February 19, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – At a dinner between Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Dominick Lagonegro of Newburgh and myself a few years ago, I’d spoken about all the various mistakes in life that I made and wished I could take back all of them and do things differently. He assured me that everything I’ve ever done in my life and all the things that have happened to me were all part of God’s plan to make me better and holier than I ever was. What he said holds a great deal of truth and wisdom there. Through the years, I’ve changed from being the kid that hated going to Mass to being an adult that looked forward to attending the Mass, more specifically the Latin Mass.
I was born in the late 1980s in Cornwall, NY to two devout practicing Catholics, a father and a mother who would later bring up my younger brother and me. This was a time when Pope John Paul II (who would later be made a saint by Pope Francis) was the Vicar of Christ whose very wisdom and guidance gave the Catholic Church a voice of credibility and reason in a world still reeling from the Cold War. I would attend both the Novus Ordo Mass at St. Thomas of Canterbury in Cornwall and the Charismatic Mass at the Oblates Center of Our Lady of Hope in Newburgh. I even attended CCD classes at the latter on Tuesdays in the late 90s. My faith life and spirituality at the time had its ups and downs, with great difficulty.
I hated going to Mass and thought it was boring. I would be more content to just sit at home, watch movies, and play video games to my heart’s content. At one point, my mother asked me why I hated God enough to not go to Mass. I responded in my best, albeit flawed, intellectual way: “I love God; I just hate going to Mass, that’s all.”
However, there were signs of hope for me.
I would read a children’s illustrated Bible from front to back cover; I was particularly obsessed with Moses and the story of Exodus, even watching both The Prince of Egypt and the TV series with Ben Kingsley in it (I even dressed as Moses for Halloween as a kid once); I would even occasionally try to talk to my friends about Biblical forgiveness and kindness only to be rebuked back. I even put together a poem about God that won me first place in my CCD writing class.
The early 2000s came with some more lows and highs in my life. One of my childhood friends had fallen in with a bad crowd at school due to his abusive father’s terrible choices in life. It shook my faith in God and made me ask why I was seemingly betrayed by my good friend who I saw as a brother to me. Worse still was the revelation of the sex abuse scandal that had rocked the Catholic Church, shattered the credibility of our clergy, and destroyed the faith of so many followers who opted to leave the Church at a time when their witness to the Faith was most needed. Still, I attended Mass out of begrudging respect for my parents’ wishes and because I was obliged to, not out of any genuine love for God.
A turning point in my faith life came in 2005 when I attended a Charismatic Mass up in Rochester, NY while visiting relatives. Several young parishioners had invited me up to the altar during a service to give thanks to God. It felt so pleasant to be included and welcomed by many young people my age, although I would later discover the greater joy of being involved with young adult groups that were more orthodox.
The second turning point came in 2006 when The Da Vinci Code came out in theaters. Amid the objections and protests of many Catholic faithful, I went to see it several times. Each time, I noticed how Hollywood unfairly portrayed the Church despite the film’s differences from the novel. Instead of weakening my faith, it ironically made it stronger. In 2007, Bishop Lagonegro heavily encouraged me to consider being a Eucharistic Minister and, after much consideration and a little prayer, I agreed and became one. The last half of the 2000s helped me grow in my faith even more than in my childhood, especially when I went off in 2009 to Ithaca College to study filmmaking and photography. There, I developed a rapport and a strong kinship with the Catholic Community on campus despite the very liberal and progressive atmosphere up in the Finger Lakes Region. In my time there, I wasn’t as strong about the essential issues (abortion, homosexuality, etc) as I was with the prudential ones (immigration, poverty, environmentalism, etc).
After my graduation in 2011, I’d left the community that I’d spent the better part of two years and without a social circle. Bishop Lagonegro, being a close friend of my family, had helped spearhead a new Catholic youth group in Dutchess County called Ignite Young Adults and pointed me in their direction. In January 2012, I joined that group and found more like-minded Catholics who were on a similar faith journey like me, albeit they were more orthodox than my Ithaca College counterparts. In my darkest times in 2012, they provided me with a shoulder to lean on and I had a place with which to confide all my worries and sadness in. The timing could not be more perfect, as I’d just learned how the Obama Administration spearheaded attempts to drive Christianity out of the public square and force religious institutions to violate their conscience with contraception and abortion in Obamacare.
I subscribed to LifeSiteNews and other news outlets like National Catholic Register, One Peter Five, and Church Militant. The more I learned about the Political Left’s attempts to destroy Christianity and all that is true, good, and beautiful, the more I found myself drawn into a conflict that spans millennia since the days of Creation. Over the years, I stayed up to date on current events affecting the Church and the world as well, becoming more conservative and traditional as a Catholic. It wasn’t until 2015 that I was added by a friend to a Facebook page devoted to Traditional Catholicism in the Hudson Valley and I learned about the Traditional Latin Mass.
After repeatedly hearing about the benefits and glory of the Latin Mass, I found the closest one to my hometown and attended it for the first time in November 2015 with an open mind. With Novus Ordo, I found myself unbalanced and unfocused. But with the Latin Mass, I became more in tune with the celebration of Heaven on Earth. The sheer reverence and worship, the majesty of the service, and the beauty of women wearing mantillas, the Sacred Liturgy, the chants, and the Church’s ancient language really got to me. From there, I caught the bug and gradually began preferring the Latin Mass to the Novus Ordo. It was an experience unlike any I’d ever experienced up to that point.
Since then, I’ve been turning more and more into a Traditional Catholic. I’ve learned about many of the beautiful traditions that the Church once held dear until the Second Vatican Council discarded those same traditions. I’ve been regularly making more frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession, praying the rosary in Latin, fasting and giving up Facebook on Fridays, and even posting many articles on social media defending what the Church teaches and why. I’ve even come into contact with many more Traditional Catholics and staunch defenders of the Faith like Rene Albert, Father Stephen Imbarrato, and Stefanie Nicholas who have helped me grow in my knowledge about the Church and her theology. Reading from the Baltimore Catechism and meeting esteemed theologians like Scott Hahn and apologists like Bryan Mercier has helped me grow closer to holiness than when I was a boy.
But, it hasn’t all been smooth sailing and rose-colored dreams. I’ve also awoken to the way that Pope Francis’ papacy, however well-intentioned it might seem, is undermining the Catholic Faith and causing so much confusion and division that is now rocking the Church.
Over the years, I’ve lost many “friends” from school classmates to teachers and people from all walks of life who have thought differently from me on so many levels. I’ve even had a few of them mocking and laughing at my posts just for its own sake where I’ve had to unfriend them altogether when it became clear that they had no intention of being respectful of my beliefs. I’ve touched upon so many contentious topics in today’s world that I’ve become something of an outcast to some of them.
Case in point, one of my childhood friends who drifted away from the Church several years ago took issue with me for posting about IVF (in virto fertilization) and why the Catholic Church was wise about this issue. She and her husband, who had conceived their son through this method, were so outraged and apparently offended that I posted this article that they saw it as an attack against their child. They made the choice to not welcome me in their house or their lives anymore. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t even attacked anybody who used IVF or that the article’s presentation itself had some research flaws or that I was diplomatic and tactful with how I respond to other people’s comments.
The fact of the matter is that I’ve been attacked and accused of doing things and being many things that simply aren’t true. I’ve been called Nazi, bigot, homophobe, Bible-thumper, etc. I’ve been accused of trying to preserve the “patriarchy,” of being opposed to “women’s rights,” of “imposing my beliefs on the world,” of adopting the “us versus them attitude” with these issues, and of upholding “rigid,” “archaic,” “outdated” views that have no place in today’s society. And all this because I refuse to recognize the “legitimacy” of sins like sodomy, abortion, contraception, transgenderism, and all the things that are against the Catholic Faith.
My own parents and brother have also taken issue with me evangelizing on social media the way that I do. In fact, on a few occasions, they’ve implored me to stop evangelizing and just post regular normal stuff on Facebook like everybody else does. They’re worried that instead of bringing others to the Faith that I could be driving them away and ruining the name of Christianity. I find that extremely hard to believe because I realize that too many clergymen in the Church are all too unwilling to speak up and defend the Spotless Bride of Christ and Her teachings at a time when such decisiveness and leadership is needed. Where are their voices at a time when the Church itself is rocked by scandal and (like Christ Himself) is undergoing the Passion and Crucifixion, as has been the case for 2,000 years now? Why are they so obsessed with prudential issues like poverty, immigration, and environmentalism when they should be more focused on the essential issues like marriage and the family?
Two of the spiritual works of mercy are to instruct the ignorant and to admonish the sinner. If I don’t do these things, but I excel in all the others, where is my sense of integrity? What does that say about me as a Catholic who is supposed to try and help others get to Heaven? If I don’t speak up, who will? When I stand before God one day to be judged and He asks me why I didn’t try to warn others about the dangers of sin, what will I say? That I was just trying to be cautious or prudent? That I was trying to be “loving, pastoral, and merciful”?
My faith journey has had so many ironies. My brother and I grew up cradle Catholics and yet I remained ever closer to the Church while he drifted apart from it in time. Instead of me hating to go to Mass, I look forward to partaking in the worship of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. I received my education in an increasingly secular public education system, yet my faith has only grown stronger. I grew up thinking the Novus Ordo and Charismatic Masses, with their outright loud instrumental music and active participation of worshippers, were how things were always done in the Catholic Church only to discover later on in life that the Mass of the Ages had been denied me and many other young children.
Where once I was more concerned about trying to please everyone and just be nice, now I’m taking a principled stand as a Catholic man. Perhaps, it’s these ironies that have helped define the times as the world spirals ever further into darkness under the grip of Satan while saintly heroes are being forged like Alexander Tschugguel, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, Cardinals Raymond Burke and Robert Sarah, and Bishop Athanasius Schneider. The battle lines are being drawn where Christ would separate the sheep from the goats, the angels from the demons, and the wheat from the chaff. And, I know that I’d rather be on the side that stands with God and be judged by the world than the exact opposite.
My Faith has helped me grow in my relationship with God the Father and taught me many things about the Church’s most sacred traditions that I didn’t learn as a child. It’s helped me yearn for a life that glorifies God and yearns to one day live in heaven with Him and see the face of Jesus His Only Begotten Son. My Faith has also taught me what it means to be a servant of God and a man. It’s also brought many terrible things to my life. It’s heightened tensions between the people in my life and myself over the best way to live in the world. It’s also revealed the ever-growing conflict between Christianity and the world under the reign of Satan. My Faith has helped me gain friends and also lose friends, while gaining enemies as well.
My faith journey matters because now I’m embroiled in a conflict between those who still worship and honor God in all His ways and those who seek to replace Him and make themselves the center of the universe.
My journey matters because it’s offered me the chance to rise up and join the ranks of the Church militant on Earth who aspire for sainthood. My journey matters because the Church needs Her loyal soldiers now more than ever at a time when the world is turning a blind eye to the suffering and persecution of Christians worldwide.
My journey matters because I can’t bear to see all the things I love and hold dear in this world ripped apart and obliterated or, worse still, distorted into something it’s not.
My journey matters because while the rest of my family has either fallen away from the Faith or has subscribed to modernism, I’m fighting to help preserve and pass on the traditions of the Church.
My journey matters because I’ve been given a birthright, an inheritance, and a legacy passed down to many faithful laity (including myself) to preserve, protect, and provide for.
I didn’t ask for this burden, but I’ll bear it anyway I can; however I can, whenever I can to the best of my ability. I didn’t start this conflict nor did I ask for it or want it. But, I’ll take up spiritual arms and join in the fight anyway to help defend and save Christianity if it leads to a renewal of the Faith and a reawakening in the world to reject Satan and all his works. That’s what it all comes down to anyway.