(LifeSiteNews) — After a fifteen year journey, I entered into the Catholic Church. But before my conversion, in my twenties, while working as an actor on “Days of Our Lives,” I become a born again Christian. I dove headfirst into the kooky, Christian world of Los Angeles. Kooky is an appropriate word and I have far too many stories to corroborate this label.
They range from a Hollywood bible study with a VIP section and after party, to an Easter service, where – after the breakdancers exited the stage and the smoke disappeared – the pastor’s wife’s acting reel was unapologetically shown on the jumbotron; and the service was concluded with no mention given to the resurrection. So, I’m not remiss by my judgement of “kooky.”
My twenty five years as a Protestant and/or my conversion story is not what this is about, but they are the foundations that will help to bring clarity in what I’m attempting to communicate.
After going through the RCIA program and having my marriage blessed, I was free to embrace the fullness of truth given by Christ, through His Church. This was a revolution in my life and by God’s grace, I embraced the truth. Not on my terms, but Christ’s. I can’t help but point out some of my experiences and simple observations since I’ve made this transition.
But first, Captain Obvious. We are all an amalgam of many different influences and experiences, based upon our God-given talents, genetics, temperaments and environment. We’re pilgrims on this crazy journey of faith, where some have been given much and some less, but God is loving, just and faithful in all things; and like the saying goes, sometimes just you have to, “dance with who brung you.”
So, that being said…It’s Sunday Mass, I’m standing in line to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, doing my best to contemplate this mystery of faith and I look down and notice a pair of, flip flops.
No biggie, I guess. It’s hot outside. Then I see, a tank top and ripped up shorts. Unfortunately, my curiosity is sparked and I look around to see an almost sloppy, pattern of how my fellow parishioners are representing themselves on this Sunday morning. It’s a large parish, situated in a nice middle/upper middle class suburban area, so I’ll assume it’s not for lack of fashion availability, but a choice.
What’s the deal? So what? My focus needs to be on where I am and what I’m doing, NOT on what others are wearing. I know that! I see that! “Come as you are,” right?
Before anyone starts to think I’m being judgy, let me do my best to explain. Based upon my journey, background and experiences, I’ve become a bit sensitive to anything “Protestant.” Like, when the priest comes around the pulpit and down the aisle, to be more “relatable,” “engaging,” and attempt, for the innumerable time to entertain me with a humorous, anecdotal story about his Italian family’s cooking.
Here’s the deal. I’ve been lied to my whole life and allowed myself to believe these lies, and I can only speak for myself, but it was a sincere desire for truth that led me to Christ and it was truth that led me to His church.
I come to Mass because it is the highest form of prayer and worship and it is the place where Heaven meets earth. It’s the place where Our Lord makes Himself fully present; body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. So forgive me if I may comes across aggressive. I’m a work in progress and struggle with many defects, and saying what’s on my mind may be one of them. But I’m going to voice my observations anyway.
I don’t come to Mass to be entertained. In this modern world of ours, do we really suffer for lack of entertainment? But seriously, if a priest is funny, I will be the first to laugh and trust me, he will hear my hardy guffaw. Ok.
As I continue down the aisle towards receiving, my eyes are caught by the sight of pretty veils, worn by a family reverently praying. It was a beautiful and mysterious sight and filled me with wonder.
Afterwards I receive Our Lord: standing: in the hand – from the Eucharistic minister. And as I head back to the pew, facing the back of the church, I notice at least a dozen people rushing the exit.
So, there is a juxtaposition between the reverent, veil wearing, praying family in front of me and the flip flop, tank top wearing, jack rabbits scurrying out the back. I’m perplexed, to say the least. Mass ends and I approach the family to inquire about their veils. It’s a simple and softly spoken message, “It’s Biblical. They’re veils. It’s a sign of love and respect for Our Lord.”
Hmm…? This simple act of reverence makes an impression and reveals to me that something might be amiss.
Around this time, I read in the bulletin of an upcoming “Alpha Bible study” series. Again, I’m perplexed. Like I said, I just entered into the church because it is the fullness of faith/truth. So when I hear they’re doing a Protestant bible study – which I was familiar with because I went through it at the Protestant church I was attending – being the outspoken person I am, I question the priest and was shortly told that it was approved by the Vatican and I got the strong sense that I had no place and/or right to question.
I wish I had responded with, “If the Catholic Church is the fullness of truth, what kind of message are we sending parishioners, by going outside the faith to learn the faith? As if there’s something missing in the Church? Are we lacking Catholic theologians?”
Very soon after this experience, a close friend contacted me and recommended I go to the Latin Mass. Because of my respect for his faith and passion, I did, that very week.
I have one reference in my life, towards the Latin Mass. My parents left the Church in their young adulthood and didn’t raise my sister and me with any faith. In fact, it was only because of my grandparents that we were baptized. But there was one time my father simply said, “I miss the Latin Mass.” That was it, nothing more.
I had no idea what he was talking about, but it was branded in my head. I was most likely proselytizing my father and I’m sure it was related to the topic on the table, but I only remember the words, “I miss the Latin Mass.”
So sitting in Mass, witnessing the Latin for the first time, I was struck with an otherwordly presence. Not emotions (which evangelical experience thrives on), but a quiet, contemplative, active expression.
The priest facing towards the tabernacle (ya know, kind of like he’s interceding/praying to God, like God is actually present or something), the long line for confession, incense, Gregorian chant, veils, modesty, altar boys, kneeling and receiving on the tongue. The large families of quiet, well-behaved children (as if that, in and of itself, doesn’t fly in the face of a modern, common narrative). The masculine and the feminine fully represented in the form. I didn’t get the sense of pageantry, but sincere, deep reverence and the stillness that say, “be still and know that I’m God.” The humility. A disconnect from the world and all its modern humanistic, bells and whistles. Scripture came alive and I knew I was witnessing the, the torn curtain!
Here it is! The New Covenant! I immediately understood my father’s expression. A God who states, “I am the same yesterday, today and tomorrow;” a continuation and complete consistency of God’s expression to humanity; the beauty, the formality, the reverence – are all found in the Mass of the Ages.
I don’t mean to gush. But after years of winging it and years of attending, as my father would love to quote, “the church-of-what’s happening-now,” after being theologically tossed to and fro in my tiny boat of faith – only to occasionally moor together with other like-minded people, and eventually untether because I decided I wasn’t being either “led” or “fed,” well enough – I had finally found myself ashore and on solid ground. I was secure on the rock of Christ and His established church. Can anyone blame me for my passionate enthusiasm?
It has been an exciting journey, to say the least, and has definitely had it’s honeymoon faze, but, like all parties, they unfortunately have to end and the hard truth must be walked out. The place where the rubber meets the road. The realization that God guarantees Heaven to the “faithful;” but the question remains. Am I faithful?
The priesthood is the greatest dignity on the earth and I strongly believe, the most dangerous vocation. The responsibility that’s placed upon their shoulders is beyond my comprehension and they deserve the highest respect. More importantly, our fervent prayers.
Every parish has a “personality” and that clearly applies to mine. The level of intelligence is astounding and because of this, our pastor is spot on to warn us of dangers that could drive a wedge between us and holiness.
So when he warns us of spiritual pride, my ears perk and I only have to look in the mirror to see its ugly reflection. Beautiful nuggets spoken from the pulpit, like, “You know, people went to hell before Vatican II”?
Aah!! Mike drop moment! It’s the truth that sets us free and unless we hear it from the pulpit, how much harder is it to grow in holiness? Having a spiritual father that lives to offer the sacraments and is willing to risk being unpopular, fills me with the utmost gratitude. This increases my confidence and validates my decision, as the spiritual leader in my home, to raise my family in this community.
I have discovered that pride is a shapeshifting beast and the main conduit for sin, and the only way to combat this obstacle to holiness is humility. Unfortunately, humility is a mystery to me, but I’m committed to climbing this mountainous virtue, however long it takes.
I found myself in a position of needing to fulfill Sunday obligation, and the Novus Ordo was the only choice before me. So, regardless of my feelings of reservation, I did just that, and in my usual observational manner, I paid close attention, waiting for the shoe to drop. I was waiting and listening for the homily to be a universal message, without any mention of the attack against truth and harsh realities we face today, but a good, warm and fuzzy message of how we’re to simply love one another and have faith in a God, that doesn’t pass judgement on anyone, no matter what. Looking around the sparsely filled pews, which may indicate a parish on the downward decline; witnessing the priest facing away from the tabernacle as he takes a sip of water from an Evian bottle, I was struck with the form itself and one word plasters across my mind. One word stands out more than anything else.
The casualness of the whole thing. The Novus Ordo Mass is so, casual. I enjoy a good debate and I’ve definitely found myself engaging with Novus Ordo attendees about the difference between the two forms.
The message that Jesus wants us to “come as you are” becomes the rallying cry, and is used as the snub nose at those who choose to drive past many parishes to attend the Latin Mass. They make that decision and sacrifice, because they believe that Christ is 100% present and simply find it painful to be in the presence of something that gives God less glory. Is that rigid?
And let me challenge those whose feathers I might have ruffled. If you were to meet a dignitary, royalty of some kind, a movie star, your boss, would you take into account how you should represent yourself? Or would you simply, “come as you are?”
I wrestle with these thoughts and look into the mirror of truth, seeing that beast of pride staring back at me, and I realize something profound. Christ makes Himself present in the Mass, period. He went so far as to live, walk and die for His passion. He poured out blood, His love for us on the cross, even if only one person repented. He makes Himself fully present, even if it means suffering a form that’s casual in nature and renders Him less glory.
He comes as He is. Because, He is, that He is. Who am I to say that these people don’t have more faith than me? They are obviously here, day in and day out, loving God. Maybe their faith, regardless of the casual nature that is pressed upon them, is giving Christ more consolations. Maybe Christ has me attending the Latin Mass because, I need it. Because I need the graces the Latin Mass offers, because I’m that bad. Because I’d be that much more lost without it?
I’m simply pointing out what I see. But I’ll finish with this. If you happen to be standing next to me on the side of the road, watching a parade for the emperor’s new clothes, don’t be alarmed if this ex-kooky Protestant, Hollywood actor, points out the obvious fact – he’s naked.