Better than a Klonopin.

klonopin VS.  communion_wafer

It’s the 4th week of Advent, the preliminary weeks leading to Christmas that are recognized by the Catholic Church (and also, I believe, all liturgical or “high churches” like the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and Orthodox churches).   In the Catholic faith, Advent extends beyond Christmas itself, to the Epiphany (Little Christmas), which is celebrated on January 7th.

I have missed the previous two Sundays, and felt like sleeping in today, too, but made myself go, because I always get so much out of the Mass, especially the Eucharist, which the Mass leads up to.   Sometimes laziness wins though, and I always regret it later.  I wasn’t going to let that happen again today!

As a pretty liberal Christian (even for a Catholic), I don’t think non-church attendance is necessarily a sin.  I don’t think church attendance is necessary for salvation; only having faith is. Many people are able to live a Christ-like life and stay close to God and retain their faith in spite of not belonging to any church.  They are self-disciplined: they pray every day, read their Bible, read devotions, and ask God for forgiveness when necessary.   I’m not one of them.  I need to have a church to go to, otherwise I get lazy and “forget” to stay close to God.  I start slipping back into the “world” with all its shallowness and banality and fail to act the way Jesus did.   I slip back into sinful and toxic thinking and start nursing doubt.

So today I went to Mass, and as always happens, I left feeling uplifted and peaceful in my heart.   The Eucharist (communion) is powerful medicine for me.    I admit I have doubts about some of the Catholic doctrine, and issues with some of its rules.   However, my church seems to emphasize God’s love over the hell-fire and brimstone scare tactics used by so many other churches to get their adherents to comply, including some of the more conservative Catholic churches.   My church isn’t constantly preaching about abortion, homosexuality, or sin.    Every homily (analogous to the sermon for Protestants) is preceded by readings from the Bible, and the homily itself based on Biblical verses about God’s love and how much Jesus loved us, so much that he died for ALL people (not just a selected few, as Calvinists believe) so  all of us can achieve salvation.

The highlight of the Mass is the Eucharist, which is really a re-enactment of the Last Supper.   I do believe, as a Catholic, that the host (communion wafer) and wine actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus Christ once it’s ingested.   I believe this because of what it does to me inside.  Once I ingest, I always feel a warm liquid feeling of peace and loving feelings in my heart, and this overcomes any worries or negative feelings I may be experiencing.   That tiny sip of wine certainly isn’t enough to alter my mind, so I know it’s much more than a physical effect; it’s a spiritual one.  It’s the Holy Spirit inside me working on my heart and soul.    During the Eucharist, and for a few minutes following it, the choir sings softly about opening your heart to the Lord and his Divine Love.   I spend the next few minutes kneeling, thanking Jesus for this gift of Himself, and praying for it to do good things within my soul.  It always does.

I also notice that during the week, I feel more loving toward humanity, get less irritated and worry less, and good things seem to happen.  I also seem to have a clearer direction of where I’m going spiritually.

The feeling I get from partaking in communion  isn’t unlike taking a Klonopin!   But it’s so much longer lasting and I feel like it actually changes and opens my heart, which a Klonopin (which only reduces anxiety) can never do.

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Are Christians Being Persecuted During the Christmas Season?

One more from JWB!   How right Tim is!

I remember last Christmas, some Christians got their panties in a bunch over Starbucks cups not having Christmas decorations on them.  They called this persecution.  *Facepalm*

Oh noes!  It’s a war on Christmas!

war-on-christmas

The cups have snowflakes on them this year.   Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus even demand his birthday be celebrated (which isn’t his actual birthday anyway).   Christmas wasn’t celebrated by the early Christians.

“The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated on December 25th was in 336, during the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine (he was the first Christian Roman Emperor). A few years later, Pope Julius I officially declared that the birth of Jesus would be celebrated on the 25th December.”

Source:
https://www.google.com/#q=when+was+christmas+first+celebrated

Some Christians have even opted out of celebrating Christmas because of how commercialized and secular it’s become (and I’m not just referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses). It’s becoming an increasingly common thing.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around people getting all bent out of shape because some throwaway coffee cups don’t have holiday oops — Christmas, decorations on them.  What the heck do snowflakes have to do with the birth of Christ, anyway?  There was no snow in Bethlehem or the desert around it.  There certainly weren’t any reindeer or coniferous trees.  Jesus wasn’t born in Scandinavia or Siberia (where you might expect to find those things), or even central Europe.  My point?  Snowflakes, reindeer, Santa Claus, Christmas trees — those are all purely secular.  How is their absence on everyday objects proof of Christian persecution?   You tell me.

Silly things like coffee cups, or saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” are NOT persecution.   How come 40 or 50 years ago, people could say “Seasons Greetings” or “Happy Holidays” and no one batted an eyelash?  How come Jews don’t get all sulky even though most of us aren’t going around saying “Happy Chanukah” and there have never been little dreidels or Stars of David printed all over disposable coffee cups?

Jesus Without Baggage

Thanksgiving is behind us and the Christmas season is now officially underway. Do you know any Christians who feel persecuted by others during this season?

Here is a simple chart you can share with them to determine whether or not they really are being persecuted. I got it from another blogger and this is the fourth year I have posted it.

I think the analysis still applies.

persecution chart

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Here are My 5 Christmas Wishes for You

Jesus Without Baggage is one of my favorite blogs.  Legalism is unnecessary and not even biblical.   If you’re a Christian or would-be Christian who still has problems with the legalism and rigid dogma found in most Christian denominations (and might even be put off by Christianity because of that), please give JWB a follow!

Another great Christian blog I like to read is Grace For My Heart (I especially like Pastor Dave’s regular feature, Narcissism Fridays).

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Jesus Without Baggage

It is less than two weeks until Christmas, and I am sure you are already deep into the Christmas spirit—doing all those busy things we do during this season leading up to the big day. Decorations are up and excitement is in the air. Perhaps you have already attended some parties for the season and met friends you haven’t seen in a while.

Joy and celebration are all around us: in the lights and decorations of our communities, towns, and cities; in the special shows on TV; in plays, musical presentations, and new movie releases; and in the background music that surrounds us everywhere we go.

We are all very busy during this important time. And as we come close to Christmas day, I want to share my five Christmas wishes for you.

Christmas Season Credit – Pixabay, public domain

My Five Wishes for You

1. I wish for you to enjoy…

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Dear Father…

dear_father_____by_tamingthetiger-d3iyrad
“Dear Father” by Taming the Tiger

I usually shy away from anything too spiritual or religious, because I do realize many of my readers are atheist, agnostic, or of differing faiths–and I respect their right to believe as they wish.   But today in church when the priest asked us to “add our own prayers,” I felt inspired to pray a particular prayer that has great meaning to me, for a myriad of reasons.   I would like to share it here, so maybe others can join me in prayer for these things that are so important to me.

*****

Dear Father,

You have created us all in your own image. I don’t believe you have left anyone out of your great bounty and the hope for eternal life, in spite of what some Christians and others believe.      I don’t believe that Christ’s death on the cross was a “limited atonement” meant only for a select few (as Calvinists believe).   I believe he died for us all, and offers all of us the chance for redemption and healing, no matter how hopeless things may seem.

PTSD, C-PTSD, and narcissistic abuse survivors.

God, please shower your grace and compassion on all victims of narcissistic abuse and all people suffering from PTSD and C-PTSD, that they may find comfort in your arms and be able to trust again, realize that there is still goodness in the world, and eventually, that they may find loving, healthy relationships and friendships that do not turn abusive.  Many survivors have turned to you when everyone else seemed to be turning away from them and rejecting them, and found that you were there and were listening.  But many, especially if they were rejected or scapegoated by their own families, are so damaged they have trouble trusting anyone at all, even You.   Please give them the courage to turn to you when things are at their darkest and it seems like they have no allies.  Please help them to trust you, and to heal from abuse, regain their sense of self worth and self-esteem,  and be whole and happy again. Please show them that what happened to them didn’t happen in vain, and that they are so much stronger than they realize because of the adversity they had to face.  Please let them feel the loving arms of Jesus Christ holding and protecting them from harm.  Guide them on the path to become whole again, and to use what they learned to help others heal, should that be your will for them.

Also, although anger is a necessary stage of healing (in order to leave an abusive situation or person), please allow victims who become trapped in their anger and hatred to be able to move on from it, because only then will healing be possible.   I’ve seen too many survivors who remain so mired in rage that they take on the traits of their abusers and acquire a victim mentality that does not allow them to move forward in their journey to healing.

As for myself, please don’t let me stray from the path you have set me on, which is beginning to be revealed to me. Please don’t allow me to become bogged down by envy, selfishness, or pride.   Don’t allow me to let my own will get in the way of what you have planned for me, for whenever I have forced my own will, it always turned out to be all wrong.

People with NPD, BPD and other Cluster B disorders.

God, please show these broken people who have made so many bad choices and act out toward others–usually because as children they were shamed for their own vulnerability by abusive caregivers or parents–that they do not need to rely on primitive defense mechanisms, abusive or aggressive behavior, or a “false self” in order to survive and be happy.   Please show them the beauty of their own inner vulnerability and that being sensitive can be a great strength and is never a weakness.   Please lift the scales from their eyes and show them that the things they have learned to believe about themselves and others are lies–and the truth is the opposite of what they have always believed.  Please remove the fear and shame  keeps them trapped inside cold, dark walls that separate them from their own vulnerability and the light of your grace.   If there’s a glimmer of their original soul left in them, please help that spark grow like a mustard seed within them and burn away the darkness that surrounds it.  Make them aware that their defense mechanisms are only allowing them to live the stunted, painful life of an emotional cripple, and that by jettisoning authentic feeling, they also jettison love, empathy and joy. With fewer people with narcissism and other “predatory” disorders in the world, there will be fewer abuse victims too.

In particular, please make my mother aware of what has happened to her (due to no fault of her own) and what she became, even at her very advanced age.   Even if it’s too late for her to be healed, at least remove the scales from her eyes and allow her the grace of redemption.

Our increasingly narcissistic society. 

Over the past 30 – 40 years, our western society–especially in America–has become increasingly cold, callous, lacking in empathy and compassion, materialistic, hubristic, and narcissistic.   Wealth and power are valued over compassion and love.   Individual achievement is valued over community involvement.   Greed and an “I got mine!” attitude is valued over altruism and compassion for the less fortunate.

Even families buy into this lie to the point of scapegoating family members who fail to “keep up” (or who are vulnerable or attempt to expose the family dysfunction).    Intolerance of those who are different, hatred, and racism abound.   Every day people die because they are the wrong color, wrong religion, or have a lifestyle that the Powers That Be believe is wrong.  Our society is like a huge dysfunctional family, complete with its narcissistic and abusive leaders, its golden children, and its scapegoats.  This should not be the case.  God,  please heal the hatred and fear that permeate our society and keeps people from being neighborly and charitable toward one another.  Please make dysfunctional families whole and healthy again, and give the scapegoats of both society and of dysfunctional families relief from their suffering and pain.  Make “the least of these” realize they are as worthwhile and valuable to you as the powerful ruling class who seems to have every earthly thing.

I ask these things in the name of your son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Why I don’t think it’s wrong to pray for narcissists.

st_paul

Because I have readers of many religions (or none at all), I always hesitate before posting anything too religious or too Christian, but I’m making an exception here because I’ve noticed some ACONs believe it’s sinful to pray for narcissists. But I don’t think that’s true and I always pray for mine.

Whenever anyone tells me I’m wrong to pray for the souls of narcissists, I just use the example of the Apostle Paul. Saul was much worse than just a sinner; the Bible describes a man who seemed to be a high-spectrum, unrepentant malignant narcissist.

Following is an article from CBN.com called “How Saul Became the Apostle Paul.” It’s the fascinating story of a man–an arrogant, narcissistic, murderous Pharisee, who hated Jesus and his followers–whose heart was changed. If someone as malignantly narcissistic, even sociopathic, as Saul/Paul was, could change, why not others too?  We don’t know what God’s intentions are or whose heart he may be working on. No, chances are your narcissist won’t change and you shouldn’t wait around for them to do so or try to “fix” them, but I don’t see any harm in praying for them if you’re so inclined. We are not the judge and jury; only God is.

I still see narcissism and arrogance in Paul even after his miraculous conversion–I have to admit I never cared much for Paul’s personality, which I find abrasive. After all, he was still human and still a sinner. But at least he wasn’t harming others anymore, and had renounced his former life as a Pharisee and devoted himself to spreading the word of God.

How Saul Became The Apostle Paul
By Craig Von Busick, for CBN.com
http://www1.cbn.com/biblestudy/how-saul-became-the-apostle-paul

saul

“The best and the brightest.” It was a phrase used by some journalist to describe the administration of President John F. Kennedy. The same phrase could have been used to describe Saul of Tarsus; a child of the best upbringing; a student of the vaunted teacher, Gamaliel; a Roman citizen; trained in the best Jewish schools; groomed, perhaps, to even become chief priest.

And this pious man was bent on the destruction of the believers in Jesus.

In order to understand Saul of Tarsus it is important that we put him into historical context. Only a few short years had passed from the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus when a self-righteous religious zealot assisted in the systematic murder of one of Christianity’s earliest messengers, a godly man named Stephen. Luke punctuates Saul’s involvement in this murder with the chilling comment:

“Now Saul was consenting to his death.” (Acts 8:1)

But even before that fateful day when young Saul the Pharisee gloated over the brutal death of the innocent disciple Stephen, the Spirit of Jesus Christ was pricking his heart. God had designs for this bright young man, and in His sovereignty He was prepared to knock Saul off His high horse.

There can be little doubt that Saul was familiar with the Galilean man who was known as Jesus. Though Saul may have been consumed by his study of the Torah and Talmud – the Jewish holy books, there was talk of this back woods preacher and the stir He was creating throughout Israel. Numerous reports were made of so-called messiahs emerging from every corner of the land, so Saul and his classmates undoubtedly debated the authenticity of the reports of Jesus’ miracles.

He may have been one of the unnamed lawyers who confronted Jesus with questions in the Gospel accounts? Saul may have gathered with the other scribes and Pharisees at the river Jordan when John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Was he outraged to learn that Jesus had cleared the moneychangers and vendors of religious trinkets from the temple while snapping a whip?

It is conceivable that Saul was one of the pious Pharisees trying to console a weeping Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus. Whether he was physically present when Jesus raised the 3-day dead Lazarus from his rotting rest, it is sure that Saul heard of and pondered this indisputable miracle. This shocking development created such a sensation that the panicked religious leaders ramped up their efforts to arrest and execute the backwater mystic before he brought down the wrath of Rome on their heads.

Saul could have been in attendance at the infamous midnight trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. Perhaps he was outside in the courtyard of Caiaphas warming himself next to the fire. Maybe he heard the servant girl accusing a gruff-looking Galilean of being a follower of this Jesus. He may have been amused at the unrefined manner in which this fisherman cursed and raved the third time he was accused.

Though he approved of the barbarous stoning of Stephen, it is entirely possible that Saul’s heart was pricked when he heard him say, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.”

We don’t know how long the Lord was at work in the heart of Saul, but we know the Holy Spirit was goading him – and Saul was kicking back hard, primarily against the disciples of Jesus. After the death of Stephen, Saul was fanatical about destroying this new sect. Saul launched a holy war against the Church, scattering the believers. He made havoc, entering homes, sending many to prison – even putting some to death. He was beginning to attain the notoriety that he had always craved. If he was going to rise to the level of prestige and power that he believed was his destiny, he would have to prove himself worthy.

When word came that these followers of Jesus had spread into Syria, Saul requested permission to go to Damascus. With great delight the High Priest granted him letters to take to the synagogues of Syria.

As Saul and his colleagues came near Damascus, suddenly they were flooded with glorious light. It was like looking into the sun from only a yard away. Saul fell to the ground and suddenly a voice emanated from within the light. The voice was both terrifying and soothing at the same time. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

Was this an angel? Or worse, could it be a messenger from Satan, trying to distract him from his holy quest? No, if it were the devil he wouldn’t feel this mix of peace and awe. Humbly Saul inquired, “Who are you, Lord?”

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

conversion-of-paul

No. It couldn’t be Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth, the backwoods preacher, the so-called messiah who was put to death by Pontius Pilate? If this was Jesus, that would mean that nearly every great leader in Israel was wrong … so very wrong. How could they have misjudged him? Unless those confusing passages of Scripture concerning a suffering savior could somehow speak of the Messiah?

Saul began to tremble.

How could he have been so wrong? But then he remembered watching the life ebbing from Stephen, and hearing those haunting words, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

This was the same Jesus that Stephen saw as he peered into heaven. This is the same Jesus that gave strength to so many of Saul’s victims. Saul began shaking uncontrollably. No longer able to bear the intensity of the light, he closed his eyes as tightly as he could.

“This must be the One – the glorious Messiah, promised from ages past.” Saul slowly lifted his head and asked, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

Jesus replied, “Arise and go into the city…”

Saul obeyed, and in the blindness that resulted from the intense light, he was led into the city. There he was met by a disciple named Ananias, who was sent by Jesus to prophesy, “he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles….” (Acts 9:15, NKJV)

Years later, in obedience to this heavenly vision, and living out his own teaching – “I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Cor. 9:22b, NLT) – this former Pharisee so embraced his calling to minister the Gospel to the Gentiles that he forsook his Jewish name, Saul, and forever adopted the Greek name for which he is remembered … Paul.

Why I love liturgy.

A view of the famed Rose Window in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.

A view of the famed Rose Window in Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France.

Back in April, during the Easter Vigil mass, I became a Roman Catholic. This came as a surprise to many people I know, since I’d spent most of my life as an agnostic and at times veered close to atheism. I’ve also toyed with Buddhism and Scientology (and I admit I still have a soft spot for Buddhism because it appeals to my rational mind, and that isn’t likely to change). Due to the recent charges of sexual abuse taking place in the Catholic church, this oldest and largest of all Christian denominations has become more criticized than ever, and probably rightfully so. I don’t think it’s the only religious organization that has been guilty of such behaviors, but I think it’s the most publicized. I’m also not ignorant of the fact that the Catholic Church has a bloody and often very un-Christlike history, especially during the Middle Ages, as well as being the wealthiest religious organization in the world and often full of hypocrisy. In addition, I do not believe that being a Catholic is the only way to salvation. Any Christian who has accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior in their hearts will get to Heaven, regardless of denomination (why did I almost spell that DEMONination?) and don’t necessary even have to attend church at all.

So why did I become a Catholic, you ask. Why did I join a church that’s so rife with its past of violence, and a present still full of intolerance, sexism, and heirarchy? The answer to this is complicated.

I was raised in a family that although nominally Christian, was basically agnostic. We did not attend church regularly (although I was sent to Sunday school as a young child), and holidays like Christmas and Easter were recognized more for their fun/materialistic secularity (gift giving, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, new Easter dresses and coats, etc.) than for the solemn events in the life of Christ they actually honor. My family regarded them as “children’s holidays” that adults indulged and that would eventually be outgrown. Although I was baptized Methodist (and I was surprised to learn my Protestant baptism was recognized as valid by the Catholic Church), we never became very active in any church and therefore were not part of any enduring “church family.” When church was attended, it was a sterile, secular affair, full of feel-good stories of God’s unconditional love, lessons about tolerance and social justice (nothing wrong with that, of course, but it wasn’t very religious nor fill me with a sense of awe or wonder), and very little that was Biblical or traditional. Services revolved mainly around the sermon, always a feel-good pep talk about God’s all-encompassing love and loving one another. All of this clap-happy, touchy feely reformed-Protestant stuff flew in the face of the constant anger, rage, loneliness, and discord that was constantly going on at home. Due to that, all the messages about positive-thinking and feel-goodness seemed insincere and meaningless, and didn’t address the very real problems in my family that made me feel so defective and different from everyone else.

For a short time–maybe one or two years–my father became fascinated by Christian Science, and I was sent to a Christian Science Sunday school. I was too young to comprehend the metaphysical beliefs they espoused, which basically preached that all that was material was an illusion, and only Spirit mattered (later my father would become active in Religious Science, a similar belief system that isn’t based in Christianity and overlaps a great deal with New Thought, part of the New Age movement). I couldn’t wrap my young brain around the metaphysical mumbo jumbo I heard on Sunday and I desperately needed something tangible to offset my growing feelings of dissociation from myself and the rest of humanity and from God Himself. I was filled with uncertainty about what was real and what wasn’t. Living on a diet of spiritual junk food, I was starving for emotional and spiritual sustenance. Although I coudn’t have put it into words, I needed to experience the Divine with my five senses.

holy_communion
How I envied these girls!

Enter Catholic school. In 5th grade, the bullying at the local public school became so bad that my parents decided to take matters into their own hands and despite their misgivings about the Catholic Church, I was sent to a Catholic girls’ school. My grades immediately improved and I found it easier to make friends with these girls than at the public school. My parents were surprised (and probably a little disturbed) that one of my favorite classes (and the one I did best at) was Religion. I didn’t become religious back then, nor did my faith in God deepen (I was for all intents and purposes agnostic), but I found myself always looking forward to the masses we used to have at school on religious days. Although the highly liturgical services confused me at first (knowing when to stand up and sit down, memorize the various prayers, etc) I found myself drawn to the orderliness and beauty of the Mass. It somehow seemed Godlike and was steeped in history that the Protestant services I’d attended with my parents just didn’t have. I envied the cool trappings of Catholicism (when the other girls were going through Confirmation, they got a new name and a pretty dress and I wanted that too) and longed to be able to take Communion with everyone else. I wanted a set of my own rosary beads. Today I know these things really don’t matter (I think whatever denomination you are–even if none at all–is a matter of personal preference) but at my tender age, these tangible things seemed part of some wonderful, sacred, mysterious and heavenly world I couldn’t be part of. Sitting there in my folding chair watching the proceedings, I always felt the presence of God and a benevolent, forgiving love I never felt from my own family, even though I had to remain seated during the communion. It was one of the few places where I could feel the benevolence of God.

Many cradle Catholics remember negative experiences from their childhood about the Church and turned away from it as they came of age, but as someone who only knew it as a refuge from the harsh realities that took place in my agnostic home, I never developed those negative associations with Catholicism. I loved most of the nuns at my school. With one or two exceptions, they seemed so kind and compassionate, very saintlike–and they seemed to care about me in a way I never felt I got from my own family. Although I never talked about what went on at home, one nun in particular who seemed to favor me for some reason, guessed that things at home weren’t ideal, and told me to come see her anytime I needed to talk. I never did (for fear of what might happen if I “squealed” about the family to an outsider), but it felt good to know that she cared enough to reach out to me.

As I grew older I fell away from Christianity (not that I’d ever really embraced it much and knew next to nothing about the Bible or the life of Christ), and experimented with other belief systems, including Scientology and Buddhism, if anything at all. The Bible seemed to me like a book of ancient fairy tales with no relevance to my own life. I rarely prayed and looked down on churchgoing and religious people as ignorant and deluded. Although I never embraced full-on atheism (it was too depressing to think there was no afterlife at all), I thought that if God existed, he was pretty much hands-off and that everyone, other than the most hardened criminals and mean, cruel people, would get to Heaven, if there even was such a place. The concept of reincarnation made a lot more logical sense to me than the idea of heaven or hell.

But my soul was still starving and I think deep down I always knew this. Every once in a while, in spite of my doubts about the existence of God, I’d make time to attend a Catholic mass. I didn’t believe what they preached, in fact I thought most of it was pretty silly, but I loved the ritual and the order, and somehow always came away feeling transcended. I’d go take Communion (knowing as a non-Catholic I wasn’t supposed to) and feel somehow nourished. In a way I couldn’t explain, witnessing the reverence and beauty of the Mass, made me feel like part of something much bigger than myself and accepted for who I was, not (as in my FOO) expected to be someone I could never be.

I toyed with other Christian faiths, including Lutheranism and the Southern Baptist church. During the late 1980s, I attended a Lutheran church (and was confirmed as Lutheran) mainly because the man I married was Lutheran. The services were called masses and were very liturgical and quite similar in many ways to the Catholic mass, but they seemed watered down, somehow. For instance, the communion wafer was regarded as symbolic rather than being the actual Body of Christ. We never became deeply involved with the Lutheran church, and although we had our kids baptized Lutheran, we did not attend church on Sundays or otherwise do much to encourage their spiritual development.

When we moved to North Carolina from northern New Jersey, we were faced with culture shock–instead of having mostly Catholic and Jewish neighbors, suddenly we found ourselves surrounded by Southern Baptists who insisted we needed to be “saved.” Still looking for spiritual nourishment, I started attending services at the local Baptist church as well as Bible studies on Tuesdays nights. My kids attended 2 years of Vacation Bible School. I never cottoned to the hellfire-and-brimstone preaching though, or the literal interpretation of the Bible. I was especially turned off by the church’s conservative political agenda, that actually told us we were “going to Hell” if we didn’t vote Republican, as well as their dismissal of science. I decided to stop attending church there.

hellfire
Hellfire-and-brimstone preaching is a turn off to me.

A few years later, my daughter had a friend at school whose parents were Southern Baptists, and my daughter, age 9 at the time, decided to be baptized in their church. I was fine with that, even though I disagreed with the southern Baptist belief system, because it took the burden off of me to be responsible for her spiritual growth. I attended her baptism and was surprised at how modern the service was, with a pop-rock band that played contemporary Christian music rather than traditional hymns. Intrigued, I decided to attend a few more services, but I always felt like I was at a rock concert rather than at church. In spite of the emphasis on Biblical literalism, during the long, emotional sermons, I never felt my soul uplifted or any real feeling of spiritual transcendence. Although very different from the touchy-feely, heaven-awaits-no matter-what-you-do preaching of the liberal Protestantism of my childhood, this hellfire-and-brimstone preaching bookended by Christian contemporary music with the words splashed on a huge TV screen didn’t do much for me either. I longed for tradition, for history, for meaning.

I still occasionally attended Catholic masses, but never thought I’d actually become one. But shortly after I went No Contact with my ex (who freeloaded off me and mentally abused me for almost 7 years following our divorce and nearly bled me dry emotionally, mentally, financially, and spiritually) I began to blog. My mental and physical health came back first, and then I realized I was still starving spiritually. I needed God, who after all, had been watching and protecting me all the time I was in an abusive marriage and had shown me on several occasions how real He was. Last October, I decided to start attending Mass as well as RCIA classes (the classes you take to become Catholic). I had doubts about much of the doctrine (and truth be told, still do). I still wasn’t sure I wanted to become Catholic, but I thought I should at least take the classes and make an educated decision.

To my surprise, I found that Catholic doctrine isn’t very different from what I’ve always believed anyway. The Bible is held as important (more important than many fundamentalist Christians believe we do) but much of its content is not not interpreted literally and therefore doesn’t fly in the face of centuries of scientific discovery and achievement. Yes, we are saved by grace alone (all Christians are), but works are also important and are tangible evidence of God’s grace. Sacraments (communion, confession, etc) give tangibility to God’s grace although (I don’t think) they are necessary for salvation. Confession is not a punishment; it is an opportunity to unload to someone else and makes you feel better afterwards (very similar to a 4th step in a 12-step program). Although I had my doubts at first, I’ve come to believe the Host (the communion wafer) does actually become the body of Christ, due to the glorious, transcended way I always feel after partaking. I do feel like my soul is being changed for the better, even though it’s not a Saul-to-Paul-like sudden conversion full of fireworks and drama.

I admit I do still have some issues, mostly having to do with the Catholic church’s stance on social matters such as abortion and homosexuality, as well as the fact that priests still must be male. I don’t think the Pope is infallible either (he is just a man), but I understand the reasoning behind having a Pope and I happen to like the current Pope anyway. I don’t venerate Mary and the saints, although I have utmost respect for them. Veneration isn’t the same as worship, anyway. Only Jesus as God is worshipped so there’s nothing un-Christian there, a far as I’m concerned.

rosary_beads

Because of my doubts and personal proclivities, I’ll probably never be the “perfect Catholic” or “perfect Christian” but that’s okay. I pray that God keeps working on my soul to cleanse it from sin and I’m willing to believe anything God wants me to believe. I’m willing to turn my soul and my life over to the Creator. Whenever I’m at mass, I feel part of a vast family and something glorious, beautiful and so much bigger than myself or all humanity. I feel accepted in God’s kingdom and have begun to fear death and the future less than I used to. The tangibility, beauty and order of the liturgical tradition–the memorized call-and-response prayers, the communion procession, the incense, the swelling organ music and the singing, the kneeling and the standing, the Sign of the Cross, and all the rest of these “silly rituals”–makes me feel that God is a tangible, real thing, someone who is RIGHT THERE and that I can see, hear, smell, feel, touch and even taste. The traditional hymns with their pipe-organ and piano music and the ancient prayers imbue a sense of mystery and history into the services that neither liberal Protestantism or fundamentalist pop-rock sing-alongs do for me. And I love the Bible readings too. I’m beginning to feel that the messages in the Bible do have meaning for me personally. The orderliness and ritual of the mass is regarded by some as mindless, dull and lacking spontaneity (and to some extent I can understand this view), but I find the repetitive and predictable aspects such as the call-and-response prayers and chants to have an uncanny way of eventually filtering down from my mind into the deepest part of my heart, in a way a hellfire-and-brimstone or feel-good, prosperity-gospel sermonizing can never do.

Before becoming Catholic, I toyed with the idea of becoming Eastern Orthodox, a religion which, if anything, is even more liturgical and steeped in ritual, history, and tradition than the modern Catholic church (and is somewhat more liberal in its stance on women’s rights and birth control), but finding a sizable Orthodox community here in the Southern United States is a huge challenge to say the least. I did actually attend one Orthodox mass about five years ago (my son’s Kung Fu teacher was Russian Orthodox and invited us to attend his church), and although it was incredibly beautiful (and the food served afterwards was delicious), the feel of the Orthodox mass was a little too “foreign” for my taste. Anglicanism (The Church of England) also has a rich liturgical tradition (please see my Christmas post “O Come All Ye Faithful”) but again, is uncommon here in the southern US, and it’s still Protestantism anyway. I like the idea of being part of the oldest and largest practicing Christian community in the world that has such a rich and colorful history (even if at times in the past it wasn’t especially Christ-like). I feel proud to be a part of that. Although I know the trappings and ritual are more a matter of personal preference than salvation, for me they make an abstract God seem more real. Coming from such a chaotic, unpredictable background, the order and predictability of the liturgy is food for my soul. My adopted religion may not be the only road to salvation, but it’s the only road for me. Thanks be to God.

Millennials and liturgical Christianity.
As an aside, the Millennial generation, although largely turned off by religion, are, when drawn to religion, are converting to “high church” (liturgical) Christianity such as Anglicanism, Catholicism, and the Orthodox church. They are a generation that (like me, even though I’m not a Millennial) longs for a sense of tradition and connection with history that’s lacking in the evangelical, fundamentalist, and liberal Protestantism or New Age or atheistic belief systems they were raised with, all of which largely ignore or dismiss 1800 years of Christian history and tradition.

Further reading:
Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/why-millennials-long-for-liturgy/
Millennials are Seeking Tradition, Sacramentality, and Liturgy: http://www.catholicvote.org/millennials-are-seeking-tradition-sacramentality-and-liturgy/

Where I stand on “positive thinking.”

positive_thinking_problem
Positive thinking taken to extremes is deluded thinking.

I’ve seen several blog posts about the problem of forced positive thinking lately, and since this is an issue that has concerned me for a long time, I thought I’d add my own take on it.

In recent years, there’s been an increased societal pressure toward “positive thinking.” I think two factors have led to this trend–the New Age philosophy that we can “be as gods ourselves,” and the continued glorification of the Reaganistic optimism of the 1980s. The signs are everywhere, in self-help and pop psychology books, in countless popular slogans and memes that appear on bumper stickers and coffee mugs, on motivational posters, on calendars, on the political campaign trail, and all over social media such as Facebook. The forced positive thinking brigade has even infiltrated churches. Motivational speakers like Tony Robbins and preachers of the “Prosperity Gospel” like Joel Osteen have gotten rich by telling us that if we only think positive thoughts, our entire lives will change for the better. They tell us if we let go of negative thought patterns, we can become happy, successful, healthy, and wealthy.

This is all fine and good, and personally I see nothing wrong with positive thinking for its own sake. Even if the outer trappings of your life rival those of someone living in a Third World nation, it’s certainly better for you if you can scare up a little optimism and hopefulness, and it’s definitely bad for you to dwell in hopelessness, depression and negativity. At the very least, seeing the glass as always half-full will make you more accepting of your sorry lot and therefore happier. That said, it’s incredibly difficult to see the glass as half full when there is barely a drop in your glass. That would be deluded, not positive, thinking.

For all its advantages to our psychological well-being, there’s a dark side to the positive thinking movement too, which goes hand in hand with the current societal glorification of narcissism and the nasty belief that selfishness and lack of compassion are virtues. While telling people that thinking positive thoughts is not a bad thing itself (because there is truth to the idea that negativity tends to draw in negative things–I have seen this dynamic for myself), the positive thinking movement has been taken to disturbing extremes. It’s led to victim-blaming and an overall lack of empathy for the less fortunate. The poor are blamed for their own poverty, regardless of the circumstances that might have led to it or keep them trapped there. They are told they are “not positive enough” or “made bad choices.” Even worse, some churches of the “prosperity gospel” ilk tell them they must have some moral failing or God would be rewarding them with material blessings. They are made to feel shame and guilt for their sorry financial condition. The chronically ill and disabled are likewise blamed for “not taking care of themselves” or “choosing bad habits.” It’s easy enough for someone who has never had to struggle with poverty or serious illness to thumb their noses at those who have and tell them it’s all their own fault.

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Is this the way Jesus would have acted? No, of course it isn’t. In fact, most of Jesus’ followers and disciples were the most financially and physically vulnerable members of his society. Jesus himself was humble carpenter and certainly not rich. He didn’t condemn these unfortunates or shame them for failing to be positive enough, or making the “wrong choices.” In fact, he seemed to love these vulnerable people most of all. Whatever happened to the “social gospel” of the late 19th and early 20th century? Oh, that’s right–it became “communism.” Somewhere along the way, compassion for the less fortunate and the culture of charity got twisted into “weakness” and “enabling.” The enormous popularity of Ayn Rand, who believed the greatest human evil was altruism, is disturbing, especially since her philosophy of “objectivism” has infected the minds of powerful politicians of a certain political persuasion, including many “Christians.”

While I don’t subscribe to some Christian fundamentalists’ idea that Satan is behind all this worship of greed and self-love and the denigration and victim-blaming of the less fortunate, I do think it’s a very destructive turn in the way our culture thinks, and it’s psychopathic in nature. Lately I’ve been seeing more blog articles criticizing this trend, and that seems like a good sign that at least a few people (usually victims of narcissistic abuse themselves) are finally realizing our society has become woefully empathy-deprived. Hopefully their message can break out of the blogosphere it’s currently confined to and begin to touch the hearts of The Powers That Be who are not yet completely brainwashed by the Cult of John Galt.

It’s absolutely fine (and desirable) to be a positive thinker, because positive thinking does tend to have its rewards, but blaming the misfortunes of others on their negative thinking or worse, their moral failings is just a form of societal gaslighting and is utterly evil itself. It’s also rife with hypocrisy– the Positive Thinking Powers That Be denigrate the emotions of guilt and shame for themselves, but they make sure those who haven’t been blessed the way they have feel plenty of guilt and shame for not having been “enough.” They never stop to think how impossible it is for someone who is struggling every day just to have enough to eat or with severe pain or illness to think in a positive way. It’s much easier for the already privileged and healthy to be able to say “life is good” and mean it. The well heeled Positive Thinking bots never stop to think of this–or they just don’t care, which is most likely the case, because those who haven’t been “blessed” with wealth or good health MUST have done something wrong to deserve it.

Any society that is empathy-starved is eventually going to self destruct.

For further reading, check out this article from The New York Times and also this one about empathy being a choice.

I think it’s time we stop bashing all narcissists.

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This post is probably going to make some of you angry or upset. I understand that. After all, many of us were badly damaged by the narcissists in our lives. Anger and even hatred is an understandable and very human reaction to their abuse.

The blood sport of “narc bashing.”

blood_sport

There are a lot of people these days writing about narcissism and the sentiments found on the Internet about “narcs” and “N’s” is overwhelmingly negative:

— They can never change.
— There is no hope for them.
— They are monsters.
— They are demons.
— They aren’t human.
— God hates all narcs.
— They all deserve to burn in Hell.
— There is nothing good about them. Everything they do is evil.
— They were born evil. They are bad seeds.
— They never tell the truth.
— They have no emotions. They are machines.
— They all deserve to die.

Pretty ugly, isn’t it? This attitude is fueled by hatred and behind hatred is fear. Again, I understand this. I’ve experienced that hatred and fear myself. We have a right to be angry if we were badly treated by a narcissist. People with NPD aren’t pleasant to be around. But here’s the rub: unchecked fear and anger lead to hatred, and hatred accomplishes nothing. Hatred builds walls and leads to a refusal to even try to understand people with a devastating mental disorder. Hatred is itself evil–and narcissistic.

Hatred also leads to bigotry and intolerance. There is already too much of that in the world. People with NPD are mentally ill. We don’t malign people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder the way we malign people with NPD, but people with those disorders can also be very unpleasant to deal with. If someone started a blog that spewed hatred toward people with schizophrenia, there would be outrage. That person would be called a bigot and possibly evil.

Narcissists are abuse victims too.

abused

It’s true that people with NPD are extremely unpleasant to deal with. But all mental disorders are unpleasant. People with NPD weren’t born that way. There is no such thing as a “bad seed.” In almost all cases, a person became a narcissist because of severe abuse or neglect as children. In most cases, they were raised by people who were themselves malignant narcissists or psychopaths.

Pastor David Orrison, who writes about narcissism from a Christian perspective in his “Narcissist Friday” posts, illustrates this well in this sad story. He is rightfully critical of the disorder and its manifestations but his posts are always written in a way that attempts to understand narcissism and people with NPD the way Jesus would have done–holding them accountable without hatred.

unconditional_love

Some of you have said, “but they don’t count because they made a choice to be narcissists.” Yes, that is true, it was a choice. But that choice was almost invariably made when they were young children, as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from being hurt anymore. Narcissists are people who started life with too much sensitivity, maybe more so than those of us who identify as HSPs (because we still found a way to cope with life without constructing a protective False Self). Narcissists felt too vulnerable and naked. They were born without any natural coping mechanisms at all. They knew they couldn’t survive without this protective natural armor, so they had to construct a False Self to cope. The False Self is a lie, but it protects the True Self from further harm. The reason they act so mean is because they live in terror of the False Self being damaged and exposing the too-vulnerable True Self. Like the rest of us, they wanted to survive. This was the only way they knew how.

This doesn’t give them an excuse to act as they do. It doesn’t mean we have to tolerate their manipulations and abuse. I’m not condoning abusive behaviors and that applies to anyone. But we don’t have to spew hatred against people suffering from NPD all over the web either. We don’t have to be so judgmental. We don’t have to pat ourselves on the back because we are “better” people. Only God can judge us that way. We can try to have compassion without giving in to abuse or allowing narcissistic behaviors to destroy us.

A serious dissociative illness.

dualman

Narcissists suffer. They are deeply unhappy people. They don’t know how to feel empathy, or experience joy or love for others. They never learned how–or they dissociated themselves from those feelings at an early age because it hurt them too much to be that way. They are not without emotions. In fact, their emotions are so strong they feel like they must always be on the defensive, 24/7, 365 days a year. Imagine how stressful it must be to go through life in mortal terror of your facade of invulnerability being ripped off, of constantly having to act a part in a play, of never being able to show your pain to others, of never being able to risk loving anyone else or feeling empathy, of being bitter and envious of everyone all the time? It must be hell.

Narcissists, in spite of their name, don’t love themselves. They only love their False Self, and will do anything to protect it from exposure as the mask it really is. Because the False Self was constructed when they were so young, they don’t even know themselves most of the time. How can you love someone you never got to know? If anything, they live in deep shame of who they really are so they hide from the world behind their masks.

Some mental health experts believe NPD should be classified as a severe dissociative disorder. You can read about that here and here. It’s not that narcissists don’t have any goodness in them, but that they have “split” from their good (true) self to avoid further harm–even to the point where they can no longer access who they really are. But the pain they feel still comes through and if we listen closely enough, we can hear what they are really saying: “please love me.”

Narcissists never got to grow up. Their true self is at the emotional stage of a very young child. Inside every narcissist is a little boy or girl of 3 or 4, sitting in a dark corner crying because they feel so lonely and unloved. Their reactions are at the level of a young child too. They never learned how to experience more mature emotions, because the False Self was constructed when they were too young to feel the emotions of an older person.

NPD is a spectrum disorder running from mild all the way to psychopathy and sociopathy at the top of the spectrum. Most narcissists are not psychopaths (who actually have Antisocial Personality Disorder rather than NPD and have built a wall so impenetrable even they can never access it and will never be able to admit they are the ones with the problem). Even malignant narcissists (just under psychopathy on the spectrum) may have rare moments of insight and regret for the way they behave. It’s my belief that NPD is as much a spiritual disorder as a mental one, but that doesn’t automatically make all narcissists “evil.” Who are we to assume that God hates all narcissists and can’t help even the most malignant ones? I believe God can perform miracles should He choose to do so. To speak for God this way is itself narcissistic.

Art allows the True Self to find expression.

iris_scott

The pain and hurt that fuels narcissistic behaviors can find honest expression. I’ve noticed many or even most narcissists have a talent in one or more of the arts–William Shakespeare, Ezra Pound and even Michaelangelo (who probably had NPD) come to mind, to name a few. Good art is about Truth and is one of the greatest blessings God can give. It’s through these artistic endeavors that a narcissist’s true self comes through, that they dare give that vulnerable hurting child a means to express the truth of how they really feel. Having a creative ability–whether in the visual, literary, or performing arts–is all the proof I need that people with NPD are still loved by God. Through their art, they are crying out through their mask. They want to be loved and they want to feel love. I can think of many examples of this, but the other day I received an email that really stood out to me and made me take a second look at my own negative attitude toward “narcs.”

The email was from a young man who admits he has NPD. He expressed a strong desire to try to heal himself. He hates his disorder because of what it has done to his life and the ways it has caused his relationships with others to suffer. He wants to know how to feel empathy and genuinely love others. I have no doubt his words were sincere and came from his True Self.

This young man said he was a singer-songwriter so I checked out some of his stuff on Youtube. (I can’t post it here right now because I have not asked for permission to do so). I was blown away by his talent. The words of the songs he writes express emotions almost too deep for words. His powerful emotions of pain and the desire to love and feel connected with others come through in his beautiful voice–and in his face when he sings. I have no doubt his music comes from his True Self, not his false one. Through music, he’s able to break through his wall of narcissism and allow himself to become vulnerable, to cry out in the darkness.

Insight and willingness: ingredients for change.

willingness

I don’t know if this young narcissist can heal himself. It’s a difficult enough disorder to treat by professionals, but he says he can’t afford a therapist and can’t find one willing to treat NPD anyway. Most narcissists won’t present themselves for therapy because their disorder is so deeply ingrained they have no insight and think it’s everyone else who has the problem, not them. Some narcissists may have insight into their disorder and know they aren’t well but still not be willing to change because their mask has become too adaptive or they are too afraid. But insight is the first step toward redemption–it’s not possible to have willingness without insight. This man has both the insight and the willingness. With both present, I think there is hope for him.

Tough love, not hate.

tough_love

Just because we should stop spewing hate against people with NPD doesn’t mean we have to tolerate their manipulative and abusive behaviors. It also doesn’t mean we can’t leave a narcissist or go No Contact. In fact, doing so may be the most loving thing we can do for them. Going No Contact removes the source of supply we have been giving them, and in rare cases may cause a narcissist to seek help or at least begin to question their own motives. Going No Contact is also the most loving thing we can do for ourselves. Refusing to have further contact with a narcissist isn’t an act of hatred. It’s an act of self-love and survival.

St. Augustine said, “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Jesus inspired this quote because He hated no one but was no pussy either. We can hate the behaviors without hating an entire class of people with a severe mental and spiritual illness that causes them even more misery than they cause those they attack. Going No Contact or refusing to play their narcissistic games isn’t an act of hatred. It’s an act of survival and is just plain common sense. It may even be a way we can show them love–“tough” love.

I realize this post may be controversial because we ACONs have gotten so used to thinking of “narcs” as evil. Their behaviors may be evil, but people with this disorder are still human beings who have feelings–even if they don’t know how to show them properly or keep them under wraps. Except for the most malignant narcissists and psychopaths at the top of the spectrum–who probably can’t ever change–I think calling narcissists evil, or referring to them as demons, monsters, or machines is a form of bullying a group of very sick people and is just as hurtful to them as what they have done to us.

I also realize I may sound like a hypocrite. I’ll be the first to admit I’ve engaged in the popular sport of “narc bashing,” and recently too. While the anger and rage we feel toward people with this disorder may be adaptive while we are trying to disconnect from an abusive narcissist, when these emotions no longer serve a practical purpose (after we have gone No Contact or disengaged from our abusers), they become bitterness and hatred, emotions that eat away at our own souls and can even turn us into narcissists.

Have a Blessed Easter!

happy_easter

I’m finally getting really excited about this.

'I'm afraid you're mistaken sir. A catalytic converter is not a Catholic missionary.'

In late October, after a lifetime of being agnostic but intermittently dabbling in various cults (Scientology) and religions including Buddhism and fundamentalist Christianity (Southern Baptist), I made the decision to become a Roman Catholic. If you’re interested in the reasoning behind my decision and the evolution of that decision, read the articles under “My Spiritual Journey” under “My Story” in the header (scroll to the bottom to find those articles), especially this one and this one.

My decision to follow Jesus Christ was quite strange and unexpected (it started as a sort of bet with God), and the two articles describe how that process worked. I was literally an agnostic on October 19th and made the decision to become Catholic on October 25th.

I’ve been attending Mass almost every Sunday (I did sleep in a few Sundays, lol) and always get something valuable out of them (besides finding the Mass very beautiful and appealing to me on an aesthetic level–I love the ritual), But still I struggled with doubts about the Church and Christianity in general, although I believed enough to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.

In last night’s RCIA class (which are very informal and it’s a small group), we talked about the role of Mary in the Church and the importance put on her. I already knew Mary is not worshipped and is not thought of as divine like God or Jesus, but she acts as an intercessor and is venerated–which means you can ask her to pray for you on the behalf of God. The saints serve the same role.

We talked about the qualities Mary had (and many of the saints had or have) that make her special to God. I won’t get into the idea of her being conceived without original sin because that gets into the dogma and many of you do not believe this (and I admit I have doubts myself). But I will say that Mary in particular had qualities that are not valued in today’s narcissistic world. Mary was the opposite of a narcissist–she was humble, obedient to God, compassionate, merciful, and very maternal, and yet she was very, very strong and her love of God and her Son knew no limits. Personally I think she was an empath. She appeals to me because she’s the mother we all should have had. No matter how old we are, we never lose our need for a loving, compassionate, merciful mother. Mary can be the mother I never had.

La_Vierge_au_lys
“La Vierge au lys” by William-Adolphe Bouguereau – PaintingHere.com. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_Vierge_au_lys.jpg#/media/File:La_Vierge_au_lys.jpg

It was the most enlightening and interesting RCIA class we’ve had yet.

New conversions are done on Easter Saturday (April 4th this year) and the heavy duty preparation for new members takes plan during Lent (which began on Ash Wednesday at the end of February). I chose a sponsor (Godparent) about a month ago, a lovely woman named Rachel. Last Saturday we went to a Mass at another church where the catechumens (people converting) were introduced by their sponsors and blessed by the Bishop of the Charlotte Diocese. Afterwards there was a brunch across the street where I got to talk to the Bishop, who hugged me.

But I still didn’t feel as excited about it as I felt I should. I still had doubts (and still do) but there are some doctrines I want to believe so much that I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and take into account that some things that happen may not have a scientific explanation–or do have one that we cannot explain with the scientific knowledge we currently have. I was surprised to find the Catholic church so friendly to science (including divinely inspired evolution, which I believe in anyway) but it really shouldn’t be too surprising, because so many of our most renowned scientists were in the Catholic clergy or just very devout Catholics.

One of the “mysteries” I’m willing to suspend disbelief on is transubstantiation (the idea that the host and wine during communion actually transform into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and are not just symbolic. This is in the Bible so in no way goes against Biblical teaching, but Protestantism changed this idea into one where the host is merely a symbol or remembrance, not the actual body of Christ.

I absolutely love the idea of something as unique and miraculous as taking the actual body of Christ into myself (taking him into my soul), so I’m willing to suspend disbelief and in time I may actually believe this is what happens.

transubstantiation
Transubstantiation.

I_cant_believe_its_not_jesus
A humorous take on the above — sorry, too funny not to share.

Today I had an appointment with Father C. about my first Penance (confession). Rather than being a dark and punitive thing and something to dread, it brings relief. It seems to work almost like Step 4 of a 12 Step Program, where the idea of “confessing” your sins (wrongdoings) to a priest takes the burden of guilt off of you, and you are absolved and forgiven. Then you are told what you need to do, usually reciting some Our Fathers or Hail Marys. I don’t have any problem with that, and being the kind of person I am who struggles with guilt constantly, I think this will be very helpful.

My first Penance (one of the seven Sacraments) will take place on Monday night. Over the weekend, Father C. wants me to make a list of what I think of as my sins, and try to put them in some kind of order. I don’t have to list every sin I ever committed, because I’d be confessing until the day I die, but just the ones I think are important or feel the worst about. I will be praying for guidance this week because I want my list to contain the sins that matter the most to God, not necessarily just in my own mind.

On Holy Thursday (one week from today), I’m attending a foot washing service, where my sponsor and the priest will each wash my feet, symbolizing how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. I feel strongly that this will be an extremely moving and very spiritual moment for me. It’s a loving act, but the recipient must be willing to become both humble and vulnerable to fully understand the meaning of Jesus’ act.

foot_washing

Jesus spoke to his disciples of the meaning of foot washing in John 13: 1-15:

1 And before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that His hour hath come, that He may remove out of this world unto the Father, having loved His own who are in the world—to the end He loved them. 2 And supper being come, the devil already having put it into the heart of Judas of Simon, Iscariot, that he may deliver Him up, 3 Jesus, knowing that all things the Father hath given to Him—into His hands—and that from God He came forth, and unto God He goeth, 4 doth rise from the supper, and doth lay down his garments, and having taken a towel, he girded himself; 5 afterward he putteth water into the basin, and began to wash the feet of his disciples, and to wipe with the towel with which he was being girded. 6 He cometh, therefore, unto Simon Peter, and that one saith to him, “Sir, thou—dost Thou wash my feet?” 7 Jesus answered and said to him, “That which I do thou hast not known now, but thou shalt know after these things;” 8 Peter saith to him, “Thou mayest not wash my feet—to the age.” Jesus answered him, “If I may not wash thee, thou hast no part with me.” 9 Simon Peter saith to him, “Sir, not my feet only, but also the hands and the head.” 10 Jesus saith to him, “He who hath been bathed hath no need, save to wash his feet, for he is clean altogether; and ye are clean, but not all;” 11 for He knew him who is delivering him up; because of this He said, “Ye are not all clean.” 12 When, therefore, He washed their feet, and took His garments, having reclined at meat again, He said to them, “Do ye know what I have done to you? 13 Ye call me, ‘The Teacher’ and ‘The Lord’, and ye say well, for I am; 14 if then I did wash your feet—the Lord and the Teacher—ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given thee an example, that ye should do as I have done to ye. Verily, verily, I say unto ye, the servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.”

I’m meeting with Father one more time after that to talk about the Big Event, which will take place on Saturday night, the day before Easter (that’s when the big Easter mass where the new converts are welcomed into the Church takes place. In the Catholic church, Easter is a much bigger deal than Christmas).

On Saturday morning of the big day, I attend a rehearsal with my sponsor. That night, at 8 PM the Mass takes place. My daughter is the only family member I have attending, but that’s okay. At that time I’ll receive the Sacraments of Communion (no, I do not have to wear a lacy white dress or a veil like little Catholic girls do) and then Confirmation. I have chosen Catherine as my confirmation name — Saint Catherine of Siena was a strong faithful woman of God, and she is the patron saint of writers. I love the strength of the name. I didn’t have to think about this one too much. It just came to me as being perfect.

I don’t have to be re-baptized. My Methodist baptism is considered acceptable (which surprised me). Any Baptism using water and the sign of the cross is sanctioned as acceptable in the Roman Catholic church.

I’m a little nervous of course, but after my meeting tonight, I’m finally realizing how close I am to this happening and just how big this is for me, and finally feeling excited about it. I’m not without my doubts, but am willing to take that big leap of faith and I can’t wait.

If you’re interested in reading other stories of people who decided to convert (or return to) Catholicism, WhyImCatholic.com is is a great website and a lot of fun to read, too.