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Friday, October 18, 2013

Taking a break from all your worries, Part I.

Until about 4pm Wednesday, I would have described my faith as a weakened, flailing thing, a drag, a spiritual stockade. It was especially trying since I am juggling a lot of balls in in my family's life, right now, and it's not pleasant. Having my Catholicism wither just made it a horror show.

Late Wednesday afternoon? Viva Cristo Rey. He lives, indeed.

This post is, and is not, about the Pope. I think that many of you will not care for it, but I ask you to give it a listen anyway. It will take a couple-three parts to address, but I think an explanation of where I am coming from should start it off. This is going to be long, too--multi-parter! You've been warned.

I'm the son of two loving parents from rural central Michigan. My Dad is a retired fire chief and supervisor for the former GTE corporation. My Mom is a former guidance counselor and teacher who worked at an alternative school for high risk students. I'm the first member of my family to go to and graduate college right out of high school. I have a little brother who is taller than me now and carries a gun, working as a supervisory investigator for Customs and Border Protection. Public service runs in our family, as you can see. I'm the black sheep of the family, having decided to go to law school back when it was a merely uncertain career proposition, as opposed to an insane one. I went to the Jesuity Catholic one, the University of Detroit-Mercy, and graduated in 1996, passing the bar through some kind of divine favor. No, really--I don't know how I pulled it off.

I'm a husband, married to a delightful woman for fourteen years on October 23. Yep, in 1999, when I was pulling in non-L.A. Law bucks, and she was getting newbie public school teacher money. Starting in 2001, we began having children. Currently, six marvelous, astounding, confounding children, ranging from ages 12 to 2. I practice public interest law, which means I get a salary and if you win, I get bupkis. That's perfectly cool with me, as I used to have to chase clients down for money, but haven't had to for years. I can look into the mirror with confidence to shave, if you catch my meaning. My wife is a French and Spanish teacher, though she hasn't worked outside the home since shortly after our second child was born. She works like hell inside it, though.

It hasn't been all joy, but no family's road is. At one point, after the birth of our youngest daughter, we had seven of us crammed into a two bedroom, one bath, no basement nor garage ranch home. 880 square feet. I still don't know how we did that, frankly. Faced with growing necessity, we moved out of our home to purchase a new one, being told by a real estate professional that we would easily get approved for a short sale. That proved to be exceptionally *bad* advice. Malpractice bad.

We got foreclosed on instead. Still, we do have a roof over our heads, even if our credit rating has been nuked from orbit.

We have two vehicles, the newest of which is eleven years old, and both have more than 160,000 miles on them. As I mentioned in the book review post below, we now live a few blocks north of the famous Eight Mile Road. It's not a bad neighborhood--our car insurance actually went down by moving a mile closer to Detroit, if that means anything.

Last, for the purposes of the intro, but not life--we are Catholic. My wife is a cradle Catholic, with a father whose Catholicism shone deeply in his actions, even if he couldn't articulate why. Still, she got what all young Catholics got in the 1970s: proto-Groomeian glitterchesis, wherein she learned that God is love and glitter is sticky.

I received even less Catholic formation than she did, being baptized a Methodist as an infant and raised somewhat indifferently in that tradition. I always believed there was a God, and I had a religious impulse, however dulled, but I couldn't articulate what or why. I didn't like the hard sell approach of evangelicals, even if I had a sneaking admiration for their peace. It turned out that I liked even less the politicized creed of the Religious Left, seen through the prism of the regular Free Press (and later a shorter run at the Detroit News) columns of Episcopal priest Harry Cook. Cook's gospel was one of seething contempt for anyone to the right of Fidel Castro and his Jesus an ineffectual sidekick who played a reticent Ed McMahon to the perfections of the Rev. Cook. I might not have been well-trained in religion at the time, but I could sense a pseud and a fraud, and Cook was it. So when my future bride delicately broached religion, suggesting Episcopalianism as a meeting point, I apparently signaled my rejection with something between a spit and a snarl. I then said I would be more than willing to look at Catholicism first.

God can draw straight with the crookedest of lines, can't He? An ironic, but real, thanks to the gilded hackery of Harry Cook.

So, instead, I stumbled into RCIA and began the process of becoming a Catholic. To my shock, it hit me as very congenial. But more importantly, I began to seriously face up, for the first time, with the life and person of Jesus Christ. And I decided to follow Him. Oh, not always perfectly--much more often like a one-legged cat at a hockey rink. But limping and spinning, I try to follow.

And the cincher for me was that I believe He makes himself present at the Eucharist. I had an experience--not exactly mystical, but convincing on that point. The Eucharist, both the Person and the ritual, as related in the Gospels and by Paul, convinced me about Jesus: that He was Someone very, very different, on a divine mission, and that He knew what was coming and what He was doing. Most of the rest of the dominoes toppled after that. So turning away from the altar is not something I would do lightly.

So, as I said, most of the rest of the Church's teachings clicked into place.

Most being the operative word here.

End Part I.


  1. Won't be able to get the second one up until tonight.

  2. You have a fine way with words--I look forward to reading the rest!

  3. Whenever I doubt or fear, I remember the words of Peter: "Lord, to whom shall we go?"
    There is no place to go, so we must cling to the Rock. Even when it gets slippery!

  4. As a convert to the Catholic Church from Episcopalianism, I applaud your wisdom. It took me almost 40 years to see the darkness, which allowed me to recognize the light.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  5. Dale, I look forward to reading the rest of this. Thank you for putting it up here.

    I was a latecomer to the Catholic Church after a long, broad, and intense street-level education in comparative religion. Various things, most notably American bishops and the Catholic blogosphere, spurred me to back off several years ago and go give the atheists a hearing. It didn't stick, and I'm back, although cautious.

    It's really good to see that you're still around and still Catholic.

    By the way: Back in the 1990s, when I was a (literal) pagan in the early stages of re-examining various strains of Christianity, I read a good bit of John Spong's ... material. I came away from that with an attitude of 'so why bother?'. It looks as if your experience with the local Episcopalian commentator could have led to a similar attitude if not for your wife. Props to her, and to you.