epiphany

I’ve been trying to describe how I got from agnostic to Christian in 17 very long agonizing years. So far that tale begins with the posting “Gotta get it out of my mind,” and continues with “Me and St. Augustine,” “Maternal instincts,” and “The 5th Joyful Mystery.”

In “The 5th Joyful Mystery” I talk about Pascal’s Wager. The premise of the wager being that either there is a God and eternal life, or there is no God and no eternal life. Everyone bets one way or the other, and either you win or you lose. If there is a God, but you bet against it, then you lose big time. If there is no God, but you bet that there was a God, then you lose, but what do you care – you’re just dead. So, the only logical wager is to bet that there is a God and live your life accordingly. And, Pascal believes that if you live your life accordingly, then you will eventually obtain the faith as well.

In the last few weeks, I have been amazed at how many people actually try to complicate this concept of God or no God. An atheist friend says that the question of God or no God is only a valid discussion within the framework of religion and once you remove that framework , the question of God’s existence becomes irrelevant. Hmmm. All I can say is that one can cover his eyes, ears and mouth, but that does not remove the possibility that he can see, hear or taste.

Other people think that an Eastern mystical experience is superior to the boring God of Christianity. Dig deeper. You won’t know how deep the water is unless you jump in. So far, I haven’t found the bottom.

I fell into Pascal’s wager without knowing it. I started to act like a Catholic, and became one.

But the blinding flash came nearly 2 years later.

I was going to church, most of the time. I was reading about the Catholic faith. I was pretending that the Catholic doctrine was THE TRUTH, and PRAYING that I would actually believe it. I started praying the rosary…and reading about the rosary (here is where I laugh at transcendental meditation…I didn’t need to go outside Catholicism to find it, it was here the whole time!).

And then for Christmas 1999, Bill gave me a guide to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He knew that I was very interested in learning the faith, and he happened to find this book while doing last minute shopping for me. The guide is designed to help you read the entire Catechism in one year (in just 15 minutes a day!). January 1st, 2000, I began to read it.

By mid-February (about 6 weeks into the program), I had the blinding flash. OK, I wasn’t blinded, and I didn’t hear Jesus’ voice asking why I was persecuting him. But it was an intense moment anyway.

How does it feel to suddenly have all the blinders lifted? What is it like to suddenly have one grace-filled moment when you look in the mirror and see a true image of yourself and get a glimpse of God in that image?

Let me say this: woe to he who first sees this image after death. Seeing yourself, truly seeing yourself, is not a pretty sight. It is repulsive. It is horrible. It takes some time to deal with this reality. If I had to decide in that instant: life with God or life without God, I would surely have chosen life WITHOUT God. I found myself so unworthy. How could I possibly allow myself to join God and sully heaven? The angels and saints would have rent their clothes with my entrance to their beautiful world.

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The Fifth Joyful Mystery

The Fifth Joyful Mystery
Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple

41Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49″Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.

Our Father…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Hail Mary…
Glory Be…
O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of Hell, and lead all souls to Heaven, especially those most in need of Thy mercy. Amen.

Thank you for praying a decade of the rosary with me.

This mystery has special meaning for me. It made so much more sense to me after I found the Rosetta Stone.

I spent so long rejecting the Catholic Church as wrong…it was the last place I would have thought to find the meaning of life. But when Fritz was born, I needed to figure out the meaning of life ASAP. I wanted the best of everything for my child, and felt he deserved a solid moral foundation and true purpose to life. I didn’t know how long it might take me to find that purpose myself, but decided that trying to impose newly discovered rules or rites on a teenager was not going to work. I’m not stupid; I know that parents can be the primary influences on a developing child’s life – but I couldn’t wait 10 or 15 years to exert that influence.

I read something a few years ago – post-conversion – which described a theory by Paschal…Paschal’s Challenge, I think it was called? The theory (not a mathematical theory) said that if someone wanted to have faith, all he had to do was ACT as though he did have faith and within a year, he would see an increase in that faith. Had I known of this challenge, I might never have acted as I did for fear that I might become truly Catholic. But not knowing this theory, this is what I did:

I needed structure “for Fritz”, I thought. I decided that I would adopt the Catholic faith in it’s entirety and raise my child accordingly. In the meantime, I would get my hands on everything Catholic that I could find (boy, there’s a lot of information) and learn as much as possible about this faith (despite being raised Catholic I was REALLY IGNORANT of the faith) in order to accept or reject every tenet one by one. I also started to pray that God (if there was One) would enlighten me. I also prayed that I could have a simple faith like Bill had. It would have certainly made my life easier.

So, I assumed the Catholic Church was RIGHT, until I could prove it WRONG. I prayed for faith. And I acted as though I had it. I was doing Paschal’s Challenge without realizing it.

I started looking for Jesus in the Temple.

maternal instincts

So, for 17 years I tried to find the meaning of life.

It was a bad 17 years. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was a self-described pessimist. Cynical. Critical. Sarcastic.

The good times were when I was sure that there WAS a meaning of life, but was frustrated by my inability to grasp it. At least I had a bit of hope.

The bad times were when I was convinced that life was a sham with no meaning, no purpose. There was no God. There was no life after death. Life was just one big joke.

I remember thinking, “I don’t know what the meaning of life is, but I know it’s not THAT!” – meaning, not the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic, but felt it was all about checking the blocks: 1) Go to church on Sunday…CHECK. 2) Go to confession once a year…hmmm…sometimes? 3) Don’t eat meat on Friday…CHECK. 4) Get married in the church…CHECK. 5) Try to follow the Golden Rule…CHECK. 6) Raise kids Catholic to check the same blocks…wellll….

And here’s where my cynicism and angst met a most formidable foe: my maternal instinct.

Holding a new life in my arms, I made a solemn pledge to myself to do whatever was in his best interests no matter the sacrifice. I would protect him from harm. I would give him every advantage and opportunity I could afford. I would develop his talents. I would challenge his mind.

If money were tight, I would wear old shoes and ripped winter coats.
If food were scarce, I would eat scraps so he would have a nutritious meal.

And so, my decision to breastfeed.
And so, my great anxiety at putting him in daycare because I couldn’t afford to stop working.
And so, my decision to scrimp and save to get out of debt so I could afford to stop working.
And so, my decision to homeschool.

But what about religion?

Of course I would raise him Catholic. I always thought I would raise my children in the faith I and my husband were raised, more from a perspective of discipline than true faith. But if I want what is BEST for my child, doesn’t my child deserve the best “religion” whatever that may be.

And an even scarier thought that developed through a long argument with myself: Let’s suppose that there is one true God. Let’s suppose that God established rules for us to follow with consequences for failure and rewards for success. Let’s suppose that there is life after death and following God allows you to spend eternity in “heaven” and rejecting God means you spend eternity in “hell.” If all this is true…where am I going?

Well, does God have a yardstick? Does God have scales of Justice? If there are rules, am I following them?

If I had only myself to worry about, then I might hope for a death-bed conversion. Live my life the way I want to, and then change when death became near (at least hope to be able to). But now I had a child to worry about. I’m not stupid. I know that the choices I make will affect my children their whole lives.

Bigots beget bigots.
Criminals beget criminals.
Cynics beget cynics.

Do I want my child to be a cynic like me?

Misery loves company. But I’ve never wished for anyone else to suffer as I did while I searched for meaning to life. Do I want my children to suffer like that?

Of course not.

By the way, I don’t think the child of a bigot is pre-destined to become a bigot…everyone has the opportunity to break free from the influences of their upbringing. But we all have a hard time dealing with those shackles. What shackles do I intend to put on my child?

Joy. Peace. Charity. Faith. Hope.

So, I really decided that my quest for the meaning of life had to become the most important thing in my life. What good is the best education for my child, if my lack of faith condemned him to a life without a higher meaning and possibly condemned him to eternal hell?

Now if all those assumptions I laid out were wrong – for example, if there was no life after death – then so what? Yeah, I suppose life might be “more fun” if there were no eternal consequences, and I suppose I and my progeny might live our lives striving for something that was all a lie. Horrors. But really? If faith in God led Mother Teresa to sacrifice so greatly to help the poor, was this really a waste? Can one not objectively state that her life, regardless of her eternal reward, was a wonderful life? She had no fancy clothes, no TV, no silk sheets for her bed…but she had joy and love.

Shortly before he dies, Moses asks the Israelites: which do you choose: life or death? I choose life!

OK, but that was when I was 27. I didn’t “find the rosetta stone” until I was 29. What took so long?

Duty calls. More another time.

me and St. Augustine

I read yesterday that St. Monica prayed, cried and begged God for 17 years for her son’s conversion before he finally did convert. It took me 17 years too. Must be a special number.

I searched for the meaning of life from age 12 until age 29, when I woke up. It was a wonderful thing.

Of course, finding the Rosetta Stone didn’t mean that I suddenly knew everything. I still continue my journey of faith. After all, I have 2000 years of CHRISTIAN writing to get through…plus at least 2000 years of JEWISH writing and tradition to digest. My life will not be long enough.