From Agnostic to Baptist to Catholic

From Agnostic to Baptist to Catholic

Every story of conversion is of interest as each convert has their own unique experience of faith to relate. Nonetheless, Ian Murphy’s Dying to Live (Ignatius Press), with its subtitle, “From Agnostic to Baptist to Catholic”, has a particular readability. This comes from his roller-coaster description of the spectacular nudges of grace he receives and his subsequent backslidings. Clearly the author had an early talent for communicating the Christian message to an audience; just as clearly, he struggled with severe obstacles to conversion. Above all, his book shows the extraordinary way grace can work in the life of one gifted but obstinate individual.

Murphy was evidently a God-haunted child. Reading the Bible for himself at a young age (he grew up in a loving, devoutly Protestant home in the Pennsylvanian backwoods), in the second grade “I asked myself the scariest questions ever; What if there is no God? What if I’m just an accident? What is the meaning and purpose of my being here? When I die is it lights-out – and I won’t remember ever existing at all? Do I have a Creator? If I do, then why did God make me?” These are not the normal worries of a seven-year-old.

He relates that from ages 8-14 he experienced acute anxiety about the existence of God and struggled with agnosticism. Aged 14, in desperation he prayed: “God, if you exist, then I need to touch the spiritual realm for myself, in order to have faith.” This is followed by the most terrifying chapter in the book, “Be careful what you pray for”, in which God allowed Murphy to be subject to a demonic attack during the night. Anyone with a similar experience will recognise the authenticity of this ordeal; for those who haven’t, it provides unmistakeable evidence of the diabolic. When the demon finally flees at the name of Jesus, the author reflects ruefully that God did indeed answer his prayer – by showing him the horrifying reality of the dark side of the “spiritual realm.”

Inevitably, Murphy’s conversion is not an easy ride. A straight-A student who excelled all through school, he is tempted to make academic excellence his god. Fortunately, throughout the book timely interventions and good influences appear in the form of exceptional Christian mentors to guide him, both Protestant and Catholic (and by the end of his story, it seems that the Protestant pastors are either secretly Catholic or about to become openly so.)

What is striking about Murphy’s autobiography is how seriously he takes the Christian command to evangelise. Most Catholics would shrink from asking their agnostic or atheist friends if they want to let Jesus into their lives. Not so Murphy – and his apostolic endeavours are met with surprising conversions of the least likely people, such as a fellow cell-phone salesman in the company he works for during several years when he tries to avoid his vocation: to become a fulltime Christian speaker and lecturer. In his own words, “I ran from the Cross.”

One telling episode is worth quoting as it shows up starkly how powerful an obstacle to faith pride can be. Murphy had successfully put the case for Christianity to an agnostic friend, who admitted that he was defeated by the arguments presented to him. Then he says, “Yet I remain a non-Christian…What happened to you indicates that there is invisible, spiritual reality…I don’t listen to that flippantly. I know what it means. And on top of what happened to you, logically speaking, human reason favours that I was indeed designed. And I may very well meet God, and have to account for my life. I choose to remain as I am because I want to be the god of my own life, and do whatever I currently feel like doing. I don’t want to answer to somebody else. And I take full responsibility for my decision, including its consequences.” Reading this passage, I shivered.

The book also has fascinating vignettes that demonstrate why Murphy’s Protestant pastors and mentors always tried to warn him from reading the early Church writers, telling him such curiosity was the work of the Devil. He relates, “One day I eventually read Polycarp. He sounded Catholic. Maybe that’s why everybody hates his writings so much…but this guy knew John – that’s awesome!”

Much of the book’s appeal also comes from Murphy’s self-deprecating humour. Here is one example: “How does one live persuaded by the truth of the Catholic Church while working as a fulltime Baptist preacher? The answer is simple: by living a double life.”

This book should be on the shelves of anyone seriously wrestling with the question of God and the related question: which Church is most faithful to truth, exercised with authority.

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From Agnostic to Baptist to Catholic

An interview with Christina Chase

Having blogged about It’s Good to be Here (Sophia Press), the reflections of Christina Chase, who was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA type II), I decided to follow it up by contacting the author to learn more about her life and faith. I tell her that what caught my attention was the epigraph at the beginning of her book: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive, and the life of a human being is the beholding of God”, a quote from St Irenaeus. What made her choose it?

Christina tells me it is one of her favourite quotes. “Often, we hear only the first part, but I think that its entirety encapsulates the meaning of life. Here is the intimate connection between God and Man; the authentically lived life of a human being glorifies God, and an active relationship with God is what gives true, full life to a human being. We are united to God in a communion of love.”

She adds, “Throughout my life, I have sought, both consciously and subconsciously, to be “a human being fully alive”. Who doesn’t want that? But what does it look like? God our Creator shows us by becoming one of us and lovingly living a human life Himself – a divinely human life of struggles and delights, or sorrow, pain, generosity and compassion. When we behold the man Jesus and recognise Him as God in the flesh, and then lovingly follow Him in our particular lives, we become incorporated by God into His glory. This is the astonishing power of divine love in the Incarnation. This is the sacred wonder of being human.”

At the risk of being intrusive, I ask Christina what she finds the hardest thing to bear in her life. She responds with great honesty that it is “loss, irretrievable loss. I’ve suffered the loss of physical strength, movement and simple abilities throughout my life because my progressive disease makes me weaker and weaker every year, relentless weaker. For example, I stopped being able to fully feed myself in my late teens and can’t feed myself at all now. Driving my power wheelchair has become very difficult and I can feel the increasing labour in my breathing.”

“Some things that I enjoyed doing, I can no longer do, and things that I would have loved to do – like becoming a wife and mother – will never be part of my life because of the progression of my disease.” Christina admits that “the severe dependency on others that the loss of strength causes can be frightening, especially when I think about the future. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I have discovered that depth and wisdom can come through hardships and that what is truly most important in life is never lost.”

What has been her greatest blessing? She responds that it is “always having known that I am loved. It breaks my heart that not everybody knows this – even though every human being is infinitely and intimately loved by God. I’m eternally grateful for the blessing of my parents, who were the first to help me know the reality of unconditional, self-giving love through their willing sacrifices, good humour and affection.”

Christina tells me that her parents have been “images of God for me, reflecting divine love, even when I didn’t recognise them as such, even when I didn’t recognise the reality of God’s love. In my loving family and fairly happy childhood, I thought that I knew what joy is. But in coming to know the source of all love, the source of all life, I am coming to know true joy – the infinite love and joy that is eternal.”

Reading her book (she also blogs weekly at authorChristinaChase.com), it is clear to me that Christina has a strong sense of mission. How would she describe her apostolate? She tells me that she believes “God is calling me to help others understand that they are infinitely and intimately loved by their Creator, that every human life is sacred, beautiful and important in the eyes of God, who desires each person’s eternal fulfilment. Isn’t this the good news that Christ commissions all of us to share? In our fallen world, we too often reduce our fellow human beings and ourselves to merely useful objects. When we fail to see any practical purpose for someone’s existence, or we no longer feel pleasure from our own, we may think that life isn’t worth living.”

“But God chose to become one of us. Was Christ any less divine when he was utterly dependent in the womb and the manger, when he was ridiculed, weakened and immobilised on the Cross? God in the flesh restores human beings to the glory for which they have been created and I want the world to know that nothing – not suffering, disease, disability, poverty, hardship, pain – can render human life less than human, can make any of us unworthy of love. To be alive is a terribly beautiful gift of divine love, experienced now and fulfilled eternally.”

Lastly, given the constraints upon her life, I ask Christina to describe her daily routine. She relates that it is “rather complicated, because I need someone else to do every physical act for me: brushing my hair and my teeth; bathing and dressing me; putting food and medication into my mouth; carrying me from bed to wheelchair and wheelchair to bed; putting a bed pan under me and cleaning me afterwards; I gladly share these particulars publicly because I want people to understand that they don’t need to fear dependency. Other people can’t take away your dignity, no matter how crass or uncaring they may be; your dignity comes from God’s love; you can only lose it if you becoming deliberately and defiantly unloving.”

Returning to her daily routine, Christina says that she needs “to sit while eating and remain up for an hour afterwards. Twice a day I receive chest percussion therapy to keep my lungs clear, a chore that takes time and a lot of effort from my caregiver. I need four shifts of about two-hour hands-on care daily, both throughout the day and even at night. My loving parents have always been my main, and quite often, sole caregivers. I’m also grateful that I have compassionate home health aides who help for a couple of hours, several days a week.”

She explains that she uses “a computer dictation system to write reflections for my blog, poetry and chapters for my work-in-progress, usually writing after breakfast and again after lunch, when I’m in my wheelchair. This is also when I do tasks, like answering emails or fulfilling my volunteer work for my parish’s website and Facebook page. When the weather is nice, I enjoy being out of doors, taking in the beauty of nature and thinking about life’s big questions.”

“My prayer life consists mainly of informal conversations with God throughout the day, as I am aware (sometimes more than others) that He is always listening to my thoughts. I also pray the Rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet in the afternoons when I rest on my bed, then listen to an audiobook if I have time. Sometimes I don’t get to the afternoon prayers, but I always try to get them in before bedtime, at which time I prayerfully review the day. After supper with my parents, I watch a recorded broadcast of the Mass.”

Christina adds: “Most every morning I wake up with gladness for the day, call for one of my parents to take off my BiPAP machine (which I require for sleeping so that my oxygen level won’t drop below 50 per cent) and thus begin being cared for. In the silence of waiting in between and during tasks, I think and plan, pray for my loved ones and special intentions and make a morning offering to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I used to forget this offering, or make it too quickly, but then I turned it into a song. I am a highly imperfect singer, but I joyfully and lovingly sing.”

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Abp Viganò: ‘I see nothing paternal about punishing priests who do not want to profane the Sacred Host’

‘A bishop who, instead of defending the honor owed to the King of Kings and praising those who strive for this noble purpose, even goes so far as to close a flourishing seminary and to publicly reprimand his clerics is not performing an act of charity but rather a deplorable abuse, for which he will be called to respond before the judgment seat of God.’

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Canadian Bishops and Caritas Seek Improved Coordination

Following an organizational review of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace – Caritas Canada to improve its collaboration with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, implementation of the resulting recommendations will begin this fall.

The organizational review was conducted by the firm Deloitte and involved the participation of staff and members of Development and Peace, as well as staff of the CCCB and Bishops across Canada. The results of the analysis suggested 14 recommendations, which were then integrated into the four following workstreams to facilitate the implementation process:

Criteria for international partnerships

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