Because He Didn’t Promise Us A Rose Garden

Come Easter Vigil, I will have been a Catholic for two full years. It seems like it has been longer than that,  and shorter at the same time. Perhaps because I feel so at home, it feels like I have been a Catholic forever. But then the saying goes, Time flies when you’re having fun, and it feels like I just got on this ride.

Notice, I said that I feel at home, but I don’t always feel comfortable. How could I? Bearing crosses and confronting your true self and your sins is tough work. It takes humility, which hasn’t been a popular virtue in the world since the very beginning and doesn’t come naturally to me. Add to this being constantly tripped up by temptations and how is this comfortable?

Of course I had a leg up because I married a Catholic, right? I don’t dispute that fact, and since I went to Mass for 18 years or so before I converted, and had two of my three children in parochial schools for a spell, no wonder it feels like I’ve been a Catholic for a long time. But what about the feeling that this all started just yesterday? This must be love, is all I can figure, love and gratitude.

And what is there to love about the Catholic Church? Some say “not much.” I say lots! This sort of reminds me of my experience in the Marine Corps. For the most part, I loved the Corps. Lots of uncomfortable times there too though, many of which were purposefully set in motion by the organization itself. I’d love to introduce you to my drill instructors as exhibit A.

Now for those of you who may be sitting on the fence and thinking about crossing the Tiber, you’re probably wondering, Is this guy nuts? After all, you can attract more flies with honey than with vinegar, right? Why would I want to be a part of an organization that makes me feel the least bit uncomfortable? The more modern purveyors of “prosperity gospel” and “nice guy Christianity” sound a lot better.

My first answer to that is nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, or without any strings attached. I mean, if you haven’t earned your stripes, or your title, than what value do they have? If you said none, or they’re worthless, you understand what I mean. The second thing I would say is that when you are preparing for war, wouldn’t you really want to be trained by the experts and supported by them as well? I know I did. And the final reason is simple soul survival.

And no, I’m not trying to work my way into heaven either. Besides, if you have really done your homework on this question in regards to Catholic Christianity, it should come as no surprise to you that The Way (as Christianity was known at inception) is hard. This again reminds me of the Corps and the iconic photograph that you see above. Surely you know and realize that our faith drives good works and not vice versa. This is explained fully in the Book of James (2:14-26).

Truth walked the hard road as an example to us all. Pilate asked, What is truth? Leadership by example is Truth, as the voice of God prompts the profit Isaiah to write,

By his sufferings shall my servant justify many, taking their faults on himself. Hence I will grant whole hordes for his tribute, he shall divide the spoil with the mighty, for surrendering himself to death and letting himself be taken for a sinner, while he was bearing the faults of many and praying all the time for sinners. (Isaiah 53:11-12)

Don’t worry, when I met my RCIA director it wasn’t in the middle of the night, nor did I run like a scared deer to the yellow footprints when he yelled for me to get off the bus. And the 7 months I spent in RCIA weren’t anything remotely as physically challenging as 3 months at Parris Island. But mentally, it was close. On my first attempt way back in 1990, I failed. How could it be mentally tough? Because most of the spiritual combat that we face here on earth takes place in our hearts and minds. Haven’t you noticed the battle raging there? Like the Desert Fathers said,

Man’s conscience is like a spring, which, the deeper you hollow it out, the more greatly you cleanse it. If, however, you cover it with soil, in a little time it will be lost.

And then pride deludes you into thinking that you can go it alone so failure isn’t just possible, but highly likely.

Here is another similarity between the Marine Corps and the Church that you may not have thought about. When I was a freshly minted Marine with the rank of Private, I still didn’t know diddly-squat about being a good Marine. The same holds true for new Catholics fresh out of RCIA, our youth attending CCD class, and older Catholics sitting in the pews. We had a saying in the Marines that “If it isn’t raining, it isn’t training.” This could also be turned around to “It isn’t training unless it’s raining,” so it works either way. The bottom line is that training for war was a constant, come rain or shine.

Would it surprise you to know that the Marines have a professional reading program? Take a look. Does the Catholic Church have such a program? Certainly the Liturgy of the Hours and the Daily Readings is an example of this. And I’ve pieced together a few other selections as well available on Google books that you may find of interest.

Thankfully, unlike the Corps, Our Lord and His Church believe in second chances (and third, fourth, etc.). Just because you’ve failed before doesn’t mean you can’t get back up and try again. And like the Corps, Our Lord and His Church provide us with sound training honed from years of campaigning experience. With all of the training, tools, resources and role models we need in order for us to successfully wage and endure the spiritual combat we face here on earth. For as the psalmist writes,

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.
God will not allow your foot to slip; your guardian does not sleep.
Truly, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.
The LORD is your guardian; the LORD is your shade at your righthand.
By day the sun cannot harm you, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will guard you from all evil, will always guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.

Both now and forever, Amen.

  • Allison Salerno

    @Frank: What a stunning post. Your passion for your faith is awe-inspiring. I was crying as I finished your piece. Tears of joy for you brother.

  • Patrick

    Frank:Great post. Despite spending much of my life wishing it were otherwise, you're right that nothing worth anything comes easy. I see my own children now struggling with that concept (why do we have to study? Why do we have to read at home instead of just playing video games? Why do we have to go to PSR? We do we have to practice this or that to be good at it?)I also like the theme of spiritual warfare. I've been listening lately to another marine, Father John Corapi, on the same subject and it really resonates with me. Spiritual warfare, both with all of the bad influences of the world and with my own temptations.

  • Fan of Schall

    Enjoyed reading, thank you! Authentic and heartfelt.

  • Webster Bull

    Good point about not knowing diddly-squat when you first become a Catholic! Which is the great thing about becoming a Catholic–there's so much to learn. Just swallow your pride, listen, study, pray, study some more. There's so much to learn about Scripture, the Church, its history, your parish, yourself. It's a whole career. Marines? I don't need no stinkin' Marines. I got the Catholic Church!Just kidding about the Marines, Frank…..

  • pennyyak

    Wasn't Marines, but Army for me, and I think I was in some sort of shock all through basic. But I have thought of parallels too, to that good race and narrow path. Will we make it to the end of the obstacle course? By the grace of God, and given a good many assists by Holy Mother Church. I think it would be tremendously wrong to imply we live in some perpetual state of ecstasy or well being (and I have this almost horror of churches that do, as you touched on). Another great one, Frank.

  • Frank

    Thanks everyone for reading and for your comments. From the endnotes to Psalm 121(which this post concludes with) I saw this definition which I think fits the tenor of this post, a song of ascent: A blessing given to someone embarking on a dangerous journey whether a soldier going on a campaign or a pilgrim returning home from the temple.

  • Melissa

    I love the point you make with James, I love that book of the Bible, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of my fellow protestants don't love it.

  • Allison Salerno

    @Young MomThis disregard for James began with Martin Luther. He wished it to be excised from the Bible” Luther was also frustrated by the works-emphasis of the book of James, calling it “the Epistle of Straw, and questioning its canonicity."" In Reformation times a few theologians, most notably Martin Luther, argued that this epistle was too defective to be part of the canonical New Testament.[20] This is probably due to the book's specific teaching that faith alone is not enough for salvation (James 2:24), which seemed to contradict Luther's doctrine of sola fide (faith alone).[21]

  • Frank

    @Young Mom, Thanks for your comment. And to add to what Allison wrote above, I suspect that Luther had a few problems with James Chapter 5 as well. Anointing of the sick and confession of sins figure prominently there. James Chapter 5.

  • Anonymous

    Webster, your quote "there's so much to learn," applies to not just converts, but to the born into the faith as well, maybe even more so.One can't take things for granted and stand still. Indeed, It's a whole career," and swallowing your pride is of utmost importance.

  • Mark Forster

    Great post, Frank. I'm coming up to the same two-year anniversary as you, and my feelings about being a Catholic are exactly the same as yours – only it was the British Army for me, not the US Marine Corps.I've often wondered about the rightness of trying to attract people by making things easy. I feel a blog post coming on!

  • The Laughing Peasant

    I have to agree with Anonymous. Sometimes converts seem to think we cradle Catholics have got it made, as if we slip on Caholicism as easily as a comfy old coat. Not so. For us, just as for you, there is struggle, joy, discovery, failure, and always that deep, interior sense of … surprise. It starts off as a life within your life, and then suddenly your life is gone and there is only this, of which you are a tiny part.

  • Webster Bull

    @The Laughing Peasant,I'm still at the life-within-a-life phase but I can tell what's coming! Thanks for this comment and Anonymous's. Cradle and Convert have a lot to learn from each other, and both are just Catholic anyway. I don't think there are going to be two lines at the Pearly Gates: Local and Express.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Frank, Awesome post! Reminds me of Pope Benedict's words-God does not call us to a life of comfort, but a life of greatness. This post reminds me of that-Thanks, Regina

  • Allison Salerno

    @Laurie: I will pray for you. Hang in there sister.

  • Laurie

    Thank you for your prayers, Allison. And of course, for your wonderful posts. (You too, YIMC.)

  • Ashley

    Hi Frank!This is my favorite of yours. Ever. You're right though, the journey is the reward and thank you for putting it in such words.Have a great one and God Bless,Ashley

  • Frank

    @Ashley,Thanks much for your comment. I'm glad you found something of value in these words.

  • Frank

    Continue to have confidence, since the reward is so great. You will need endurance to do God’s will and gain what he has promised.(Hebrews 10:35-36)