I looked around at the people near us. I only noticed the adults. I knew my mother, father, and my mother’s sister, but the others were all strangers. There were probably 50 people sitting near us. I was a teenager that day almost 60 years ago.
What I do remember clearly was my interior voice saying: how can I have anything to do with these people? God means nothing to them. They ignore anything said here, then dress up and come here twice a year. Why? It’s pointless.
Making Life Meaningful
That day, like the experience of many teenagers, my life veered in a direction that became very much like the life of the Washington Irving character Rip Van Winkle. Rip fell asleep for 20 years and awoke to find a changed world.
It was an Easter Sunday. The church was so crowded, that we had to sit outside on folding chairs on the front lawn. As I remember that day, the doors were open so we could peek inside, and I sort of remember that there was a loud speaker in order to hear the Episcopal service inside. My mother, father, and I made this trip to visit my aunt and uncle in the central valley of California about two times a year. I was in my mid-teens then, and the Sunday morning lesson from writings of millennia ago, repeated that day in this Protestant church, made no sense in my life. Goodness was not really rewarded. Stealth and deviousness were. The meek were trampled while the strong and self-interested prospered. Real life was in conflict with an ideal, and no one close to me could explain why.
So, I went to sleep, metaphorically, for several decades.
My life was not much different from many others in that I ignored religion. I traveled, served in the Army, married, and raised children. Through those many years beginning in the 1950s, the United States I knew as a child gradually changed. Some change was dramatic and conflict ridden. The civil rights era happened out of a clear realization by a new generation. It saw hypocrisy in slogans that touted freedom for all, but denied freedom to a minority population. The later visible leader of this evolving movement was a Baptist minister. An imperfect man, who based his life’s work on Christian beliefs. That bolstered by opinion that religion was an endeavor worth keeping over some other human institutions. My thoughts were of its social value, not in relation to my salvation.
War became prominent, the meaning of sexuality was ripped away from the norm, and rebellion against social institutions like the Church was insisted upon in order to be part of the under-thirty generation. That was considered the only section of humanity that knew anything worthwhile. No one speculated about what would happen when that generation had a 31st birthday. It was understood that the world would be changed for the better, and a new norm would be recognized. Christianity was not mentioned as a basis for this new world, only political power and social pressure to love everybody. Love was practiced towards those that followed the correct path. It was denied to others. Group dress became institutionalized, group think was the accepted norm.
Then, during my years of challenge raising a family, progressing in my work, and dealing with prolonged illness of my spouse, I became aware that those social upheavals were taking root. Family life had moved from a husband-dominated support for a family where preference was given to that goal to women’s desire to also have careers, with equal pay. That desire for change deteriorated into a war between men and women that required a losing side.
I Was Well Aware of Societal Events
During all of this time, I was mostly unaware of any public activity by the religions of the United States. Before the election, John F. Kennedy publicly distanced himself from Catholicism in order to be elected. My immediate family had a tepid relationship with Christianity when I was young, but they did at least teach me the fundamentals. But to my mind, the church was one of those institutions that could not change fundamentally because God had already given us His Word. I never embraced this dramatic shift in society. I always felt that too much importance was given to the leaders. Hero worship of the musicians of the day and the vocal political leaders. Just the herd following a new master. Where was the grounding in truth?
What Exactly Did You Sleep Through?
Then about 1998 my wife and I started to have an interest in the transcendent. Not full-blown, but subtle. That interest grew as we casually watched various televangelists until 2004, when on a visit to a national park, I said to her, “I feel the need to go to church.”
We had renewed our vows at the little chapel in that large park about 18 years previously. One of the few conscious efforts to bring God back into our lives. The chapel was maintained on a rotation schedule by different Protestant denominations. Catholics had their own consecrated church. When we were there previously, a Methodist pastor performed the vow renewal ceremony. The current pastor was an evangelical of some sort. There were about four other couples present for this midweek service.
That is when I awoke, startled!
We had gone to worship God. The pastor wore casual street clothes, sat on a stool in front of the altar, and a guitar hung from his neck. He greeted us, then told us that if anyone wanted to hear him speak in tongues he would do that later. After hearing his life story and discussing a few biblical passages, he informed us that his bishop was arriving in a few days to decide if he could have the woman he recommended to be a pastor help him out. We did not go to a chapel that night to worship Reverend Tim Tom!
Okay, I had heard of this kind of religion, but the mainline Christian churches like the Methodist or the Catholic Church could not be this strange. I had believed that when Jesus spoke, Christians accepted his words as truth but just ignored it out of a misunderstood self-interest. They acknowledged that religion was a good thing, just not for them. They didn’t profess their own personal power and calmly break traditions.
That is when we happened upon EWTN and Catholic radio.
I learned from Catholic apologists that doctrine remained stable over the centuries. I learned from Catholic laity that adherence to that doctrine had not. There was a split in this presumably stable old institution, and I had thought that it could not possibly happen. Christianity was founded by Christ after all! How can people possibly think they know better than He?
There are two Masses, not a unified one. A push to ordain women. New-think sociopolitical activity by religious orders. Complicity by Catholic hospitals with government that wished to spread the use of abortifacients and contraception. Catholic Universities ignoring Catholic teaching, and rewarding with honors sinful public figures. Public disagreement among bishops. Constant confusion and second-guessing of our pope’s unwritten comments. And, even confusion by his writings.
Where I Am Now: Rip Wakes Up
Fully awake, and in the midst of greater social upheaval than the decades before. Americans are being forced by law into an acceptance of immoral behavior. Our thoughts have become unlawful, along with our actions. “Hate” crimes punish unacceptable thought and opinion. Once a violent act against another needed no motive proven in order to convict. Still the case, but somehow the motive has also become a crime, opening the door to “hate speech” crimes. This was a contrivance in order to inject the federal government into local law enforcement (according to my U.S. senator). This move towards federal power, then on to a one-world-government, is gaining favor.
The upheaval in the church continues as well.
So…how do I handle this upheaval in everything I love? I worship the Lord as often as I can. I prefer the Latin Mass and attend when it is available, but accept the Novus Ordo. I keep up on my faith every day by reading Catholic news and writings and minimize my exposure to secular news and entertainment. This keeps me safely grounded in a view of the world that spans millennia. I pray a group rosary. I love church potlucks. Catholicism and my grown children are the focus of my life. I now find that I have a broader view of what living means because of my faith. The events that surround a person are not always pleasant nor manageable. We are generally directed towards social and personal goals by some form of leadership. The saints are those leaders in our faith.
The persons that manage to gain governmental power at various levels can lead personally, but tend to drive a population towards the leaders own goals using the force of law. Many in this new millennium, including the most powerful, have begun to reject God in an open and forceful way. The results of this behavior will inevitably be disastrous, as the powerful fight to maintain power. As we are now seeing, the “means” will dominate, and whatever earthly “ends” were once in our grasp will disappear in the confusion.
May God bless America, but may America return to honoring God.