Monday, May 30, 2005

In Memoriam: my Dad, on Memorial Day

My dad. My hero. It seems fitting to pay some tribute to him on the day set aside to remember and honor our military heroes, although he did not fall in combat.

He was born on his father's 50th birthday, back in 1920, and he grew up on a small farm in southern Moore County, North Carolina. My grandfather died a month after Daddy turned 8, from complications of high blood pressure; barely a year later my grandmother was pinning on her hat to go to town when a neighbor came with the news that the local bank had crashed -- she had, according to family legend, a dime in her purse. So my father grew up hard, doing a man's work in the tobacco fields, plowing with mules, all the hard work that comes from non-mechanized farming, when he was still a very little boy.

The hardships made him strong. He was 21 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and he wasted no time volunteering for the Army. He did his desert training at March Field, California, only to have his unit sent to the South Pacific instead. They were called the 854th Aviation Engineers, and they did indeed clear the jungle and build landing strips for military aircraft, but they were in fact a Spearheader Unit. Daddy used to say that they were they guys sent in to rescue the Marines.

He served in the Marshall Islands, on Kwajalein. On Guam, he helped build North Field, now part of Anderson AFB, from which air raid missions to Japan were launched. He was on Okinawa.

Three times he was sent with his unit on missions which were expected to have 100% casualty rates; three times miraculous interventions occurred which brought every man back to base, safe.

When the unit had its first reunion, in September, 1976, a representative from the Pentagon informed the men that they had all been hand-picked to serve in this unit, which has served as a forerunner of all Spearheader and Green Beret units we know today.

Dean Lowder was extremely proud to have served the nation through his military service. A peace-loving man, he believed that there were times you had to get tough in order to stop bullies. He would rant against the mainstream media during the Vietnam era, because their news reports compromised the safety and well-being of our troops and fed anti-American propaganda to our enemies. Flag-burning infuriated him as a personal insult. "Free speech" does not extend to treating with utter contempt the sacred symbols of our liberty -- or the sacrifices of those who died to secure our liberties.

When the Mi Lai massacre was first reported, he broke his rule of never discussing military matters with non-veterans. "You don't understand! They don't understand!" he exploded the night the news broke, before more shameful details were released. "It's terrible over there! In the Pacific, the women would have grenades hidden between their breasts, in their babies' diapers!"

Most of the time, he told stories of the men in his unit -- the two Italian-Americans who were hopping mad to go fight Mussolini, of the church that had to be destroyed because it was being used as an ammunition holding station by the Japanese. "As soon as the order was given for that target, one of the men stood up, took off his hat and said, 'Men, we may have to destroy a church, but we can also build it again when we're done,' and he passed his hat and we re-built that church."

He also developed a distaste for the beach that lasted the rest of his life. "I saw more than enough of the ocean during the War," he'd say, and any vacation we went on as a family, we headed toward the mountains. When we went to the beach, it was without him.

He died on July 10, 1991, of smoking-related lung cancer. The cancer was discovered just two weeks and two days before he died. A tough-as-nails man all his life, he was surprisingly meek when it came to facing death: "I know I'm in God's hands," said this man who rarely talked about his religion because talk was cheap. "I'd give a dollar to see you light up a cigarette," he teased me one afternoon -- was he missing smoking that badly? Or was he teasing me for my outward calm without the aid of nicotine as he lay dying? He was slipping into a coma when he began to hemorrhage; a great talker all his life, he talked as he descended into his coma, muttering incoherently, and sometimes we even heard hints of melody -- he was singing. I was sitting by his bedside with my cousin Jane, looking over the stack of cards we'd received, listening to the faint murmurings of his conversations with -- whom? Suddenly his breathing faltered. I sent Jane for the nurse, reached out for his hand -- he sort of choked, then... silence.

I hope he heard me before he left us: I told him one more time: "I love you, Daddy!"

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Corpus Christi -- Tantum Ergo

This hymn, sung traditionally (formerly required) at all Expositions of the Blessed Sacrament, is actually the last two verses of a longer hymn now sung traditionally on Good Friday: Pange Lingua (which I will offer later):

Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui;
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui;
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.
Genitori, Genitoque,
Laus et jubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio;
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio. Amen.10


Down in adoration falling,
Lo, the Sacred Host we hail.
Lo, o'er ancient forms departing,
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying
Where the feeble senses fail..

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son who reigns on high,
With the Holy Ghost proceeding
Forth from Each eternally;
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might, and endless majesty. Amen.

Corpus Christi Hymns: Panis Angelicus

This is the most famous of the Aquinas hymns. It has been set to music by many composers, most notably Cesar Franck, and has become part of the classical repertoire.

Panis angelicus
Fit panis hominum
Dat panis coelicus figuris terminum
O res mirabilis
Manducat Dominum
Pauper, pauper
Servus et humilis
Pauper, pauper
Servus et humilis


The Bread of the angels
is made the bread of mankind.
Bread given from heaven, terminating all figures.
O marvelous thing!
Nourished on the Lord,
are the poor, the poor,
slaves and the lowly;
the poor, the poor,
slaves and the lowly.

Honoring Corpus Christi -- the Body of Christ

Once upon a time, long ago (in the 13th century, in fact), there was a Belgian nun, of the Order of Cistercians, named Juliana. A particularly devout and mystical woman, she was granted a vision by Our Lord in which He spoke to her of His desire to see His Sacramental Body honored in a feast. She reported the vision to her bishop, who recognized the virtue of her story, and the feast was initiated on a local level.

Then, shortly after Juliana died in 1258, a priest from her diocese became Pope Urban IV. It is perhaps not surprising that Urban continued and expanded on the new feast in particular honor of the Body of Christ, but it is quite surprising whom he ordered to write the liturgy for this feast: a Dominican friar named Thomas Aquinas.

It's not that the Dominicans weren't qualified for this work. Quite the contrary! Since the days of St. Dominic himself, the order had exercised particular devotion to the Holy Eucharist.

The amazing thing is that Aquinas was -- well, he was a theologian, not a poet/liturgist. He was a prolific writer, the author of the Summa Theologica (which he was working on at the time Urban ordered him to write the Corpus Christi Office), the Summa Contra Gentiles, the Catena Aurea... brilliant theological works but, can we say, definitely prose? To re-appropriate Lucy Maud Montgomery's words, a "very prosy prose". Jesuit scholar Martin D'Arcy is quoted as calling it "dull, good jog-trot prose." Trust me: I had to read excerpts of the Summa Theologica as an undergraduate! Denser than cheesecake, the man is brilliant, but a hard read. The liturgy, in startling contrast, is poetry -- how could Urban have expected Aquinas to reach so far beyond his normal writing style to compose an entire Mass and Office for the Church?

The hand of God must surely have been upon Aquinas, for the Office of Corpus Christi is one of the most perfect works of liturgy ever composed. As a literature teacher, I will even "pull a secular" and say that it is one of the most exquisite works of literature ever composed. Written in Latin, translated in the 19th and 20th centuries by some of the most wonderful scholars and poets of the English language, these hymns are timeless and powerful -- of great meditative value to the non-Catholic meditating upon Christ's salvific work on the Cross as well as to the Catholic worshipping Christ in the Eucharist.

I'll be copying the words to these hymns, above. I pray they become a basis for meditation and worship for you, my friends, this week.

Signs of Summer

I'm at the farm for the week-end, ostensibly to clean up and get ready for company next week-end and my return home for the summer. The reality, though, is that I've just about crashed! Our first Finals were on Friday, and now that the let-down has begun I am very very tired.

It was a hard semester in a number of respects. Teaching Philosophy was a real stretch. Whereas Grammar, at this point, I suspect I could teach while blindfolded, I haven't read any philosophy since Rudy Behar's Comparative Arts course at Guilford College in 1988. I loved the subject! Getting into the kind of depth we did, by focusing only on the "Big Three" -- Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle -- has proven to be, for me, a mind- and soul-stretching experiencing. But staying one step ahead of my students who are exceptionally bright and eager young men and women, has been quite a challenge, to say the least.

Then there are those unpleasant occasions where the behavioral and character deficiencies of certain students had to be recognized and dealt with. There are students with a variety of personal crises, too, covering an astonishing range for such a small population. Their concerns weigh heavily on me; I want to fix everything for everyone, and of course I can't.

So with everything beginning to lift for a few weeks, I arrived home on Friday afternoon, shortly after noon, and with all my work to get ready for the carpet cleaners, I first had to lie down for a few minutes. After the carpet cleaners left, at nearly 3:00, I had to lie down again. I think I've taken five or six naps over the past two days! And -- nearly unheard of! -- I slept eight straight hours Friday night.

Still, it's summer! If we couldn't see this and feel it by the thermometer, which has hit the mid-80s for the past two days, we'd know it by the evening song of the whipporwill, that perfect herald of the season. For the past two evenings I've been pleasantly surprised to hear his call as dusk settled. Both evenings, I stopped what I was doing and just... listened, holding my breath after the first call, until I was sure my mind hadn't been playing tricks on me.

I ran down the road yesterday afternoon to a local farm that has a stand for its own produce. Strawberries are in -- these were so sweet and so flavorful! I didn't need sugar or whipped creme or anything, just popped them into my mouth like candy as I worked on the kitchen and cooked supper. There were perfect,tiny butter-yellow straightneck squash and emerald zucchini. The tomatoes, the girl admitted, had been bought at market, coming from Florida, but it won't be long now before our first locals are ready. I was shocked to hear her say the first peaches for our area will be pulled this morning.

Then, last night, I was on the computer talking with a friend and a tiny flash of fluorescent light caught my attention: a lightening bug!

So it must not be my imagination, or mere wishful thinking. "Behold, the winter is come and gone, and the voice of the turtle is heard in the land." Er, sorry, Solomon -- the whipporwill.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

When a friend is suffering

A friend got an email today from his estranged wife. She's seen a lawyer about filing for divorce.

This is the kind of news that hits a person in the gut, exposing old scars and reawakening old sorrows. I find that I'm grieving for my friend, and for his wife, for lost dreams and disappointed hopes -- theirs and mine.

Marriage is a serious business. Two people exchange promises, establish a new family together, mingle their lives and souls... really do become one. And whether those bonds are severed out of utter necessity, as in my case, or out of some unknown, unintelligible cause, as in my friend's, the tragedy of the sundering is of inestimable magnitude. The December 26 earthquake in Indonesia, which resulted in the tsunami disaster throughout the Indian Ocean basin and which was recorded to still be shaking the earth weeks after the event, is negligible by comparison.

For my friend, this email places before him what he feels to be a personal failure, although he as yet has been unable to identify what that failure might entail -- sufficient to justify a divorce, that is. It brings about a complex sense of loss that only someone who has been abandoned can begin to comprehend. It is standing on the epicenter of that earthquake. He can now begin looking to the future, whereas he has been in a sort of limbo until now, but wisely he is allowing himself time to grieve his loss, to recover his balance and his footing, and I'm glad for that.

I'd comfort my friend if I could. But the only comforts I could offer right now would feel like salt in wounds, or cheesy platitudes. All I can do is stand by and watch and share the sorrow -- for both of them! And I can pray, and I do pray, that the day will quickly come when my friend discovers the beauty that grows out of ashes, when he learns for himself that the Love of our Heavenly Father is bigger even than this.

May the God of all Comfort bless and keep you, dearest friend, and guide your steps by the Light of His most holy and perfect Love.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Reflections on Heirship Music (cont.)

But more than that -- how arrogant I was! perhaps we all were. We were on fire for Jesus, we had so much enthusiasm, and so little wisdom. Every impulse we thought was a divine Leading; every opinion we chalked up to discernment.

I've been thinking about that for the past two days, stuck on it! trying to build on it, trying to make sense of it. Because it didn't come out in that original post: God used those guys, and occasionally even me.

But it wasn't enough -- we had great ideas, noble impulses and ambitions... we had faith -- of a sort. But I think, for myself, it was an idea of faith, not faith itself, that I was clinging to in those days. People told me that, as a Christian, I was supposed to believe certain things, do certain things -- and I professed and tried to accomplish those things because I really wanted to be a good Christian. I really even believed...

but when my life collapsed, the joists of my faith were found to be rotted through and through. The fundamental beliefs, the foundation of Who Jesus Is -- that remained solid. But all the supplemental things of what I was supposed to believe about Him, and the difference that was supposed to make in my life, were proved false.

I'd been told that if you play the game right, if you believe the right things and do the right things, then God is supposed to bless you and everything in your life is supposed to be hunkey-dorey. I didn't just believe the right things, the orthodox things, about Jesus' identity or His salvation; I believed the things about speaking in tongues, soul-winning, and ministry that I'd been told I was supposed to. I read my Bible daily, attended church every time the doors were open (most weeks) and went to The House of Jubilee frequently. I surrounded myself with good Christian people. I tried to honor and please God by following the example and instruction of people I saw as better, more authoritative Christians, than I was. Those authority figures included the guys in Heirship.

I don't fault them -- they were among some of the best friends I had, and they gave me the best that was in them.

But -- if I can use the house-building metaphor again -- the foundation of rock is necessary, but it's not enough. The joists, the studs, everything else about the structure that we call a house also has to meet specs in order to be secure. In my case, the foundation was the only thing that was sound. My life was like a house built with defective, warped, termite-ridden materials, and whose joists and wall studs were spaced too far apart. When the worst thing I could anticipate, happened, everything caved in. Only the foundation remained.

(to be continued...)

Ain't It the Truth!

For all those people who think I'm a disloyal American, employee of my school, or friend for not passing on every bit of tripe -- not even the school raffle program -- that comes down my internet pike: Get a load of THIS.

Reflections on listening to the Heirship tapes

I was sitting on the floor last night, grading papers, agonizing over papers, and in a moment of nothing short of a panic to escape, I got up, went to the computer and just, without really deliberating over my choice, clicked on Randy's web site and went to the Heirship page.

Now, Randy's been asking me for weeks if I've listened to any of the MP3 files of the old songs, and I hadn't. I've felt a great reluctance to listen, don't know why.

Well, I started clicking on songs last night, and it was a strange experience. It was like stepping back in time, to the late 70s. I could remember the dim lighting of the old coffeehouse, the House of Jubilee, where we heard the guys play, several times. I could remember sitting on a stool behind the sandwich bar, sipping Shasta sodas (which I discovered and drank lots and lots of, in California!)

Sounds are very powerful for me, more so than sights; I could smell the air that was uniquely the House of Jubilee, and I could just about taste that Shasta Creme Soda I haven't enjoyed in more than 26 years.

I could also remember the conversations we all used to have, long into the night, discussing the Scriptures or some point of theology or ethics, or the ministry in general. The music brought it all back to me, the comaraderie, the humor, the warmth, the community...

and some memories I find painful, now. Back then, I could spend hours and hours engrossed, absorbed in the Word. I can't now -- haven't been able to concentrate so completely since Dan announced his intention to move out of our apartment, December 14, 1987. Something snapped in me that day that has never healed. I miss the old ability to concentrate. Remembering being married to Dan, and how lonely that was, still hurts; the old feelings of everything being my fault and not knowing how to "fix" it still surge back in on me.

But more than that -- how arrogant I was! perhaps we all were. We were on fire for Jesus, we had so much enthusiasm, and so little wisdom. Every impulse we thought was a divine Leading; every opinion we chalked up to discernment.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A bit of Biblical Humor -- Famous Last Words


7. The people of Jericho before the walls came a tumblin' down: "My mother plays better trumpet than that."

6. Balaam's talking donkey: "I dedicate my body to science and my jawbone to Samson."

5. Ananias and Sapphira after holding back money from God: "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

4. Goliath: "Ouch!"

3. John the Baptist: "This queen is a pain in the neck!"

2. Thomas, after being informed that he was dying: "I doubt it!"

1. Solomon, to his 700th wife: "You're the only woman I've ever really loved."

(thanks to Jim Morgan, COL, for the laugh)

p.s. -- what do John the Baptist and Winnie the Pooh have in common? Same middle name!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Finding old friends and seeing rabid possums

I'll start with the worst first. When you see a nocturnal animal reeling through your yard in broad daylight, you've got a problem on your hands.

This possum -- at first I thought it was a stray cat dragging something through the yard, I've never seen a dun-colored possum before -- was staggering underneath my maple tree just about ten feet from my front door. I watched as it went by the south end of my mobile home, and when I looked out my bedroom window to follow its progress, it looked straight at me through the window.

You ever been stared down by a possum in broad daylight?

I watched, and it limped (hurt back foot) to my garden shed, where it ducked underneath and disappeared. When my neighbor arrived, .22 in hand, we couldn't find it, it's up under the shed, hidden by floor joists. So this morning my first order of business was to call the sheriff and Animal Control and ask for assistance. I'm waiting for a return call from the local wildlife guy.

We had a problem with rabies here five years ago. A rabid racoon wandered up in my neighbors' yard, middle of the day -- got treed by their dogs... whose rabies vaccinations had expired not long before because my friends had been tied up in a series of family illnesses. Every single one of their dogs had to be destroyed. Two mama dogs and two litters of pups, and the daddy. It was a horrible, horrible day.

So here I am, the pollen count is way down, I have spring cleaning to do, linens to wash and hang out, a yard to clean up, some flowers to transplant... and I'm scared to go out of the house.

On a brighter note, I mentioned in my little post introducing Randy to my friends that I'd actually been looking for some other people in the old group, Heirship. Well, I've made contact! I'm happy to report that Ed Stiltz is now a United Methodist pastor down the road from me, in South Carolina. I'd bet Ed's congregations have a good shepherd in him and will be sorry to see him transferred to a new charge next month. Dave and Lisa Boyd, the original friends I was looking for, are in Vienna, Austria, doing some very important work with the Vineyard Fellowship. Ron Elms, who was manager and sound man for Heirship, is the first of the old friends to enter Eternity, in September, 2000. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual Light shine on him.

May God bless the developers of the Internet!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

How to Grow Bermuda Grass

My friend Bill is frustrated by his yard's resistance to the bermuda grass lawn he's trying to get established. As my yard is overrun with the stuff, I offered him this simple advice for getting bermuda (or perhaps any spreading grass) to "stick," and I offer it to you for what it's worth:

One must remember, first and foremost, that bermuda operates on a principle of contraries; where you don't want it is where it will thrive.

So toss out your sprigs with as great an air of carelessness as you can muster. If you can find a way to casually drop them along the ground as you run your lawn mower, or better yet the rototiller, the sprigs will think they have been dropped as "volunteers" and may not really be wanted in that spot. Then stand where you most want quick and thorough coverage, and say in a loud voice,

"Gee, this is a great spot for a vegetable garden! I sure hope the bermuda doesn't overtake it!" Actually going through the motions of putting a few vegetables in the ground, for reinforcement purposes, will guarantee the effects of your announcement.

Using this method, the sprigs can be tossed onto the ground and not "set," covered in black plastic for two years... it won't matter; you'll have more bermuda grass than you will know what to do with.

And I'll be glad to send you some sprigs from my vegetable garden to prove my point. Yeah, the grass that survived the two years covered in heavy black plastic.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005


I'm told I ought to post something to this blog every day. Well here it is: Something.

Less than ten days of classes until final exams -- then graduation on June 4; a friend arrives for a visit on June 3 (what a week-end!) and then off to my homeplace for the summer.

I call the homeplace "The Funny Farm," and that's not just a reflection of how I view my own mental health; it's what it was, in the days when I had chickens and a couple of goats and a pitiful attempt at a garden (the okra was good, but not enough corn, and bermuda grass overtook everything). The animals made it a farm, and they were always entertaining in one way or another.

It's not a fancy place -- I live in a single-wide mobile home that desparately needs roof work situated on four and a quarter acres I doubt I'll ever get cleaned up -- but I love it. It's quiet and peaceful, and I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and look out the window to see deer ambling through my front yard. I keep the air conditioner off during the summer -- I say to keep the power bills down, and that's true, but more than that I love the feel and smell of fresh air even when we are sweltering under 90+ degree temperatures and 100% humidity. I bellyache about the heat all summer long, but I also feel a little superior to people who reach on the first warm day of spring to turn on the air conditioning.

This summer I'll have quite a lot of school work to do in preparation for next year, but I'm also looking forward to time to write -- both tasks assisted by my "mewses," Precious and Bubba, one on my lap and the other on the back of the love seat or lying across my work at the desk. I'm looking forward to time with friends, and time to worship at my home parish. I'll be making some short day trips and overnight trips to visit friends out of town, including a few friends from the Catholic Online forum who live within a four or so hour drive. That will be one great treat!

Hopefully I'll be bettered and enriched during the weeks at home so that when I open my mouth (or punch thoughts out on keys) something worthwhile comes out.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Double-Dipping (a Confession)

So... what's a nice Roman Catholic girl like me doing singing with the choir at St. Timothy's EPISCOPAL Church?

Blame my friend Patricia, for starters. Patricia is not only the choir director at St. Tim's (I hope you don't mind, Patricia; I affectionately call my home parish St. Tony's), she is also a colleague and has become my best friend here in this city where I work and live part-time. Knowing I love music and that I sing, she'd been inviting me since the Open House where we met to come sing with her church choir.

Nah, I'm Roman Catholic. Got to go home on week-ends... can't sing with the choir at St. Tony's because I can't make choir rehearsals in mid-week, but I love Fr. I. and duty is duty.

In the meantime, I as good as lose Christmas altogether this year. No music. Last year I was bogged down in choir work and it was wonderful, even though our choir back home in my former parish does way too much (i.e., ANY) Haugen-Haas Horse-Hockey and, in fact, chooses most of its music from that insipid, cotton-candy non-genre (genre wannabe? -- btw, I am an official member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, or SMMMHDH for short - can prove it by looking here!) As a matter of fact, I have not found a parish in the diocese of Raleigh that is not! bogged down in that ooey-gooey-icky-schticky contemporary not-at-all-Catholic "music".

So Lent is here, Easter is fast approaching, and I'm still music-less. Patricia comes to talk to me again. One of her choir members is on call, her father is terminally ill and there's a very strong probability she won't be in town to sing for Easter. Will I please, as a favor, help her out? (there's also a small stipend, which I could say tipped the balance for me, but I'd be lying and would have to add to my list for Confession this week)

Oh! my SOUL! what music! William Byrd dominated the week -- his Gospel settings, his "Ave Verum Corpus". We also sang the Mozart "Ave Verum Corpus." Have you ever heard the Gospel sung? I had not. On Palm Sunday two men, one a regular member of the choir, sang the Evangelist and the Lord, and the choir sang all the "mob" parts (which includes the voices of the disciples) The baritone singing the voice of Jesus didn't merely perform his role; he seemed to be praying it.

Even during the rehearsal, I felt my soul being re-aligned. I hadn't realized how off-balance I'd become, being in the middle of subtle deteriorations. I felt myself opening up to God all anew in the midst of praying that glorious music. I went home and picked up a long-neglected Book of Christian Prayer, the heavenly Liturgy of the Hours (short form). I felt as if I had come to sit in God's lap and be loved by Him a while.

So... I sang Holy Week (they celebrate a Triduum, too), Easter Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday (oh, thank you, Father James! for remembering our dear John Paul II in your prayers that day!) ...

Got sick. Oh, how sick I got -- I am seriously thinking of taking a bold black marking pen and scratching through the entire month of April, it was so lost and what wasn't lost was horrible. Allergies like I've never experienced before, laryngitis, infections... oh, MISERY! like constantly being in a nightmare of living under water.

Could not talk, certainly could not sing. Equilibrium -- spiritual as well as physical -- faltered.

Well, folks, I sang again today. I'm not even 75% back to what I was during Holy Week (which in itself was rather a gift) -- but, by golly! I sang! The anthem was a wonderful Latin piece, out of France, re-telling the story of the Ascension, which Solemnity was celebrated today. I was AWFUL! but everyone was kind and supported me completely. And once again that amazing, palpable sense of soul re-aligning.

I do hope that, when our new bishop is appointed (we're due), that he takes steps to bring some decent liturgical music back into our Church!
Because it's not fair to blame Patricia for something that certainly is not her fault. The choice is mine, so any blame is mine. And my choice is to continue this "double-dipping" act until my own Church in this area realizes that the insipidity of its music is inducing insipid spirituality and mediocrity in the Faithful (not to mention the heresies this stuff promulgates!) and provides something substantial and fitting to stay home for.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Whoops! Learning my way...

Never blogged before. Hopelessly DUMB in the technology category. That's why Randy is a Contributor to the blog. This evening he caught a little (little? HUGE) oversight in my settings -- that only registered users of blogspot could post comments. That has now been remedied, thanks to Randy's careful oversight of my pet project, here, and anyone and everyone is now free to post comments. I rather wish you would -- I like the feedback.


Keep the Kleenex handy!

Here are some wonderful cartoon tributes to the late, Great, John Paul II.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

So... Who's this Randy person?

I’ve gotten several comments from people who’ve checked this blog (thank you!) and contacted me with a question. They know I’m single and that I’m not dating anyone… but on the right hand column, listed as a Contributor, is a person they don’t know.

So, who is Randy?

To answer that question I must take you back more than 25 years (ack!). Dan, my first husband, and I were in California, where he was stationed in the U.S.A.F. At church we met a lovely couple, Dave and Lisa. Lisa became my best friend in California; Dave played in a Contemporary Christian Music group called Heirship. Dan and I got to know the guys in the band, we worked with them in a coffeehouse ministry, and we became pretty good friends with some of them.

Dan and I moved back home to NC in April, 1979, and got busy with growing family and “real life;” Heirship started breaking up shortly after we moved home, and everyone went in varying directions. We all lost touch.

I’ve thought about those folks often over the years, but a couple of months ago the thoughts began to be more frequent and more intense. Finally, several weeks ago, I decided, oh, what the heck! and sat down to begin a Google search. I quickly located a link for a website for Heirship, but the site was expired. I kept looking, though, and found an email address for someone connected to the website. I tossed out an email hoping it wouldn’t come back to me marked “undeliverable.”

I was so surprised and delighted to receive a message, almost immediately, saying, “You have the right place – and I remember you very well! What in particular did you want to know?” My correspondent was none other than Randy Phillips, whom I remembered as a tall, jolly, bushy-haired, constantly-grinning guitar player and vocalist with the band. I shot him back an email – and the rest is … going to make history? He’s living and working out on the Left Coast, and we’ve been getting re-acquainted, exchanging emails, Instant Messaging, and talking via Skype every day since that first email. In large part, it’s his fault this blog exists (blame him!), because while other people had told me I ought to create one, he persuaded me I could (technologically speaking).

For this blog, Randy is sort of a technical advisor, helper and cheerleader. Of course, he has full access and if he ever wants to, he’s quite free to post. He has his own blog, though (which he needs to keep updated more faithfully! – there’s a tease for him to pay him back for mentioning me there in over-glowing terms!), so don’t look for him to be posting here.

For me, Randy is quickly proving a valuable and dearly beloved friend, and it has been wonderful to share with him how Our Lord has been working in our lives since we last saw one another in 1979. He asks questions – the right sort of questions, that stimulate my desire to understand the Faith more perfectly. But most of all, through our conversations I’ve come to a new eagerness to get my head beliefs and my life performance lined up more perfectly.

And that’s who “that Randy person” is! (in part, at least)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Prelude and Fugue in Faith -- Postlude

And then Rusty and I separated. It was unhappy, unwanted, and completely necessary. But out of that disappointment came the good: the conflict of my being in a marriage which could not be recognized by the Church was resolved. I got word in early September, 2002, that I could be received into the Church.

The first step was to go to Confession. You’ve got to appreciate the irony of this: As an Evangelical, the one sacrament I used to actively ridicule was that of Confession – it was wrong, it was superstitious, it was idolatrous to look to a man to forgive me from my sins. “For we have one mediator...” and now Confession was to be the first Sacrament I could receive as a Catholic

In the interim, I had come to understand the Sacraments – and the role of the priesthood – very differently than I had during my years as an evangelical. As an evangelical, the priesthood was so distant and remote a concept that it might have come from another planet. We didn’t have priests – we had pastors Shepherds of the flock, teachers and evangelists. But not priests. Of course, we couldn’t have priests. The primary function of the priest, in times ancient and modern, is to offer sacrifice. The Old Testament priests offered the sacrifice of the burnt offerings; the Catholic priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

And it was the Twelve, not all followers, to whom Jesus gave authority to forgive sins on earth. He established the priesthood as well as the Eucharist in the Upper Room during the Last Supper; he reaffirmed the priesthood and authorized the Twelve and their successors to forgive sins before His ascension, in Matthew 28. This is a key source of the Tradition of what is now called Reconciliation, and the root of the teaching of Apostolic Succession.

I scheduled an appointment with a retired priest. We met one early autumn afternoon. I had an examination of conscience that I had gotten off my favorite web site. We took nearly two hours, but then, at almost 45 years of age, I had a lot to confess

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first Confession.” And I began to recite my sins, using the examination of conscience as my prompt.

That night, September 26, 2002, I wrote to my friend, the Director of Religious Education for the parish:

Tonight it has quite overpowered me – I have begun my active life as a Catholic and a sharer and recipient of the Sacraments, those glorious, power-filled Mysteries of our Savior... The weight and glory of what transpired today has come to me tonight with even greater impact than it did today. And earlier it was quite great. Some sins I confessed out of duty rather than actual remorse, because I knew the Church calls those things sins whether I had previously thought or felt them to be so, and yet once I had done, I felt so clean... Tonight, I see for the first time how terribly far I have to go. As an Evangelical, I was considered not only in pretty good shape, but downright exemplary despite my failings. Yet tonight I FEEL for the first time what it means to acknowledge myself a sinner, guilty of doing things which grieve the kind, good Lord Who has loved me enough to bring me down this road. I see for the first time how much I have to learn and to do in order to be, really BE, a good Christian, the thoughts and habits I have been so careless and comfortable with all these years but now must choose to address and fight and overcome, to “be transformed,” not as a careless eventuality but as a deliberate choice to be consciously exercised on a daily, hourly basis.

...the real work begins now. I’ve been so blessed, and been so excited by all the events of the past two years, all the openings of those floodgates of God’s blessings. But this is the real blessing, isn’t it? To be admitted into His presence through the Sacraments, to be touched and chosen to be His own, to be allowed the opportunity to truly convert, not just as a formality of church membership, but that inward conversion of the heart which I need so greatly....

Two and a half years after writing those words, they still represent my experience, now. It is an amazing thing to be a Catholic. I first came to know Christ as a Protestant. I first came to appreciate His work on the Cross, the glory of His Resurrection and our hope of Eternal Life as a Protestant. I first came to love the Written Word of the Scriptures as a Protestant. I am grateful for those years and for the lessons I learned in them. But as a Catholic, I have been admitted to that Church which can not only trace its history in great detail all the way back to Peter and the Upper Room, but which also contains the very fullness of Truth. The inexhaustible depth of that Truth still leaves me in awe.

I love the liturgy, with its poetry and drama bringing not only emotions and intellect but also my body into the act of worship. In genuflecting, in standing for the Gospel reading and in kneeling for the Eucharistic prayers, I bring my body into physical gestures of reverence toward God; all my senses enter into the act of worship with the fragrance of incense, the sights and sounds of the hymns, the prayers, the taste of the Precious Body and Precious Blood.

I love the completeness of the Church – her historical continuity, her broad-reaching expressions of devotion that include the monastic, the contemplative, the mystical, the active; the care for conversions, the care for helping souls become mature in faith and devotion, for the development of social conscience.. All aspects of Christian life come together under the care and oversight of the Church; nothing is neglected.

I love the opportunities for worship in the Church. Not only the mass, but also in the Holy Hour, one has a chance to be physically close to Christ in the Holy Eucharist. There is not only the rosary, there is also the beautiful and profound Liturgy of the Hours, a series of prayers and psalms and readings which are arranged to be observed at different times during the day. Even before my Confirmation, I was able to participate in these devotions, as well as in the long-loved music of worship. They all help deepen my understanding of the teachings and the Reality of the Church, and were a great comfort to me while I awaited my Confirmation.

Two and a half years after my Confirmation, they continue to guide me closer to Christ.

Prelude and Fugue in Faith -- Fugue (Part 4)


I had long been dissatisfied with the Protestant habit of virtually ignoring Jesus’ mother. It seems we brought her out only for our Nativity scenes at Christmas (after all, you can’t have a birth without a mother), but as soon as we could, we would stuff her back into the storage shed and try to ignore her for the rest of the year.

But I also wasn’t comfortable with what I perceived an inordinate emphasis on Mary among Catholics. Unfortunately, over the years I’d encountered people who’d been so enthusiastic in their devotion to Our Lady that they seemed to regard her as a fourth Person of the Godhead, seemed more excited about her than about her Son. I was very uncomfortable when I heard Catholics speak of praying to Mary, or refer to her as Mediatrix or as Queen of Heaven. I was uncomfortable with the Rosary, preferring instead the Chaplet of Divine Mercy which directly addresses “Eternal Father”. I didn’t know where the balance would be found, but I kept coming back to my original thought: if the Church is right about the Real Presence....

I had no trouble accepting her title “Mother of God” or Theotokos (literally, God-bearer) because it reflects Jesus’ divinity, not her own.

And I learned soon thereafter that the Church makes a clear distinction between worship, which is due only to God, and veneration, which may be given to the saints, and the highest form of veneration, which is accorded Mary.

Shortly after the visit at the Sacred Heart parish office, I was watching tv when BBCAmerica was re-broadcasting their tribute to Elizabeth, the Queen Mother on her 100th birthday. That’s when it clicked for me. The Queen Mother, was not the monarch, but her husband was king during WWII, and her daughter, Elizabeth II is now reigning monarch of Great Britain. The British people were simply wild about “the Queen Mum,” she held a very precious place in their hearts. And it occurred to me, what a marvelous analogy this was Jesus is King of Kings; Mary, His mother, is like “Queen Mum” of Heaven.

We have three incidents where Mary is recorded to have spoken: at the Annunciation, when she responds to the angel’s announcement with the humble Fiat, “Be it done to me according to thy word;” her song of praise, the Magnificat, sung when she is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth; and finally, at the wedding feast in Cana, when she tells the servants, “Whatever my son tells you, do it ” But those three instances deserve more attention and honor than they’ve ever received in any Protestant church of my background. Those words, plus her faithfulness from the Annunciation to the Upper Room at Pentecost, make her a powerful model for any practicing Christian.

I came to realize that the Rosary, a Marian devotion which made me squirm for so long, is really a series of reflections on key events of Jesus’ life. The “Hail, Mary,” central prayer of the Rosary, is taken from the Annunciation and from Elizabeth’s greeting, both in Luke 2. We repeat and fulfill Scripture in praying the Rosary.

Then I heard a tape by Dr. Scott Hahn, a former Presbyterian minister and convert to Catholicism, in which he described Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant, having borne in her body the Messiah, the Covenant-Maker. This image struck me as profound, and it led to another realization: by receiving in her body the conception of the Lord Jesus, she becomes the Bride of the Holy Spirit, in a unique spousal relationship with God, making her worthy of greater respect and honor than I had ever been taught, as a Type of the Bride of Christ, the Church.

My grasping the truth and beauty of Mary’s unique spousal relationship with God also brought into focus for me the Church’s teaching of her perpetual virginity. I had thought this issue a hair-splitter until quite late in the process, but I have come to understand that it is crucial in the Church’s covenant theology. The Protestant English translations indicate that Mary and Joseph had other children – at one point Jesus is told his mother and brothers are looking for Him. However, the scriptural evidence seems stronger to the contrary. For one thing, the ancient (and some modern) languages do not distinguish between close relatives – there is no separate word for cousin, for example, in either Greek or in modern Thai.

But also, if Mary were not perpetually virgin, an intended state from the time preceding her marriage to Joseph, her ability to conceive the Messiah would not have been such a puzzle to her in Luke 2; it might logically have been taken for granted that the Child would have been conceived after the impending marriage. Also, it seems unlikely that Mary could have traveled as extensively as the Gospels record, had she had other children to care for or to live with. Too, had Mary borne other children, it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to provide her with a home after His death; instead, He gives her to John, the beloved disciple. And through John He gives her to us, to take into our homes as His mother and now ours, for us also to become her son(s).

Most of all, because Mary accepted the role given to her by God as mother of His Son, it was necessary that she remain pure in body as His Spouse. Her constancy mirrors the purity of her heart and soul, provided from the time of her conception by the work of Christ even before His Incarnation (called, consequently, the Immaculate Conception). Mary bore in her body the New Covenant of God; her perpetual virginity reflects her spousal fidelity to God.

Then it became easier to recognize her as the Mother of the Church. In the Book of Romans, Paul speaks of our adoption as sons by God, so that we become joint-heirs with Christ, the true-born Son. It makes sense that, if Jesus is God’s Son and Mary’s Son, then when we receive our adoption as children of God, we also become her children. And in Revelation 12, every Protestant Church I’ve even attended admits that the woman and the Child are Mary and Jesus – but none has ever acknowledged that the dragon goes in search of the woman’s other children, who must of necessity be us, the “sons of adoption.”

With those reflections in mind, it wasn’t hard to begin praying to her. After all, ever since my first commitment to Christ, back in the ‘70's, I’d always been told “Prayer is simply talking to God.” Well, talking to someone isn’t worshiping them, so it didn’t make sense to treat “talking with” Mary as an act of worship. Moreover, whereas Protestants equate worship with the entire program of hymns, prayers, and sermons of the church service, Catholics view worship as the reverence with which we view the Consecration and receive Christ in the Eucharist; the reading of the Word, hymns and prayers are the preparation for worship. And I learned, too, that we don’t pray to Mary as we pray to God, with specific requests for her to grant; rather, we request her (and by the way, the saints’) intercession and help, much in the same manner as I’d done countless times when I’ve picked up the telephone and called a friend, “Hey Can you pray for so-and-so?” But because of who Mary is, her prayers, we assume, get special consideration from her Son, just as her request for His assistance at the wedding of Cana received His special consideration. This is why she is known by the Church as Mediatrix.

It all began to make beautiful, glorious sense. There could be no turning back, even though I couldn’t be brought into the Church right away – by having remarried after being divorced, and with Rusty also having been divorced, there would have to be a long process of resolving what the Church recognizes as an invalid marriage.

Prelude and Fugue in Faith -- Fugue (Part 3)


Once I realized that Christ is truly Present in the Eucharist, I began to think of things that hadn’t occurred to me before. Like, the fact that our definition of orthodoxy – the Trinity, the virgin birth, the full divinity and humanity of Christ, the physical death and resurrection of Christ... – all these things were identified and codified by the Catholic Church. Moreover, the Catholic Church remains faithful to those doctrinal essentials, and to the sanctity of life, even when mainstream Protestantism is now guilty of increasingly compromising them in a growing liberal movement away from orthodoxy.

I began to wonder why the evangelical tradition ignores the earliest Church teachers and Fathers. Why did we only quote contemporary theologians? It was as if Christianity were supposed to have suffered an 1800-year gap in its history, had somehow been abandoned after the completion of the Book of Acts until the last two hundred years or so. So often I had heard evangelical pastors boast of recapturing the essence of biblical Christianity, the heart and purity of the first century Church, when they patently ignored the writings available to us from those first Christians, who lived and worked alongside the apostles and their disciples and successors. I had accepted the omission without question; now it rankled.

I also began to ponder the source of the Bible. The collection that we now know as our New Testament was officially compiled about 300-400 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the work of... the catholic Church In fact, while I had actually been told once that the Catholics had added the deutero-canonical books we Protestants called the Apocrypha, I knew that the opposite was true, that the Protestants had eliminated them after the Reformation; in fact, the earliest King James translations were required by law to include those deutero-canonical books

It also began to seem clear to me that even while we evangelicals claimed that the Bible as our only authority for faith and practice, the Bible itself does not claim to be sufficient in and of itself. II Timothy 3:16 does not claim that the Scriptures are adequate or sufficient, only “useful” or “profitable.” In fact, Paul wrote to Timothy that the Church is “the pillar and ground of the Truth” (I Tim. 3:15, NKJV). Moreover, Paul and the other New Testament writers made no claim to be writing Scripture; the authority of their writings was verified by the Church long after they had been disseminated through the Christian community. It seemed irrational to think of these simple servants of Jesus Christ seeking to add to what they knew already as the Scriptures; they were only recording what they know of the life and teachings of the Lord, or writing to give counsel and direction to the embryonic Church and its leaders.

It was startling to discover previously-overlooked passages in Scripture that promoted tradition and oral teaching. These include 1 Cor 11:2, II Tim 1:13-14, 2:1-2; II Thes 2:15. I had been indoctrinated to believe that, with the compilation of the New Testament, the oral traditions became moot. But the very fact that the New Testament was compiled by councils of the Church, established in large part through the traditions of their origins and prior use, seemed to set the New Testament as part and parcel of that Tradition. I realized, although all the traditions of the Church that I was encountering were solidly rooted in and supported by Scripture, the priority had become reversed: Tradition validates the Scriptures, not the other way around.

I was also amazed, in subsequent visits to Catholic parishes in Greensboro and in Southern Pines, to discover that the Mass is full of Scripture. On Sundays, there are four readings: Old Testament, Psalm (usually sung), New Testament and Gospel; on weekdays there are three readings. And so much of the Mass itself, in the prayers and responses, is a recitation of Scripture I’ve never been in a Protestant church with a fourth as much.

So... why, in the midst of these wonderful discoveries, why did I go back to the Protestant Church? Because I did. When I moved back to my homeplace in ‘96, I went back to the Methodist Church where my father’s family had been charter members and where I’d spent many Sundays of my own childhood. I told God, “If You ever relieve me of (duties I’d assumed when I moved back home), I’ll go back to the Catholic Church.” I didn’t remember my promise very long. I was relieved of those duties, in less than two years, but by then I had forgotten the promise.

When my second husband’s work took him to Louisiana, I began packing up belongings, expecting our furnishings to have to go into storage when I joined him. Books – I had so many books – are generally cheaper to replace than to store, so I began to sort out those books I would probably not read again. Many went to the just-beginning library of a church where I’d been playing piano for several months, but I also had Catholic writers whose works would not be well-accepted there. I decided to donate those books, three large boxes full, to the parish library at Sacred Heart Parish in Pinehurst.

When I walked into the parish office and announced my mission, the reaction of the women in the office was even warmer and brighter than the September day. A Protestant reading Catholic books And they were thrilled when I told them how I had come to believe in the Real Presence. And when I assured them I was keeping more books than I was giving away – Thomas Merton, Msgr. Romano Guardini, Dietrich von Hildebrand, and more – they were delighted. We had a wonderful visit together. I felt I ought to come and worship there soon.

As I cranked up the old pickup, I heard The Voice again, this time with music and laughter: “Oh, Sweetheart...” and I immediately recalled my promise to return to the Catholic Church. I had to laugh – God does not allow us to forget our promises, but He can and does approach us with warmth and tenderness and even with humor.

Still, it was not easy to return to the Church. I knew that by returning I was making a commitment to live as a Catholic even though I couldn’t be received into the Church, and I didn’t know how long it would take until I could be Confirmed. I would be committed to honoring the obligations of mass attendance, of fasts and abstinences, a great challenge, even though I knew that these acts of self-denial and obedience would enrich my soul. I knew I would have to accept all the teachings of the Church, whether they made sense to me or not. These are disciplines alien to nearly all the Protestants of my acquaintance and even to my own strong-minded nature.

There was, in fact, only one final obstacle to my whole-hearted acceptance of all the Church’s teachings, and it had become only a half-hearted objection: Mary.

Prelude and Fugue in Faith -- Fugue (Part 2)


A couple weeks later I was able to speak with the director of religious education for that parish, a man who was also a convert and an acquaintance through our daughters. He laughed at my question about Catholics being cannibals. Evidently lots of people think it, but most are too polite to say anything about it. Not me

He explained that the term Transubstantiation dates back to the time of Thomas Aquinas, whom I remembered from my History of Christianity class at Guilford. Then it clicked for me.

Essentially, according to Aristotle, whose philosophical work was a major source for Aquinas as he undertook his great theological work, an object has two parts: its substance and its accident. The accident of the bread and wine (or the “species”), in the consecration, remain the same – that is, the physical nature of the host, if you were to examine them under a microscope, would still be bread (wheat flour, no yeast) and wine (grape, fermented). They retain the taste and other sensory elements of their original accidental nature. But the substance – that is-ness of the object, is transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ.

It’s a hard concept to try to explain. But I’d heard of substance and accident before – not in my religion classes, but in a lit class. “Think of what makes a tree a tree,” said my professor. “The isness of the tree.” The particulars that make it recognizable as a pine or an oak, a willow or a poplar, those particulars are the accident. The essential “treeness” is the substance.

Aha. Transubstantiation. But, having been taught for nearly forty years that the Lord’ Supper, Communion, is merely a symbolic remembrance of the Last Supper, a commemoration of the sufferings He foretold at that last Passover, it was still a difficult concept to grasp.

Well, said my friend, let’s look at the Gospel of John, chapter 6. Starting at verse 26, Jesus begins His discourse on His identity as the Bread of Life. I’d always been taught this was a metaphorical reality, not literal. But look at v. 41:

“The Jews therefore were grumbling about Him, because He said ‘I am the bread that came down out of heaven.’”

Well, it was hard for them to accept that He was the Messiah, right? That’s what they were complaining about.. Wasn’t it? Look at v. 52:

The Jews therefore began to argue with one another, saying ‘How can this man give us His flesh to eat?’”

Already they were beginning to take Him not metaphorically, but literally And verses 53-58:

...Truly, truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life... for My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.. He who eats this bread shall live forever.

Now, Jesus taught this very publicly, in the synagogue in Capernaum. It wasn’t some secret, cultic teaching shared only with the Twelve, it was something He had laid wide open before everyone following Him and thinking about following Him. And it was such a difficult idea for them, that “many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” It wasn’t just the Jewish officials who had difficulty with this, it was His disciples (remember, by this point He had many disciples, and the Twelve were distinguished from all the other followers). Some abandoned Him because of it.

If Jesus had been speaking only symbolically or metaphorically, nobody would have been offended. Instead, everyone – the Jews and the disciples – understood Jesus to be speaking literally. And He never corrected their literal understanding or offered any alternative explanation, as He did with parables and other difficult teachings His disciples did not understand.

I have since learned that the Church taught this essential doctrine, also known as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, from its very earliest days. Even after the Reformation, the change to a symbolic interpretation of the Lord’s supper came about well after the major splits of Lutheranism and Anglicanism and seems to have been developed to further distance these rebel groups from Rome – not as primary objections to the teachings of Rome. In fact, the Anglicans/Episcopalians and the Lutherans today teach a doctrine called consubstantiation, that the Real Presence of Christ co-exists side by side with the substances of bread and wine. With, but separate.

I knew that the Holy Spirit had revealed something powerful and totally unexpected into me in that first Mass about Christ’s Real Presence, and this Scriptural evidence, unaddressed by my former Protestant pastors, was compelling. The historical evidence of the Church’s adherence to this doctrine for more than 1500 years up to and including the early years of the Protestant Reformation was even more so. Again I thought: if the Catholic Church was right about that one, essential point, then I was willing to bet the farm that they were going to be right on the money about everything else. Or if not, it really didn’t matter to me: I simply had to become Catholic.

Prelude and Fugue in Faith --Fugue (Part 1)

One day, in early 1996, not long before I moved back to the farm, a situation arose in the middle of the week that left me feeling a very strong need to go sit in a church and pray. Well, the only act in town during the week is the Catholic Church’s daily mass. I knew that Jim sometimes went to mass before coming in to the office, so I called the parish he attended and got the schedule. Then I called him, told him, I’d be late to work the next morning, and where I was going. He got excited, he told me “You’re going to love it I just know you are ”

I got to the church a little before 7:30 the next morning. I had been inside Our Lady of Grace church once before, during a choral performance my older daughter had been involved in. But this felt different. Somehow I hadn’t really seen the church then. This time, I pushed open the heavy oak doors and walked into the sanctuary and – I froze. For the first time I was aware of the splendid architecture, the vaulted ceilings, the stained glass, the white marble altar area. For years and years, I’d been in Baptist churches, Christian and Missionary Alliance churches, Friends meetinghouses, all plain, and the Friends’ completely unadorned. This, then, was splendor, this was magnificence – and every bit of it pointed, not to the human designer but far beyond. A voice inside me proclaimed, “Behold the majesty and glory of Almighty God ”

I stood for several minutes before taking my seat in the back pew, and even then I continued looking around in curiosity and awe. I watched several people enter, genuflect and cross themselves before entering a pew, then move forward to kneel on one of the drop-down kneelers to pray before the service began. It was a demonstration of devotion I found strangely moving. I noticed carvings along the outer walls of the sanctuary – from literary allusions I’d encountered in college, I recognized them as the Stations of the Cross, a beautiful meditation and prayer on the sufferings of Christ. I saw statues. I saw the stained glass windows depicting the Life of Christ. My eye was regularly drawn to the white marble altar area up front, with all its splendid fixtures.

Particularly, my attention was riveted to a “gold box” in the front of the sanctuary. I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t know what it was called or anything about it. But I couldn’t take my eyes off that gold box. I knew, viscerally, by revelation, that my Lord and my God was in that box. I was electrified. And I knew just as surely that it was in the Communion Host, which until that moment I had thought was just one of many Catholic superstitions, that He was Present. The very word “Eucharist ” popped into my mind as clearly and succinctly as if someone had whispered it in my ear.

The mass itself is hardly memorable. All I could think was, He’s really there And Ooh, how gross Because literal meant... well, literal. Like cannibalism. But I couldn’t escape it or ignore it: He was really there, in the Eucharist. I knew it. I didn’t know how to reconcile it with my prejudices or sensibilities, but I decided that day that if the Church was right about that one crucial point – and she must be – then if she were wrong about everything else, it wouldn’t really matter.