Hey all. This will be the last Open Forum for a while, as we've now completed our "Rosary" of posts. Over the next little while, I'll be writing a few more strictly apologetics-based articles dealing with Mary and the Church's beliefs about her. As well, I'll probably toss out a few articles on various sundry topics. In the Fall, I plan to put up a debate that Christopher, former co-author and frequent commenter--and, most importantly, dear friend--and I will be having via email on the Papacy, and whether it is a valid authority. I obviously will be arguing for it.
But before that, I thought, in the body of this post, that I would wax personal on my own journey to a relationship with Our Blessed Mother, Mary. The following is adapted from a comment I made to a fellow on a Facebook group discussion.
I grew up as a Pentecostal, which, as you may or may not know, rather views itself as the opposite of everything that Catholicism is: anti-traditional, anti-liturgical, anti-ritual, and very, very pro-direct relationship with God. Now, of course, that last one is something we as Catholics quite agree with--but when I was a Pentecostal, I thought that Catholics had heaped a whole lot of that tradition, liturgy, and ritual in between their relationship with Jesus. And Mary, well, she was the epitome of why I thought so.
Toward the end of high school, I began a long, complicated, and in the end, destructive relationship with a girl. On the whole, not a good scene, but God allowed two good things to come from it: First, she shook me loose from my Pentecostal moorings, showing me other denominational viewpoints. Second, through her I went to the particular Bible College that I did.
Having "left" Pentecostalism over some small points of doctrine with which I disagreed (small in the grand scheme of things, but big in the sense that they are PAOC "distinctives"), I realised I couldn't be ordained as a Pentecostal minister, and so I went to the aforementioned Bible College, which was itself sponsored by a particular denomination, but which welcomed students of all or no denominational affiliation. What that meant in practice was that at a small school of 350 people, there were over 40 different denominations represented, and between classes, friendships, and independent research, I looked into most of them--since, not being "Pentecostal" anymore, I had to find the denomination that taught what I believed, so that I could join up with it.
Now, I don't know if you noticed what I just said there. God knows I didn't for quite some time. But as I studied theology and missions and the rest, still trying to figure out which denomination agreed with my beliefs, I suddenly recognised that I was approaching Church completely backwards! Biblically speaking, people didn't come to faith in Christ, and then look for a church that fit their needs. They believed in Christ, and there was a Church there, that demanded obedience and faith from them. If they didn't like Pastor Peter's ideas, they couldn't just leave and start going to Pastor Paul's church, because it was the same Church!
So of course, having had this epiphany, and looking around at the myriads of denominations currently calling themselves Christian, I knew I had to figure out which one was "Pastor Peter and Pastor Paul's church". I'll spare you the details here of how it was that I eventually concluded that it was, in fact, the very Catholic Church that I had viewed as barely Christian and the antithesis of a real relationship with Jesus. I had intended to write about my journey to Mary.
I investigated Catholicism for three solid years (neglecting and thereby failing a good deal of my Bible College courses in the process, and finally graduating with a diploma rather less than the Bachelor I'd initially signed on for), wrestling with it, fighting tooth and nail against the truth that was becoming plainly evident. I'd begun dating a Catholic girl (to whom I am now married) during that time, and would debate with her about various things about Catholicism. Three things really threw me: Transubstantiation--Jesus' really being Present in the Eucharist; Purgatory; and Mary. Surprisingly, I found the answers to the first right in my own Bible (imagine that!) and the second through sound reasoning from the Bible. But Mary was different. It had been so ingrained in me that Catholicism's veneration of Mary was idolatrous, or at least dangerously close to it, that even the most sound, reasonable, biblical arguments did little to really change my heart. In fact, in discussing these things with my girlfriend, I'd even convinced her that Protestantism was right about Mary!
After these three years, I entered what's known as RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) which is basically a nearly-year long course explaining the faith to potential converts, preparing them to be received into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil mass. I'd put it off for those three years, until I felt it would be dishonest of me to delay it again. I had also hoped that my concerns about Mary would be dealt with through this process.
Toward the end of the course, the priest sits down with each prospective convert to interview them about their readiness and willingness to become Catholic. When he sat down with me, he asked if I still wanted to become Catholic. During this time, I had come to believe so fully in Jesus' literal presence in the Eucharist, that I desired that communion with Him more than anything else, and I told the priest so, "but," I said, "I still can't get past the whole Mary thing. I know all the arguments in my head, and they make sense, and to that extent, I believe them. But I've grown up so long being taught that praying to Mary and the saints is idolatrous, that even though I know in my head that it's not, in my heart, it still feels like it is. In Romans 14, St. Paul talks about those for whom something good seems like sin (like drinking), for them it is a sin, even if it's perfectly legitimate for another. That's how I feel when it comes to Marian devotions--that practicing them would be sinful for me, even though I know it's really okay in my head. In my heart I would be sinning. Can I still become Catholic anyway, even if I never pray to Mary?"
His answer was this, that I could be received into the Church anyway, but that I must not teach others that my own scruples about Mary were the truth, and forbid them from Marian devotion. Further, he said, I should continue to pray and seek Jesus' own opinion of Catholic devotion to His Mother. I readily agreed to the conditions, and so finally received Jesus truly present in the Eucharist in 2004, as I was welcomed into the Catholic Church.
Ironically, even though I was hesitant (at best) about Mary, when I was first taught the Rosary in RCIA (at which it was explained that while it's a prayer involving a lot of Hail Marys, the key is the meditations on the life of Jesus, and so while it's technically a Marian devotion, it's very focused on Jesus--which intrigued me greatly), I was very taken with it. At first it was because the Rosary was something so stereotypically Catholic that I felt almost obliged to at least try it. but as I prayed it and meditated on the life of Christ, I really did feel that I was growing closer to Him. That this could be the result of a Marian devotion really helped me move all that head-knowledge down toward my heart--although I think that at this point, it was still stuck in my throat ;)
One day, my wife (still my girlfriend, or possibly fiancée at that point) and I went to a Protestant Christian bookstore in my neighbourhood. This particular store had a fairly well-developed Catholic section, and I was investigating it that day, and talking with the owner. I found an intriguing book by Scott Hahn, whom I had heard good things about, all about Mary. The most intriguing thing was the title--or, more precisely, the sub-title: Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God. I wondered what Dr. Hahn had to say about Mary in the Bible, and so I bought the book, and devoured it! Hahn, in a way characteristic of all the other books of his that I've read, opened up Scripture to me in a way that I'd never seen before--and I discovered that Mary isn't just in the Gospel stories, but, just like Jesus, appears all through Scripture, through types and figures. Anyway, this book was far from a simple academic text, but appealed as well to my heart (I remember tearing up at points reading it! But maybe I'm just weird). Well, it succeeded in shoving Marian belief from my throat and into my chest within just a few months of making that promise to my priest that I would continue to pray about Mary. I now believed everything about Mary, both in my head and my heart--but there was still one more step.
The final step in my journey of Marian devotion happened through the Rosary again. In 2002, Pope John Paul II had written a document about the Rosary in which he added another set of mysteries to it (up until that point, the meditations had focused on Jesus' birth and childhood, His passion and death; and His resurrection and the founding of the Church. The Pope filled in the gap with meditations on Jesus' life and ministry). The Pope also advocated that when we pray it, we begin each mystery with a more spontaneous prayer of intention to guide our reflection on that mystery. He suggested certain intentions that would be appropriate to the various mysteries.
Having discovered the Rosary after his encyclical, I automatically incorporated the new mysteries and his suggestions into my prayers. And so I would pray thus: "Lord Jesus, as I meditate on X mystery, I pray for Y intention or grace." Now, of the new mysteries, the second one is Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. The pope's suggested intention for this mystery was to ask for greater trust in Mary's intercession for us. So I would pray "Lord Jesus, as I meditate on the wedding feast at Cana, help me to trust more fully in Mary's intercession for me."
All of a sudden, once again I realised I was doing things backwards, just like when I was trying to find the church that agreed with me, instead of looking to find the true Church and submit myself to it. And so I prayed instead, "Mother Mary, as I meditate on the wedding feast at Cana, help me to trust more fully in your intercessions for me." It actually took me a full minute to force that sentence out. I could pray a Hail Mary by rote, but I had never addressed a spontaneous prayer to Mary. Once I did, it was like the floodgates broke. The last step had been taken. I went from believing in Mary (even with my heart) to actually having a relationship with her.
And here again, I can anticipate that many readers will recoil from that phrase. You'll understand believing in Jesus and having a relationship with Him, but to see those phrases employed about Mary will probably be a bit of a shock, I imagine. But please note a few things: First, as you yourself know, Catholics, myself included, do not worship Mary. So when I use the terms "believe in" and "relationship with", I do not mean by them that I worship Mary as divine. Second, following from the first, I have a relationship with my wife, but certainly do not worship her. Finally, you may say that my wife is alive, but one cannot have a relationship with a dead person. To that I heartily disagree. Both, that it is impossible to have a relationship with a "dead" person, for that is what is meant in the Creed by "I believe...in the communion of saints". Second, I disagree that Mary or the saints are, in fact, dead. Rather, they, and especially Mary, are more alive that we are, for they dwell in Heaven in the fullness of eternal life. I say especially Mary, for Catholics believe that at the end of her life, Jesus took her up to heaven body and soul (like Elijah in the OT), and so she is a fully resurrected person like we all will be when Jesus comes again.
Anyway, that's my story. I wish I could do more to explain a relationship with Mary, but I'm afraid that one can't explain the intimacies of something so personal, any more than I could adequately explain my relationship with Jesus.
Feel free to comment on my story, or any of the preceding Rosary posts, or anything else of interest to you (that's what Open Forums are all about!). Just remember to keep your comments coming out of a spirit of charity and civility.
Oh, and, contrary to past forums (fora), other people besides Christopher can and should post!
(Category: Miscellaneous: Open Fora)
Sunday, May 31, 2009
Posted by Gregory at 6:18 pm