There are a number of readers here who have decided intellectually that becoming a Catholic Christian is what they want to do with their lives. Others, who were Catholics at one time, find themselves yearning to return home. Yet both groups hesitate to join the Church.
It takes courage and faith to decide to cut away from your family, or your spouse, and heed the call to put into action these words from St. Paul: So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.(Philippians 2:12-13)
Obey. That word was ringing in my ears.
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
As in the day of Massah in the wilderness,
When your fathers tested Me,
They tried Me, though they had seen My work. (Psalm 95: 8-9)
When I was facing this crossroads of my faith back in the fall of 2007, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had not been living the Christian faith to the best of my ability. I also knew that I should and that I wanted to do so. I knew, as Webster wrote in his post on Kristen Lavransdatter, that I wanted my life to revolve around the Church calendar. I wanted to be like the scholar of the Law who told Our Lord in Luke 10:27,
Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, with all of your strength and all of your mind. And love your neighbor as yourself.
—and really mean it and live it.
But when the question of what to do about all this came to the fore, I found the resolve to decide to take action when reading these words Thomas à Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ (Book Two, “The Interior Life,” Chapter 1, “Meditation”):
Give place, then, to Christ, but deny entrance to all others, for when you have Christ you are rich and He is sufficient for you. He will provide for you. He will supply your every want, so that you need not trust in frail, changeable men. Christ remains forever, standing firmly with us to the end.
Who is deciding this question for me? Am I walking on eggshells for fear of being ostracized by my friends or family? I am an adult, independent, on my own. Whom am I seeking to please, man or God?
Do not place much confidence in weak and mortal man, helpful and friendly though he be; and do not grieve too much if he sometimes opposes and contradicts you. Those who are with us today may be against us tomorrow, and vice versa, for men change with the wind. Place all your trust in God; let Him be your fear and your love. He will answer for you; He will do what is best for you.
This is what I needed to read. My experiences in life bore the truth of these statements out. Trust in the Lord. When I was growing up, I knew I was called to serve in the military as my vocation. I also knew that I didn’t want to be a Marine. Too tough, too difficult, too much sacrifice, I thought to myself. And as high school graduation was coming up, I still felt that way—until I met a Marine recruiter. Much as I would when researching the writings of the Early Church Fathers and the reading from the Harvard Five Foot Shelf of Books, I read The US Marine Corps Story by J. Robert Moskin. After doing so, I knew I had no real choice but to be a Marine.
I was young, weak and frail, tall, but skinny—hardly an imposing physical specimen. But while sitting in an airport I saw a Marine walk by, and I thought I didn’t want to be wearing the uniform of a soldier and wondering if I could have been one of those guys. When facing the prospect of living the Christian life to the fullest, all my research pointed to the Catholic Church as being the true repository of the Faith. As I saw it, there was no choice to make but to become a Catholic. And this is only my humble opinion. As Thomas (we’re on a first-name basis) continues,
You have here (in the world) no lasting home. You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ.
Ain’t this the truth? And isn’t this where the Eucharist comes in? Absolutely, in my mind. And from all the evidence, this is what the early Christians knew and believed too.
Thomas says in Chapter 2 of Book Two, a short chapter called Humility, which, quite honestly, cut me to the quick:
Be not troubled about those who are with you or against you, but take care that God be with you in everything you do. Keep your conscience clear and God will protect you, for the malice of man cannot harm one whom God wishes to help. If you know how to suffer in silence, you will undoubtedly experience God’s help. He knows when and how to deliver you; therefore, place yourself in His hands, for it is a divine prerogative to help men and free them from all distress.
“Place yourself in His hands.” Yes, get off your high horse, I thought to myself, and just start this process. Damn the torpedoes! I was (and still have the propensity to be) prone to the sin of pride. I don’t think there is a single Marine who isn’t susceptible to this! Hadn’t pride kept me from being a Catholic all along? Yes! But now I realized that I had to give something up in order to truly walk the Christian life to the fullest extent possible. I had to die to self in order to become a Catholic. I had to be obedient to the Truth.
It is often good for us to have others know our faults and rebuke them, for it gives us greater humility. When a man humbles himself because of his faults, he easily placates those about him and readily appeases those who are angry with him.
As I read these words to myself, all of these titles came to mind: Frank the Sinner, the Soldier, the Saint, the Father, the Son, the Brother, the Fallible, the Weak, the Worthy, the Fearless, the Fearful, the Prideful, the Lustful, the Fallen. I could go on because, if anything, I am not one-dimensional. I am all of these traits and more. Now I can add the Saved, the Restored, and the Humble to the list, as well as Defender of the Faith. And I am working hard to keep the Humble as my main title. Because as I have learned,
It is the humble man whom God protects and liberates; it is the humble whom He loves and consoles. To the humble He turns and upon them bestows great grace, that after their humiliation He may raise them up to glory. He reveals His secrets to the humble, and with kind invitation bids them come to Him. Thus, the humble man enjoys peace in the midst of many vexations, because his trust is in God, not in the world. Hence, you must not think that you have made any progress until you look upon yourself as inferior to all others.
Liberation is what I craved. And peace in the midst of many vexations. Being a good Christian is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do. It is a daily struggle. Being a Marine was a cake walk compared to walking the narrow path of Christianity.
Catholic Christianity, with the Sacraments, and the fullness of her teaching, her authority, her history, and her parish communities, gives me the best way to endure the trials that are thrown at me daily as a Christian in the modern age. The Church helps me endure these trials and overcome them, while guiding me with authority down the path of salvation.
Just look at the work of the Catholic Church today. How is it not the living embodiment of the Christian ideal? What other institution on the planet has the audacity to continue pursuing the Christian ideal while being unrepentant about it? Despite the sins and failures of many of her individual members? When seemingly the whole world questions the Christian ideal and discards it or attempts to reinvent it?
It is countercultural; it is contrary to the ways of the world; it upset my immediate family—but for me to actually start living The Way, I had to join the outfit where Our Lord started it all,
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19)
In Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, written around 500 B.C., he states the following,
It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
If you are like I was, then wait along the banks of the Tiber no longer. “If you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles,” especially when you know where your only true ally in this world is. She is over there, in St. Peter’s Square, and a few miles from your home.