by nature (poet, writer, musician), so I am particularly susceptible to beauty. Often this has been to my detriment. I have sought beauty in many of its natural forms -- in the drama and variety of earthen landscapes, in art and architecture, in music, in the bond of friendship, in the love of a woman and the loveliness of her form, even (I am amused to say) in some brilliant corner of myself. In myself I could not find it; in romantic love, it is pressed; in friendship, it is by necessity limited and often ends up fading; in music, at least in popular music, it disorients; in art, it is a rabbit hole; in landscapes, it is tantalizingly inaccessible. In Catholicism, too, I would see beauty. And this was cause for both enchantment and anxiety. Would I find behind her doors the answer to all my longings, or would the Church end up merely another of beauty's tricks?...

Beauty's Trick
What I have described about Catholicism is true. Every bit of it truly exists. But it is a trick of beauty to be elusive, and when I actually came to embrace the Bride of Christ, I had trouble finding her. The Church I had read about, thought about, talked about, dreamed about for two years was not the one I found when I entered the doors. Imagine my surprise. I knew, for instance, the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist -- it had played a big part in my conversion -- but the liturgy I encountered seemed to downplay its significance. The priest, facing the people and speaking in the vernacular, often seemed compelled to impart his particular personality on the event -- nothing blatant usually, just the nuance of facial expressions, cadence, vocal inflection, gestures. I found myself naturally focusing on the individuality of that person, the priest, rather than on Christ, who was in reality the Victim being offered to His Father. Furthermore, there was a strong feeling of informality about what was going on, perhaps best encapsulated by the inevitable trooping up of laity, often strangely dressed, to help the priest distribute the Sacrament. This misery was topped off by the faithful, myself included, receiving our Lord in the palms of our hands, then popping Him into our mouths like a snack cracker.

I did not know, at the time, what this incomprehensible moment ought to look like, but I did know that the casual air with which we all received the Body of Christ was something of a disappointment. It took me right out of the hierarchical realm of majesty that I had long anticipated and left me once again focusing on my fellow man. Although I had become a Catholic, I found myself suffering a mysterious and demoralizing hangover from Protestant days: Yes, the Catholic Church taught that the Host was truly the Body and Blood of our Lord, but even to my freshly converted eyes, nothing about the way the Sacrament was handled seemed to align with that teaching....

Waking Up
I will forever be grateful to the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, a Latin Mass order who were granted the indult by then-Bishop Raymond Burke of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisc. I had just moved my family to nearby Winona, Minn., accepting a teaching post there. With me, to my first traditional Mass, I took my 11-year-old daughter, Kate. We awoke together as if from a dream. There, before our eyes, in the movements and postures of the priest and his assistants, in the ancient sounds of the Latin words and in the appeal of that one voice, a single ecclesiastical tongue, in the meaning of those prayers, the extensive adoration of the three Persons of the Trinity, in the summoning of many saints and martyrs by name, in the hailing of our Lady, in the deeply reverent Consecration, the priest with his back to us, his head lifted to the crucifix in front of him, the breaking of our Lord in the perfect sacrifice He offers in love to the Father, in virtually every nuance of this Mass was the Church I had gone looking for so many years ago. At last there was alignment: between the idea of Catholicism and its practice, between the Church I thought I was converting to and the one that now stood before me, between the virtues of hope and faith. The long haze of disillusionment cleared, and I knew for certain that the Church had indeed survived, a tough but delicate lily pushing her way impossibly through this present layer of ice and snow.

If all traditional Catholicism had to offer was the Tridentine Mass, it would be enough, because the Mass, by its very nature, is catechetical. The liturgy teaches even as it orients; the emphasis is always vertical; the treasures of the Church are constantly reiterated in plain view of the faithful. The Mass, as the grounding point of contact among the members of the Church, contains all the marks of that Church: it is catholic in the sense that it is universal (the same everywhere, made even more so by the exclusive use of Latin); it is holy in the sense that it directs our attention perpetually to all that is above us in the heavenly hierarchy; it is apostolic in the way that it came into being, beginning with the canon -- the core words instituted by our Lord -- and developing within the apostolic tradition; and it makes us one in Holy Communion, which is, of course, the only way possible for true unity to occur. Any other claim to unity among Christians resides in the natural realm, is a group of humans holding beliefs more or less loosely in common as they would in a political party or an enthusiast's club. But the unity of Christ's Church is more akin to the blood that binds an extended human family. God gives of His incarnated Self to us, and by way of His Blood, which we take into our own bodies, we are quite literally of one family. In fact, because it is Christ and no other who unites us both materially and spiritually, we become more deeply bonded in this heavenly family than we could ever be in our earthly families, which are but an intimation of the other....

....For as long as I can remember, a part of me has been trying to wake up from the dream of myself and shake my head in the clear brisk air of the real world. Although I have slept late and my eyes are still adjusting to the light, I know now who it was that woke me up. At the moment of Consecration during every Mass, when the priest is holding up the Body of our dear Lord about to be broken, the sanctus bells ring out across the beautiful bluffs that rise above the Mississippi River. That they should sound at such a moment is an anomaly in the modern age. With clarity of tone and timeless beckoning, they send an urgent message into the sleeping valley of the world: Something is happening here, something of indescribable importance. It is an ancient melody that most of us have all but forgotten. These bells are full of yearning. They sing the most poignant song that has ever been sung.

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