A Young Frenchman Finds the Faith
1. How old are you?
I am turning 25 year old in two weeks. It feels very strange.
2. What do you do for a living?
I am looking for a job, living at my parents’
3. Where do you live?
4. What faith tradition were you raised in?
I was raised a Roman Catholic. It was a lot of “folkloric traditions” because of the environment, yet Faith abounded thanks to my mother, and grand-parents. Then I guess I became a kind of ignorant deist teenager. I was given a catholic Faith and a catholic culture, but I knew very little of the Catechism.
5. What initially attracted you to the Catholic Church?
The attacks against the personality and work of John-Paul II in the French media as he was on the threshold of death. I was aware that this was more likely to be an identity reaction, yet it led me to look deeper into Faith, Catholicism, the Church, Mary and eventually, Jesus. Two years after the death of Blessed John-Paul II, my mother passed away. It is her who had transmitted to me the treasure of faith, as a young child. She had lost a baby when I was 4 year old and this made me very aware of life and death issues at a very early age. One day I will remember all my life, I thought my mother would die instantly. She had been suffering from cancer for a very little while. I was holding her hand and praying to Mary, without counting the number of Ave Maria. “Do what you want, I don’t know what to ask, do what you want.” The doctor abruptly told me she would be dead within two or three hours. Well, she woke up the following morning and we had 4 days together to talk about life and death, and to cope with the situation. Because of our family culture, we had never talked about this before and these 4 salutary days have most certainly enlightened what would become the rest of my life without my mother. When she passed away, I realised that if my faith (and therefore my entire self) would crumble, the whole family would crumble as well. I told Jesus that I was mad, that I didn’t understand, yet I knew I would understand one day and that I kept faith. “I don’t say much, but I’m still there”, I was telling our Lord. In the meantime, I was talking to His blessed mother, because even in time of distress, in the “night of faith” as Blessed Mother Teresa says, I have never stopped talking to the Holy Mother of God. I was given the strength to stand firm in Church during her funeral, the Church was packed, and some people came to tell me how amazed they were to see me holding strong at this very moment. My grand-father was very faithful and said he had had a vision of the Virgin Mary in the church during the funeral ceremony. I obviously never made fun of what was in the heart and mind of my 85 year old grand-father who was burying his daughter. The death of my mother, which could have been absolute darkness and shadow, became a source of light thanks to Jesus. He overcame the grave, and he helped me overcome my mother’s death. This is how I started reading more and more about the teachings and philosophy of Our Holy Mother the Church. It wasn’t a conversion, but a confirmation.
6. Did you have erroneous ideas about the Church before you converted? If so, what were they?
Of course, I am a kid of my time so I thought the Church was just about clinging to some old rituals no one (especially I) understood, an institution scared by the world and modernity. Also, who were these people, their leaders, who claimed being better than everyone else while they were facing huge morality problems? Now I know I was wrong and incredibly superficial in my approach to the Church. The Church is not a business, it’s not a political party. However right the Church is isn’t reflected by support rates and polls. Like many kids, as a teen I slowly lost interest in this complicated thing that didn’t seem in tune with the world. I now know it shouldn’t be in tune! I would like to share two quotes which I attempted to translate into English. In June, 2012, Pope Benedict said the Church “is not a community of perfect people, but of sinners who must acknowledge that they need God’s love and that they need to be purified by the Cross of Jesus Christ.” A famous French philosopher, Fabrice Hadjadj, a convert to Catholicism, (who was born in a Tunisian Jewish household in Paris and grew up a Marxist atheist…) wrote in “La foi des démons” (the faith of demons) : “Dostoievski believed in the following tale: “Roman Catholicism sold Christ against the kingdom of the earth” as he wrote in his Journal. He believed that the Pope thought he was Caesar. He could not see that the supreme pontificate was the climax of the Incarnation, the counterweight of flesh to all ideologies, which makes the faithfuls gather not just around an ideology, but also around a man with a face, a personal history, because the Love of God cannot be separated from the Love of the other, and that the voice of Christ the teacher must be heard in the voice of this magistral other, the Holy Father.”
7. How did your friends and family react to your conversion?
Those who knew me just realised I was going very deep into things and respected i. Some who had lost the faith asked me to pray for them. Some took it for granted and thought I had always been like this. Some judged negatively, just as our earthly world would condemn real faithfuls for following someone else than them… Also, one has to know that France has always, always, always experienced a kind of inner struggle involving Christianity. It has always evolved with time, it has taken the form of different political, social, ideological struggles, but it is still there. Some historians talk about “the war of the two Frances”. Nowadays, being a Christian, you are very likely to be considered as an old fashioned bigot who hates gays. Why? Because we have another position with regards to desires, consumption, identity, life, etc. We don’t think our desires and what we consume, be it sexually, define our fundamental identity. The world doesn’t like that. Also people will think women are badly treated in Catholicism, and that our adherence to the Church’s teachings on sex life, and therefore condoms, AIDS and abortion, are the source of all the ills of the world… A lot of positivity though. The new friends I have gained at the catholic chaplaincy of my university have always been a strong support, even unknowingly.
8. Do you attend the Novus Ordo or the traditional Latin Mass?
Novus Ordo, and I enjoy TLM too. One day in Lourdes, I was entertaining old patients at the hospital, and a group of young volunteers said “oh, let’s go to the latin mass at 6pm!” I was surprised by the number of people who wanted to go to the Latin Mass. I had never come across a group of youths who were glad to run to mass, even We had to walk across the bridge, the huge square and climb the abrupt way of the cross leading to the Chapel where the latin mass was celebrated. It started pouring, rain was heavy and we had to run our way up the way of the cross not to be late. When we entered the chapel, a magnificent and graceful silence welcomed us. We were wet from head to toes, and all kneeled to offer a time of prayer before the mass would start. It was my first real traditional latin mass and it really felt like another dimension. Deo Gratias!
9. Are you involved in your parish? If so, how? I have been more involved in parish charities in the past. There’s not much activity going on right now, unfortunately.
10. Do you find that most Catholics are well-catechized?
Most baptised Catholics are not catechized at all. During my childhood, the catechism lessons looked more like hippie godless fun for kids than a real serious transmission of the teachings of Jesus. A one year project was to build a carriage out of a shoebox. We learnt a song about it. Some catechism “teachers” boasted around for being modern and managing one hour of catechism without speaking about Jesus. Yes, I know it sounds absurd, this is what you gain from conforming to the world. Now most of these people have lost the little faith they had and are vulnerable to the attacks of the fake christs and the fake prophets Jesus tells us about in the Bible. Yet I keep hope. Jesus always wins.
11. Did you take Rite of Christian Initiation classes? If so, tell us something about your experience there.
It didn’t exist. I remember some classes where we had to debate, and the obligatory conclusion was “Well, society isn’t Catholic anymore, but catholic values such as the respect for humanity prevail.” Yes, I was in a Catholic high school. (CINO, Catholic In Name Only, I often think…) I have high doubts with regards to the Christian respect for life (for the unborn, the innocents, and the elder) being present in society, I do not see them actually prevailing in the world, on the contrary.
12. To what extent was the witness of Catholics (clergy and/or laity) instrumental in your conversion?
The faith of my grand-father who would read the Bible everyday, and cry when speaking of Jesus or receiving the Eucharist, his strength in faith, no matter the world and the pain; the faith of my mother; the activity of my university’s chaplain, the courage of John Paul II, the humility of Benedict XVI, the incredible vitality of Pope Francis have always and continue to comfort my confirmation in faith.
13. If you could offer advice to Catholics who wish to help others convert, what would you say?
Pray! Be happy! Learn to fast! Don’t show off but don’t hide your faith! Pray, pray and pray.