One of the striking features of Harvard’s planned Black Mass, being hosted by Satanists who don’t believe in Satan, is that the exhibitors don’t actually believe their own religion. If Catholics are concerned about the event, it is because we do believe ours.
The Catholic faith is not a set of feelings or preferences. It is a series of statements about reality. About things that are true. Things that are real. The occult is gravely dangerous not because it is pretend, but because it is not pretend. The faith is worth explaining and defending and practicing not because we especially like it, or have found it helpful, but because, like all real things, it has consequences.
When I first returned to the Catholic faith, it was because I felt empty without God. I longed for His presence in my life again. My husband and I began visiting churches, and we settled on a wonderful non-denominational evangelical congregation for the two of us, and then I’d slip over to Mass most Sundays. I felt at home, happy, and mostly-converted. If you had asked me in those first months, I would have affirmed I was a Christian.
But I still had one question: Is this true?
Jesus, are you real?
I had, after all, considered any number of other possible religions. True atheism was beyond my natural inclination, but I was open to just about anything that involved some kind of spiritual life. Christianity was more a religion of convenience than a religion of conviction.
So I prayed. Jesus if you are real, let me know that.
I didn’t pray that for a day, or a week, or even a month. I started attending my new evangelical congregation in August, and my prayer wasn’t answered until February. I’ve known people to wait years, even decades, to have such a prayer answered.
I was hoping my prayer would be answered in some quiet, reverent moment all by myself. Someplace seemly. Instead, four things happened:
- My conversion came at the hands of a Baptist deacon. Roman road, sinners’ prayer, all that.
- I was immediately filled with an overwhelming desire to attend Mass.
- When I went to Mass, it was as if I was hearing the Gospel for the first time. My ears had been opened.
- My husband and I proceeded to argue about religion for a decade.
#4 was the clincher. 1-3 were powerful spiritual experiences that to this day remind me that God is a Person who takes an active part in our lives. #4 is why I’m still Catholic.
From the moment I was born-again Catholic, I had to defend my faith. I had to find proof that this wasn’t merely something I felt, or liked, or that was a personal calling, but that it was true. That it was real. Experiences are one way of knowing things, but I can’t give everyone else my experience. Reason, evidence, facts . . . these don’t depend on my subjective assessment.
My mother died about seven years after my conversion. Shortly after I came home from the funeral, I had a meeting with my pastor (about religious education, as it happened). He offered his condolences, and asked me how I was doing. “Well,” I told him, “death will make you decide whether you really believe all this stuff or not.”
I named this blog after an essay I wrote, and I wrote the essay at a time when I was staring death straight in the face. A time when, by the grace of God, I received a happy reminder that I’d done scary things before. That the best way through a crazy corner was to do it like you mean it.
But here’s the weird thing: The header photo on this blog scares me. Why? Because I don’t like blind corners. This blog, and the Catholic faith, aren’t about, “We’ll just hope for the best! Who knows!” It’s about knowing, being certain, that you really can stick the corner. You really will survive that turn. It takes faith to ride a bike fast around a corner, but it also takes gravity and technique and decent road conditions. It takes faith to face death, but it also takes an afterlife. There has to be something there you can stick to, or you’re just dust flying in the air.
Serious Catholics aren’t upset about Harvard’s Black Mass because it hurts our widdle feelwings. Deviancy? Oh please. Give me a middle-manager with a spouse and kids and mortgage who risks being fired in refusing to carry out the bosses’ immoral orders, that’s bravery, that’s standing up for yourself. On a much grander scale still: I’m no theological bedfellow with Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but if you want to see a model of someone standing up courageously to immoral practices done in the name of religion, you’ll find few who’ve risked more.
No. We’re concerned — gravely concerned — because unlike tatoos and piercings and pouty garage-band lyrics, inviting Satan into your life is no stage-play. It’s not the thing you do to show how sophisticated you are. It’s the thing you do if you mean to end up enslaved to a personal force more powerful than yourself, and who will only let you go at unspeakable cost.