The Priest Who Saved My Soul

By Dan Flaherty It was the early summer of 2000. I was sitting in a pew inside Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, an 1897 architectural gem perched on Polish Hill in Pittsburgh. It would be fair to classify me as something of a lost soul. Immaculate Heart of Mary is a magnificent old church, its … Read more

American Demons

Ever wonder what happens to neglected children in a secular culture driven by materialism and devoid of integrity? David is now 22 years old, born and raised a nominal Christian in the American South. But as a teenager, he entered the shadowy world of the occult, through a portal in his computer. What David saw … Read more

Christmas Convert

By Brennan Doherty Photo by Fr Jeffrey Keyes This is a story about a Christmas Convert. It was not Christmas when I invited her. It was not an emotional kind of holiday experience.  Nonetheless, I learned later that the woman who had accompanied me to the traditional Latin Mass (the Dominican rite), this praise-and-worship, non-denominational … Read more

California Dreamin’: The Spiritual Exercises of an Expatriate German

by Alexander Niessen

Where do I begin?  How is it that I ‘m surrounded by all these men who do not talk to each other? Instead, they listen attentively to a man with a strong French accent who lectures us on primary responsibility and the basis of human life.  I am a expatriate German living in California, a lay Catholic who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s —  ‘Generation X,’ I suspect  — and I have never heard of these things.

What is ‘Sin’?

There’s something in your heart of hearts that screams that you’re doing something fundamentally wrong with your life. It seems like it is human nature.  Theologians would call this the “Moral Law.”

First, it’s a small discomfort that you can still easily ignore, like a spider’s web that you simply wipe away. But it always comes back, this discomfort and it is growing every day, until you finally realize that what is bothering you is not a discomfort but, ‘sin.’

Sin.  Every morning you wake up with the feeling.   It was not there before in your life and now it troubles you every day. Many people in Germany or indeed all over the western world are perhaps not even aware of this damage – the small and large scratches on your once so-pure soul.

We do not talk about sin in the Western world. Sin is medieval. Sin is in the past. Sin cannot harm us; we know everything — science and vague feelings keep our lives in balance and so can explain everything and make life bearable.

We moderns have a motto: Everything is Possible. Just carry on everything as usual. Only do not be disturbing, it is better for you and your fellow man.

photo(6)We do not talk about sin in the Western world. Sin is medieval. Sin is in the past. Sin cannot harm us; we know everything.

Difficulties on the Way to the Heavenly Spa

But how should I deal with my own guilt? Where should I look for help? My wife?  My friends from football at my favorite pub? Maybe I should just buy a glass pyramid or get a tattoo. Maybe that would help restore my inner harmony.

Here in California, we have the opportunity simply to change our religion until we arrive at the one that says “Do not worry, everything is good.”

Really? I think many have lost both their inner harmony and their awareness of their transgressions — both given to us by God. These feelings can be ‘worked out’ in so many ways today. You can start drinking, go to a psychologist, fitness-train like crazy or just go shopping.

I think that many who still believe in God today think that He is a God of great love, and that they’ll ‘be fine’ with God.  They think that their lives are not bad – they keep more or less to the law – and that at the end of their lives God will be waiting for them in heaven and welcome them into His Heavenly spa.

But these people probably will have difficulties with the assumption that everything will be OK. They are grounding their hope in the faith that this God of great love will say, “Well, I accept that things did not work out so good with you; but anyway, that was reasonably good.”

But if God is pure love, I do not think that there is ‘reasonably’ a chance for us to be in His presence and not connect 100 % with him and emulate His infinite love.  Can we ever reach this goal? I would say “no” simply because we are human — but we can try to aim as close as possible.

Perhaps a driving metaphor will work for both Germans and Californians, who love their cars. If you drive away from the light, you cannot see the dirt on the windshield. Only when you drive towards the light is it very obvious that you have accumulated a lot of dirt on your glass.

photo(6)Perhaps a driving metaphor will work for both Germans and Californians, who love their cars. If you drive away from the light, you cannot see the dirt on the windshield. Only when you drive towards the light is it very obvious that you have accumulated a lot of dirt on your glass.

At this point in a person’s life, everyone must determine for himself. It may be earlier for some; later for others. For some, it may never happen. Fortunately, I was brought up Catholic. By the grace of my parents, I was baptized into the One, Holy, Roman Catholic Church.

When the time came where I could no longer live under this burden of guilt, I had to put my whole conduct in question. I soon discovered that I was far away from my so-beautiful, original baptismal purity.  So I decided to align my life anew. I never left the Church, though I was a typical “gray Catholic.” But now I felt the need to change my life.

The Spiritual Exercises of a 16th Century Basque Saint

The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola have since the 16th century brought peace and healing to generations of Catholics. I set out to search for them as all moderns would – on the Internet. By American standards, the place was not so far away. For Europeans the ride was certainly very long, as was my own way back to Christ.

When I saw the house for the first time, I felt very uncomfortable. It was early in the morning, gray and rain-driven. A big house, a little run down. I sat there in the rain on the large gravel parking lot surrounded by wooded hills. Fog lay over the whole area and I felt like I was in a Stephen King book.

Should I really go inside and introduce myself? I still have time to say goodbye to the whole project. But I am by nature one of those people who once I have begun, I work very hard and perform to an end. So I walked into in the house.

A nice older nun has greeted me warmly. She then asked if this was my first Ignatian Exercise; it was. So we went over the rules: no talking during the whole retreat, no cell phone and no computer. One can only talk with the priest during the Exercises. Let the Holy Spirit work in you.

OchsenfurtI sat there in the rain on the large gravel parking lot surrounded by wooded hills. Fog lay over the whole area and I felt like I was in a Stephen King book.

No Talking, Please

OK, simple enough, I thought, though somewhat to my surprise these rules turned out to be in earnest. No “good morning” for breakfast. If you would like salt and pepper, you must indicate this by gesture only.  In the event you need something urgently, you must write it on a piece of paper and give it to the nice nun, who will then address your concern. For me, this is not a big problem. I’m okay without conversation.

We began at noon on the first day, and I was surprised. First, we had lectures about God by a Jesuit who is very holy and passionate. The classes are divided into two sections. The first phase explains the doctrinal viewpoint and its implication for human life and the second section is then the life and actions of Jesus Christ. These two classes are in harmony.

After each three-hour class, we returned to our wooded cabins. Mine, which was wonderfully situated in the forest, was called ‘Cecilia,’ for the Saint of Music.  Here, I began with a prayer and then reflected undisturbed about what I’d learned.

After 25 minutes, there is a bell announcing the beginning of the next session. After the second meeting, the day is then interrupted for a silent lunch and then we continue with the sessions three and four in the afternoon.

After dinner, there was Mass. All Masses are in Latin and so bring Christians to respect the Sacrifice of Christ far more than the normal Mass. A gorgeous liturgy which has survived, luckily for all of us.

So the days go by fast and each day is divided into specific aspects of life and work of Jesus.

On the first day, I found myself setting myself apart from my personal sin and its consequence – namely hell for my soul. But here there is not the slightest impression that everything is OK.

On the second day, we covered the imitation of Christ and intimate knowledge of how God is working through Jesus. On the third day, the saving grace of God, through the death of Jesus on the cross for all sinners who believe in Him. On the fourth day, we had contemplation on the joyful mysteries of Jesus in life. On day five, we followed up on the Apostles after they went out into the world to spread the Good News.

On all days, the priests used concrete examples. How would you behave – would you even sit with Jesus at the table of the Last Supper? What would you do if you could be with Jesus before his arrest in the Garden?

Featured2On the first day, I found myself setting myself apart from my personal sin and its consequence – namely hell for my soul. But here there is not the slightest impression that everything is OK.

Crying in the Confessional

On the third day was the time of confession. The priest whom I liked the most heard my confession. Wow, I cried. Not tears of sorrow, but tears of joy about the special grace of God which was given to me.

What a blessing these retreats are. The experience has changed my life and the lives of the people with whom I share my life. Now I know what the main responsibility and foundations are in a human life.

What is my primary responsibility? What is my earthly goal? First, to save my soul. Man is created to honor and serve God, and so his soul can go back to God. Second, all other things on the face of the earth are created for man to serve him in achieving this task. One can make use of them, insofar as they help one to attain one’s heavenly goal. Otherwise you have to renounce them, insofar as they represent an obstacle in the way of this.

Unfortunately, many people in Germany and in the Western world no longer know what the goal of human life is.  But there is a 16th Century Basque who can tell them.

koln4 Unfortunately, many people in Germany and in the Western world no longer know what the goal of human life is.  But there is a 16th Century Basque who can tell them.

An Atheist in Germany

Text and photos by Tamara Isabell

At the age of seventeen, I stumbled upon the idea of moral relativity. At that age, the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ seemed to be self-evidently pure abstractions. This almost immediately– probably inevitably — led me to atheism. 

It was 1989 and I was the only atheist I knew. I was ridiculously enamored of my own philosophizing and fancied myself bold and daring in my Godlessness.

It was 1989 and I was the only atheist I knew. I was ridiculously enamored of my own philosophizing and fancied myself bold and daring in my Godlessness.

Ten years later, I was the wife of an Army Aviation Officer, assigned to Germany. I fell in love with German culture from the beginning, fascinated by their rich artisanal history displayed in every archway and cobblestone, a history so lacking in our own American landscape. 

We wound up living in Germany almost fifteen years.  Two of our three children were born there. I became ever more fluent in German over the years, immersing myself by stages in community life, primarily through my eldest son, who spoke German from his earliest Kindergarten days and entered the Grundschule at the age of six.  My life centered around his school and play schedule, the mothers of his playmates becoming my dear friends.  

Most of those years were spent in or near Wuerzburg, “The City of Churches” in the Franconian wine region.  My daily errands were run in the midst of the most impressive architecture.  I loved to stop in the gaudy Hofkirche chapel of the Residenz, letting my eye follow the gilded swirls of Baroque exuberance, ever upward to the domed ceiling.  I regularly passed the 900 year old Dom (cathedral), hastening my steps past the looming skeletons above the side entrance. 

Though my everyday horizons were dominated by church domes and steeples, and my days were measured by church bells, I remained an atheist. I regarded it all with the academic curiosity of a museum-stroller, absorbing the beauty of the Christian world around me for its aesthetic value alone, never considering there might be more.

attachment8Though my everyday horizons were dominated by church domes and steeples, and my days were measured by church bells, I remained an atheist.

Almost all my German friends at this time were ‘Catholic.’  I found myself swept along in their customs, helping my son keep his candle lit against the wind in the children’s Laternezug honoring Saint Martin, allowing my house to be marked with a chalk blessing by neighbors dressed in Magi costumes on Three Kings Day. 

Through it all, I maintained a stubborn intellectual detachment.  I observed and participated with pleasure, but made a point to find it all very fascinating in a strictly anthropological sense. I was still an atheist, still proud to stand in opposition to religion in all its backward manifestations. 

Then a strange thing happened.  As the years went by and my appreciation for German culture deepened, I somehow found it harder to hold it at an academic arm’s length. 

Gaze long enough at a statue of Saint Denis, and you find yourself asking why he happens to be holding his head in his hands.  Surrounded by so much Christian art, I began to focus on recurrent themes and symbols. What were they all about?

Of course, like art enthusiasts before and after me, I initially explained such symbols in terms of mythology. I did this for many years, but those explanations ultimately could not satisfy because of the one overwhelming theme in Christian art, found nowhere else.

I refer here to the theme of suffering. Indeed, why does that stone saint hold his head in his hands?  Why will Saint Lucy persist in offering up her gouged eyes on a golden plate?  And what about Christ on the cross?

TrierpietaWhy does that stone saint hold his head in his hands?  Why will Saint Lucy persist in offering up her gouged eyes on a golden plate?  And what about Christ on the cross? 

I slowly started getting a sense of voices from the medieval past; it was as if they were trying to communicate with me through the paintings and statues they’d left behind.  I began to wonder if the structures they’d erected stood as a testimony to something, perhaps something other than the patriarchal Church-state I’d always disdained.  I developed a nagging sense that evil could not be the creator of such beauty. 

At this point, God injected Himself pointedly into my life, revealing His truth through conversations with devout Catholics and the writings of long-dead Saints.  Sadly, I could only find reasoned arguments for Catholicism and encouragement to convert amongst my American acquaintances.  My German friends seemed clueless.

God injected Himself pointedly into my life, revealing His truth through conversations with devout Catholics and the writings of long-dead Saints.

I’ll never forget that first shy inquiry I made to a German about going to Mass — and my shock when she told me they weren’t going to Mass that Sunday or pretty much any Sunday after that.  Most of my German friends who’d appeared so very Catholic to me in their customs only attended Mass on holidays, or for baptisms and other sacramental rites. 

I had to go to my American Catholic friends to find unabashed, joyful evangelization.  Still, the seeds of my conversion were planted amidst the remnants of truth radiating through the beauty of German Catholic culture.  I will be forever grateful to that country and its people for striking the spark that ultimately illuminated my life though Christ.

attachment6Most of my German friends who’d appeared so very Catholic to me in their customs only attended Mass on holidays, or for baptisms and other sacramental rites. I had to go to my American Catholic friends to find unabashed, joyful evangelization.

 

Firefighter, Paramedic, Veteran & Father

A Christmas Journey Home

Q: How old are you ? What do you do for a living ?
A: I am a 43 year old professional firefighter/paramedic in Texas.

Q: How old were you when you left the Church ?
A: Having been poorly catechized and brought up nominally Catholic, “the drift” began in my late teens.  My sister was sent to an all-girls Catholic high school, but my Dad felt I was beyond the local Jesuits’ abilities and sent me to a military academy based on the United States Marine Corps.  As a result, I was never confirmed, but I did perfect the “About Face” with which I would eventually perform upon my Catholic Faith.  

Q: Why did you leave the Church?
A: I was drawn away from the Church by all the worldly pleasures: wine, women, song (not my own… I have a horrible singing voice).  I entered the military and declared myself “Catholic”, but it was nothing more than a stamp on my dog-tags.  I did not practice my faith in any way, shape, or form. 

Q. Did you try other churches?
A. As I meandered through life in my 20’s and 30’s, I wandered from church to church in the Protestant world.  The large city I live in here in Texas is chock-full of big box evangelical Churches, so I did what all the other young people did.  I church-hopped, seeking the most entertaining preacher, and the best looking female attendees.

Q: Why did you return to the Church?
A: As I neared the end of my 30’s, I met a young lady and got married.  We had our first child, a son.  I had to do some soul-searching, some self-determination as to what sort of HUSBAND I want to be…what sort of FATHER I want to be.  What sort of example shall I set, and what sort of legacy shall I leave behind ? Looking down at the little guy changed EVERYTHING.  IT is said that having a child changes your world (I nominate that for “understatement of the year” !), and it most surely did mine. 

Q. How did this happen?
A. One day at the fire station, having walked in that day without the slightest inkling of “becoming Catholic” again, I had a MAJOR reversion.  Out of nowhere, as I was sitting in my room, I felt an inner call to action.  It was profound and authentic.  Over the next 3 hours, I had:

  • Enrolled in my local RCIA
  • Begun the annulment process for my previous marriage
  • Ordered my sacramental records from the Archdiocese of the Military Services
  • Ordered a stack of Catholic books from Amazon

Q: How did your family react to your reversion?
A: Boy, did I boggle some minds ! My wife was not thrilled about it, as her family is staunchly Methodist, with a light sprinkling of “but they worship statues” seasoning. My Mom was excited about it, as I was finally allaying her regret about not getting me confirmed.  She is still a practicing Catholic. My Dad, however, is fallen-away and was a little more hostile to the idea.  He grew up in Catholic schools in Philadelphia in the 50’s and then Villanova University but had completely lost his Catholic Faith along the way. 

Q. How do they feel now?
A: Though my Dad was a little more apathetic towards my reversion, he has certainly warmed up to the idea of it now. He’s even expressed occasional interest in my current activities with RCIA sponsorship, Knights of Columbus, and my spiritual director who is in Opus Dei and a fellow Villanova man. I am trying to subtly but confidently witness my Catholic Faith to my Dad.  Now THAT would be a reversion!!

Q: Where do you attend Mass?
A: Actually, I go to a Maronite Catholic Church.  I love the Maronite Liturgy, so reverent and ancient — in Aramaic, the language of Jesus. 

Q. You’ve taken a new interest in liturgy?
A. Yes, when time permits, I go to the local FSSP Parish, Mater Dei. The Latin Mass is simply AWESOME.  The Novus Ordo parish I was attending had 30,000 parishioners and I just didn’t like the guitars, holding hands, and hugging across the pews.  It was usually very irreverent, in my humble opinion. I find the Maronite Mass and the Extraordinary Form (Tridentine Mass) to be AWE-INSPIRING.  You feel connected to the Early Church Fathers in the “Mass of All Ages”.
 
People say, “But I don’t understand Latin.  The Novus Ordo in the local vernacular helps people understand the Mass”. Well, my response to that is this: First I would hardly say people “understand the Mass” these days, as statistics show 75%+ of Catholics don’t even believe in the Real Presence. If people “understood the Mass”, they would not be dressing in beachwear for the Holy Sacrifice of the Altar. And second, if you don’t understand Latin, do what Catholics USED to do: BUY A MISSAL.

Q. Do you have a Christmas message you would like to shout out to Regina readers?
A. Yes. I attribute my journey into Traditional Catholicism to surrounding myself by authentic Catholics who LIVE and LOVE their faith.  I humbly thank them for guiding me Home.

How Joan Came Home

The Story of a Soul

by Roseanne T. Sullivan

What brings people back to church, after many years – in some cases an entire lifetime – of estrangement? This story of a California woman’s ‘reversion’ may shed some light on the mystery that so many priests encounter.

In 2006, Joan Raphael was a thoroughly modern woman.  A nurse who had led a widely-traveled, adventurous life, Joan had been away from the Catholic Church for over 40 years. While she’d grown up with the Latin Mass, there hadn’t been any traumatic break; she’d simply been raised by relatives who didn’t practice their faith.

One Sunday back in 1969, however, Joan decided she wanted to go to Mass. She didn’t even make it through the church door, however; the radical changes that greeted her were so appalling.

“It was gutted!” she recalls. The sound of guitar music and singing shocked her. “They’d brought the 60s into the church!”

Repelled, she’d turned on her heel and never returned.  Many years later, however, she’d had a spiritual experience walking along the boardwalk in California.

IMG_20130414_181240_2

Repelled, she’d turned on her heel and never returned.  Many years later, however, she’d had a spiritual experience walking along the boardwalk in California.

“It was a spectacular day…..sky and sea azure — perfect like an artist’s idealized rendition of the seaside.” She realized in all of her being that day that she was surrounded by God’s love. She was filled with “a great gratitude to God for all He has given me, with no way to express it.”

That feeling of gratitude ‘with no satisfactory way to express it’ stayed with Joan for many years, until she learned that the Mass that she once known and loved was back.

The Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in Santa Clara, California, is run by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.
The Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, in Santa Clara, California, is run by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest.

In 2006, Joan’s interest was piqued by news of a Traditional Latin Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Peace in Santa Clara, CA. But when she arrived, she was told that the Bishop had just moved the Mass to the Oratory of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, also in Santa Clara.

“What’s the address?” she’d asked, all the while wondering what an Oratory actually was.  (Editor’s Note: An oratory is a place of prayer other than a parish that is set aside by ecclesiastical authority for prayer and celebration of the Mass.)

In anticipation of the Motu Proprio of 2007, Bishop Patrick McGrath of the Diocese of San Jose had accepted the offer of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, which is dedicated to the traditional Latin Liturgy of 1962 for the Mass and the other sacraments, to provide a priest canon to serve as rector to the oratory. Because the Oratory would be permitted to offer traditional Latin Masses on Sundays, weekdays, feast days, and holydays, with all the sacraments available in the traditional rite, this new arrangement was to be a big improvement.  (Previously, Masses were only allowed by the bishop once a month on First Saturday evenings.)

Joan attended her first Mass in decades on January 1, 2007. By chance, it was the first day that the Diocese recognized the chapel as an oratory.

“I sat in the last pew and was in tears during most of the Mass,” she remembers. “My soul recognized that the Mass is the highest form of worship on earth, full of beauty, reverence and full attention on God.”

IMG_4904

“I sat in the last pew and was in tears during most of the Mass,” she remembers.

She remembered that as a child, she’d been awed by the beautiful statues in Catholic churches, the incense, and the solemnity. The choir music uplifted her, and the powerful sound of the organ resonated in her body and her soul. The grandeur of the surroundings made her feel diminutive, and she knew that was the right way for her to feel in God’s house. No one spoke above a whisper.  “It was clear that God was worshiped in that beautiful place.”

Soon after her experience of the TLM, Joan went to Confession for the first time in decades.

“The priest was overjoyed,” she recalls. He told her the saints in heaven were rejoicing too.  “I cried like a child. It was a wonderful experience–to unburden my soul of my sins and to feel accepted back into the real Church. I attended all the Masses offered during the next week and the next. It was a glorious time.”

IMG_5052

Soon after her experience of the TLM, Joan went to Confession for the first time in decades.“The priest was overjoyed,” she recalls. He told her the saints in heaven were rejoicing too. 

More than six years later, Joan hasn’t left yet. Some friends at the parish joke that she is at the Oratory so often for Masses, devotions, social activities, rehearsing and singing with the choir, buying and arranging the altar flowers, and helping out in many other ways, that she practically lives there.

But that is okay with Joan. At the Tridentine Mass she feels God’s presence, just as she did on that glorious day on the beach. But at this Mass she could feel Him even more intensely present, while He was “accepting the sacrifice of His Son.”

Here at last Joan could worship God as He deserved.

IMG_0083

Friends joke that Joan is at the Oratory so often for Masses, devotions, social activities, rehearsing and singing with the choir, buying and arranging the altar flowers, and helping out in many other ways, that she practically lives there.

TALES FROM THE JOURNEY HOME Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl — Both become Catholic and have a family!

It was my senior year of public high school, in Cullman, AL, 1991. I remember clearly, walking the school sidewalk, on a sunny, warm afternoon, towards my favorite class of the day. Always a grand time, our Art teacher, allowed us to work at our own pace, socialize, and often joined in our discussions. This … Read more