Preach always. If necessary, use words. –St. Francis of Assisi
Two years ago, I was in the Confessional, arguing with my priest. This is what I do. I go confess my sins and then end up arguing about stuff. I’m like a whiny little kid, all defensive about my ridiculous self. Thankfully, my priest finds this amusing and not offensive.
On this particular day, I was confessing a sin I’d confessed at least fifteen times before: angrily arguing with my husband about the Catholic Church. Suddenly, I stopped. From behind the Confessional screen, I could hear my priest chuckling softly. It was an affection chuckle–the kind I sometimes use with my own kids when they are being So Predictably Ridiculous.
“Father!” I exclaimed. “I’m serious! If I could just get my husband to read this one book about the Catholic Church, he’d understand everything!”
“Elizabeth,” he said, “you just need to stop.talking.about.the Catholic Church.”
“B-but! Talking is what I doooooo!” I wailed.
“You’re trying to do the Holy Spirit’s work,” he said. “This is not your job.”
“So, you mean, like, I just stop talking about it?”
Silence. I was waiting for more.
“That’s it?” I asked. “Just. Stop?”
“Just stop. You can trust the wisdom of the Church and simply rely on the Holy Spirit.”
AUUUUUGHHHH! That hit the mark. I felt pierced to my soul. Trust the wisdom of the Church. Rely on the Holy Spirit. Those two things were the hardest and most difficult tasks I’d ever been assigned. They struck to the core of my deepest fears:
- I have MASSIVE trust issues with any church. Because, hello, spiritually abusive past!
- I prefer to rely on myself rather than this nebulous, intangible thing called the Holy Spirit. Because, like, WHAT IF THE HOLY SPIRIT GETS IT WRONG? Because, clearly, I know better than the Holy Spirit! Yes, I actually think thoughts like that.
Still, I had to admit that my current tactics (read: constantly talking) were not working. The more I talked about how much grace and love I was experiencing in the Church, the more my husband grew annoyed and suspicious. He said the Church was corrupt and idolatrous. Just look at its bloody, horrific history! He said there was no way he would EVER become Catholic, period, end of story. He said he couldn’t believe that I would become Catholic after all I’d experienced in fundamentalism.
He spat the word Catholic like it was a dirty word. He refused to let me take the children to Mass.
He said I’d joined the biggest cult of them all.
All my words were useless.
My priest was right. I needed to stop talking about it.
Strangely enough, I walked out of the Confessional that day feeling light as air. The truth was, I’d been carrying a heavy burden. I thought it was all up to me. Being raised Protestant, I’d been well-taught in apologetics. I knew my Bible! I could give an answer for the hope within me!
As I drove home I thought about the journey God had taken me on. I came kicking and screaming into the Catholic Church.
I’d wrestled with John 6 for weeks. I couldn’t find a way to get around Jesus’ explicit words: 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 drink My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.
I’d been taught that these words of Jesus were symbolic. He wasn’t reeeeally saying eat My flesh, drink My blood. It was a memorial. For as literally as fundamentalists interpret the Bible, we found all kinds of wiggle room when it came to Communion.
I remember taking my Bible to my Dad and saying: “Please convince me that John 6 is meant to be taken literally.”
He tried. He did his very fundamentalist best. I’d heard all the arguments before. This time, though, none of them were convincing.
Why? Because they didn’t answer one, pivotal question: If Jesus didn’t mean what He said, why did He go to such lengths to reiterate it and hammer it in?
Why did He repeat Himself like three times (I am the Bread of Life, I am the living bread, eat My flesh, drink My blood)? I mean, HOW MUCH MORE LITERAL did Jesus need to be before I believed what He was saying?
The final moment of surrender came when I couldn’t answer this question: if Jesus didn’t mean what He said, WHY did so many of His disciples leave him immediately after that? (vs. 66)
I finally concluded that it was more reasonable to say Jesus meant what He said than to try and explain it away with a bunch of loopholes, analogies, parables, comparisons, etc. There are many portions of the Bible which are NOT MEANT to be taken literally, but John 6, I realized, was MEANT to be taken literally. Jesus was not speaking in a parable. He was not making some analogy. Jesus was speaking literally and declaratively.
In fact, many of his disciples turned away from Him at that moment because they understood what He meant and they were offended.
The Eucharist brought me to the Catholic Church. But I had to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit works in different ways for different people. By trying to persuade my husband of the truths I’d discovered, I actually got in the way of the Holy Spirit.
I finally stopped talking about it.
That was two years ago. Since then, I’ve said not one word. I let it all go. I told God that even if it never happened in my lifetime, I was OK with that. I would continue to honor my vows, love my husband and love my children.
Oh, but how I prayed. I prayed and prayed and prayed.
And oh, how I’ve failed and screwed up and sinned and confessed
and confessed again.
I’ve been praying for four years total–two of those years I didn’t argue, convince, persuade or USE MY WORDS.
Last week was our 15th wedding anniversary. The day before our anniversary, my husband said he had a gift for me. He said something had changed in his heart, something he never expected to happen. He said first it was appreciation for the Church, then he started reading the Catechism (just to see what those crazy Catholics believe) and then, one day, he felt his heart shift. He believes.
He said he was entering the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil.
My husband is becoming Catholic.
I fell on the floor. Like, literally fell. The children ran in and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t move. I wept. I thanked Jesus. I thanked Mary for her intercession. I thanked all the angels and saints. I thanked all my friends who have so faithfully held us in their prayers.
Then I stood up and danced around screaming and laughing.
We are whole! WE ARE WHOLE!
It’s been ten years since we left the fundamentalist cult of my childhood but we are finally, finally, finally whole again.
By God’s grace, I am learning to trust the wisdom of the Church. By God’s grace, I am learning to rely on the Holy Spirit.
By God’s grace, all is redeemed.
Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit
as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be
world without end.