One person's introduction to the Catholic Church chronicled.

Location: Silver Spring, Maryland, United States

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Trading guilts

Converting to Catholicism from Judaism, one would think I had a bit of a guilt complex. From my experience, Jews and Catholics seem to feel guilty about some of the same things and some very different things. One major difference is the sex guilt. Though I think modern culture exaggerates the stereotype of Catholic sexual guilt, it is true from my experience that Catholics harp on sexual sins more than any other religious group (excluding extremely orthodox Jews, but that's another post). Again with the stereotypes, but both groups have the reputation for familial guilt, especially children feeling guilty about their parents. This is the source of most of Woody Allen's humor, and in films/plays/books etc the guilt inducing mother can just as easily be Catholic as Jewish, change the food and the names of the characters but the story is the same. But these characteristics are also prevalent among Chinese, Indian and Korean parents, as I've discovered. Which makes me think that having non-guilt inducing parents is the real cultural oddity.

There is one type of guilt that harps on me as a Jew, that I don't think that Catholics understand. It is the sense that I am betraying my people. The Jews have been through a lot to put it mildly. Many hardships have been at the hands of Christians or supposed Christians backing up their behavior with scripture and dogma. At times I feel like I am joining the enemy side. Last century we lost a third of our population, and after a brief reprieve, anti-semitism is on the rise again, especially in Europe. I find this strange since there are almost no Jews left in Europe. It is as if anti-semitism is a cultural reflex that won't go away even when the people are not even there. Though spiritually, I don't feel like I'm leaving something behind. Culturally, I am. Other Jews will see me as a type of traitor, including members of my family. But no one said it would be all roses and puppies. But at the moment I'm all guilted out.

Fascist Mary

Someone said off hand to me that devotion to Mary is more prevalent in fascist countries. It doesn't take an advanced knowledge of world history to realize that this statement is false. Italy was fascist for only a short period of time in the 20th century, and Italian culture has been highly devoted to Mary for millennia. Mexican Catholicism is also very devoted to Mary. They should make the Virgin of Guadalupe their national symbol, and as far as I know, Mexico has never had a fascist government. Assuming that this person did not really mean "fascist" but rather totalitarian or oppressive. (Fascism is a specific term I will let my fiance with the poli sci PhD define.) Her theory is that those who feel powerless feel more comfortable going to Mary than to the big Kahuna, God or Christ himself, because in their own lives they feel so disconnected from the sources of power. This argument seems like a convoluted way of getting around having to deal with Marian devotion in American high culture. Let's face it much of the trappings surrounding Mary are simply tacky and decidedly un-modern. I'm thinking of the light up plastic Mary statues or Our Lady of the Blessed Dashboard. Mary seems to show herself in full force in the least intellectual and enlightened areas of modern society. Mary appears in oatmeal. Her statues are always crying blood. People travel thousands of miles to see an odd puddle shaped like Mary or the Marian potato collection, etc. It is rather understandable that high culture Catholics may want to distance themselves from those kookie Mary people and invent theories that those poor dears just feel so powerless that they can't speak with the Almighty in all his glory. Someday when everyone is like them, then all this crazy Mary stuff will just go away. Unfortunately for them, they miss out on a lot. You don't have to be oppressed by the system to feel powerless in your daily life. We all have those moments. Some days it helps to take your prayers to a human intermediary. When I think about God and Christ, I often find myself intellectualized, contemplating the metaphysics of how can a man be God and how that whole Trinity works. But when I take my prayers to Mary, I can let that go a little, because Mary despite being sinless is just a person. She's a better person that I can ever hope to be, but she was a flesh and blood young girl and mother. Sometimes that's the comfort I need, and I don't feel un-empowered.

Monday, March 20, 2006

I love Passover

I was not the most observant Jew before I started thinking about becoming a Catholic. I went to synagogue twice a year on the high holidays and I celebrated Passover with my family. The high holidays I won't miss, b/c going to Mass every week and observing lent more than fills the void left by my nominal observance. But there is no Christian equivalent for Passover. It has a strict liturgy that is celebrated in the home and includes a huge meal and 4 mandatory cups of wine. Passover is just plain fun. Also it celebrates the Exodus from Egypt, which is arguably the biggest even in the Old Testament, and it's packed with some great theological messages about liberation from slavery. I've heard Catholic's say that every mass is like a Seder because of the Eucharist and it's connection to the Passover meal. While that may be true on some very cerebral level, it doesn't feel anything like a Seder. No one is tipsy and eating brisket and making jokes about the binding effects of matzo on the digestive system.

It seems strange to me that none of the Jewish holidays made their way into the Catholic tradition. When I'm a full fledged Catholic, I don't think I can give up Passover.

Thank you, Mr Shea!

Thanks Mark Shea for linking to my fledgling blog. Welcome all "Catholic and Enjoying It" readers! For less than a week blogging, I'm overjoyed that you all are reading and commenting.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Warm and Cold on Inquiry

When I first went to the parish to ask about the conversion process, I had already done a little homework. I knew that there were stages, and that it took over a year. What I wasn't prepared for was the Flow Chart of Faith that I was given. That's not its official name but it has arrows and circles, and it brought back buried memories of standardized tests in grade school. The chart starts with Inquiry (circle) to Right of Acceptance (arrow) to Period of Catechumenate (circle) to Rite of Enrollment (arrow) to Period of Purification and Enlightenment (circle) to Sacraments (arrow) to Post-Initiation (circle). It seemed such an overly simplified way of expressing a process for adults which will hopefully be both intellectually and spiritually rigorous. Perhaps this was a sign.

Right now I'm in the circle Inquiry. Which means I go once a week to a meeting where one or two full fledged Catholics answer open questions from anyone who happens to attend. There is no structure to the meetings, and the group of inquirers is in constant flux. There are about three of us who go regularly, though I have been slacking off lately b/c I'm just not getting as much out of it as I thought I would. The group is lead by volunteers with varying knowledge. God love them they do their best, but often in an effort to not offend anyone sometimes they come off as advertising for other faiths. When the topic turns to anything controversial the Episcopal church always seems to come up as the fix. So if you have problems with the Catholic church's stand on divorce or women priests or homosexuals then just go to the Episcopal church. No one seems willing to really sympathetically explain the Church's view point on any of these prickly issues. Abortion hasn't come up yet, though I shudder to think what will be said when it does.

I'm coming to the Church looking for a more conservative faith with a long standing intellectual tradition which isn't swayed by the latest issues. I don't think I'm the only young person looking for a more orthodox faith. But it feels like the sales pitch is still geared towards my parent's generation, one that wanted no restrictions, no guilt, no firm traditions.

We've regularly gone around the room and had everyone say what faith they grew up in and why they're there. Since I was raised Jewish, I feel like everyone tenses up and then tries not to say anything potentially offensive. I've even had leaders ask me about the Jewish perspective on a particular issue. It makes me want to scream, "I'm here b/c I want to be Catholic! Go ask a Rabbi!"

Not to totally knock Inquiry, we have had some really knowledgeable leaders. A Dominican brother lead the session a few times, and he really explained some tricky theology to me, unsanitized. And our lay leaders have done a good job talking about Marian devotion and the importance of confession. I just wish that we had more leaders like the brother who really owned the tradition controversy and all.

How can you win over converts if you're lukewarm about the Church yourself? I don't know if this is a sign of what it is going to be like as I move along on the flow chart. Wish me luck.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Catholic Exchange has an article about the real St. Patrick. Didn't sound like he'd be singing "On Eagle's Wings" at a Teen Life Mass.

Considering how popular paganism has become in certain circles these day, like the modern Wiccas or the Dan Brown Goddess Worshipers, they never seem to mention the slavery or human sacrifice.

The end of human sacrifice in Ireland sounds like a good excuse for a green beer to me.

What's in a Mystery?

Since I've started saying the Rosary I have had some trouble really wrapping my mind around each mystery. Perhaps I've gotten in over my head. My familiarity with the gospels is not what it should be. I know most of the stories, but I have never attempted to understand the truth of them until now. So the Rosary is my introduction.

This weekend I went to the basilica book store and picked up The Rosary: Chain of Hope by Fr. Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R. Following the theme of hope, Fr. G briefly explains each mystery and its importance to the modern world. It's not densely theological, though it does include the full Apostolic Letter from JPII introducing the Luminous mysteries. I especially enjoy Fr. G's little digs at the modern world. When discussing the Wedding at Cana he writes:

Modern skepticism, of course, has trouble with this (water into wine), but what an unhappy thing modern skepticism is, anyway. The skeptics would not have drunk wine even if they had been there. Poor things.

This made me chuckle, and really helped me to make the mystery a reality. How much of our modern world denies the supernatural completely. Our scientific advances have made us arrogant. We think we can do anything, and that we understand everything, when so much of the world is a complete mystery. It brought to mind a friend of mine with a rare illness. It is hard to diagnose and challenging to treat. He and his doctors are very frustrated by the lack of confirmable research. He does not seem to fit any of the models for how this disease works. When we are presented with anything that scratches the surface of our own knowledge we are confronted with a gulf of mystery. We want to deny the existence of mystery in our world. We want to be in control. So how can I help my friend? I cannot discover a cure. All I can do is pray for the intervention of the Lord. Pray for the water to become wine.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.


As my first post, I don't really know where to start. I am at the beginning of the conversion process. I'm hoping that this blog will be a way for me to publish everything about conversion from inquiry to baptism. I thought about starting in by giving my whole history and how I came to the church, but that just seemed too daunting and boring for any one else to read. So I'm just going to jump in where I am.

Pretending until it clicks...
Right now so many of the rituals feel both strange and comforting. So right now my strategy is simply to try it on and see if it sinks in. So far this strategy has worked with prayer in general. I had never really prayed in my life before I started going to mass about a year ago. It took about 9 months for me to get it. To actually feel like I was connecting some how with the Almighty. I started out as an anthropologist, a cool observer. I just sat and watched, pretending I had some sort of scientific observations about these strange superstitious Catholic creatures. I remember asking my pious friend who seemed so comfortable at prayer what he prayed about. I had no idea what to say or think or feel toward God. I began slowly to try it out. I've never had much discipline with anything I didn't have a natural affinity for. But because I had a friend who took me every week I never had a chance to stop trying and settle back into my normal routine. Then one day when I was particularly low, feeling especially worthless and miserable, I asked God for help, and bang! Then I finally understood. God is always there always trying to reach us, but we put up these barriers of rationalizations that keep him away. When I finally was able to humble myself, God showed himself to me. It was the most glorious experience of my life, both emotionally and physically pleasurable in a way I can't describe.

Since then I haven't had the same dramatic experience, but it has been good. I've been trying to integrate prayer into my daily routine. For Lent I've decided to say the Rosary every day. So far it has been good, but I have to remember that I'm not just trying to chase a fix. Some days I find the Rosary daunting, a lot to remember. Most of the time my mind wanders to the mundane. Did I put the laundry in the dryer? Tomorrow I have to get to work early. Etc. So I have to keep kicking myself back into the prayer. Right now I'm just going to keep on plugging away, and hope that it all becomes more natural.