Fr.Paul, Fried Chicken and the Immaculate Conception

I was an Anglican priest from an Evangelical background. I was living in England and working in an Anglican parish, but I was being drawn more and more to Catholicism. One of the problems was the Marian dogmas. I came to understand them, but could not accept them. I didn’t mind if Catholics believed them. I didn’t see why we had to accept them. Why couldn’t they just remain a pious opinion?

During a visit to Greenville, SC I debated the matter with a Catholic priest named Fr. Paul. Fr. Paul is an African American and at the time he was pretty hefty. He enjoyed drinking beer and eating fried chicken. So I was having dinner with him at my brother’s house, and I was picking a fight about the immaculate conception. He was very kind and listened to me carefully. I explained how Thomas Aquinas didn’t believe it and how it wasn’t necessary because then St Anne would also have had to be immaculate and how it was a late dogma…blah, blah, blah. Finally he just chuckled and said, “We believe in the Immaculate Conception because the Pope tells us to. Pass the fried chicken.”

He was right, but God still wanted me to ‘get it.’ So I put my intellectual objections on one side and I began to pray the rosary more seriously and allowed my Protestant bias and intellectual arguments to lie dormant for a time. I didn’t disbelieve it nor did I believe it. I just let it be.

Then I was traveling in Normandy in France. I wandered into Bayeaux Cathedral. As in most of the medieval cathedrals there were lots of little side chapels. I was pretty much the only person in the cathedral. I stopped in a little chapel and saw the finger bone of St Therese who lived just down the road in Lisieux. Then I stopped in another chapel and knelt to pray. I don’t know what I prayed–maybe the rosary. I don’t know. I was caught up in prayer for some time. Then I walked out of the cathedral and the morning sun was bright and clear in the plaza outside, and I suddenly realized that I believed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Then I also remembered who the little chapel was dedicated to in which I was praying. It was St Bernadette–to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared and confided, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

I no longer simply understood the dogma and the logic of it, but I saw the beauty of it and the wonder of the simple girl of Nazareth becoming the second Eve. As I realized I believed in the Immaculate Conception I also suddenly became more aware, in a deeper way–a way very difficult to articulate–of the reality and historical concreteness of the incarnation itself. Suddenly Jesus Christ–Son of God and Son of Mary–was more real than he ever was before and I also grasped why the church requires this belief and does not allow it to remain a pious option.

It is because the church wants us through the Marian dogmas to be introduced to Christ in a more real and powerful way. Through this mystery mother Mary brings us closer to her Son. I had heard Catholics saying such things for a long time and didn’t get it. As I ‘got’ the Immaculate Conception I suddenly got the rest of it as well.

Now as a Catholic priest I will soon go on this beautiful feast day to celebrate Mass for the third time. First for the children of my parish school, second for the children at the Catholic High School where I also serve as chaplain, now for an evening celebration with the people of my parish. I’ll celebrate the feast with joy–knowing that in this glorious dogma the church upholds not only the incarnation of Jesus Christ the Son of God, but also re-affirms that God works miraculously within the history of the human race and through the particularity of individuals who, through his grace, change the course of history. So in the Virgin of Nazareth and also connecting with the shepherd girl of Lourdes.

Oh, by the way, I was finally ordained as a Catholic priest back in Greenville, about eighteen years after the conversation with Fr.Paul. For my ordination someone in the diocese had to stand up before the bishop and affirm that I had studied, been examined, and that I understood and held the fullness of the Catholic faith.

It was Fr Paul who stood up for me with a big grin on his face, and affirmed that I was qualified. I was just waiting for him to say, “Pass the fried chicken”

It's All or Nuthin'
The Catholic Pentecostal Church
How to Be a Creative Conservative
If You Believe in Fairies...
  • Lindsay

    Just beautiful, Father! The Immaculate Conception was a sticking and then a turning point in my own conversion as well.

  • priest’s wife

    lovely! My husband has 3 Masses today, too (along with hospital work all day- ouch!)

  • kkollwitz

    The notion that the Divine Son of God would have been umbilically attached to a sinner like me, derive his physical nature from her, and grow in that sinful vessel is just, well, ewww.

  • the Egyptian

    I believe you can believe any priest who likes beer and fried chicken, foods of the gods, diet police be damned =)Good Mass today as well, choir even sounded good.

  • Mike Cliffson

    Frthanks for the uplift- not touchyfeely, God in his thisness in a person's life, and thus, in his thusness.

  • john

    Been there, done that. YAWN. It all sounds good, but when one runs across NUMEROUS Catholics that have for all intents and purposes replaced Jesus with Mary essentially saying "Ooh I wouldn't dare pray to Jesus, don't you know He wants to judge us and punish us for our sins" or "I pray to Mary cause you know Mary is more merciful and tenderhearted than Jesus and will go to Jesus for us, cause Jesus ALWAYS does what His Mother asks."God's written Word the Bible clarifies the issue on Mary's "place":There came then his brethren and his mother, and, standing without, sent unto him, calling him. And the multitude sat about him, and they said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren without seek for thee. And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.Praise God for His Written Word! Sooo glad to be free of the Roman bondage that kept me in almost constant fear of "losing Sanctifying Grace", I constantly felt that God was just waiting for me to sin so He could take that Grace away. I never had ANY assurance of Salvation, I saw that by the standards Rome said how one can gain Eternal Life and "Final Justification" I would never make it. Trust me Fr L I am no libertine and I try to follow "the Golden Rule" as best I can.Now, when I sin, I confess it to God directly and know that God forgives me, I know that God will complete what He started in me "He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion", I depend on His promises that none of those the Father gives to Jesus will ever perish as long as they believe in and trust Jesus for salvation. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and will keep His sheep safe whom the Father has given Him.Rome calls that heresy (Assurance of Salvation,knowing one is saved), I call it God's promise from His Infallible Book. So I don't care what any "Pope" says, God's infallible written Word trumps any "Pope"

  • KrystalK

    Beautifully written and inspiring. Thanks for all you do!

  • Sue

    That was beautiful, Father. Thanks for sharing that personal experience. Now I'm craving some good old Southern fried chicken!!

  • Shaughn

    Kkollwitz,The same Divine Son of God who ate with sinners, died for sinners, and allowed himself to be beaten by them, and yet did not sin?If anything, such circumstances would show the divine Logos's complete humility — "Thou didst humble thyself to be born of a Virgin," we sing in the Te Deum.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Dear John, Thank you for your comment.Let's go back to where we left off:1. Please give Scriptural support for the Protestant doctrine of sola Scriptura.2. Please explain why your particular interpretation of the Scriptures should be the right one and the other 30,000 Protestant denominations should be in error.When you are able to answer these questions, we'll take your effusive subjective emotions about your 'eternal security' more seriously.

  • George @ Convert Journal

    Thank you Father, that is a beautiful piece that I can identify with.I am now a convert of 10 months. As I studied during RCIA, so much clicked but some things did not – at first. At some point I knew I was for all intents and purposes, Catholic. But some issues lingered. I did not disbelieve because I saw how much I changed on other things. Yet, I didn't embrace some things either and gaining perspective on the Blessed Mother is one of those.I can't say that I am 100% there yet, but maybe 99% and the remainder I concede to the Magisterium (and would even if it were 100%). I know that an open heart, study and prayer will close the ever shrinking gap.Protestants are missing so much when they do not know the Mother of God.

  • Dwight

    John, Catholics do believe in assurance of salvation just like you said, and I quote: "I depend on His promises thatnone of those the Father gives to Jesus will ever perish as long as they believe in and trust Jesus for salvation." Amen! As long as we believe in and trust Jesus for salvation we can be sure of it. Of course, believing in and trusting Jesus entails a great deal, like trusting in the authority he gave his Church, believing that we can lose our salvation, and much more. I left the Southern Baptist tradition in 2009 to join the RCC, and I thank God every day for opening my mind and heart to the truth. I pray you'll one day find your way back home, too. God bless!

  • Lindsay

    I could be way off base and it may be presumptuous of me to say anything, but it sounds to me like John suffers from something that afflicts many former RCs: a bad experience in the confessional or something of the sort. I notice quite a few people that, when you get down to it, have left the church because they feel they weren't acknowledged properly. I think some used to be scrupulous (wasn't Luther?) – constantly making trips to the confessional but never accepting God's grace. Eventually some leave and develop an intense albeit rather irrational antipathy toward the Church. All the arguments in the world won't prevail against their obstinate criticism; for too many of them the problem isn't theological at all but rather deeply personal.

  • john

    So glad you brought up the 30,000 Denomination thing Fr. L, so which one of the 240 or so Catholic Denominations do you belong to Fr. L?The same study that you cite for the 30,000 Denominations also said that there were about 240 Catholic Denominations. This myth of "30,000 Denominations" has been refuted.Just Google "Myth of 30,000 Denominations"When you post a blog post dealing directly with "Sola Scriptura" I will address it with a defense of it."My effusive subjective emotions" are not at issue, what is at issue is the Roman Church that causes one to have those emotions because of its Dogmas.

  • Mary

    John, where do you think the scriptures came from? From the early Church, which was one holy catholic(means universal). We were all one faith until the 1500s when the Reformation split. Luther himself wrote about Mary's Immaculate Conception. So the Church you are denouncing is the Church established by Christ Himself. Guess you have a better way of doing things? "You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church. What sins you retain, they will be retained, what sins you loose they are loosed. Ever been to a psychiatrist? Well confession is the same except, with God's grace I can become that person He wants me to be. It is about loving Christ and not fearing him. God tells us in Genesis, "You will strike at her heal, while she strikes at your head." Apparently God didn't know what He was doing.

  • Trimelda

    It is the consolation and the superabundant goodness of God, that man is able to exult in such a treasure. Mary is his true Mother, Christ is his brother, God is his father.(Sermon, Christmas, 1522)Mary is the Mother of Jesus and the Mother of all of us even though it was Christ alone who reposed on her knees . . . If he is ours, we ought to be in his situation; there where he is, we ought also to be and all that he has ought to be ours, and his mother is also our mother.(Sermon, Christmas, 1529)

  • Trimelda

    Whoever possesses a good (firm) faith, says the Hail Mary without danger! Whoever is weak in faith can utter no Hail Mary without danger to his salvation.(Sermon, March 11, 1523)Our prayer should include the Mother of God . . . What the Hail Mary says is that all glory should be given to God, using these words: "Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. Amen!" You see that these words are not concerned with prayer but purely with giving praise and honor . . . We can use the Hail Mary as a meditation in which we recite what grace God has given her. Second, we should add a wish that everyone may know and respect her . . . He who has no faith is advised to refrain from saying the Hail Mary.(Personal Prayer Book, 1522)So, you see that appealing to the Sole Scriptura person to support your lack of support for the devotion to Mary is without foundation.Part Three when I get to it.

  • Fr Longenecker

    John, you should understand that the Catholic interpretation of the gospel passage you quote is exactly the opposite of your intent.You read it and think Jesus is 'putting Mary in her place'. This is only because Evangelicals already denigrate the Blessed Virgin. Catholics read it and see the same passage as Jesus glorifying his mother. We see him with his mother at one side and saying "everyone who does God's will is like my mother here who did God's will perfectly."Both readings are possible. Ours is supported by the 2000 year old authority of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is congruent with the unified teaching of that church down through the ages. Your reading of this passage is an idiosyncratic interpretation biased by those who would denigrate the Blessed Virgin.To accept your interpretation we would have to also accept that Jesus was dishonoring his mother (which breaks the ten commandments) but that he was also doing so publicly.Regarding your belief in 'eternal security'…this belief has no real support in Scripture, and in fact it directly contradicts Scripture on several points. This is not a theological forum, but a blog combox, so there is not space for a full defense of Catholic views.Finally, you are welcome here, but I do ask that you try to be courteous towards the Catholic faith, even if you have problems with it, and are in reaction against it.

  • Andy

    As confession is good for the soul, allow me to put it out there. A decade ago I was an Ordained minister and pastor in an American Pentecostal denomination. Today, I am an Anglican Deacon. Like you some time ago, I have great difficulty wrestling with Marian theology and dogma. All this said, I want to thank you for a denfense of these, presented with grace and patience.

  • samurfer

    John, there may not be exactly 30,000 Protestant denominations, it is true, but there are more than a few, and 500 or 30,000 the point stands unaltered. All the "debunkers" seem oblivious to the point of the criticism, which is the sectarianism and division which are the rule in Protestantism. For an interesting look at this from a Protestant point of view, read John Williamson Nevin's (19th century paleo-Calvinist Congregationalist minister & systematic theologian) book on Antichrist, it's very interesting and makes largely the same point as the admittedly inflated 30,000 denominations charge:

  • kkollwitz

    "If anything, such circumstances would show the divine Logos's complete humility…"Mmmm…then I'd have trouble seeing her as completely his mom, the Mother of God. He'd have been existentially separated from her sinful nature even as he physically acquired his human nature from her egg. For me to imagine Jesus & Mary having the fullness of a Mother/Son relationship, his momma should be sinless.

  • Shaughn

    Samurfer,You claim that division is a rule of Protestantism.It's also a rule of Roman Catholicism, too. You have the…Polish National Catholic Church. You have the SSPX folks. You have the Philippine Independent Catholic Church. You have the various Old Catholic Churches. You have the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, the Palmarian Catholic Church (which even claims to have its own Pope!). I could go on, but I believe I've illustrated the simple point that Catholics are hardly immune to division and schism.

  • kkollwitz

    Catholics read it and see the same passage as Jesus glorifying his mother. We see him with his mother at one side and saying "everyone who does God's will is like my mother here who did God's will perfectly."I use this passage along with John the Baptist's line about the Sons of Abraham to show my class how Jesus is not interested in your status; he's interested in you doing his Father's will…like his mom.

  • catholicshinobi

    I too converted from Evangelical Anglicanism, Marian Dogma was a sticking point for me too.I too let sleeping dogs lie for a while because I couldn't understand why it was vital for salvation.Then I too had a strange experience where, through divine inspiration alone, it made complete sense… I still struggle to explain it myself. Suddenly my relationship with Mary was opened up and so was my openness to her son.Reading your post was like reading my biography.Thankyou.


    Mary said above: "the early Church, which was one holy catholic(means universal). We were all one faith until the 1500s when the Reformation split." Popular RCC reading of history, BUT…There are 250 million Orthodox Christians who might disagree with you on this one. To them, Roman Catholicism is a schismatic sect that broke away from the One Holy Apostolic Church (Orthodoxy) in the 11th century, a long time before the Reformation happened. Orthodoxy has just as clear an apostolic succession as Rome, and the advantage of location as well…they are the "home church" of almost all the Bible-story shrines.

  • flyingvic

    Thank you, Father. Do you have a similar story to tell about the Assumption?In fairness to John, there are points at which you come perilously close, Father, to contradicting yourself. You suggest on the one hand that Evangelicals denigrate the Blessed Virgin, as if there exists a high measure of agreement about this in the Protestant tradition; you suggest on the other hand that Protestantism has 30,000 or so different opinions about the matter. You can't have it both ways!

  • Fr Longenecker

    Hello Vic, I don't pretend that the 30,000 disagree about everything. In fact there is one area in which all of them–from the most loony snake handlers to the most urbane Anglicans–from the simplest and most devout Baptists to the wildest of liberal unitarians all agree:The agree in their rejection of the Catholic Church, and their rock solid conviction that the Catholic Church cannot possibly be what she claims to be.On this they are united. On most everything else it's a mixed bag.

  • Fr Longenecker

    Vic, I forgot to answer your question about the Assumption. Once I got my head and heart around the Immaculate Conception the perpetual virginity of the Blessed virgin and the Assumption followed easily.

  • Trimelda

    Luther AND Calvin spoke highly of Mary to the point where some Evangelicals condemn Luther to Hell for his love of the Hail Mary. Anyone who openly seeks to know the truth about the Blessed Virgin Mother and her unique roles will end up coming to the same truth: Blessed art thou among women! Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen

  • samurfer

    Shaugn:Sure, everybody has divisions. But those Catholic-y sects that you mention make up a fraction of a percentile of the Catholic population, a scant couple million amidst over a billion Catholics (and most of that, by far, is the SSPX, who insist on their non-schismatic status and loyalty to the Pope). That is, these divisions are the exception to the rule, and frankly most people don't take them very seriously. Splitting off from the bark of Peter is a way to stop being taken seriously very quickly (the government hierarchy in China and SSPX aside, but they both desire unity with Rome, their status is temporary and undesired on both ends; the Old Catholics are insignificant).No Protestant sect has more than a fraction of all Protestants, and sectarianism is, in point of fact, the rule. I agree, the "30,000" number is exaggerated and artificial, but still, the real sectarian divisions are astounding. Reformed Baptists who refuse to recognize Presbyterians as real Christians because of paedobaptism despite agreeing on literally everything else, John saying FlyingVic is not a real Anglican (as ridiculous a charge as can be imagined),Calvinists and Arminians, Lutherans and Quakers, Episcopalians and Methodists, the Salvation Army (which rejects Baptism) and Jehovah's Witnesses (who reject the Trinity and divinity of Christ). Attempts at unification tend to create splinter sects which grow and split themselves eventually. No principle of unity is found, not even the Bible (whose interpretation, Calvin or Zwingli?). Nevin (a Congregationalist) argued that denominationalism is the spirit of Antichrist for a reason.There is not an equivalence here. We have Thomist and Bonaventuran and Palamite theological schools, but these are differences in opinion rather than dogma, and are not sectarian in nature. Catholics have our Lefebvreites, and the EO have their Old Believers, but unity in Church and Sacrament (which is problematic for Anglicans, who can believe pretty close to whatever y'all want) are the rule, with the sects being exceptions. In the Protestosphere, the opposite is the case, whether it is 500 sects or 30,000 sects is entirely besides the point.

  • samurfer

    I hasten to add that there is much good to be found in Protestantdom; Louid Bouyer's "The Spirit and Forms of Protestantism" seems to capture much of the good and the bad, coming from a Lutheran minister turned Catholic priest.

  • Dr. Eric

    Those "250 Catholic Denominations" are in fact Protestants as well. They subscribe to one or more tenants of Protestantism. So google the 250 Catholic Denomination Myth before you google the 30,000 Protestant Denomination Myth.

  • Shaughn

    Samurfer,Your point about numbers, from an historical point of view, is mostly unhelpful to your argument because for most of its history, the Latin Rite has been the minority position. The majority has been, at varying times, Judaism, Arianism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and so on. Large Roman Catholic numbers also probably do not accurately reflect attendance vs. mere membership, though I cannot say how big a difference would exist there.In any case, you cannot simply say "Our schisms are better than your schisms because they're fewer, and in any case we don't take them seriously." Of course you don't. You've constructed a church that can, by its own argument, be the only correct church, with the only correct beliefs, automatically rendering any argument anyone else makes incorrect. Huzzah! God help the church if it ever finds itself with three people claiming to be Pope again, as it did in the Medieval period. How will you know whom to follow?

  • Suburbanbanshee

    The point isn't so much that sin is icky, as that it's fitting for the New Adam to be born from the New Eve. Also, it's fitting for the New Adam to be shaped by God from virgin, sinless flesh, the same way the old Adam was shaped from virgin, sinless earth. Now there's an Early Christian argument for ya. :)

  • Michael Gormley

    John said..I never had ANY assurance of Salvation, I saw that by the standards Rome said how one can gain Eternal Life and "Final Justification" I would never make it.Dear John,The Council of Trent, in answer to Luther's exposition of the Biblical truth of Justification by faith alone, went a step farther than Gregory the Great. They were not content to say that assurance was dangerous and not desirable, they declared that it was a mortal sin to claim assurance of salvation. They went still farther and, with full Papal authority and sanction, hurled anathemas and consigned to eternal damnation all who dared preach or believe such a doctrine. Let any who doubt this read the section on justification in the Decrees of the Council of Trent, and see how specifically and clearly the Jesuits spelled out how deeply Rome hates the doctrine of Assurance. Here are the actual words used by the Council of Trent: Whosoever shall affirm, that when the grace of Justification is received, the offence of the penitent sinner is so forgiven, and the sentence of eternal punishment reversed, that there remains no temporal punishment to be endured, before his entrance into the kingdom of Heaven, either in this world or in the future world, in purgatory, let him be accursed. Council of Trent, January 1547.

  • servingblogger

    I note that you beg for all that money to support your blogging …. and what do we get, no blogging !Shumshing strange there, n'est pas ….?

  • .

    This is so beautiful. As I was reading, I was feeling all the beauty of our catholic faith and how it illuminates our intelligence and how it makes us feel and understand. It's like a window to the transcendence, to the splendour of God. I don't know how to put it properly but, really, the catholic faith makes us participate in a superior life.

  • Babs

    I love it, Father, when you write about Mary. When I was young, I felt close to her; loved her. But as I got older, I grew colder, I guess. I have at times missed my relationship with Mary, especially as my mother, too. When you explain Marian doctrine as you have repeatedly, it opens the door just a bit more, to my renewing my relationship with Jesus' mother. Thank you for that. BTW, I'm a cradle Catholic, one of those folks who still attends Mass faithfully.