I was born and raised in a liberal Catholic environment. I attended twelve years of Catholic school, went to Sunday Mass with my family, was an altar boy, went to monthly confession with my class, and was educated by nuns and priests as well as Catholic laymen. My father was the school physician and cared for the parish priests, and my mother was the parish organist. To state the obvious, my upbringing was Catholic, Catholic, Catholic. But the key word in all of this is not the term “Catholic,” but the term “liberal.” To say we were Catholics is simply misleading; rather, we were liberal Catholics, and this little qualifier changes everything. It means that, although ostensibly my daily life was surrounded by the appearances of Catholicism, in fact, the Catholicism generally went no deeper than the appearances. And to make brief what could be a very long story, let me summarize the rest by saying that my intellect during those twelve years was far from Catholic.
We did not study the Bible; we did not study the Catechism; we did not study the history of the Church; we did not learn how to understand, explain, or defend the Church’s teachings; we did not read the lives of the Saints; we did not pray the Rosary, say grace before meals, attend the Stations of the Cross or Eucharistic Benediction, or practice penances. The ostensibly Catholic environment in which I was raised expected only that we would remain in an ostensibly Catholic environment, never taking our religion too seriously, never inquiring too deeply into its teachings, and never practicing too literally its morality. The Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist? Frequent confession? Heaven, hell, and purgatory? Grace, free will, and merit? Atonement and Redemption? Apostolic succession? Papal infallibility? The Purpose of life? Heresy, apostasy, and schism? Divorce, adultery, cohabitation, contraception, and homosexuality? Whatever. I was vaguely familiar with these terms and presumed they were Catholic issues of some type, but I couldn’t possibly understand or explain them, nor did I feel obligated to believe or respect them, nor did I. It was merely the stuff that liberal Catholics could expect to hear about once in a while, but that shouldn’t cause them any fear or concern. For none of it – we lazily presumed – was actually true or even important.
What was the outcome of this liberal Catholic upbringing? With a heavy heart I can say – like so many of you – the outcome has been that most of my siblings have left the Church. And during my twenties, I left as well and became a virulent anti-Catholic.
Shouldn’t this have been expected? After all, if our priests and bishops have preached for decades that one Church, denomination, or religion is basically as good as any other, then isn’t it only natural and logical that those who have absorbed such ecumenical cheerleading should never again come back? Yes, if everyone and their pet is going to heaven, regardless of their religion, personal beliefs, or actual sins, then why should we stay for even one more Kyrie? It is the countless Catholics who have fallen away that have actually acted on the sermons of the past fifty years. They are the ones who have taken it all seriously. And those who have remained in the Church – they are the ones who have, thanks be to God Almighty, not taken seriously the preaching of the ecumaniacs. Our pastors should be thankful that many of us simply ignore their homilies. And if ever we take them seriously, they’ll know it when they see our empty pews.
For at least six years I despised the Catholic Church and every trace or shadow of Catholicism. During that time, I trained myself in the black craft of anti-Catholic argumentation. I formed my intellect with the writings of the Protestant so-called “Reformers;” I studied the King James Version Bible, supplemented by Protestant commentaries; I read Church history from a Protestant perspective; I attended countless worship services of both denominations and cults, prayed fervently for the purest Gospel faith, and believed I was born again and saved; and I often discussed and debated Christian belief with both Protestant ministers and lay people, constantly enforcing my own positions with anti-Catholic arguments.
In spite of this monumental intellectual effort, in spite of studying religion for hours each day, the cracks in my anti-Catholicsm began to appear. They struck its foundation from every direction, from studying more carefully the Bible, from reading the Apostolic Fathers, from reflecting on Church history, and from considering the catastrophic state of Christendom in light of the private interpretation of Holy Scripture. All of these noble pursuits revealed the flaws in my arguments and the errors in Protestantism itself. Their combined effect increasingly pointed back to the last place on earth I was willing to go. I told myself over and over, “God forbid; I will never again be a Catholic.” In a panic, I begged God in prayer to save me from Catholicism and to help me remain Protestant. I asked Him to lead me to anyone or anything that would help me maintain a Protestant faith. A hundred times I prayed, “Lord, save me from this!” And then God answered my prayers with another type of fracture: He forced the devil to bear witness to the truth.
I had always been fascinated with the New Age Movement – fascinated in that I recognized the grave threat this neo-pagan revival posed to the Christian faith and world. As a result, I had studied about it for years and gained a sound understanding of its fundamental beliefs and practices. One topic that frequently came up in these studies was Satanism – the beliefs and practices of Satanists. But I recognized over and over again one aspect of Satanic practice that increasingly bothered me: the Black Mass. When the foremost opponents of the Kingdom of God – the Christ-loathing Satanists – gathered to offer their most formal and solemn blasphemous praises to the devil, they performed a mockery of the Catholic Mass said backwards in Latin! They did not perform a mockery of a Protestant service. They did not sing multiple hymn verses to Satan, or listen to forty-five minute sermons on hatred and blasphemy, or answer an evil altar call, or read backwards the KJV Bible, or even preach their own Satanic Bible on street corners. No. When Satanists wanted to perform the wickedest act of blasphemy, they turned to a mockery of the Holy Mass. And when they wanted to perform the lowest act of sacrilege, they sought to desecrate a Host. No, not a piece of communion bread from a Protestant service, but only a Host consecrated at Holy Mass by a Catholic priest.
These unwelcome realizations caused me great pain as I reflected on their meaning. Why, I wondered, would the Satanists not (almost as a favor to me!) mock Protestantism? Then I could have a reason to remain Protestant!
Three more giant cracks soon appeared. I learned, first, that one of the most significant symptoms of demonic possession was the inability of the possessed to tolerate the moment of consecration at Holy Mass, and second, that they could not bear to consume a consecrated Host. And then I learned from a former Satanic priestess (turned Catholic) that such a person could identify a single consecrated Host in a bowl of unconsecrated hosts. Why? Because the demons, the possessed, and those who have received certain powers from the devil, can recognize the presence of Jesus Christ. CRACK!
The Church teaches that – mystery of mysteries – the devil and his fallen angelic companions can do nothing except what they are allowed to do by God. They are not free; they are chained junkyard dogs – vicious as can preternaturally be, but hopelessly chained by Divine Providence. And in spite of all their wicked stratagems and desires, the demons cannot prevent one iota the establishment of God’s Kingdom, and they even contribute to its establishment with their resistance of it.
In hating, the demons only bear witness to divine love; in killing, they only bear witness to divine life; and in despising the Gospel, they only bear witness to the truth that sets us free. For every act of demonic evil is answered with infinitely superior acts of divine goodness – in Christ’s Incarnation and atoning death, in the establishment of His Church, in her edifying teachings and grace-bearing sacraments, and in God’s promises of a blessed eternal life for the just in the presence of the beautiful Thrice-Holy God. No matter what he does or where he goes, even the devil must bear witness.
In the Gospels, the demons, speaking through the possessed, repeatedly bore witness to Christ. In His presence they would pitiably cry out,
“We know who you are, the Holy One of God! Have you come to torment us before the time?”
They feared Christ; they dreaded His holy presence and divine power. They wanted to run from Him, but couldn’t. As our Lord drove them out of the possessed, they would fall to the ground in their last moments, flailing about and screaming in the agony of exorcism, bearing witness over and over again to Christ our Lord. And to this day, nothing has changed. Exorcisms continue to bear witness to the spiritual powers given to the Church by Christ, while the inability of the possessed to endure the Holy Mass and the Holy Eucharist bears witness to the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament of sacraments.
Several years before she died, my mother heard me tell the story on the radio program of the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano. My own beloved mother, a life-long Catholic who had secretly prayed daily for my return to the Church, had never heard of this remarkable story in which the findings of modern science demonstrated the assertions of faith in the Eucharistic Real Presence. She could only shake her head afterwards and ask one question I will never forget: “Why? Why did they never tell us such things?”
Indeed, why hadn’t they told us such things? Why did the Church miserably fail to testify to herself, to her teachings, and to her divine Savior and His saving Gospel? Would it have caused a breach in the magnanimous ecumenical mission to do so? Must everything be thrown overboard in order to save and serve the ecumenical dream, including immortal souls?
I guess my parents could only give us what they had been given.
How I wish all of these astounding and life-transforming truths had been persuasively taught to us so many years ago in that liberal Catholic environment. If they had, that godless liberalism, alas exorcised by Gospel truth, would have instantly fled back to the fiery hell from which it had come.
“At Jesus’ name
every knee must bend
In the heavens, on the earth,
and under the earth,
and every tongue proclaim
to the glory of God the Father:
JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”
– Phil. 2:10-11