No Word but Conversion

No Word but Conversion March 16, 2024

a close-up of the San Damiano crucifix
image via Pixabay

It’s so hard to find any words just now.

After I’ve been sick, the last thing to come back online is my writing brain.

I was sick for a week, and then I had a bout of terrible insomnia that made it impossible to function normally. That’s how my chronically ill body often responds to being sick. After that I sleep too much for a few days, and then I go on a hike, and eventually the words come back.

I am having a terrible time trying to find words for anything, just now.

I am picking away at my Lives of the Saints project and it’s nearly done. Those words are relatively easy.  “A Jesuit priest and theologian.” “After she was widowed, she became a nun.” “martyred by beheading after bears refused to eat him.”

As I pick at the project, I pray. Quick little injunctions. “Pray for me.” “Help me.” “You sound awful.” “I don’t think we’re going to get along at all.” “Please can you help me?” Those words come out as well.

I wake up in the morning and feel terrified for the first twenty minutes or so. It’s that same terrible feeling that has been dogging me for the past few years, the feeling that I’m going to hell. I already understand that it’s a consequence of spiritual abuse. Many people who get away from cults and cultlike religious movements end up feeling this way. It isn’t from God and it’s not my fault, which is a relief. But I don’t like it.

I would like to make peace with God– the real one, the one Who is love, the one Who is as sick as I am about what was done in the Charismatic Renewal. I’ve explained as much to that God. I’m not sure if they’ve answered yet. But I am really sure that I want it. I guess that’s the beginning of an answer.

When I get the chance to get away, I go to that chapel out at the hospital. There’s never anybody there. They haven’t even bothered to take the Advent wreath away. It feels safe. If only the hospital weren’t crawling with San Damiano crucifixes– I hate them because they remind me of Franciscan University and all the horror and madness there.

I haven’t had any great big revelations lately. I just stare at Him in the tabernacle for a few minutes, and then I leave.

I keep thinking again and again that I have no idea what Catholicism is really like. I know this one single movement that claimed to be the whole of of Catholicism, the only right way to be Catholic. That certain type of piety that harkens back to the 1950s, bled together with the histrionics and abuse of the Charismatic Renewal, comingled with the mass hysteria of Apparition Culture and the simpering cruelty of Republican politics: that was fed to me as the one way to Christ. And now it’s all fallen apart, for me. It’s gotten quite a bit of egg on its face in the world in general, but there will always be people taken in. Franciscan University grows its student body every year, after all. There’s nothing I can do about that. The movement will continue to devour people and I can’t save them. But I won’t go back in.

I have no allies in my quest. Not in Steubenville. There is only me, and Jesus.

And here I am trying to fumble for words again, when none seem quite right. I don’t know what this is. “Deconstruction” doesn’t seem to cut it.

Maybe the word is “conversion.”

I want nothing to do with a god who intended for me to get trapped in Steubenville. But if Steubenville is the place I got trapped by accident, and the place where the whole cultural vortex surrounding Steubenville Catholicism was shaken off of me, leaving only Christ standing there without any idols, maybe this can be a blessed place. If this is the place where God rushed in to meet me when He realized I’d been taken in by a cult that said “Lord, Lord,” but had nothing to do with Him, I could love that God. Maybe this is my San Damiano, where Christ will speak and tell me to rebuild a crumbling church. Or maybe not.

I thought “conversion” would look so very different.

I wonder if it always looks this strange.

That’s what I’ve been doing when I should have been writing.

That’s the reason for all the radio silence.

I’ll try to have something more for you this weekend.


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.





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