Thursday, January 2, 2014

My Journey as a Catholic So Far, Pt. 11: Open Wounds and Explanations

Since I published part 10 in this series, there has been a myriad of responses. I am grateful for your prayers, concern and advice. This last while has been hard, a period of great and deep joy mixed with much hurt, and your support and readership means so much to me.

Thank you.

Given this variety of responses, I have decided to write this last entry in this particular series on where I am at now, why I am moving towards Orthodox Christianity, and all the rest.  I have chosen to not speak very much on why I would not remain Roman or become Eastern Catholic, because my desire is not to write polemics, apologetics, or frankly, anything negative.  This journey is not about rejecting or leaving Rome for me, even if that is what some wish to boil it down to in a simplistic fashion. I have taken great pains to ensure this in my life and any criticisms I have made against the state of the Catholic Church right now are simply to give a context, to illustrate my own journey, or when I have made them, out of human weakness and frustration (I doubt that they are anything worse than one might find on Rorate Caeli or ChurchMilitantTV, for instance).In all honesty, I reckon that if I had not mentioned on this blog any of this few would ever notice a difference in my writing. Whether I am Catholic or Orthodox, my writing will always be what it seems people have come to expect - at least, that is my hope. I will always write out of an honest place, with all my heart.

Now, when I began this blog, I wrote it purely for myself, as a journal of my own conversion and experiences, and a way to write out my journey.  I had no idea it would become as big as it did - as of today, I am nearing around 800,000 views, and though I have not "cracked the mainstream" as it were, it seems that what began as a journal of just another Catholic convert was noticed, if only to a relatively small degree.  Therefore, I feel that I owe an explanation to those who read my thoughts, however poor they are.

This is not to say that I have not been through a lot of interior pain over the whole thing, with misrepresentations, allegations, misunderstandings, condemnations, and even cold shouldering thrown my way - a most hurtful thing when going through a process such as this.  The criticisms I have recieved in some corners have almost brought me to tears, no doubt due to my very sensitive nature - but "He who wishes to serve God let him prepare his heart for tribulations,"1 (St. Basil the Great), and again, "When men revile us, we should consider ourselves unworthy of praise.  If we were worthy, everyone would bow down to us."2 (St. Seraphim of Sarov) 

It is true that I have been already deemed an "apostate," a "schismatic," someone who is trying to lead others away from Rome (which is not even remotely the case) - despite my hurt and anger over being called such things, I must strive to bear all of it for the sake of Christ.  "And if everyone abandons you and drives you out by force, then, when you are left alone, fall down on the earth and kiss it and water it with your tears, and the earth will bring forth fruit from your tears, even though no one has seen or heard you in your solitude."3 (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

A friend of mine, who entered the Catholic Church with me from a Protestant background, asked me a question - saying he was a "Catholic-Protestant," he asked why I would not want to be "Catholic-Orthodox" and "reform" the Church from within as he wanted to do.  My answer remains the same: I do not want to "reform" the Church, I want to reform myselfWho am I to reform anything when I cannot even reform my own heart?  If I cannot walk with Christ and allow Him to change me, to radically affect and effect my life, how I can ever possibly hope to bring Christ to others?  St. Seraphim of Sarov says, "Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation."4  During my life as a specifically Roman Catholic, I have not known that kind of peace, nor have I been able to acquire it to any large degree.

In fact, much of my struggles were self-inflicted (just to give some context).  I am a very scrupulous person, often self-defeating and very sensitive, and this kind of temperament transferred wholesale into my spiritual life, despite periods of great elation.  My life as a Catholic has been fraught with despair - despair of the mercy of God, desperately driving around town trying to find a church that offered confession still, and not finding one, having my heart tear at me with images of the Hell that waited for me if I could not slide into the confessional in time, or if my act of contrition was not sincere enough. One thought from one of the famed Optina Elders struck my heart at the end of it all - "The action of grace never leads anyone to despair, but grants the gift of tenderness, joy, long-suffering and peace."5 (St. Leonid of Optina)

Again, I do not so much blame the Catholic Church for this, but myself.  But "The sick one who is familiar with his illness is easily cured and the one who acknowledges his pain is close to healing."6 (St. Isaac the Syrian)

As some have pointed out, I tended to be a recluse, never involving myself in the community of my parish - this fact has been held up to me several times.  I suppose I never felt that I had much in common with anyone there; that, and my own extended family life has always been a painful arena for me, so the notion of "family" has been tainted by this.  Even within my own family, I am an only child whose parents divorced when I was 16, and this has darkened and distorted my view of family anything ever since.  I am only just coming out of much of this horrible mindset now.

I mention all of the above in order to highlight my own fault, my grievous fault, in all of this.  As a convert, I made many grave mistakes (all of which I have outlined in this series).  Fr. Seraphim Rose highlights these rather well in some writings of his, and I have noticed two in particular that I fell into: what he refers to as academic over-intellectualism (which causes one to become detached from the actual life of the Church, the everyday realities of being a Christian), and "quenched syndrome" (discouragement, despair, etc.).7

Little did I know that the cures for these conditions were things I had already begun to do - focusing in on the interior life, reading the writings of the Fathers, ignoring the outward chaos within the Church and choosing instead to focus on the kingdom within.  

In Metropolitan Anthony Bloom's excellent little work, Beginning to Pray, I came across this passage concerning his father: "I remember [my father] said to me after a holiday, 'I worried about you,' and I said 'Did you think I'd had an accident?'  He said, "That would have meant nothing, even if you had been killed.  I thought you had lost your integrity."8

I will not be a pew-warmer - if there is something that I do not believe is true or disagree with, I won't stay in order to "reform" the Church from within, or to simply fill the seats.  I am not interested in being a reformer of the Church, nor a dissident against it, nor a polemicist who makes a career off spouting venom at the state of it.  I am interested in being a Christian, in being a follower of Christ, and in having my life changed by Christ.  I truly believe, as Fr. Seraphim Rose said, that the search for religious truth is "a question literally of life and death."9

Now, I am well-aware of the papal encyclicals being hurled at me by some (Unam Sanctum, Lumen Gentium, etc.), what the popes have said in the past about the Orthodox, what specifically Catholic saints and theologians have said (St. Bonaventure's remarks were particularly brutal), that from a certain point of view I am putting my soul in grave danger and eternal peril for walking on this path (the irony is that the same folks who hold this view often adore the spirituality and saints of Orthodox Christianity almost as much as I do, but when pressed, deem them "outside the Church," as schismatics and apostates, before fawning over their writings again).  I console my heart with the words of St. John the Evangelist, who wrote that "There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love." (1 John 4:18)

All I have ever learned from Orthodoxy is how to live a life in Christ, how to reform myself and my own heart.  I have no interest in church politics of any kind, no interest in petty squabbles, all of which occur in both the Catholic and Orthodox worlds - my only goal is to have Christ change my life and my heart.  Orthodox Christianity has shown me how to do this. "Within you is the battle you are to fight; the evil structure which must be torn down is within; your enemy comes from your own heart."10 (Origen)

I do not look at all of this to be a rejecting and a leaving, but a fulfilling and a deepening.  I am tired of the search for Truth, because this search did not end when I became Catholic.  Something has always felt missing - a deep interior relationship with and love of Christ crucified and victorious.  I experienced extreme highs and lows in Catholicism, but never a deep peace within my heart.  I grew tired of the tribalism and recurring liturgical nightmares within the Catholic Church (like many Catholics), but to this very moment, I would not leave Rome for any of these reasons.  The grass is not greener on the other side - I have no illusions about that anymore in regards to any church or tradition.  I have done much research, studying the Fathers, the papal encyclicals, the theologians, and can no longer deny what I have found.

But I am not interested in "combox" arguments, prooftexts, condemnations of anyone or anything.  This post is not written to burn bridges but to build them, not to sever relationships with others but to deepen them, not to reject so much as to grow.  In this spirit, though friendly advice, prayers, and thoughts are invited and most welcomed, I will not allow argumentative or negative comments to be posted - I am not interested in trolling, online debates about who is the true church, or anything else. I seek simply to follow Christ and to allow my life to be permeated and changed by Him, so that I may help bring others to Christ.  Having been drawn to Orthodox Christianity for so long and in such a deep and heart-rending way, I cannot help but heed the call of love, Love Who is Eternal. 

May God bless everyone and continue to show you His love and mercy.  I love you all.

+ Jason 

"The end of each discovery becomes the starting point for the discovery of something higher, and the ascent continues.  Thus our ascent is unending.  We go from beginning to beginning by way of beginnings without end."

-St. Gregory of Nyssa 

1 - qtd. in Death to the World, Issue 3, 1994
2 - Spiritual Instructions, 16
3 - The Brothers Karamazov, VI:3
4 - qtd. in Ware, The Orthodox Way, 118
5 - qtd. in Living Without Hypocrisy pg. 3
6 - On Ascetical Life, II:2
7 - See Father Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, ch. 88
8 - pg. 5
9 - God's Revelation to the Human Heart, 20
10 - qtd. in Spirit and Fire, 550

25 comments:

  1. I have to say this is extremely disappointing news. Best wishes in your faith journey. Forgive me, but I will not be following you at your new site.

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    1. Hi Ulysees, no problem. I understand. Thanks for your readership!!

      Peace to you.
      Jason

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  2. Jason, please accept this poor sinner's prayers for your continued journey in Christ. I've been mind-blown many times by your sheer perspective- your ability to cover everyone from St. Ephrem to St. Hildegard has warmed my soul many times and restored faith in the universal call to holiness. Please also pray for me, that I may discern how to continue my own journey and obtain the ability to better listen to Christ.

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    1. Ryan,
      Friend - accept my own poor prayers for your journey as well. The journey is far from over - in any case, you know where I am writing now.

      Thank you so much for your kindness and readership.

      Peace.
      Jason

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  3. All I can say is God bless you! We must follow Christ wherever He leads us. But God is not through with any of us yet.

    Did you get my e-mail from another name? I wrote to you and have been waiting for a reply.

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    1. Yes! I received your email - have not written back yet, but I did write back a short blurb to let you know I got it. Sorry, I have been very worn out from all this, and am now sick as well - so my writing output has been minimal at best. Forgive me.

      We will talk soon.

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  4. Best wishes. Since you've decided to become Orthodox I hope you will be received as soon as possible and start receiving Theia Koinonia. I also hope that you will be not be baptized again, but that's up to you and your new family.

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    1. Hi Cross,

      As for baptism, I think I will be received by Chrismation - this is usually the norm in such cases. The funny thing is that unlike when I was a Catholic catechumen, I am not impatient or trying to batter the doors down this time - I am taking my time, despite wanting to run ahead with joy. Fools rush in and all that. ;)

      Peace.
      Jason

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  5. Dear Jason: our pilgrimages in Christ lead us over many roads, new, old and re-discovered. Only those walking those roads with us are in any position to comment on our journey - on your journey, in this case. All we can do is trust to the good action of the good Spirit of God in leading us further and deeper into Himself. Your remarkable honesty seems to me to show that you are doing your utmost to be attentive to the way in which the Spirit is drawing you. That remark of Vladyka Anthony's which you quote is an important one. (He was my Bishop before his death - a great and good man, with a very wry sense of humour, and utter integrity before God. A good light to walk by. I have kept you in my prayers since I discovered your blog, and having made the passage from West to East myself - while retaining a deep love for Western Christianity - I can imagine the to-ing and fro-ing you must be experiencing. So I will continue to remember you in my prayer, that God's beautiful will may be known to you and made perfect in you. One more word of Vladyka Anthony's: 'That the will of God should be fulfilled in us is the only aim of prayer'. I'll continue to follow your journey on the new blog. All the very best to you, and my thanks again for all that you've written - it has helped me onward in my own Christian life.

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  6. Thank you for this beautiful post Jason. I am grateful that you have shared your spiritual journey with us and I look forward to reading more of your beautiful insights into the faith. I am sorry that some not so charitable individuals here and elsewhere have caused you pain and sorrow as you struggled to answer Christ's call to you to seek the fullness of truth and beauty.

    Although a bit older than you I can't help but thinking that through your writings here you have been somewhat of a "virtual" spiritual father or "staretz" to me.

    God bless you and please remember me in your prayers.

    John

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  7. Jason, it's been an awesome ride with you here on the blog. I came from a Southern Baptist upbringing before converting to Catholicism, and I love reading and studying the Eastern side of Christianity as well. I've pretty much read this blog from day one and have seen your transformation/struggles/frustrations/etc. first hand. We share many similarities scrupulous wise, and I just want you to know that your writings have been a blessing to me.

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  8. I cannot comprehend why anyone would have such a negative response towards you. I don't have enough knowledge regarding the Catholic position on conversion to Orthodoxy to either praise or condemn you, but I do have the knowledge that you chase after the light of Christ, and that should be enough for anyone reading this.

    I have always benefitted from your blog and your writing, and know that I am praying, not so that you return to the Church (since you are already a firm member of it) but that Our Lord gives you the strength to continue to follow after Him. If I can say this without offending, I hope that your further writings continue to build the bridge between Catholicism and Orthodoxy. :)

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  9. From Fr. Agathon. In my depression Christ spoke to me: "My son, give Me your heart." May you give your heart to Christ and unite with Him. You have found Him, but as you write stay away from the squabbles, controversies, hate, divisions, church politics, pride which torments Orthodox and Catholics. You have chosen the narrow way which leads to life. You have become a member of the Little Flock of Christ. You belong to Christ. Pray for me Jason.

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  10. Jason. It's like running out after you again, but this time you are already gone. I'm not a good writer, sorry. Heck, I'm not any kind of a people-person or even remotely nice. But whoever made you feel like you didn't make a difference in your parish, or didn't contribute or whatever, they were wrong. (yeah, I know, that's not the heart of this...but still.) Though we often attended different masses, I always looked for you, and you always heartened me greatly. Though I guess I don't really know, I had some idea of how much anguish you went through, and how much you cared. You never just glossed over things and gave up. And it heartened me. There will be a big hole in our parish, and I wish you'd stay. I guess this is too simple compared to all the weighty considerations and arguments, but there it is.

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    1. Hi, I am sure I know who this is. I am not gone. I am always here - please feel free to contact me personally at thepumpkinpiper@hotmail.com, and we can go for coffee. This comment of yours almost made me cry. Thank you for your support - please contact me and we'll get together soon.

      Jason

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  11. I am sad to read this post, but we all have to follow our hearts. More sad though to hear you say you have found no peace within the catholic church but more so despair. I have been catholic my whole life and you must know that peace is a state of being, it is deep within, it is Jesus reigning in your heart amidst the chaos of this life. You know the passage, We live in this world but are not of it. You will not find a perfect peace in any church only in Jesus.

    Priests, they are men just like you and me, they make mistakes and are imperfect just like you and me, you will find this to be true in the orthodox church as well. But in all truth they have given up their lives to serve Christ and us. I thank God for them because without them we don't have Jesus or the sacraments.

    I will pray for you to find what ever it is you are searching for, but I challenge you to be still in front to the Eucharist and listen, and then you will learn that we do not find Jesus, He finds us.

    God Bless

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    1. Anon,
      You are right. I am well aware of the imperfections and human failings in any church, be it Catholic, Orthodox, or whatever else. Yes, being a Roman Catholic drove me into despair very much, though I don't wholly blame the church for this. It takes two to tango, as the saying goes.

      But I must say that only Orthodox Christianity has shown me, not just told me, how to acquire that true peace of which you speak. Perhaps this is merely my own experience, but it is what it is.

      Thank you for your readership, and God bless you.

      Jason

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  12. Jason
    I think we must be clones (though I'm a "revert" rather than convert). Shortly after my return to the Church while in university, an Eastern Orthodox friend took me to his parish to experience the Divine Liturgy. I have been in love with the Christian East ever since and have often worshipped in Catholic parishes of Eastern Rite.

    You will most certainly be in my prayers. Without preaching I merely want to encourage you to think of Eastern Rite Catholicism.

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    1. Unknown,
      Yes, we all have our clones, haha. I have considered, quite deeply in fact, the Eastern Catholic option as well. I have declined to give my reasons for not going that route as I am not here to stir the pot or cause controversies and hurt feelings. But I do have my reasons, absolutely.
      That said, I always enjoyed the Ukrainian Greek Catholic parish in my hometown - when the Novus Ordo world became overwhelmingly abysmal in its ad-libs and subtle jabs at the church, I always found the UGCC parish to be a welcome refuge.

      Peace!
      Jason

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  13. I must say that as a Benedictine Monk studying for the priesthood, I not only admire, but also respect and appreciate the strength and courage this decision takes. You're a true Christian, may God continue to bless you on your journey, know that you're in my prayers, and I can assure you I'll be a faithful reader.
    Love & Prayers,
    Br. "C"

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    1. Br. C,
      Thank you so much for such a heartwarming and encouraging message. I really appreciate it, especially given the brutal reactions I have received from some as of late. To be called an apostate and a schismatic repeatedly is beyond heart-rending.

      I am not a true Christian, but I do seek to be one, however poorly. Pray for me. Thank you for your reading of my thoughts - I look forward to your comments and readership at my new blog.

      Peace.
      Jason

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  14. "I seek simply to follow Christ and to allow my life to be permeated and changed by Him, so that I may help bring others to Christ."

    Yes!! There is no higher goal than this. Jason, may your life be a fulfillment of this goal. Please pray that it might also be for all of us! God bless you.

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    1. Thanks for the support Boo - and thank you for reading.

      Peace.
      Jason

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  15. Jason,

    I'm very sorry if what I wrote offended you in any way (I suppose that the comments that weren't published/deleted could be interpreted in such a way), but I'm sure you understand that for your devoted Catholic readers your decision to leave the Church just is shoking and heart-rending.

    As for being called schismatic, well, the Orthodox surely do think Catholics are schismatics and even heretics. And your decision to convert by default signifies your agreement with this view.
    'Schism' has meaning, and it is a grave sin.

    It's really hard to procure a doctrinal judgement in the East, it would seem, but Rome has to be mistaken for the Orthodox position to be valid. The fact of schism is undeniable. There is no unity, and there's disunity of all kinds even among Catholics now, we're living in terrible times.

    This is incredibly serious. If you are right all of us should immediately convert to Orthodoxy, and Catholicism will have to be dismantled. Please note the difference between the two unification scenarios. It's either Rome or the East, both cannot be right.
    But I'm trying to understand whether or not you think you are leaving the Catholic Church. Allow me to clarify. You used to adhere to a position that said that both Catholic and Orthodox are the same Church. I never agreed with it, and I'm in agreement with the Orthodox on this matter, it would seem,
    Have you reconsidered?

    That is why I'm trying to understand your decision. And I'm very confused.
    I hope you'll be so kind as to tell me if you:
    1) reject as heretical innovations peculiarly Catholic dogmas, i.e. Marian dogmas, the Purgatory, etc.;
    2) consider Papal (and Petrine) primacy and infallibility to be heretical innovations and condemn 'Western' ecclesiology, affirming autocephaly;
    3) believe the filioque to be a heretical innovation;
    4) have come to share the common Eastern condemnation of scholasticism;
    5) believe the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage to be a mistaken one; thereby affirming remarriage under 'economy'?
    These I believe to be very important disagreements, and I don't believe there's a middle ground. If the Orthodox are right, Rome is in error and should be blamed for subverting Christianity, as most Orthodox think.

    I'm well aware of the crisis in the Church. In fact, I feel a sort of kinship with you, because when I first discovered the depth of the crisis the Church is now in I was so anxious I almost went mad with grief. But upon reflection and prayer I came to think of it this way: indeed, 'quid hoc ad aeternitatem'?..

    Peace!

    Bl. Leonid Fedorov, pray for us!

    P.S.
    I know it may sound a bit silly, but I wonder if you read Russian.
    Regardless of that, are you familiar with the works of Fr. Alexandr Volkonsky?
    I'm not sure they were ever translated into English.
    It's just that I think that after Vatican II introduced all kinds of ambiguity and ecumenism as a policy and subsequent nigh-rejection of tradition even Catholic authors came to see portray our differences as irrelevant (a one-sided move, surely, thank God).
    I think a very Eastern perspective at the same time loyal to Rome would be an interesting thing for you to get to know!

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  16. Dear Jason,
    May God bless you for your determination to follow Christ and to suffer slings and arrows in your honest attempt to do so. Every day I offer my prayers, works, joys and sufferings for the reunification of Christians. Surely the first would be the right and left lung.

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