I was walking
Through a forest
In an open field I saw an
There, a group of bright,
Smiling people were,
I should say they were
For they were dancing and
A destination I could not see
They were happy and danced
You could sense the grace in
I had never seen such beauty
A young girl noticed me
She danced to me and
Took my hand
She was not afraid that I was
I balked but she insisted
“Come join us.”
“Are you free?” she queried
“Of course,” I walked along, “I
Have lived the way I wanted”
“I have travelled where I wish”
“But are you free?” she
Danced with happiness
I stared “But I am free”
“Freedom is doing what you wish
Following no creed but the creed of
Self” I insisted
She merely danced with me some more
I could not help but to follow
Foolish and awkward-like I
Moved to the group’s rhythm
I kind of liked it
I ran to catch up with
The young woman and
“But how are you so free?” I
Cried over her shoulder
She turned, her eyes were filled
“Obedience” she smiled
“To God” she continued
She swirled and danced
“Impossible! God is not one
Path-but many!” I cried back
“We follow this single path – called
The dogmatic creed” she was firm
“This way we travel together with
Of the path of our Fathers – who
Have arrived to our destination”
“Through light and darkness” she
“In safety and in danger
In joy and in heartache – we
Stay on the dogmatic path”
“You are a slave to your path!” I
Was in disbelief
“That is not freedom”
“It is not rational to follow a
Dogmatic path – I make my own
“Are you not free to consent to
Believe?” she pulled me along the
“Are you not free to choose obedience?”
“Is your freedom only freedom to rebel?”
“You are free to choose” she
“And only you can do that”
“For your will is yours, and it is
The group continued dancing
Joyfully through the day
And into the evening
As they journeyed through the
Confused, I could not help but
For truth be told
I had been lost when I stumbled
Across these saints
I stood alone in a broad field
I looked back into the dark forest
Like from where I had come
I remembered how it was I was lost
Individualism, rebellion, relativism
Believing everything can be
Believed, therefore, believing nothing
I cried as I had to make a
Yes, I was free
Free to make a choice
As I struggled and watched my new
Friends dance on
Another young woman, a warrior
“C’est pour cela que je fus nais” she
Whispered to me
Yes! “C’est pour cela que je fus nais!”
I turned toward my friends
I ran fast, stumbling through the
To join them on their path
I made my decision
In total freedom
And now I dance with them –
Seeing now the destination
Those at the front
Who are getting close
Break their rhythm – and run
Toward it with joy
After the Great Event, the moment I received the magnificent gift of faith, I walked through a door into a land I never imagined did or even could exist. This is a land of castles and kingdoms and marvelous vistas. However, here there are no fairies or anything fanciful and made-up. Everything is very real; in fact, I should say it is more real than our material world. More accurately stated, and this I say with great confidence, this world is more alive than our suffering and miserable material world! This world encompasses ours and makes ours seem small and very dull, colorless in its affect. The world of Catholicism is the real world, with life affirming color splashing everywhere yet always in complete order.
I was on course to meet new friends, strong souls of virtue and kindness, charity and wisdom. Many poor souls on this earth, including many Catholics, have no idea of the beauty, freedom, and wisdom found in Catholic orthodoxy and dogma. The anti-Catholic spirit of the world conditions us to accept a sense of powerlessness, like beaten dogs sitting in an opened cage but unable to draw the courage to come out. It tells us that scientific laws determine everything, including our very personality, our sicknesses, and even our tendencies to commit evil acts. We have no power or joy of life in this world but for that which we muster out of our pills and alcohol to help us deal with the unconquerable forces of nature, as patients might in an old Soviet style mental ward. The few of the technocrats rule the many of the depressed masses. We thought we defeated communism; however, in reality communism took over the West through the spirit of the Revolution.
Now that I was completely convinced of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, I enthusiastically made routine visits to the Church. What a phenomenal blessing to be able to sit in the real presence of Christ. Of course, Christ is truly present to me in spirit wherever I go. However, in the tabernacle containing the Real Presence in the Eucharist, Christ is truly there substantially. This is why the whole concept of the Eucharist is so central to our faith and why so many people imbued with the spirit of the world hate and blaspheme this sacred host. The Eucharist is a contradiction to all other supposed reason.
My decision to join the Church as a conscience act of my will would come later. For the time being, I grappled with the revelation I received and contemplated it almost every day before the tabernacle. However, something else happened, something that would affect my life as nothing in the universe could other than the Eucharist. This affect that I will describe ultimately formed the core and essence of my Catholic spirituality. It defined who I am; it is the reason that God created me.
St. Peter’s Catholic Church I visited each day had a very beautiful picture hanging on the wall in a little side chapel of the Virgin Mary under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This chapel also held a very beautiful statue of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. As a Protestant from youth, I believed that Catholics worshipped saints like Mary because they prayed to these saints. As a result, I resolved never to become a Catholic. Remember what my upbringing was like regarding any knowledge of the Catholic faith.
I had the strangest attraction to this picture and this statue. I would go over to them. Eventually I spoke little prayers of admiration and love to the Holy Mother. I did it quickly, so I would not condemn myself to hell for worshiping idols. Yet, I really could not help the attraction that I felt. What came out of this in very short order was a complete and total consecration to the Mother of God. She called me by Christ’s command; I am convinced. The Catholic Church is a very large, robust castle with many rooms where we each truly experience our unique and personal relationship with Christ, all in unity through his Church.
In the Church, we truly experience our individuality within the unified framework of God’s revelation and within the framework of our reconciliation to the Father through Christ his only Son. By following the one path of light and truth in Christ’s Church, we live our own God-given individuality, and we understand it in the light of eternity. The Catholic faith brings us to be the real person we are and gives us hope as to the person we will be in eternity.
Our Lord formed my Catholic reality and hope through consecration to the Virgin Mary. She is now and for eternity my Queen and Mother; I must bring her honor and do my part to heal her broken heart shattered on Calvary and shattered each day in our blasphemous modern culture. Jesus suffers much pain when he sees his mother in tears. He lovingly and compassionately gave her to St. John at the foot of the cross that he could care for her. Jesus is not consoled while his mother suffers, and Mary is not consoled while Jesus suffers; their hearts beat as one. Mending the Immaculate Heart brings consolation to the Sacred Heart.
As my love for the Mother of God increased by the day, I began to pray the Rosary. My wife picked up a set of rosary beads for me during a church program honoring Our Lady of Fatima. Our Lady goes under various titles according to the place or occasion of her apparitions, and this one in particular related to her appearance to three young shepherd children in Portugal in 1917. Visiting her statue that day became a landmark in my spiritual journey.
I became so enthused about Mary and the rosary that I often went home from work at lunchtime to pray it after eating. During one of these prayerful lunch breaks, I received the official call from Our Lady. It was sometime in December of that same year, 1984. I sat at home praying the rosary after lunch, as a decision came forth in my mind. I resolved to join the Catholic Church.
I joined the Church that following spring after my fall and winter conversion experiences. During that whole time, from my decision up to my official entry into the Church, I remember very little, only that I continued to grow in my devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and to her Son in the Eucharist. I attended Mass thinking to myself how fortunate these Catholics were who received Holy Communion while I had to wait. Waiting, though terribly painful, made sense to me. Selfishly ignoring the community to receive “communion” with that community is oxymoronic. That would be quite absurd and inconsiderate of me. It was painful to wait, but I understood.
Soon after my entry into the Church, my love for Mary and the whole communion of saints in general kindled even more. I remember very early in the summer of 1985 receiving two books that confirmed my thinking on the Holy Mother of God and on my growing devotion to her. The first book was The Glories of Mary written by St. Alphonsis Liguori, and the second book was True Devotion to Mary by St. Louis Marie de Montfort. I still have the original copies that I received of these two books. I learned from these great saints that my love for and devotion to Mary was a valid and very worthy activity in my soul that came straight from the torrential river of Apostolic Tradition that recently touched my soul. Devotion to Mary was an ancient practice, going back to St. John the Evangelist who received her from Jesus on Calvary. These saints both insisted that true devotion to the Blessed Virgin will always lead you to a more authentic worship of the Son and to a stronger devotion to Holy Mother Church, which is the body of her Son on earth and over which she is Mother as well. A stronger devotion to Christ in his Eucharist and to the authority of his Church are always the earmarks of authentic devotion to Mary. This outstanding wisdom guided me with great assurance over the years.
I entered into a lifelong process of giving myself, however imperfectly, to that humble Virgin through St. Louis de Montfort’s spirituality of consecrating oneself to the Virgin Mary so as to live out our baptismal vows more completely and to be more devoted to Christ. There is no doubt in my mind that she guided me into the Church and opened my heart to the message of her Son in his Holy Spirit. She continues to care for me, teach me, love me, and guide me to her Son despite my weaknesses and sins. I must console her heart, and I can think of no higher calling in life.
The first few years after my conversion, I danced along, so to speak, with the Lord and my new saintly friends on that journey called the Freedom Dance. We labor here under the huge burden of our sinful inclinations. Our journey is one of purification leading to eternal beatitude if we use our freedom to obey rather than to rebel. The saints have arrived ahead of us. The saints are our brothers and sisters in the family of God. They help us on our own journey. Seek their friendship in humility, knowing that we are capable on our own of nothing but misery.
Soon after my consecration to the Blessed Virgin, I came across another life-changing book that proved to be another blessing from the torrent of life-giving Catholic Tradition and Dogma. The book is The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Through that book, I finally met the saint whose Feast Day was the occasion of the Great Event. She reached a high degree of sanctity in her short life. She sought not to be relieved from her suffering, only to offer it union with Christ’s sufferings for the salvation of sinners. What a great act of charity to suffer in union with Christ for souls rather than complain to God! Toward the end of her life, she said that she would spend her time in heaven doing good on earth; for, she came to realize that her true vocation was love. Though having little formal education, the Church considers her writings as quite extraordinary in their theological depth, and Pope St. John Paul II named her a Doctor of the Universal Church. This young nun’s life and mine crossed paths. I discovered over the years that she is indeed a sister of mine in heaven, as she is to so many souls who love her. I came to believe that I was one of the souls that benefitted from her suffering. I was one of the souls that she “did good on earth” with after she went to heaven. She is my spiritual sister in heaven and will remain so for eternity if I manage to stay on the path by the grace of God.
Aware of my newfound devotion to Thérèse, our parish priest gave our family a certified relic of hers held in a small, beautiful looking, golden monstrance. Through thick and thin, through tranquility and chaos, St. Therese’s relic stayed with us in our home. I believe that the Virgin Mary poured into my soul the graces won by Therese through her suffering.
St. Paul speaks of this mystery of love and sharing in Christ’s suffering, which Therese sought more than she did her own personal benefit, when he exclaims:
“It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.” (Colossians 1:24)
St. Thérèse illuminated St. Paul’s words for me. She knew that Christ continues his work of redemption in cooperation with his baptized Church on earth. For Therese, love for saving souls through suffering with Christ meant more than personal gain, or worldly success. Suffering was more beautiful for her than a mansion on the most exclusive tropical island. Bringing other souls to Christ in cooperation with the suffering Christ was her glory, not the fame and fortune of this world.
I began to understand that this Catholic faith was not so much an alternative to the Protestant faith of my youth; it was, really, something much larger and more robust. I discovered that not only was Christ our Savior and the only Son of the Father in the Holy Spirit, One God, but Three Divine Persons, but I discovered that this Trinity also represented a family, a family with a Father and a Son and a Spirit of Love. This is really quite simple even though marvelously sublime. I learned that God really is Father. This Catholic faith, carrying the Traditions of the original Apostles for over two thousand years, was a family! God gave me my brothers and sisters the saints to help me on my journey.
You know already that St. Joan of Arc plays a major role in my spirituality. It was through St. Thérèse that my devotion to St. Joan blossomed. St. Thérèse, French herself, had a strong devotion to Joan; though, Joan was not formally a saint until after Thérèse’s death. I have no doubt that they are very close friends in heaven. Re-reading that spiritual classic of St. Therese’s life story, I began to feel St. Joan tug on my heart. I told you earlier that God always sends me saints when I need them. I certainly need the courage and faith of St. Joan of Arc.
This is the introduction to the Dance of Freedom on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed. I must tell you more. I must tell you of the important lands through which we journeyed, lands that are significant junctures helping me understand the purpose and meaning of my life. The Dance of Freedom moved me toward this destiny.
Most importantly, I must tell you about the journey through the Dark Valley, the land where death waits for you, but where the merits of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death on the Cross swallow it up. I cannot complete my story without this segment. I cannot tell you the final piece without this one. The Dark Valley experience is the cornerstone for understanding all the rest. Over the next twenty or so years I travelled over spiritual bridges and through spiritual valleys; though, I ultimately reached a point where I felt I could dance no more, where the darkness was so opaque that I thought there really was no light. Perhaps the Great Event had run its course and fallen victim to an even mightier power. This is a terrible place to be. Just when it seemed that the darkness would snuff out the last flicker of light in my soul, another powerful moment broke upon me. It was the moment I felt the resurrected power of Christ, the power that crushes darkness and breathes new, refreshing, super-natural life into one’s being. This moment was the inevitable result of what The Great Event began in me. This moment is the one described by Isaiah who said:
“I thought: In the noon of my life
I am to depart.
At the gates of Sheol I shall be held
For the rest of my days.
I thought: I shall never see Yahweh again
In the land of the living.
I shall never see again a single one
Of those who live on the earth.
My home has been pulled up and thrown away
Like a shepherd’s tent;
I twitter like a swallow
I moan like a dove,
My eyes have grown dim from looking up.
Lord, I am overwhelmed, come to my help.
How can I speak and what can I say to him?
He is the one to act.
I must eke out the rest of my years
In bitterness of soul.
The Lord is over them; they live,
And everything in them lives by his spirit.
You will cure me. Restore me to life.
At once, my bitterness turns to well-being.
For you have preserved my soul
From the pit of nothingness,
you have thrust all my sins behind you.
For Sheol cannot praise you,
Nor Death celebrate you;
Those who go down to the pit
Can hope no longer in your constancy.
The living, the living are the ones who praise you,
As I do today.” (Isaiah 38: 10-12a; 14-19a)
Before I discuss this terrible episode, I must take you first to an important and delightful segment of our journey, one that I believe all must travel no matter what path one walks. It is a place where I think the Freedom Dance on the path of the Dogmatic Creed crosses with other spiritual paths. It is like a crossroad along a river. At this crossroad of human existence, so many today are yelling and screaming at each other across the riverbanks while making no progress, for those who yell do not listen when those on the other side yell back. I must tell you about my journey through and past the bickering philosophers. I must tell you about the Bridge of Reason.