Because of “Scenes from a Parish”

Posted by Webster 
I am always proud to be a Catholic, occasionally proud to be from the Boston area—when the Red Sox are winning, especially. Tonight, I’m busting with pride to be a Boston Catholic because PBS is airing a little masterpiece about one special church in our archdiocese.

If you haven’t seen or heard about “Scenes from a Parish,” check it out at the Independent Lens web site, right here. Search for your local listings. Then see it.

St. Patrick’s Church in Lawrence, Massachusetts, is the parish. Lawrence is the 23rd poorest city in the U.S. and the poorest in Massachusetts. St. Patrick’s is in the throes of a demographic shift, with older Anglo parishioners feeling pushed aside by an enormous Hispanic influx. The publicity I’ve read for the 90-minute documentary stresses the tension between ethnic groups in a changing American city, as though this were a cinéma vérité version of “West Side Story.”

But as a Catholic, I was on the edge of my seat watching the stories unfold. Of Elvys Guzman, a former gang member who got his life back in order through the Church. Of Theresa Santell, homeless from age six and mother to five children—on whom the St. Vincent de Paul Society refuses to give up. Of Bobby McCord, a mentally challenged parishioner, whose devoted sister Sarah proudly wins a full-boat scholarship to Boston University but worries that Bobby will forget her when she goes to school. Of the older white parishioners who wonder if anyone in Lawrence is really hungry.

And especially of Fr. Paul O’Brien, a Harvard classmate of TV talk king Conan O’Brien, who gave up a life of privilege to be an inner city priest. Father O’Brien dreams of, then builds, the Cor Unum meal center, over the cries of those older white parishioners who can’t understand why such a center makes any sense at all. Built for $1.4 million (Conan shows up at the grand opening), the center served 100,000 meals in its first year of operation and is going gangbusters. Central to fund-raising is Father O’Brien’s brainchild, Labels are For Jars, which sells t-shirts with labels like ADDICT, HOMELESS, and MENTALLY ILL. Father O’Brien’s idea is to undermine such labels, which only serve to marginalize the poor and create a forgotten underclass.

His beautiful words are read over the final credits: “What each person is thinking, saying, doing at any moment is critical because God is likely to be present right there. God is speaking through the least likely people all the time.”

Now read the story of filmmaker James Rutenbeck. You’ll see that making the film was a chapter in his own spiritual journey.

Now go to the Web site for and buy a shirt to support Cor Unum. I just bought the ADDICT shirt shown above, and I promise to model it here at YIM Catholic as soon as it arrives.

For Thirteen Angels

Posted by Webster 
I was received into the Church in March 2008, so tomorrow I complete my first calendar year as a Catholic. My life has never been so beautiful, so interesting, so filled with surprises—for reasons I’ve attempted to detail in this blog. I know no better way of closing this year than to say thanks to the people without whom I might not be a Catholic today.

The beautiful thing about this list is that each person here was a gift of the Holy Spirit, an angel “out of the blue.” None of them came through any initiative of my own. I did not choose them. If anything, they chose me. So I can take no credit for any of them. This is a pure list of IOU’s. The debt—payable in heaven—is all mine.

  1. My parents—I have written about them individually elsewhere, for example here. Together, they taught us six children values, beginning with the value of prayer and regular attendance at Church. Why do some children have remarkable parents and some bad parents, or none at all? Who chooses our parents for us?
  2. My grandmother, Mary Morrison—She began by making me feel special, as her “oldest grandson.” Then, at the end of her life, she threw down the gauntlet to her entire family and became a Catholic. Why was I the one, of all her six children and twenty-six grandchildren, who picked it up? I did not become a Catholic because of Ammie, but if nothing else, she showed that it was an option. Somewhere there is a photo of her reaching out from behind a security line to touch the hand of Pope John Paul II as he walked past. She looks besotted, like a bobby-soxer at an early Elvis concert. I think some of that enthusiasm for the Church must have passed to me. Who chooses our grandparents for us?
  3. Dr. Harold Bassage—Like my father, the assistant pastor of our Episcopal Church showed with actions (no words were needed) that religious devotion can be a manly thing. His example, with Dad’s, makes me realize that every time I serve at Mass, every time I kneel at Adoration, I may be serving as an example for another young man. Was it only coincidence that Dr. Bassage was a sometime playwright, actor, director—at a time when theater was the profession I thought I would pursue? Who chooses our early religious teachers for us?
  4. Rodney Marriott—I have not written about “Mr. Marriott” before. He was an English teacher at my secondary school, who doubled as one of the three directors of the Dramat, the student theater club. He infected me with an interest in good writing, and in rehearsals he always asked for more, deeper, finer. He made poetry and theater spiritual exercises. Who chooses our most influential schoolteachers for us?
  5. David Hackett—As a freshman in college, I became friends with “Hackett.” We recognized each other as fellow searchers. In those days (1969), our gaze turned eastward, toward Zen, other strains of Buddhism, yoga, the Tao. It was a time of esoteric talk and yarrow stalks. But we were as sincere as two clueless freshmen can be about our shared quest, and sometime during that first year Hackett found his way to a “growth center” in Dublin, New Hampshire. As a result, my life was changed far more than his. Who chooses our schoolmates for us?
  6. Cesareo Pelaez—During my sophomore year, I followed Hackett to the Dublin growth center and met the main man there, whom everyone knew as Cesareo. Our friendship has extended over the four decades since that time, and it has had many complex facets. But two stand out here: First, Cesareo was raised Catholic, intensely so, in pre-Revolutionary Cuba. And even when Catholicism was the farthest thing from his mind or our conversations, it was right there in our midst. Second, Cesareo created a theater business where I discovered my interest in writing. Without him, I would not only not be a Catholic. I would not be a Catholic blogger!! Who chooses our mentors for us?
  7. Katie McNiff Bull—We and our backgrounds are as different as could be. But from the moment Katie began working at the theater business Cesareo had founded, I was as besotted as Ammie with the Pope. Then, before we began dating, Katie‘s brother died suddenly and her mother died slowly, from cancer. And I had a chance to witness true devotion in action: Katie visiting her mother every day, talking and reading to her even when she had lapsed into a coma from the brain tumor that finally killed her. My heart had been right about Katie from the beginning. Now my mind understood why. That Katie was raised Catholic by devout parents played no part in our decision to marry, nor in my decision to convert. But it didn’t hurt. Who chooses our spouses for us?
  8. Our children—My life is unimaginable without Martha and Marian. What parent needs to hear more than that? Who chooses our children for us?
  9. James Martin, SJ—This is the only person on the list I have not met. But without his book, My Life with the Saints, I would not have begun attending Mass in October 2007 or conceived the mad notion of becoming a Catholic. I wrote about this book and its influence on me in my very first post. Who chooses the books that fall in our path?
  10. Fr. David Barnes—I have written elsewhere that if, having read My Life with the Saints and having decided to “give daily Mass a try,” I had walked into the Catholic church across from my office and not found Fr. Barnes, I’m not sure I would have stayed. I can’t imagine a finer priest—a smarter guy, a straighter shooter, a more compassionate confessor, a better friend when a friend is what I need. Who chooses our hometown priest?
  11. Joan Horgan—I enrolled in RCIA one week after I began attending Mass. (It was love at first sight.) Assisting the RCIA teacher, Neil Yetts, was a team of lay people, some of them converts. Joan of Beverly, as I’ve dubbed her in other posts, was a member of the team. As much as anyone Joan has taught me what it is to be a Catholic. Her life has been difficult at times, in marriage, in child-rearing, and most recently in a bout with lung cancer. (Two weeks ago, after a grueling year of chemo, radiation, and dramatic weight loss, she got a clean bill of health!) Yet she seems the happiest person on the planet, and that happiness is founded in faith. I began visiting Joan once a week while she was sick. Now that she’s well again, my visits continue. Since the first day I met her, I have received far more from my friendship with Joan than I could ever put into it. Who chooses such inspiring friends for us?
  12. Ferde Rombola—If you’ve read more than a casual post or two at YIMC Catholic, you know that Ferde has a special place in my personal pantheon. He is my big brother in the Church, who befriended me first when I started going to daily Mass and sitting in the same pew every day, and though I do myself too much honor by saying it probably, he is my best male friend. We watch football together and go on retreat together; we have the occasional drink together and daily communion; we go fishing, we go skiing, and we go to Adoration. Who chooses our best friends for us?
  13. David Hackett—Forty years after I met Hackett (see #5), and thirty-eight years after he disappeared from my life, he reappeared, last spring, “out of the blue,” like all my angels. So Hackett has the unique distinction of two slots on this honor roll. In 1969, we were lapsed Protestants looking east. When we reestablished contact last spring, I found that, like me, he was a Catholic convert. He was the friend who asked me “out of the blue one day, ‘So, Webster, why Catholicism?’” In response, I wrote a few short essays for him and for him alone. Three months later, when the inspiration for this blog hit me like Newton’s falling apple, three of these essays became early posts: this one and this one and this one. Who decides when an angel appears in our lives—and then appears again?

Most of this is probably too personal by half for the casual reader stopping by YIM Catholic. But I’m sure every reader who gets this far can write such a list for themselves. It’s not a bad pursuit this New Year’s. I recommend it. The test of true happiness is gratitude, Chesterton said. I am happy today, and this list of angels is a big part of why.

Because Popeye is Catholic

Posted by Webster 
Earlier I wrote that Catholicism is a full-time job, compared with the Protestant observance of my youth. A mind is a hard thing to shut off, and mine has come up with more analogies. I will be accused of churlish negativity by my Protestant brothers, but as Frank and Farragut would say, “Damn the torpedoes!

1. Catholicism is Popeye, Protestantism Bluto. Let’s face it: Whatever Luther’s original intent, in the final analysis the Protestant Reformation was a Rebellion, a Revolt, and not a Reformation, as Ferde loves pointing out. The Reformation, which was needed, took shape at the Council of Trent and remains a work in progress. Meanwhile, Protestants’ total identity is about being against the Catholic Church and its perceived abuses. That revolt is still intact, as one Protestant sect rebels against another and the whole human experiment fractures into crazy glass.

Likewise, Bluto’s only reason for being is to destroy Popeye. But Popeye has spinach (the Eucharist) and Olive Oyl (the Blessed Mother).

2. Catholic is chess, Protestant is checkers. Catholic means messy, complex, ambiguous; it is as wild and weird as a Gothic cathedral crawling with gargoyles. Protestant is a one-way road to heaven: do not pass Rome, do not collect $200 in indulgences; it is straight as a New England church spire. In checkers, movement is only along diagonals and the end game is total destruction of the enemy force. In chess, movement is every which way, and checkmate is an elegant resolution of conflict in which the king resigns, he is not exterminated. Chess has knights and bishops, checkers only kings.

3. Catholicism is a monkey house, Protestantism is a zoo. I’m not totally sure where to go with this one, but you just have to hang out in a Catholic parish for a while to discover that we are a wacky bunch. Protestants probably have their share of wacky, though they seem pretty straitlaced to me. But one thing you can say about Protestants: They’ve got every animal in the known world, and all in separate cages. 

4. Catholicism is a deluxe twenty-volume encyclopedia, Protestantism a paperback dictionary. Every time I watch “The Journey Home” on EWTN, Marcus Grodi’s series of interviews with converts, I have to listen ad nauseam to how much Protestants know about the Bible. Given that it’s the only book they have to know, this no longer impresses me. Try stacking the Bible up against the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the collected writings of the Early Fathers, the complete works of Augustine and Aquinas, Pascal’s Pensées, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, anything by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, . . . and the Bible.

I grant that there have been great intellects among the ranks of Protestant theologians. I studied (well, I read) bits of Karl Barth, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich in boarding school, and I can’t tell you bupkis about any of them. But I felt, while reading them, that each was cooking up his own recipe with hand-picked ingredients. I can read any Catholic theologian and know that his or her work is a bud on a two-thousand-year rose bush, which taken as a whole is vast, colorful, and aromatic.

5. Catholicism is The Fellowship of the Ring, Protestantism is Harry Potter. Give me a Bible and a moment of inspiration, and I can be a Protestant with a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” The Protestant movement is full of lonely wizards: Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Smith—each breaking away from his forebears and setting up business in a storefront. A Protestant means an individual in direct relationship with the Almighty, no intercessors needed, thank you.

Meanwhile, Catholics function well in groups, especially if the groups include wizards, elves, hobbits, assorted bearded men and willowy women, tree-like things called ents, and a bunch of other weird, but loyal allies. And they believe in obedience to higher authority (Gandalf, Aragorn). I have never ever had the same sense of belonging that I have in the Catholic Church—an assortment of oddities my mother never warned me about. And I am quite comfortable, thank you, heeding the words of my pope and my pastor.

Give me time and I’ll come up with more analogies. But dinner’s almost ready, Marian has just made a killer guacamole, and she returns to school in North Carolina tomorrow. So TTFN. Which makes me think that maybe Catholicism is Tigger, Protestantism Tony the Tiger. But I’ll work on that one . . .

Because Being a Catholic is Full-Time Work

Posted by Webster
The Octave of Christmas, celebrating the birth of Our Lord over eight days, not just one, reminds me of another reason why I am Catholic: It’s not a part-time job. I thought of this coming into Mass this morning and seeing altar decorations still honoring the birth of the Baby Jesus.

As a teenager, I left my Episcopal church on Sundays thinking I was all set for the week. Most days now, it’s a different story. Every hour of the day—from the Liturgy of the Hours to daily Mass to Eucharistic Adoration to various forms of service—Catholics are invited to worship and work in the service of God and man.

Take one crazy example. There I was at 4:30 this morning, singing “What Child Is This?” in full voice to kick off the Office of Readings for the fifth day in the Octave. It wasn’t quite William Carlos Williams’s “Danse Russe” (I was fully clothed), but fortunately my home office is in the basement and my Kathleen (Katie) was asleep on the second floor, so my singing didn’t wake her.

Now it’s 7:50 and I am just back from Mass. I arrived at Mass early and said the Rosary before the beautiful Nativity set up in the right transept (photo below). Then I had the honor of serving at the altar. (If it’s Tuesday, it must be Webster.)

I will interrupt my work this office morning with more psalms and prayers from the Breviary. Midafternoon will find me in the Adoration chapel, and then I’ll stop in to see my dear friend and one-time RCIA sponsor Joan of Beverly for an hour of Catholic talk—as per usual late Tuesday afternoons.

If I don’t get lazy (as I do more often than not), I’ll say Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours when I get home about 5:30. A quiet dinner with Katie and Marian (home on Christmas break), and then I’ll spend a couple of hours reading Catholic stuff like Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah and probably blogging too (my one really bad habit). Then, like Simeon in today’s Gospel, I will end the day with the words:

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people—a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.

In his memoir, my devout Protestant father wrote, “I’ve always had the impression that Catholics are in general more serious about their religion than Protestants.” That may not be true of all Catholics, but the Catholic Church does offer us the opportunity, every day, to make it true.

Another “father” of my acquaintance once wrote, “If you’re going to go on a spree, go the whole hog, including the postage.” Which inspires me to say, “Oink, oink.”

Because My Pope Said This

Posted by Webster 
I wish more people would read Pope Benedict’s interviews, talks, writings. Even the most skeptical or cynical reader, giving “my pope” a chance, would be brought up short by his thoughtfulness, his balance, his erudition, his gosh-darn common sense.

Case in point. In the interviews that became God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2002), German journalist Peter Seewald asked then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger:

In the course of two thousand years of Christian history, the Church has divided time and again. In the meantime, there are around three hundred distinguishable Protestant, Orthodox, or other churches. There are way over a thousand Baptist groups in the United States. Over against these there is still the Roman Catholic Church with the pope at her head, which claims to be the only true Church. She remains at any rate, and despite every crisis, indeed the most universal, historically significant, and successful Church in the world, with more members today than at any time in her history.

This question asked by a skeptical young journalist, no Catholic at the time he asked it, might seem to be what Frank would call a “fat pitch.” Did Ratzinger, in his answer, knock Protestantism out of the park in a grand slam of triumphalism? No, the cardinal laid down a thoughtful bunt single—then stole second, third, and home:

I think that in the spirit of Vatican II we ought not to see that as a triumph for our prowess as Catholics and ought not to make much of the institutional and numerical strength we continue to enjoy. If we were to reckon that as our achievement and as our right, then we would step outside the role of a people belonging to God and set ourselves up as an association in our own right. And that can very quickly go wrong. A Church may have great institutional power in a country, but as soon as faith is no longer there to back it up, the institution will break down.

Perhaps you know the mediaeval story of a Jew who traveled to the papal court and who became a Catholic. On his return, someone who knew the papal court well asked him: “Do you realize what sort of things are going on there?” “Yes,” he said, “of course, quite scandalous things, I saw it all.” “And you still became a Catholic,” remarked the other man. “That’s completely perverse!” Then the Jew said, “It is because of all that that I have become a Catholic. For if the Church continues to exist in spite of it all, then truly there must be someone upholding her.” And there is another story, to the effect that Napoleon once declared that he would destroy the Church. Whereupon one of the cardinals replied, “Not even we have managed that!”

I believe that we see something important in these paradoxical tales. There have in fact always been plenty of human monstrosities in the Catholic Church. That she still holds together, even if she groans and creaks, that she is still in existence, that she produces great martyrs and great believers, people who put their whole lives at her service, as missionaries, as nurses, as teachers, that really does show that there is someone there upholding her. 

We cannot, then, reckon the Church’s success as our own reward, but we may still say, with Vatican II—even if the Lord has given a great deal of life to other churches and communities—that the Church herself, as an active agent, has survived and is present in this agent. And that can only be explained by the fact that He grants what men cannot achieve.

Like this quotation, everything today seems to remind me of the Church’s miraculous resilience for 2,000 years. Still breathing heavily over his Island of the World, I am now reading Michael O’Brien’s Father Elijah, which begins with a barely fictional contemporary Church under attack from all the “smart” elements in our culture. But I can look back 1,000 years and read the same story, in the life of the saint we honor today, December 29, Thomas Becket, who was hacked down on the very stones of Canterbury Cathedral when he ran afoul of Henry II. Four centuries and six Henrys later, another Thomas, named More, was similarly martyred for his defense of the Faith.

And still today we have the Catholic Church, with more members worldwide than ever.

In the reading from one of his letters for today, Becket reminds us that in order for the Word to continue spreading, for the Church to endure works are necessary. We have to help the Church and ourselves: “The whole company of saints bears witness to the unfailing truth that without real effort no one wins the crown.” My pope tempers this, and all triumphalism, by reminding us that works alone are not enough, that “He grants what men cannot achieve.”

Because of a Baby, a Cross, and What Happened in Between

Posted by Webster 
Since July 2008, our parish has offered Eucharistic Adoration sixty hours a week. We’re not “perpetual” yet, but don’t bet against us. I find that there are boring days in the chapel, puzzling days, and, yes, some astonishing days, too, before the Blessed Sacrament. Today was one of these.

As usual, the Eucharist was displayed in a monstrance. Sometimes, it is contained within the Tabernacle, as shown here. Sometimes, a more dramatic monstrance, the classic sunburst (although surely there’s an official name for it), stands on the altar before the Tabernacle. Always, of course, the crucifix hovers overhead.

But only during Christmastide is there a Nativity scene set up in front of the altar. And so only during Christmastide are we treated to this astonishing juxtaposition: a Divine Child, a Man-God sacrificed for us, and—between the two—the heart of the matter.

A friend asked me once if I had converted because of the Eucharist. At the time, I didn’t even understand what the Eucharist is. Now, I have some personal experience. And I will be back tomorrow.

Because of the Relics of St. Thérèse II

Anonymous guest post
(Yesterday’s guest post by Su Yam about venerating the relics of St. Thérèse in London prompted an American reader to send this account of her own encounter with the Little Flower.)

The year 2000 saw the arrival of the relics of St. Thérèse at a Carmelite monastery in a U.S. city within driving distance of our home. I asked my husband to take me; I told him it was the only thing I wanted for my birthday.

We were three hours away and my husband is a busy professional, but he did what he had to do in order to leave the office in time that day. We drove like the wind, arriving just as the veneration was scheduled to end. Being pregnant, I was quite emotional; tears were streaming from my face; and I was certain we would miss the veneration.

I needn’t have worried. There were still many ahead of us in line, so we found a place to rest until the line shortened. In the meantime, I bought a little trinket for the baby in the monastery gift shop: a tiny glass-bead rosary in a pink box with the image of a blond, blue-eyed girl on it. Back with my husband, I showed him the box and rosary. He said, “I guess you’ve decided the baby’s gender.” I already had four girls and just one boy—and was really hoping for another boy—so of course, that brought on a whole new wave of tears!

Finally, it was our turn. We approached the reliquary, knelt, prayed, and returned to the pew. After a few minutes, my husband asked me for the rosary, got back in line, and knelt once again at the reliquary, pressing the rosary against it. At that time, my husband was not yet Catholic. He was a non-baptized believer. It was quite a poignant moment.

Three months later, Madeline Thérèse was born—a blue-eyed blond, the only one of those that I have.

Seven years later, on January 3, the day between St. Therese’s birth and her baptism, my husband was baptized and confirmed in a hospital bed. When the priest asked him if he wanted to take the name of a saint, he said, without hesitation, “Thérèse.”

I don’t know what possessed me to seek St. Thérèse out. I had not yet read her Story of a Soul, and I really didn’t know anything about her.  I just knew I had to see her.

And for those wondering—my husband did get out of the hospital, and a second boy did eventually arrive, almost six years ago.

Because the Reasons are Beyond Counting

Since August, we have come up with nearly 200 reasons for being Catholic. It should come as no surprise that someone else has been thinking along the same lines, and with a far more theological turn of mind.

Check out Dave Armstrong’s “150 Reasons Why I’m Catholic and You Should Be Too” over at Our Catholic Faith. It’s right here.

What’s your biggest reason for being Catholic?

Because of the Relics of St. Thérèse

Guest post by Su Yam 
(In the early autumn of 2009, we Americans read British reports of the thousands of faithful who flocked to venerate the relics of St. Thérèse of Liseux during a nearly four-week tour of England and Wales. Su Yam, one of our UK readers, was there at Westminster Cathedral in London and offered to file this personal report.)

As soon as I heard that the relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux were coming to the UK, I knew that I wanted to be there. I wasn’t certain of my reasons, but my heart felt pulled in a very definite way; so I prayed and asked God to let me go and to help me with the details.

I’m only beginning to explore all there is to know about the saints, and until recently I didn’t know many of them, but I did know St. Thérèse. My local library has a copy of Monica Furlong’s book about her, and I had read it twice over the last few years.

I didn’t tell many people that I was going, as I am an Anglo-Catholic, some of my friends are happy-clappy evangelicals, my family are not Christians, and I just wasn’t sure who would understand. Some may have said that I was going to worship some dead bones, some may have said I was being macabre, thinking that the actual body parts would be visible, instead of held in the reliquary shown here. Some might have said that I had lost sight of the fact that Jesus is the only way to the Father. But by then I had sorted out my own feelings and reasons for going.

My main reason was that I was sure God’s presence would be there in a tangible way, and I wanted to be wherever He was. My other reason was that I knew people have been healed when in the presence of these relics, and I wanted healing for myself and my loved ones.

So on October 13, I set off to Westminster Cathedral in London with a list of prayer requests, my rosary, and a plain white handkerchief. I went by myself. I had thought about asking a friend, but then I realised that I wanted to be able to be completely me, without worrying about someone else’s experience and comfort. I wanted it to just be God, St. Thérèse, and me.

I arrived at 10 a.m. and got in the queue, surprised that there weren’t more people waiting. But five minutes later I turned around to see hordes of people quietly lined up behind me. I hadn’t even noticed! Next to the queue outside the cathedral was a big screen showing live video of the relics and people venerating them. This helped me because I had never visited relics before and I was nervous about what I should do.

As the queue reached the front steps of the cathedral we passed a little stall selling St. Thérèse candles and roses. I bought a candle. Once inside the cathedral, I found that the waiting queue was patient and peaceful, and I prayed in my mind for all the items on my prayer list. The relics were in a beautiful box shaped like a treasure chest (appropriate!), and this was encased in a glass dome.

When my turn came, I took out the handkerchief I had brought along and pressed it onto the glass. As I stood there I prayed. I don’t remember what I prayed, but God does! I know I prayed for healing and blessings for myself and my children, my husband, family and friends. I didn’t feel anyone was rushing me or wanting me to move on, but after a minute or so I did move and went to sit with others who had queued and prayed and were now sitting or kneeling and praying some more. As I sat looking at the relics I felt happy, peaceful, and complete. Nothing else mattered. I knelt and prayed a decade of my rosary and then sat quietly enjoying the atmosphere.

By now the normal mass had begun beyond a screen spanning the center of the cathedral. The priest wore a microphone, so although we couldn’t see anything of the mass, we could hear it. As the priest began the Alleluia preceding the Gospel, everyone in the cathedral joined in spontaneously—it was truly beautiful! I couldn’t help smiling and thinking how lovely that must have sounded to God and how much He would have cherished it.

As I sat and watched others venerate, I thought how many different types of people had come to do the same thing. There were coachloads and small groups, solitary visitors and groups of religious. But for me the loveliest sight was classes of schoolchildren in their uniforms filing past and bowing and kissing the dome. I hope they never forget the blessing of being so close to a saint’s relics. I know I won’t.

As I left the cathedral, I felt as though my heart was burning in my chest. I felt whole emotionally and spiritually; I know that in some way I was healed.

Since then I have continued to want more and more of Jesus and to fall in love with Our Father a bit more each day. I would say to anyone who gets the chance to visit relics to never hesitate, even for a moment.

The handkerchief I took that day is safely tucked away at home. I don’t know what prompted me to take it, but I figure that one day I may be glad I did.

Comment of the Week

We have a great group of readers at YIM Catholic, many of whom have been offering excellent comments. It seems only right to highlight some of these. This week, we’ll showcase a comment by James, written in response to a post about a woman who has fallen away from the Church. The woman told us that this was largely because of what she considered poor pastoral advice in the wake of Vatican II. In his comment James wrote:

There must be hundreds of thousands of lapsed and non practicing Catholics out there, but of course the front door is always open in welcome for them. The dynamic is extremely complex. Not to oversimplify but in a case such as Rosa’s (with details understandingly few), where bad advice seems to be the primary cause, I’d respond that one should go to a priest for spiritual matters and guidance but look for advice on corporal affairs elsewhere. If I need legal advice I go to a lawyer, marital advice a trained and licensed counselor and so forth. 

The Church today (and I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently) is still and will continue to be in a great deal of upheaval from Vatican II. I think that the dust has yet to settle and it will be some time before it does. I’m not questioning the wisdom of the Church Fathers, but the transition was for many a traumatic and somewhat ham-fisted one. Previous to the Council, I was an altar and choir boy at a diocesan cathedral and there was no priest or religious shortage then and there were more masses which were mostly filled. How that’s changed! 

The second half of the 20th century has been an incredible challenge for the Church, and I spent nearly two decades adrift, but in returning I discovered that the baby was not thrown out with the bath and that the Faith, the Sacraments, the Creed, and all that is the essence of Catholicism remains—and that is what is important. Virulent anti-catholicism fueled by a perceived post–Vatican II watering down of values—followed by the nightmare scandals of the past 15 years—serves as a roadblock to those who can’t see beyond it to what is really important: the Faith, the Hope, and the Way as entrusted to the Apostles with Peter as leader. Christ was perfect, but His Church comprised of us is imminently human and as such will always be subject to human failings. So while the one, true, holy, and apostolic church will change in form and suffer from human shortcomings, it is constant and unchanging in substance, and for me that is a source of gratitude and joy. 

It is not easy being Catholic, and it requires not only an act of faith but of will. I believe that as the pendulum begins to swing back to the middle, there will be a return of some souls to the Church and will certainly pray for this.