30 December 2013

Johnny

I had said to my children that they must all make their own decisions about becoming Catholics.  I think this was right.  By the end of 1995, Johnny was 20, Helen 18, Eddie 15, and Adele 13.  I did not and do not think it could have been right to impose my own choice on persons of those ages.

Nonetheless, it is certainly true that the younger ones were much more likely than the older to follow me into the Church, and they did.

Johnny did not.  Johnny had finished high school without a very clear idea of what he wanted to do.  At one point, in fact, he had thought of being a commercial pilot, but his vision requires spectacles and this would have limited his opportunities.  Pilot training is expensive as well, and although he could have got government student loans, they must be repaid.  In 1995 he was working as a cook in the Pukekohe Kentucky Fried Chicken takeaway.

And he was restless.  Living at home was of necessity oppressive to a young man of that age.  Sue's father lived in Seattle.  Johnny investigated, found that he could get a job at KFC in Seattle on the basis of his job here.  Short-term, he could live with Sue's father.

Johnny left Auckland in June, 1995.  I think that his siblings will never forget that occasion.  We said good-bye to him in the airport, walked out to our ancient yellow 'van, and drove home - weeping.  Johnny was in Seattle for two years and a half years - and the experience was absolutely necessary for him.  I have just finished discussing the time with him, trying to work up a bit of a timetable:

  • June, 1995 - he arrived in Seattle, staying for the first few months with Sue's father (he found an apartment to share with two other guys for the rest of his time there).  He worked for KFC at the corner of Aurora Avenue and 135th Street - perhaps with ironic appropriateness in the neighbourhood called Bitter Lake.  The work was hard; his life was not amusing.  12 July, 1995 was Johnny's 20th birthday, celebrated far from home.
  • Somewhere around the end of 1995 or the beginning of 1996, Johnny got a job at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Bellevue.  This was, I think, a real step up for him - and was the start of what must have been about five years' employment in the 'hospitality industry' for Johnny, working at several different hotels.
  • And somewhere in this time - late 1995 or early 1996 - Johnny contacted Mark Shea, and Father Michael Sweeney, OP - the latter a Dominican priest at Blessed Sacrament parish.  I believe it was Johnny's extreme good fortune - and God's loving providence - that led him to Father Michael.  Had it not been for that priest, now the president of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, I wonder whether Johnny would be a Catholic today.  Father Michael was a true father to Johnny when he needed it.  He was received into the Church at Easter vigil, Saturday 6 April, 1996.
  • And at the end of that year, lost his job at the Hyatt.  The matter was really only a technical one, and Johnny was permitted to resign.  He had parked someone's car.  Unfortunately, Johnny had no driver's licence.  (I confess to being interested to know that he could drive at all.  He had declined to learn to drive when he lived at home because he felt he wouldn't be seen dead in my series of jalopies :-)).
  • Things became very difficult for him now.  He had been working at poor jobs at low pay.  He now returned to KFC - lower pay than at the hotel.  He had to take a second job, working at what was then called the Aurora Seafair Inn (now called Days Inn).  Each evening, finishing at KFC, he rushed home to change out of his greasy KFC clothes and took the 'bus to the motel for the night shift.
One additional wonderful relation that grew during this time was his friendship with my brother Peter, Johnny's uncle.  Each year Johnny spent the Thanksgiving holiday at Peter's house.  Johnny now travels to the US from time to time.  When he does, Peter's is an obligatory stop.

Easter, 1997 he came home for a visit.  This, also, was a necessary part of growing up.  He had shown he could survive on his own - but also discovered, what, at times, you must leave home to do, that his mother and father love him.  In December, 1997 - before Christmas I think - he came home and almost immediately got a job working at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Auckland.

24 December 2013

Susan settled

Susan's mother, Helen Virginia Stretcher as she was born, was a convert to what is often referred to as Anglo-Catholicism.  Her own family had been Methodists.  Susan told me of her mother's conversion only within the last year.  I had vague notions of Virginia's family as coming from a long line of Episcopalians (American Anglicans) but this was not so.

In 1932, when Ginny was 18 years old, she was admitted as a student in the first junior college class in what was then called St Helen's Hall (now the Oregon Episcopal School).  She spent two years there.  At her entrance, she was a Methodist.  When she graduated (2nd row, left):

she was an Anglican - and evidently (Susan remembers) of a rather 'high' sort.

Virginia died in February, 1992.  There was no hint on our horizon of the Catholic Church.

Susan's father, Edwin Parker Peery, already had cancer by then.  In January, 1995, Sue received a letter - or possibly a 'phone call? - from a son of her father's second wife Arlene: would Susan like to come to the US to see her father?  Arlene's son had to travel a great deal in his work; he would gladly let Sue use his 'frequent flier' points to come to Seattle.

Sue was, in fact, still unsettled in mind about our decision to become Catholics.  In reality, it ought to have been far easier for her than for me.  She had been brought up Anglican.  Her family attended St Mark's Episcopal Cathedral in Seattle - and services were not so different from Catholic Mass: Communion was part of Sunday service; the priest was called 'Father;' vestments were worn.  Yet she had been heavily affected by our years as Reformed Protestants.  She found herself wondering, perhaps, if what was happening was just another of John Jensen's changes of mind.

I thought it wonderful that she should go to Seattle.  Not only would she see her father; she would also be able to spend time with Mark Shea - the man to whom I almost owe my soul.  It had been Mark's e-mails that had been of such importance in my own conversion.  Mark would, I was sure, help her.

In February, 1995, Sue flew to San Francisco, thence to Seattle.  She spent, I think not quite three weeks on her trip.  She saw many relations, there and in Portland.  And she attended Mass with Mark, at Blessed Sacrament parish in the University district, where she had lived with her family from the end of primary school until she left home.  Sue returned home, 'a different person,' as people say - or perhaps integrated in mind and heart.

And I have wondered, since I learnt of Virginia's own Anglo-Catholicism, whether her prayers from Heaven were not of very great importance in our own conversion.

By now, all of our family had decided to become Catholics - except Johnny.

21 December 2013

Susan

When Sue, Johnny, and I had that dramatic meeting with Mike (our minister) and Roel, I said definitely that I believed I had to become a Catholic - Sue and Johnny said they were not yet sure.

Perhaps I did not take this statement on Sue's part as seriously as I ought to have done (none who know me well will be surprised :-)).

Because Christmas falls in high summer in New Zealand, the country shuts down at this time even more than northern hemisphere countries do.  From Christmas until usually the week after New Year's, many of us are on holiday.  One Saturday evening - perhaps 7 January, 1995 - I suggested to Sue that we go to evening Mass at St Andrew's in Tuakau.  We were, after all, Catholics now; let's get to know some of the neighbouring parishes.

The assumption that 'we' were Catholics now was, if not premature, at least thoughtless.  Sue was, I perceived, not very happy that evening.  I didn't really know why that should be.  It was a pleasant, warm, summer evening - sunny until 8:30 or 9.  The parish is a pleasant 15-minute, 12 Km, drive from Pukekohe.  It is a fairly old (1950s??  pre-WW2??) wooden building, very nice, very Catholic.

I don't know when it was that Susan explained why she was so uncomfortable attending Mass there that evening.  When she told me, she said that what she had echoing in her mind was our minister's clear words to her from that meeting: "It is my duty to tell you that you are not to attend Mass anywhere, for any reason."

I think, believing what he believed, that this was exactly the right thing for him to say.  It is to Susan's credit that she took this seriously enough to be concerned.

Nevertheless, she went.  I think that at this time she was still uncertain about her own will.

Our three younger children, I am sure, were willing at that time to trust my judgement.  Eddie, it is true, had considerable interest in the Protestant-Catholic arguments, and he and I discussed the issues at considerable length.  The three of them had begun to make some friends at St Patrick's - and tolerating pretty well three church services a day (8AM Mass; 10:30AM Reformed Church morning worship; 5PM Reformed Church evening worship).

Johnny was definitely still on the 'undecided' list - and was, in fact, to depart for the United States in June of that year.

Susan's own settlement of mind was to involve a trip to the US of her own.

15 December 2013

Reality

It is sometimes said that "Catholics can't get divorced."  More knowledgeable persons say that "Catholics can't get divorced and remarried" (more ignorant ones sometimes think that the process referred to as annulment is "Catholic divorce").

None of these views does justice to the actual situation, not of the marriage of Catholics, but of the marriage of human beings - for it is not the Catholic Church that has created marriage.  God created marriage.

Man is an animal; man is, however, more than an animal.  For animals, the sexual relationship is governed by nature.  Some species of animal - swans are an example - naturally mate for life.  Their union is permanent, exclusive - and intended for reproduction.  With rare exceptions, they live according to their natures - they have - literally - no choice in the matter.

The union of man and woman, in the ideal case, is like that of the swan: permanent, exclusive - and oriented toward offspring - 'open to new life' as the Church expresses it.

To be sure, marriage often falls short of this ideal.  Marriages that are intended at the start to be permanent, fail.  Marriages that are intended at the start, at times experience adultery.  The strangest fact - strange, since reason would seem to say that children are what marriage is all about - the strangest fact is that married couples often seem not to aim at children - a perversion that seems to border on the suicidal, from, at least, the racial point of view.

Nevertheless, despite the failures of marriage, permanence, exclusivity, and openness to new life are the necessary characteristics of marriage - and the intention to aim at these three ideals is necessary for there really to be a marriage.

Christ raised marriage to a new level.  He sanctified it - and made such a marriage indissoluble (Matthew 19:6; Mark 10:9).  A marriage between baptised persons is what the Church calls a sacramental marriage.  A person who is married cannot re-marry as long as his spouse is alive.  This article discusses the matter clearly.

A critical question, thus, became: was I already married?

It is a fact today that many in the Catholic Church are in the situation of being validly married to another, but now civilly married to a new partner.  So long as they continue live together as husband and wife, they are not allowed to receive Communion.  For good reason - the financial dependence of one partner on the other; the presence of children in the family - a couple in this situation may be given permission to live together 'as brother and sister' - or else forgo the right to the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

I applied to the Auckland Diocesan Marriage Tribunal to have my marriage to Edna examined.

The matter was complex.  At the time - 1995 - I had had no contact with Edna for some years.  Letters I had written to the last address I had had for her were returned.  I did not know where Kathleen was living, either.  I did not know of any way to contact Edna.  I told the nun working in the tribunal that this was the case.  She asked if I knew Edna's American Social Security number.  I did not.  I said that I doubted they would locate her.  They said they were sure they would.  The matter was yet messier due to the fact that our marriage had taken place in the Diocese of San Francisco in California.

Many questions were asked in regards all of this: whether I had been baptised before marrying Edna (I actually asked my parents; it appears I had not been); whether Edna had been baptised before marrying me (I was of the opinion that she probably had been, but did not - and do not - know); but above all, what had been my understanding of marriage at the time, and what had been my intentions.

I feared a conflict of interest in this last.  I knew that I had a motivation for saying that my knowledge of marriage, and my intentions in marriage, were inadequate.  If they were judged adequate, perhaps my marriage to Edna was valid.  Nevertheless, I did want the truth.

The truth was, I said to the nun interviewing me, that I did not think I had had any clear idea of marriage.  In 1962, if you wanted to live with a woman, you got married.  No doubt, I supposed, there were people who did not worry about marriage.  The idea certainly would not have occurred to me.

Did I intend permanence and exclusivity?  I certainly said, in my marriage vow, that I did.  We were married - Edna tells me, for I had not even known this at the time - by an Anglican (Episcopalian) priest.  He would have used words about 'forsaking all others' and 'till death do you part.'  I would have said 'I do.'  I am afraid - and I blush to say it - that I probably thought so little about the meaning of those words as not even to have been able not to intend to keep them.

Of one thing I was certain: though, had I been asked at the time if I wanted children, I would, no doubt, have said, "Oh, yes, sure - some day" - it was certainly not my intention for any time soon.  Perhaps the very best thing that happened to us was that, within two months of our marriage, Kathleen was conceived.  God intends better things than we can conceive.

As is the case in increasingly many cases like mine, the Church concluded that my marriage to Edna was not, in the full sense of the word, valid.  I had liked 'due discretion' - a way of saying that I was not grown up enough to consider marriage at the time.  Few, I think, including Edna, would dispute that.  A 'decree of nullity' - a statement that there never was a proper marriage in the first place - was issued.

This decision was not actually delivered to Father Jude until the 23rd of December, 1995 - the day before I (with Susan, and Helen, Eddie, and Adele) were received into the Church.

This post has been very difficult and painful for me to write, detailing, as it does, my own serious misbehaviour.  I have not felt I could avoid some discussion of the matter.

All of this took most of 1995 - but in January of that year, it was not clear that this would be so.

08 December 2013

New beginnings

Rather suddenly, the Catholic Church, which had been almost wholly a mental image theretofore, became a concrete physical - and personal - reality.  The generic idea of one, holy, Catholic and apostolic became now St Patrick's parish, Pukekohe:
 St Patrick's Catholic Church, Pukekohe, 1980.
The generic idea of a Catholic priest became Father Jude McCarthy.  Church authority became Bishop Denis Browne (now Bishop of Hamilton).

Although we had attended Mass here a couple of times before - Christmas midnight Mass in 1993, which was enchanting because carols and other cultural connexions made it seem familiar, and Easter Vigil, 1994, which was strange and in some ways creepy, because as Protestants we had made little of Easter - nonetheless, we had never attended Mass as Catholics - or at least as those who had begun the road that definitely led to being Catholics.  January the 1st, 1995, was our first Mass in that sense.  I recall feeling a bit uncertain and glum.  We attended the 8AM Mass - which has been our normal time ever since - because we were also going to go to the Reformed Church service at 10:30.  I felt a little forlorn.  In our twenty Reformed years I had come to have a special affection for the Dutch.  As I approached the door of the church, I thought of this.  After Mass, a tall man (having spotted the newbie) came up to me and introduced himself.  The Limburg accent nearly moved me to tears.  Jaap has since gone to his reward; Tilly, his wife, still sits behind us.  I had the feeling that the Lord was murmuring in my ear: "You want Dutch?  I have plenty of Dutch.  Dutch, English, Filipino, Maori - men and women from every tribe and tongue on earth."

We - all six of us - made an appointment that week to visit Father McCarthy.  I had, really, no idea what to expect.  Other than Father Horgan, in Yap, I had never met a Catholic priest.  I think perhaps I had thought - in my vanity - that he would be impressed.  Here, after all, was someone wishing to do his church a favour by joining.  Father Jude was quite low-key about the whole business.  He was happy to meet us.  We talked about practical matters - in particular, about RCIA classes.

RCIA - the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults - is, relatively speaking, new.  Once, becoming a Christian was a daunting process.  Christians, after all, were counter-cultural - and sometimes experienced the consequences of being out of step with the world around them.  Entering the Church was not a step to be taken lightly.  People were often catechised for years before reception.

By the Middle Ages, in the European world, being a Catholic was the norm.  Most people were born into the Church.  Converts - Jews, for example, Muslims, and so forth, were taught individually - usually by a priest - and privately.

In 1972 - seven years after the Second Vatican Council - the Congregation for Divine Worship instituted a formal process for admission of adults.  It may well be that the Church saw the difficulties of one-on-one catechisation - amongst which was the falling number of priests - and saw this as a formal solution.  We, then, would be given instruction in this way.

I explained that it was not yet certain that any of us but I myself would actually be entering the Church.  No problem - RCIA classes imposed no obligation to be received.

Classes would begin shortly after Easter.  I was surprised by this.  I had understood, from talking to people on-line, that RCIA normally began in August or September with reception at Easter.  "Ah, yes," said Father Jude, "but we do things a little differently here."

In the meantime, Father said, there was another matter to be taken up.  I was divorced and re-married.

29 November 2013

Christmas 1994

It seems still as portentous to me now as it did at the time - that, having moved to Pukekohe in 1984 with the express intention of being one of the three families to constitute the foundation stones of the Pukekohe Reformed Church, I was now about to leave that Church and become a Catholic.

Christmas, 1994 fell on a Sunday, and the Pukekohe Reformed Church celebrated the Lord's Supper on the last Sunday of even-numbered months - still does for what I know.  In August, having decided in July that I must become a Catholic, I had received Communion.  I felt uneasy doing so.  A good proportion of my motivation was cowardice.  Not to receive Communion would certainly have caused our elders to ask me what was going on that I did not come to the Table.  I had, in fact, attempted to contact Roel, our elder, before that to tell him that I had decided to become a Catholic.  I had asked him to come to our house, but he had been unable to do so, due, principally, to ongoing matters in the denomination.  In October I again received Communion, this time with a certainty that I ought not to have done so.  I determined that I would not do so in December.  If Roel could not come to see me - he had again begged off - I would have to see to it that he and Michael, our minister, knew what was happening to me and why I would not receive Communion.

Saturday, 24 December, 1994 - Christmas Eve - I telephoned Roel and told him again that it was urgent that I see him.  What was the matter, he wanted to know.  I had decided that I was going to have to become a Catholic.

This time there was no question about whether he would have time to see me.  We (I, with Susan, and, as well, Johnny - who was the only member of our family who was a Communicant member of the church) were to come to the church office that evening.  Roel and Michael would be there.

I still feel, today, on remembering the occurrence, the fear that I felt that evening.  I scarcely knew how I would justify my decision.  I didn't know what Sue and Johnny would say, for I knew that Michael and Roel would want to know their positions.  Nonetheless, I knew that I had to go.

Michael and Roel were extremely upset.  Roel, it became clear, had had no idea whatever that I had actually thought I might decide to become a Catholic.  I suspect the reason for this is as much because such a thought was almost unthinkable to him as for any unclarity on my part.  When I had first talked to him, just before Christmas, 1993, I had told him that, though I had at the time no intention of being a Catholic, I had to understand this business, and, I had said, it could mean that I would have to become a Catholic at some point.  Perhaps he thought it was only hype.

I was not able to say very much to the two of them.  I told them that I had taken seriously their view of church authority - and that I believed that authority had never been transferred to any Protestant group, but still lay with the Catholic Church.  I remember Michael asked me a number of sharp questions: how did I suppose I would be saved?  By fulfilling the law perfectly as Our Lord had done (this, I think, viewed rightly, is the right answer - that fulfilment can only be by grace, naturally, but I think I phrased it that way to shock, and I suppose it did).  Had I been praying for the dead?  Yes.  Had I been praying the Rosary?  Yes.  I feel so sorry both for Michael and Roel.  I was a deacon in the Reformed Church of Pukekohe.

What about Sue and Johnny?  Both said they were unsure.  They had made no decision.  I had said that it was my intention that any of my family who intended to remain Reformed would have my support - that, indeed, I would ensure they got to Reformed church services.

The upshot was that I was to resign my deaconate, and not Commune.  Susan and Johnny were welcome to Commune if they wished.

The next morning was tearful.  We attended the regular 10:30AM service.  Michael had to stand in the pulpit and announce my resignation from the deaconate - and the reason for it.  I do not remember if Sue and Johnny received Communion or not; I rather think not.  After the service very many came to us - some weeping - wanting to know how I could do this, what had happened, what did this mean?  I did not really have anything adequate to say.  It was one of the saddest days of my life.

17 November 2013

Break-up of the ice

We do not know what consequences our actions will have.  I was determined, now, to enter the Catholic Church.  I had told God I would because I believed - and believe - that I could not be faithful to Him in any other way.  None of us, however, lives in isolation from others.

When, at Christmas, 1993, I had told my children what was going on with me, they were, I think, principally excited.  All this, after all, was not at the time to make any practical difference in our lives.  We continued to attend 10AM and 5PM services at the Pukekohe Reformed Church.  Our children's friends remained those in the church.  The thought was, perhaps, titillating that dad was thinking what were, after all, from the Reformed point of view, outrageous thoughts.

Now it would be different.  I do not remember when, exactly, I told them what I had decided.  When I had come back from Wellington, things were very busy with rehearsals for, and then performances of, The King and I.  This time Johnny was playing clarinet in the orchestra as well.  As always, Helen and Adele played in the orchestra.  I think that Eddie was not involved - unless he had an acting part in it?

Anyway, we were all very busy.  The shows typically played every evening except Monday for two weeks - and a Sunday matinĂ©e as well.  I remember playing my music and feeling, at times, as though my whole world was spinning around me.  What would the consequences in fact be?  Would my family follow me into the Church?  Would it break us up?

Sometime in August I told them.  I said to them that this was a decision that I had made; that it was my decision for myself; that they were all old enough that I could not suggest there was any requirement for them to become Catholics as well; and that I would support any of them who wished to remain in the Reformed Church.  This was true for Sue as well as she was definitely unsure of her own position in the matter.

I told Mark Shea and other Internet friends of my decision.  I told, also, some of my close Reformed friends.  It was certainly upsetting to them.  Of half-dozen families in the Reformed Church close to us at the time, two eventually entered the Catholic Church; two families left the Reformed Church for the Anglican Church; one left any Christian association entirely; one remained Reformed.  How much of this would have happened if we had not become Catholic, I cannot say but I think these actions were not unrelated to ours.

I had told my children.  I had told some Reformed friends close to us.  I had not told my pastor.

Reformed and Presbyterian churches are governed by elders.  All elders are on a level with one another with one exception: certain elders - typically only one in a particular church, but not necessarily - are licensed to preach.  Non-preaching elders are sometimes referred to as ruling elders.  In the Pukekohe church, there were, at the time, I think four or five elders, including the preaching elder.  Different families were assigned to different elders as their pastor.  Ours was Roel (pronounced 'rule' - it's a Dutch name).

Roel was a wonderful man and I was so glad that he was our pastor.  He and I shared many interests.  He was the one who had come to see me at Christmas, 1993, to talk about my 'Catholic problem.'  Now I had decided that I must become a Catholic.  It was with some dread (for I knew how upset he would be) that I 'phoned him, sometime in September, asking for a meeting to discuss 'an important matter.'

He couldn't make it in August; perhaps September.  There was a fairly major shakeup going on in the Reformed Churches of New Zealand at the time, with a congregation in process of breaking from the denomination.  Roel was very much involved in this.  I let things ride.

I let things ride as much from cowardice as anything.  I knew that if I told him the reason I wanted to meet with him because I was going to become a Catholic, he would be with me immediately.  I rationalised the decision to tell him what the matter was only face to face.

Communion was celebrated in our church once every two months.  October came 'round - Communion month.  Should I commune?

I did.  I am sure that fear was the primary motivation here.  But I was very upset at the thought.  October passed.  November went by.  December was here - and December was to be another Communion month.  I knew that I could delay no longer.

10 November 2013

Low water

After that June morning in 1994 I ceased to panic, but I did not cease going over and over the business.  I continued to read everything I could get my hands on.  I re-read my Protestant teachers - Rushdoony, Van Til, Jordan - and others, including the many books sent to me.  I felt they had been misleading me.  Yet I could not sort things out.  Were the Catholic protagonists any different from the Protestant antagonists?  Were their arguments simply more special pleading?  Every man's case seems convincing until you read his opponents.

June passed into July.  We were beginning to be concerned, at the University, about computer security.  There was to be a two-day training programme in Wellington on methods of monitoring network traffic, and my boss wanted me to go.  I have never been keen on travel - but our close friends from Pukekohe - I am a little dubious about mentioning names here but my children will know who I mean when I say their surname began with the letter 'C' - lived in Wellington.  I could fly down on the Monday and stay with them.  The course took place on Tuesday and Wednesday 26 and 27 July, 1994, so I would fly back on Wednesday.

Friday I browsed in the Catholic books in the University library, wondering what book or books to take with me for reading whilst on the 'plane, or at my friends' house.  I had never heard of Ronald Knox, but here was a book by him called The Belief of Catholics.  I would take that.

I almost skipped the first four chapters.  I knew all this stuff - why believe in God, why believe in Jesus - the basics.  I decided I would read everything.  I was stunned by what I found.  I was liberated.

Since I had become a Reformed Christian I had been taught in the Van Tillian presuppositionalist school that it was not possible to present evidences for the existence of God - indeed, to present evidences for the truth of the Christian - and Reformed! - religion.  More radically, any attempt to do so proceeded necessarily from a desire to hide from God.  The presupposition of all thought was the truth of (Reformed, forsooth!) Christianity.  Without that, thinking was not possible.  I recall, in 1984, asking my minister how we knew what the canon of Scripture (the list of books that are truly part of the Bible) was.  He thought for a moment, then said that it had to be presupposed.

Knox's first four chapters led me through the classical Thomistic Five Proofs for the existence of God.  I felt, for the first time, that I did not simply have to make a leap in the dark - fideistic act of the will, not based on any reason whatever.

There is a sense in which Van Til is right.  If God - the God of the Bible, the God of faith, the real God - did not exist, there would, indeed, be no possibly of thought on our part.  What caused me to stumble was the fact that I, a finite and incarnate intellect, needed to approach the knowledge of that through my experience - ultimately through my senses.  There is no other way for me to know that or anything else.

For several years our daughters Helen and Adele had played in the pit orchestra for musical plays put on by the Pukekohe Light Opera Company.  Once Adele, and once Eddie, had acted in plays as well.  Bill Chessum - still around and attending all the Manukau Symphony's concerts, though in a wheelchair from his stroke some years ago - had auditioned Helen years before and we as a family had been very much connected with the PLOC.  A show was coming up and I was to play the horn part in it.  That same Wednesday evening there was a rehearsal.  Sue was to pick me up at the airport, with my horn and music in the car, and drop me at rehearsal.

I had read Knox's book at my friends' house, almost finishing it.  We took off from Wellington airport late in the afternoon.  As we gained altitude (and the cabin pressure dropped), my badly-plugged sinuses - the same problem that had been part of my panic the month before - cleared.  I knew I would be experiencing pain as we descended.  Nevertheless, I was less concerned with that than with what was happening to me in my mind and heart.  Shortly after takeoff I finished the book.  I sat for a few moments in silence - but I knew that I was undone.  I recall praying these words: "Oh my God, I will never dot every 'i' and cross every 't' in this business - but I know enough now to know that if You told me that I was to die tonight, I would want to find a priest.  I do not want to offend You, and I believe You are leading me.  If You do not stop me, I am going to become a Catholic."

I came out of the terminal and Sue was there to meet me.  I said nothing.  She looked at me and said, "You've decided, haven't you?"  I replied, "Yes."  She said, "You're going to do it, aren't you?"  "Yes."

I think that was the lowest point in the whole process.  My heart felt like a stone in me.  I did not know what I was getting myself in for.  I felt that I was betraying my family, my friends, my Reformed minister.

I have thought since that it was ironic that the music we were playing - the show we were going to put on - was Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I.

27 October 2013

Crisis

In June of 1994 there was some computer trade show at the Ellerslie Showgrounds.  Perhaps, my boss said, I ought to go.  I take the 'bus to work and so have a monthly pass so it would not even require any sort of transportation arrangement.

I wanted to go.  I wanted to escape.  I didn't want to escape the office, or work, or anything specific.  I just wanted to escape.

I had been in turmoil over this Catholic question now for nine months.  I was nearly paralysed with fear.  I knew now so much that to believe the Catholic claims false was impossible for me, yet I had still present in my mind the anti-Catholic threats that had become like glaring neon signs flashing at me: "Great Whore;" "Synagogue of Satan;" "High Treason" (this last words that Jim Jordan had written to me).

I had, in addition, physical problems.  I have a congenital deviated septum.  The result is chronic sinus issues - and at times a nose so badly stopped up that I cannot breathe through it.  That morning I was in that condition as the 'bus headed down the Great South Road.  We were, I believe, somewhere in Greenlane.  I pulled the cord and got off the 'bus.

I was, I suppose, in the psychological state called fugue.  I did not know who I was, where I was going, nor what I was supposed to be doing.  My mind seemed racing a hundred miles an hour.  God, I thought, was sitting in Heaven laughing.  He was waiting for me to decide - "decide now!!  now!!  Hurry!!  You must decide now!!" - and ensuring that, whatever my decision, it would be wrong.  He would shout, with a maniacal laugh, "Wrong!!  You now go straight to Hell!!"  And, I thought, He was holding my nostrils tightly shut so that I could not breathe.

Though it was mid-winter, it was a sunny day.  I sat down on a bench at the 'bus stop and, breathing through my mouth, slowly began to calm down.  I began to come back to myself - that word 'myself' began, again, to have some meaning! - and I thought.  I thought and made a decision: I would not believe in such a God.  I simply made a moral refusal, an act of the will.  If such a god - such a being deserves no typographical honorific - really exists, I will not believe in him.  I reject him and any universe made by such a being.  I would believe that if I genuinely sought to know God's will, that He would not hide Himself from me; that He would help me to follow Him.  It was quite analogous to my decision in August of 1984 (or 1985?) when I suddenly was sure there was no God.  At that time I absolutely rejected such a state of affairs - one in which the world was meaningless, was not created but just was, without rhyme or reason.  I had refused to accept the non-existence of God.  Now I had refused to accept His maliciousness.

It was only years later, reflecting on this point, that I thought of the verse Hebrews 11:6:
...for he that cometh to God must believe that He is...
that, in short, that He exists:
...and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.
that, in other words, that He would not deliberately hide Himself from me.

I got onto the next 'bus and went to the trade show, and finally back to work.  I had not solved my problem yet - but I was no longer going to allow myself to be panicked.
 

19 October 2013

Family Camp 1994

The beginning of 1994 was strange, and upsetting.  It began with the Reformed Church Family Camp.

When did we start going to Family Camp?  Perhaps 1989?  Annually, from the Friday following Christmas, North Island families spend a week at Finlay Park.  Typical summer holiday activities, coupled with religious study and - well, 'activities.'  Somewhere there is a photo of me and our four children playing music at Family Camp.

We went to camp after Christmas in 1994.  My closest friend Ross noticed that there was something different about me.  I spent much of the time sitting alone re-reading John Henry Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine and his Apologia pro Vita Sua.  I lived, at this time, and in the first months of 1994, in a tension of fear and desire - on the one hand, fear lest someone should discover what I was thinking about; on the other, the desire excitedly to engage my friends on the topic of the possibility that the Catholic Church was, purely and simply, Christ's unique mystical presence on earth.

I was rapidly becoming convinced that the fundamental question to be answered was not whether this or that Catholic teaching (many of which I misunderstood, in any case) - Mary, Purgatory, images - was true.  The fundamental question to be answered was whether there was such a thing as an authority on earth with the right to be able to speak in Christ's Name.

I had, many years before, asked my pastor how I could know what was in the canon of Scripture.  I was beginning to realise that the very most basic idea of Protestantism, that of Sola Scriptura, had no foundation itself.  Where did this idea come from?  Why did we think Scripture was 'specially from God?  Why was the Book of Mormon not from God?

I was afraid of the storm that would arise if my elders in the Reformed Church knew of what I was thinking.  I had told Roel Voschezang.  He had not seemed terribly disturbed, but I feared he had not really understood how seriously I was worried.  He had given me a book to read - I do not remember what book it was - but all that book had seemed to me to be saying was that we could properly consider Catholics as Christians.

I was reading now everything I could get my hands on.  I re-read a number of my Reformed writers - R. J. Rushdoony, Cornelius Van Til, James B. Jordan - but also a number of others whose books had been sent to me by Protestants on Christia.  None of these seemed remotely as persuasive as the many Catholic books by authors such as Karl Keating, John Hardon, Frank Sheed, and many others.

I feared my elders finding out what was going on - but longed to talk to others.  I began discussing matters with Reformed friends.  They were uniformly surprised, shocked, even - but deeply interested and our discussions went on.  Indeed, of the half dozen or so I talked to, none is now Reformed; two are Catholics.

I began attending Mass at the Newman Centre at the University.  Sue and I attended Saturday Easter Vigil Mass at St Patrick's parish in Pukekohe (and, I think, were put off by the whole thing; much of the Protestant unhappiness with Catholicism is visceral and cultural - nothing to do either with teaching or with fundamental questions of authority).

Things went along thus with my becoming more and more upset and afraid.  Dinners at our house ceased to resemble normal family mealtimes and became more and more religious debating periods.

Things came to a head in June, 1994.

12 October 2013

Christmas, 1993

By December of 1993, I knew that the thing that had come upon me was not something that, like a nightmare, I was simply going to wake up from.  I was not going to realise that, of course, the Catholic Church, though it might have a number of good things that I had not thought of, was not uniquely the Church of Christ.  It was not simply one denomination amongst many.

I could not continue talking about this issue with friends on the Internet, and with Susan, without telling my children about it - and without telling the elder assigned to us as pastor.  Christmas was a Saturday that year. On Saturday 18 December, I 'phoned Roel Voschezang and asked him if he could drop over to our house after dinner that evening.  I had something I needed to talk with him about.

Roel was a wonderful man ('was' because he died in, I think, 2011).  He and I shared books and had many intellectual interests in common.  Our church had several 'ruling elders' - men who helped govern the congregation but were not licensed to preach - and, quite sensibly, assigned several families to each elder under his pastoral care.  I loved Roel and did not look forward to telling him that something had happened to me that might make me believe I was obliged to become a Catholic.

I had said nothing to our children about this possibility.

Almost every dinnertime in our family I read aloud whilst we eat.  During the years our children were at home we read through a great many books - readings which, I know (because they have told me), they remember with very mixed feelings.  This evening, I said, we would not read at table.  I had something I needed to talk with them about.

Had they already sensed that something was up?  Possibly one of them will read this and tell me.  Nonetheless, they can have known nothing of what, specifically, was going on.  They were astonished - and excited.

The excitement was understandable.  Our family had been serious, dedicated, Reformed Protestant Christians all their lives.  We had joined the Reformed church shortly before Johnny, our eldest, was born.

And the Catholic Church was definitely forbidden fruit.  I am sure part of the excitement was due to novelty.

Not all.  I received from Johnny the most exalted compliment I have ever received: "Well, Dad, I can say one thing: you have always stood up for what you believed was right."  I pray I may be worthy of it.

Whether it was the excitement itself; some infectious agent; or something she ate, Adele announced that she didn't feel too well.  She stopped eating.  Roel showed up towards the end of dinner.  The time that I talked with him was punctuated by Adele's loud vomiting in the toilet in the other room.

I told Roel that I had been reading materials about the Catholic Church.  I told him that I was quite disturbed.  I said that it could ultimately mean that I would have to become a Catholic.  The next day - Sunday the 19th December - was to be a Communion Sunday (Communion was celebrated only bimonthly in our congregation).  Should I not Communicate?

Had I decided to become a Catholic?  I said I had not.  I said that I had no intention of becoming a Catholic - a statement, I now realise, and, perhaps, realised privately at the time, that was ambiguous.  When one says, in English, that one has no intention of doing something, the statement, taken literally, simply says that one does not positively intend to do it; a common way of taking it is that one has a positive intention not to do it.  I am not certain what Roel took me to mean; I know that I meant only the first.

I should go ahead and Communicate, Roel said.  After all, it was perfectly sensible to learn about the Catholic religion.  Indeed, he would give me a book to read that he thought would help.

I was relieved - relieved, but, in fact, uneasy.  I think that even at that early date I knew for certain, at some level within me, that I was bound for the Catholic Church.


29 September 2013

New friends

If you wish to make a lot of new friends, be a Protestant, in an on-line Christian discussion group, thinking of becoming a Catholic.

From late September, 1993, when I began making it clear, in the Christia group, that I was thinking of becoming a Catholic, I started to be the recipient of advice - and of material objects.  People were, indeed, very kind.  A number of persons sent me books - both pro- and anti-Catholic books.  Some Catholics sent me icons and similar objects.  And I received quantities of e-mail - mostly from Protestants warning me against converting.

I began reading everything I could get my hands on the subject.  I must, during the ensuing six months, have read 20 or 30 books, both by Protestants and by Catholics, on the subject of the Catholic Church.  I re-read, also, a number of  books by Protestants that I had already.  I began to see something - something, I suppose, that ought to be obvious, when one thinks about it:
Protestantism has no positive case to make.
What do I mean by this?  I mean that, in every case, the reasons given in Protestant books for being Protestant were, in fact, reasons not to be Catholic:

  • Catholics aren't allowed to read the Bible
  • Catholics believe they must earn their salvation
  • Catholics worship Mary
  • Catholics worship statues
  • Catholics have added to the faith
  • Catholics have removed the Second Commandment (against image-veneration)
and so forth.  Of course I began to see that all these accusations were untrue - based, in some cases, on misunderstandings; in some cases on direct untruths about the Catholic faith.  None of this was difficult to understand, and I was moderately surprised at the weakness of the criticisms of the Catholic faith, since I had come to know what it was through my other reading.

Nonetheless, what was most outstanding was something that I only recognised after I had been a Catholic for some time: there was no positive case being made for Protestantism.

For the matter of that, the first difficulty must be to decide what is Protestantism.  Is it all Trinitarian groups?  Is it all who believe in the Bible?  Does it exclude those, like Mormons, who have additional Scriptures to the Bible?

At the time, however, I did not understand that what I was looking for was the positive reason why this or that group was the one God had ordained that all Christians must belong to to be pleasing to Him.

That there ought to be one such group - that the multiplicity of conflicting, and, at times, warring, groups could not be God's plan was something I could not doubt.  That Christians ought to be at one with one another, that they ought to agree on what were the important, at least, things to believe and to follow, seemed (and seems obvious).

There was a different reason, however - one which was, in terms of its force with me much more powerful, though in reality, as I ought to have seen, one which was shallow and should not have been a consideration.  Newman, in the Apologia, says that though his reason was satisfied by 1843 with the claims of the Catholic Church, the effect of his early fear of the Church and of his early belief that the Pope was the anti-Christ was to remain as what he called a 'stain upon my imagination.'

In my case, the fear and dread was enormous.  I remember, in December, perhaps shortly before Christmas, 1993, that I decided that I might go into the Newman Centre on campus to see what it was like.

I was terrified.  I approached the steps of the building, and looked around to make sure no one who knew me could see me entering.  I prayed earnestly to God that He would do something - anything! - to prevent me entering if this were a 'synagogue of Satan' (Revelations 3:9).  I prayed for Him to protect me.

The result was moderately anti-climactic.  The priest there, Fr Paul Rankin
(the only photo I could find - he is the one in the foreground), was actually packing to leave - his three years were up - but he sat and talked with me for twenty minutes or so.  He was quite pleasant, not at all pressing, and simply said that I should turn to the Lord and that He would give me wisdom.

Until now, outside of those on the Internet with whom I had talked, and, now, Fr Paul, I had spoken only to Susan about my perplexity.  Three months had passed since the storm had hit and I was beginning to see that the whole business was not going to go away, like a bad dream.  I said to Susan that I had better tell our pastor - and our children.

21 September 2013

Turmoil

C. S. Lewis comments, in his 'space novel' Perelandra, with relevance to my situation:
I suppose every one knows this fear of getting “drawn in”—the moment at which a man realises that what had seemed mere speculations are on the point of landing him in the Communist Party or the Christian Church—the sense that a door has just slammed and left him on the inside.
 I had, I suppose, been viewing what Ronald Knox, in The Belief of Catholics, calls the 'shop window':
I propose in this chapter to disentangle some of the various elements in the appeal of which I have been speaking. I have called it the Shop Window, because I believe that there is, I will not say a large body of people, but a considerable body of people, whom you may easily liken to a crowd of small boys outside a confectioner's shop, flattening their noses against the pane and feasting, in imagination only, upon the good things they see there--but they have no money to get in. Just so these Platonic admirers, these would-be converts, look longingly towards Catholicism for the satisfaction each of his own need; now and again, perhaps (it notoriously happens in shop windows) mistaking some accidental glory of the Church for a more perfect thing than it is. The elders, in hearing Helen's suit, must needs make allowance for the siren sweetness of her voice. So he who undertakes to investigate the claims of the Catholic Church is naturally on his guard lest his judgment should be biased unconsciously in its favour. At least we shall avoid unconscious bias if, from the outset, we tabulate the various attractions which the Church has for various minds, put them out (as it were) in the shop window, and take a good look at them. They talk of the "lure" of Rome; in this chapter, at any rate, the net shall be spread honestly in the sight of the bird.
I had become a Christian as an adult, and an adult disillusioned with the offerings of the world.  Christianity was an unknown to me, except through works of fiction, such as Sigrid Undset's incomparable mediaeval novels Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken.  As a new Christian I had soon become Reformed - convinced, then, as I am now - that it represented a truer form of Christianity than did the popular evangelicalism in which I was first converted.  Nonetheless, I had, for some years, felt seriously unfulfilled by Reformed Christianity.  Through the writings of Jim Jordan and others I had come to realise that much of modern Reformed Christianity had narrowed itself unnecessarily, in a reaction against the Catholic Church.  I had been excited to discover that much of what I thought of as Catholic - higher liturgies, a closer experience of God, the essential place of the Sacraments - was, in fact, perfectly comformable to Reformed beliefs.  I had been gazing into the 'shop window.'

My experience in Papakura, described in Mary, showed, though, that somewhere I was longing for ... something ... but I did not know what it was.

Until September, 1993, it had never occurred to me that the Catholic Church might itself be what I was longing for.

I wrote to Mark Shea in a terrible mixture of feelings: real terror, on the one hand, of what I was doing; unquenchable longing for what, if it could conceivably actually be true, I would go through anything to have: belonging to the actual Body of Christ and receiving His actual Body and Blood in the Eucharist.

I corresponded with Mark for a few days.  I corresponded with others in Christia.  I felt a great fear of being discovered by my Protestant friends, but I felt I could not pull back.  I had to know if this were true.

I still have printouts from a few of the e-mails of those days.  I asked Catholics on the Internet the usual questions: about Purgatory, about Mary, about the saints.  I received answers that, so far, were plausible enough.  For a week or two, I said nothing to anyone other than in e-mails to these Catholics on Christia.

One Saturday morning in early October - a pleasant sunny day in early spring - Susan and I were in the house together.  With trepidation and a shaky voice, I spoke to her:

  • Me:     Uh ... um ... listen, there's something ... er ... something I need to talk to you about.
  • Susan: (mistrusting wariness in her voice) "What?!" (she later told me she thought I was going to confess adultery - which, in a way, I was)
  • Um - look, well, uh, could you come downstairs for a minute (to my garage-office, where I had been listening to my Scott Hahn tapes)?  There's just something I want to show you.
  • Uh - OK...  But ... what is it?  What is this about?
  • (after showing her the Newman books and tapes) I, er, don't know how to say this, but ... I have been reading a lot, and listening to these tapes.  I really don't know how to say this - but - well, I might (gulp!) have to become a Catholic!
  • We'll have to move!!
That was Susan's first reaction.  I know what she was thinking.  "This crazy husband of mine is off after another wild hare.  God knows where this will end.  God knows, maybe we will actually end up being Catholics - but I am not going to drive past the Reformed Church every morning to go to Mass, knowing what those Reformed people are going to think of me!!"

She may correct me, but I think that is what was going on in her head - and it says quite a lot both about our relationship to one another - which was fairly oppressive on my part - and our relationship to the Reformed Church.  Our marriage had, in fact, been troubled by a fair bit of ... well, of things not good.  It was a deep awareness of this fact, certainly, but also, perhaps, a genuine gift from God, that prompted me to respond to this by taking her in my arms, and saying:
  • Our marriage will never be the same!
I really didn't know what I meant by that, exactly.  I believed it to be true.  I think the 20 years since that date have validated that belief.

14 September 2013

Crisis

The "Reformed minister" (he turned out to have been Presbyterian) was Scott Hahn.

I said (to my interlocutor on Christia) that I had never heard of him - who was he, and, more importantly, had he written any books that my library might have?  The person - I have forgotten his name, but he lived in Chicago - said that he doubted our library would have any books (it did not), but that Scott had made some cassette tapes of speeches he had given, including his conversion story - conversion, that is, to the Catholic Church - but that if I wanted books written by Protestants who had become Catholics, my University library was sure to have books by John Henry Newman.

Newman's name rang two bells with me.

First, he was the author of a book that I had heard of: The Idea of a University.  He had also written another book I had heard of: Apologia pro Vita Sua - that, I vaguely knew, had to do with is conversion.

The other bell was something I had heard from a talk by Francis Schaeffer.  During my first few years as a Christian, I had contributed regularly to Schaeffer's ministry, read his books - and subscribed to a series of cassette taped talks.  In one such talk, I recall Schaeffer as saying, regarding Newman's becoming a Catholic, something like this:
Newman had grown weary in his struggle against German liberalism.  He crept into the darkness of the [Catholic] Church, and pulled the door shut behind him.
I remember that statement affecting me deeply at the time.  During my first two or three years as a Christian, I was trying to find my way in the maze of claimants to be the 'best' - or even 'true' - Church of Christ.  I took from Schaeffer's statement that he was saying:

  • To enter the Catholic Church was to cease to think for oneself; just blindly accept whatever was given one.
  • Newman's decision to become a Catholic had been one of moral cowardice.  He had simply decided he would rather let someone else worry about this or that Christian doctrine.  He became a Catholic, not because he was convinced that what the Church said was true, but because he could not be bothered trying to find out for himself.
My friend in Chicago said that he would give me his set of tapes by Hahn - that he would post them to me.  In the meantime, I thought I would read Newman.

I got the Apologia out of the library and saw, from a blurb or introduction or something, that that book had actually been written after he had been a Catholic for 18 or 19 years, but that he had written another book during his last year as an Anglican - a book that he viewed as being his testing of whether, in fact, he believed the Catholic faith.  That book was An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.  I got both books out, and began to read.  Part way through this process - which, I believe, began somewhere near the beginning of September, 1993 - the Scott Hahn tapes arrived.  I spent about two weeks reading the two books, and listening to the tapes - but in secret.  I was, in fact, terrified of being caught with these materials - terrified, I mean, of Susan's catching me.  I read the books only on the 'bus or in similar situations when she would not be around.  I listened to the tapes on my stereo, in my garage-cum-office, on earphones, and switched the sound feed to the FM radio if she came in.

I do not know if I can easily explain the basis of my fear.  If you are not a Protestant - and a pretty convinced one - you will likely misunderstand.  There could be some rational bases for it:

  • Susan might be angry or upset with me (she was, when once I told her)
  • My elders might be angry or upset with me (they were very angry and upset, when once I told them)
Nevertheless, what I was afraid of - terrified of - was the mere name 'Catholic.'

I had by now been a Christian for almost 24 years.  During that time, there were few who said to me, in so many words, "the Catholic Church is a synagogue of Satan."  Nevertheless, there were some - but the message was conveyed in almost every aspect of being a Protestant - particularly a Reformed Protestant.  I remember, for example, this passage from the Preliminary Exhortation for the Lord's Supper:
However, the Lord admonishes those who do not believe or have not repented to abstain from the holy supper so as not to eat and drink judgment on themselves. Therefore we also charge those who willfully continue in their sins to keep themselves from the table of the Lord *(such as all who trust in any form of superstition; all who honor images or pray to saints; all who despise God's Word or the holy sacraments; all who take God's name in vain; all who violate the sanctity of the Lord's Day; all who are disobedient to those in authority over them; all drunkards, gamblers, murderers, thieves, adulterers, liars, and unchaste persons). To all such we say in the name of the Lord that as long as they remain unrepentant and unbelieving, they have no part in the kingdom of God.
 Those who 'honour images or pray to saints' were clearly not meant to be Baptists :-)

What I was afraid of was God.

Nevertheless, there had been that strange attraction to the Church that I had felt the year before, in Papakura.  There had been all those practices, such as frequent Communion, the importance of Baptism, the importance of liturgy, that Jim Jordan had emphasised - even although he was in no way drawn to the Catholic Church.  I wanted to know.  I wanted to know the truth.

So I read secretly, and I listened to Scott Hahn secretly.

At the end of my reading, I knew that, whatever Schaeffer had believed about Newman, Newman had become a Catholic against his inclination but as a matter of absolute conviction.  He had spent six years struggling against the Church.  He had done everything imaginable to avoid it.  He had failed.  The same was true of Scott Hahn.  He had become a Catholic - initially against his own wife's wishes - for one reason and one only: he believed he had no choice if he was to remain in friendship with God and intellectually honest.

On my 51st birthday - 22 September 1993 - I wrote an e-mail to a member of Christia, one Mark Shea, who sounded like a Catholic, and a convert from Protestantism.   I used almost the same words I had used to Candace that early Sunday morning 28 December 1969: "I wanted to know more about this."

08 September 2013

Christia

Several of my friends - some Catholic, some Protestant - have asked me from time to time how I dealt with this or that doctrinal difference between Catholics and Protestants.

I didn't.  Or, rather, these issues I had already dealt with before I ever found myself attracted to the Catholic Church.  I do not think I could possibly have entertained the fantasy of being approached from that church in Papakura, by a nun or a priest, had I not done so.  I will not (and probably cannot) detail my change of mind regarding each of several apparent differences - 'apparent' since I came to believe, before I ever imagined being a Catholic, that all differences but one were, indeed, only apparent.  Major ones I have already talked about in these posts:

  • Sola Scriptura - the idea that only what is in Scripture is binding on Christians.  I saw as early as 1985 that even the question what was Scripture could not itself by satisfied by Scripture - and that it was, in any case, impossible genuinely to say that Scripture was perspicuous - clear so that all men of good will must agree on everything essential; the multiplicity of clearly sincere sects showed that.
  • Sola fide - the idea that salvation is by faith alone, apart from all works.  In that Bible study in 1985 I saw, clearly, that Catholics might say - with, in fact, Scripture (see James 2:14-26) - that saving faith is faith working in love; Protestants might say that faith alone saves - but that saving faith works.  Phaenomenologically I could see then (and can see now) no difference.
There are many other issues - for some Protestants, Our Lady's status is one - but the two above are the great issues of Protestantism that, it seemed to me, were the underpinnings of Protestantism.

One difference I had not yet clearly seen yet: the nature of the Church.  Although the Reformed churches taught that the Church was visible - and had real authority - it began to be clear that most Christians did not.  Most believed in the idea of the invisible Church - a notional concept, basically the set of all those who would, in fact, be saved.

I had already been convinced by the Reformed people that the idea of the invisible Church was not Biblical.  What I had not found yet was any real criterion for locating that Church.  It still rested on the idea of my understanding of Scripture, and then my discernment of the teaching of a particular body - and that body, if right, was the true visible Church.

It was, in fact, the body that agreed with me about what Scripture taught.

In late 1991 or early 1992, having set up the Business School with e-mail, I had also begun to make use of the Internet.  This was not easy.  Initially the only way I could do it was to login to our mainframe (an IBM 4341, I think it was).  There was an application there - I cannot remember what it was - that enabled me to read, and post in, Usenet groups.  It was clumsy.  It was text-only.  I could do a little more on the Internet - using Lynx I could even download picture files - as collections of encoded text which had then to be joined together and decoded - but for the most part, I involved myself in discussion groups.

In particular, Christia, as I said yesterday.  I quickly learnt that there were Catholics in the group - and Catholics who were not content simply to act as though there were no possibility of making clear what the Church believed - or even of convincing people of the truth of those beliefs.

I found myself quite fascinated by some of these discussions - and annoyed by the ignorance of the responses of some Protestants.  Even I knew more of the Catholic faith than some of these people seemed to!  I began, occasionally, to try to correct some of the grosser misunderstandings.

And I was electrified, one day - in late August or early September, 1993 - to read what someone posted.  He made reference to some 'Reformed minister' (his words) who had become a Catholic!

Who was this??!!  I wanted very much to know more about this.

The man's name was Scott Hahn.

07 September 2013

1992-93

It is, perhaps, almost universally the case that parents do not appreciate the implications of the maturation of their children until the process has long ceased to be under their control.  By the end of the year from mid-1992 until mid-1993:

  • Johnny was 18
  • Helen was 16
  • Eddie was 13
  • Adele was 11
Your children are small and you think of them as your children.  They will go to this or that school, or perhaps be home-schooled.  They may watch this or that television programme, but not some other.  But they are growing.  They are connecting to the world.  They have friends.  They engage in activities that you know nothing of (I expect my children, reading this, to be saying to themselves, "Dad, you don't know the half of it!" :-)).

Johnny finished high school at the end of 1993, and, I think, got a job working at Pukekohe Kentucky Fried Chicken, as a cook - he had, indeed, other plans, but in the meantime, he had a job.

Helen, by now, was pretty clearly going to go to University and major in flute.  It was in 1993, I think, that she began lessons with Uwe Grodd - which was to have wider consequences for Adele and for me.

Eddie and Adele were still at home, home-schooled by Susan - so, for the matter of that, was Helen.  But all were increasingly independent.

And my life was changing as well.  Sometime in this year my job with Glenn Archibald ended.  At the start of my work there, electronic tax-filing in New Zealand was pretty primitive.  Glenn had hired me to connect his tax business to the IRD, so that he could file electronically.  There was one commercial product available, but it was very expensive (you had to buy their whole tax-management suite of software).

Sometime around the end of 1992 (September, my memory tells me), he enthusiastically called together his IT staff (me, his son Grant, and Patrick Sweetman, a database administrator) and asked us what would be involved in making his software setup commercial.

We rather blanched, I think, at the fact that he clearly had no idea of the size of such a project.  We met together for an hour or so, made some plans, and came up with a figure (how I don't know) of what it might cost him initially before he could start making money: $250,000 (or perhaps it was smaller - I don't really recall - but it was large).

That, I think, was about 11AM on a Saturday.  At 1PM I went home (four hours early).  I never came back.

Much was in a state of flux, therefore.  Our children were beginning to show signs that they would not be with us indefinitely.  I was now free on Saturdays.  And things were changing at the University.  Sometime before this - perhaps 1991? - the people at our Computer Centre had involved the University in connexions to the rest of New Zealand and the world - what has come to be known as the Internet.  We had by now got e-mail going in the Business School.  I was quite busy with that - but it also became possible to participate in other Internet activities besides e-mail.  I discovered a set of discussion groups on what was called usenet - and, in particular, a group on usenet called Christia.  Most participants on Christia were Protestants, but not all.  There were also a few Catholics.

31 August 2013

Mary

I had become Reformed because I believed - and believe, still - that what the Reformed faith taught was much closer to the truth of the Bible than what, for example, I had been taught as a Baptist.  In 1992 I still believed this - yet felt at a standstill.

I had come to believe, from the writings of people like Jim Jordan, that the Reformed faith had unnecessarily dropped things that the Catholic Church had believed, simply because the things were Catholic - but things that were quite true.  I have talked about the importance of Communion, for example.  The Reformed churches, by de facto making Communion a rite for adults, made it into a kind of acted-out example, whose principle purpose was to teach.  Calvin had believed much more than that.  In Communion we truly received Christ, he believed, although he did not accept the Catholic view of transsubstantiation.  In theory we Reformed agreed with Calvin here; in practice, it was hard to see it.

In general I felt a longing for ... well, I didn't know what - something more.

Something happened to me during late 1992 or possibly early 1993 that I found strange, even at the time.

Every Saturday I worked at Archibald's in Papakura.  Each Saturday evening I walked from his office to the 'bus stop - and my walk passed a Catholic Church.

At first I had not even known it was Catholic.  But Saturday after Saturday I saw there were many cars there.  I looked at the sign and realised it was the Catholic Church.

What were all these people doing there?  This wasn't Sunday (I did not then know of Saturday vigil Masses)!

I was puzzled by something here.  I had been a signed-up member of three churches in my Christian history:

  • International Baptist Church in Honolulu
  • The Reformed Church of Avondale
  • The Reformed Church of Pukekohe
I had never really questioned the sociological reality of these churches: the membership of them was far more uniform culturally than was true of society in general.  Perhaps I had just assumed that being a Christian made people all 'like us.'  It is true that I had begun to complain, inwardly, and, occasionally, outwardly about the Reformed churches.  I do not think I knew of any member of our Reformed church in Pukekohe who was not middle-class, middle-income, moderately well educated, and white.  I do recall once or twice saying that membership in our church was so much based on intellectual ability that there was no way that we could accommodate semi-literate Samoan immigrants (for instance), or intellectually handicapped persons.  Indeed, we had had one or two cases of moderately lower-class white families come to us for a few Sundays, then drift away.

Judging by the faces of the people attending this Saturday evening Mass in Papakura - and their cars - they were sociologically far more diverse.  There were people of all skin colours.  There were cars from all sorts of income levels.  I did not have occasion to speak to any of those attending, but (I now know) I would have found them of all levels of literacy, intelligence, and education.

I was strangely moved by this.  This, somehow, was what the Church of Christ ought to be: "all peoples, nations, and languages."

A completely irrational (that is, I knew of no rationale for it) longing arose in my mind towards this Church - and towards the Catholic Church, in general.  I passed the church for two or three Saturdays and a fantasy grew in my mind: perhaps someone - a priest, a nun, I didn't know what sort of person - would come out, as I walked by, engage me in conversation - and, by some miraculous process, make me a Catholic.

I did something quite daunting to me - I wanted to pray the "Hail, Mary!" prayer - but I didn't even know it.  I looked it up somewhere, and the next Saturday or two, as I passed, I did pray it.  I wondered if something like my fantasy would occur.  No such thing did, of course, and I began to feel guilty praying this idolatrous Catholic prayer, so stopped.  The whole thing faded out.  It was not long after that that my work at Archibald's finished.  But I have always wondered if, somehow, that occasion was not the beginning of my becoming a Catholic.  I was particularly struck, later, after I had actually entered the Church, when I discovered something I had not known at the time: the church is St Mary's of Papakura.

26 August 2013

Busy, busy, busy!

Okay - lots happening here.  John has been in rehearsals for his orchestra.  They had their 20th Anniversary Concert on Saturday night.  It was wonderful.  The house was sold out and there was a party afterwards for those who could stay. 

He plays four or five concerts each year with this orchestra and has again accepted the invitation to play in the university orchestra for their graduation concert in October - that's a lot more rehearsals...that's in between working up in Auckland five days a week -  lots of motorway driving.

Me?  About ten days ago I was driving up the motorway at 6:15 on my way to Auckland.  I don't like leaving that early but the traffic is now getting very heavy and if I don't leave early, I end up spending as much as ninety minutes on a trip that usually takes me forty-five.

It was dark, the traffic was moving and it wasn't raining.  I had only been driving for a few minutes when I heard a bang.  I wasn't able to identify what it was but it didn't seem to be much.  I kept driving ahead  and checked my rear-view mirror.  I was startled by what I saw in it.  Cars seemed to slowing down behind me - what for?

I decided to pull over - maybe one of my tyres had blown, maybe there was something on the motorway that others wanted to avoid......

A ute pulled over behind me and I started to get out of the passenger side of the car to see what was wrong.  The young guy started walking towards me and said, "I'm sorry.  I hit your van.  I fell asleep at the wheel.  I think I have been working too hard."

I was stunned and grateful.  He seemed to be honest.  He helped me start my car and offered to wait until the AA came if I thought they were needed for a tow. 

All things considered, it was a clean accident.  We were both able to drive away.   He has insurance and was very willing to accept responsibility, etc...  He works up in town for his father who owns a demolition business and was on his way to do a job.

He told me that he had fallen asleep at the wheel, side swiped my car, corrected to the right and hit the median barrier (good thing that was there) and then tried to correct again - causing the cars behind him to slow down. 

We were both so very lucky that nothing else happened. 

A few days ago I was telling a friend about the accident.  Everyone in town has seen the courtesy car in our drive way - or me driving it in town - which is an announcement that something has happened....  When my friend asked about the red station wagon in my driveway, I started to describe the accident and who had done it, she said she knew the  family - in this country/town it seems that someone always knows someone, somehow - she asked me if the fellow's last name was Ward - yes, I told her he gave me his card - I thought maybe he owned the business.  She said he was the owner's son and then she told me some interesting information.

Ward Demolition were the first-responders from the North Island when the big earthquake happened in Christchurch two years ago.  The guy who hit my car and his father went to Christchurch and worked at the recovery of the  CTV Building that had collapsed killing 180 people. 

I felt like our Guardian Angels were working overtime for us - and I am grateful.  A few days later I read in the paper about an accident very similar to mine and the car hit had ended up flipped over in a ditch along the motorway -

To make things even more exciting, I got a new cell phone - it is just deluxe.  Between the courtesy car that I am not familiar with, John's rehearsal schedule and this new phone - it's been interesting.

04 August 2013

Catching up

It has been so long since I last wrote on this blog – not too sure where I stopped but I think our family was preparing to move to Seattle – March, 1959.

During the past weekend I have been in Wellington for a friend’s 60th birthday.  She is someone who I knew here in Pukekohe for a few years after we returned in 1984.  She had five children  who were (are) near the ages of ours -   Our friendship has continued since then and has been really meaningful to me.

I got to meet her cousins, see her grown children with their own kids, meet many friends who she has in Wellington – and enjoy the very unseasonable weather.  Wellington is the windy city of New Zealand and the winters can be horrible.  Two years ago when I went down for a visit, I told my friend that I wasn’t ever coming back at that time of year again….ever.  Her fireplace wasn’t working, her flat wasn’t insulated and it  is located against a hillside – reduced sun – whatever – but I did do it  this time and Wellington was actually sunny and warm – in July – no wind that almost knocks one off their feet, no rain that soaks one’s clothes….just nothing but clear, blue skies and sun during the day and mild at night.  My friend has also now got a heat pump and her flat has been insulated – totally helps.

I don’t remember much about the move to Seattle except that in March, 1959 it seemed a lot colder then Portland, Oregon.  We moved into an older house in the University District, near University of Washington campus, and across from a large park (Ravenna Park)  that was actually a ravine.  It was filled with many large trees and had pathways that we often walked. 

As usual, my mother got to know a lot of the neighbours and some of them were really wonderful.  They made our stay in the area memorable.

Submission

None who know me will need to be told that I am intellectually arrogant.  It may be said that I am, at nearly 71 years of age, somewhat cooled down from what I was in 1990, at 48 - I hope so, at least.

By 1990 I had been a Christian for 20 years.  When I was converted I had practically no knowledge of the Christian faith; by 1990 I was quite knowledgeable - and strong in my beliefs.

And I had progressed from a very nominalist understanding of religion - roughly what is quite broadly the outlook of our times - to a realist understanding.  Specifically, I was beginning to come to understand that the Christian Sacraments really did something; that baptism was what made you a Christian (I was still pretty vague about how this might work).

And I was strongly of the belief (still am, for the matter of that) that the only qualification for receiving Communion was to be baptised, and not in a state of serious (I would not then have used the qualifier 'mortal') sin.  I was, in fact, a paedo-Communist.

But in our Reformed church, the right to receive Communion and the right to vote for officers in the church - indeed, all voting, including voting relating to financial matters - the two rights were resident in the same persons.  A Communicant member of the church was ipso facto a voting member.  It was clear that this view of who could receive Communion must exclude, not only baptised infants, but even young adults who had not yet made the promises connected with Communicant membership.  In my increasingly acrimonious arguments with our elders and pastor, I was told that Communicant membership was appropriate for those 'of marriageable age.'

Acrimony - bitter acrimony, at times - is the word for it.  I was very much an unsubmissive church member.  Matters came to a head when I wrote a letter to the members of Session (the elders, the pastor, and deacons - the church officers) speaking of the sin of barring my children from the Table of the Lord.

I must testify to their great self-restraint in responding.  The acrimony had, in fact, been all from my side.  They responded to my letter with a firm but peaceable statement to me that I could not myself be in a proper relationship to them and still take the position that I was accusing them of sin in the execution of their duties as rulers of the church.  They requested that I write a letter retracting my accusation.

I did.  I was in angry tears when writing it.  I wrote, nevertheless, that I did not intend to accuse any of them of sin.  They accepted that and welcomed me as though nothing had happened.

This was a real turning point in my own Christian life.  After the incident I reflected on the meaning of the whole business.  Did I, in fact, believe in church authority?  Was the whole idea of "those who have the rule over you" (Hebrews 13:17) merely a metaphor for "those with whom I agree?"

I concluded that church authority was real, was of God, and that, short of committing sin myself, I must submit to it.  Although neither they nor I knew it at the time, this was a major step towards my eventually becoming a Catholic.

My own new docility may have been apparent to them.  In any case, sometime in 1991 I was asked if I were willing to be ordained a deacon - to become, in fact, a member of Session.  I recall at the time pointing out that some of the more explicitly anti-Catholic statements in the form I was to sign I was unsure of.  I was reassured that I could not be held to anything that I did not see in Scripture.  I laughed, saying that was a loophole one could pretty well drive anything through - but I accepted.  I was ordained.

28 July 2013

School

I have expressed to Susan that my views on home-schooling is that it is the ideal for primary-age pupils.  It seems to me the best environment for the young person up until about the age of 11 or so is the home. A tutor, if you could afford it, would be even better; probably parental instruction is second-best.

The situation changes sharply at around 11 or 12.  Had I the opportunity to do it all again, I think I would have suggested trying to ease our kids into the school system sometime during intermediate school age, and definitely would have enrolled them in high school.

One of Susan's favourite sayings is: Life has no dress rehearsals.

Be that as it may, by 1990, the year Johnny turned 15, it was becoming apparent to him - and to us - that he would profit from the mutual pressure of going to school.  It was decided that from the beginning of the school year 1991 - school starts just after Waitangi Day (6 February) - Johnny would enrol in school.

The natural place for him, I think, would have been Pukekohe High School.  Johnny didn't want to.

It was not clear to me at the time, and perhaps was not clear to him, either, why he didn't want to go there.  There was some talk about some of the other boys who attended that school that he didn't get along with.  I have always thought that part, at least, of the reason was that Puke High had reputation as a country school.  Perhaps it didn't seem up-market enough for him.

Somehow he knew of Rosehill College.  Rosehill is in Papakura, some 20 Km away.  Johnny had to take a 'bus - commercial 'bus, not a school 'bus - each way.  Particularly in winter this cannot have been much fun.  Nevertheless, Johnny did this for three years.  He began in what was then known as Fifth Form - now Year 11.

A note on school years in New Zealand, by comparison with the US.  In the US, the normal time to start First Grade - Year 1 in NZ terms - is age 6.  That said, many do a year of Kindergarten from age 5.  But formal school goes from Year 1 through 12.  Thus at the end of Year 12 - Senior Year - you are usually about 17.

In New Zealand, school starts at 5 - and there are thirteen years (the last year used to be called Seventh Form - now Year 13) - result, about age 17 :-)

So Johnny had three years at Rosehill.  I think he found it difficult.  I remember his sometimes angry comments about the some of the teachers.  Nevertheless, on the whole he profited from it; went to his school ball; and is sufficiently pleased about it to list it on his Facebook page.

I will be interested to read his comments on this post :-) as well as Helen's.  Helen, I know, is not particularly pleased with the fact that she was home-schooled.  Perhaps she would be happier about it had she gone to school at some point (before University, I mean).

There is so much about our lives during these years that I am not talking about: the end of the Morris Oxford's life; the Holden station wagon that we bought from Roel Voschezang which was stolen within a year - nor the many musical activities, the times the kids played in the Town Hall in Auckland, performed with the Pukekohe Light Opera Club and the times Helen and Adele played with the Papakura Orchestra.  They were all important at the time.  They weren't turning points, though.

A turning point for me was in 1991 (I believe).  I was made a deacon.

27 July 2013

Slacker!

I said yesterday to Susan, with a shock, that I couldn't remember when I last posted on the blog.

It was Friday the 28th June - four weeks and a day ago.

Which shows what happens when you start to let things slide.  Habits cease to exist.  Resolutions no longer hold you.

That said, there have been some ... well, if not reasons, at least excuses.

I played that concert.  At that time I had been having new back problems for a couple of weeks.  The day after the concert they took a real turn for the worse.  I was booked in for an Opus Dei retreat the following week-end - Friday to Sunday 5-7 July.  On Thursday the 4th I told Sue I might not go.  I had had a terrible night trying to sleep, and was worried about sleeping in a strange bed on the retreat.

I did go - and slept all right - and am, as always, inexpressibly glad I went.  Nonetheless, my back issues continued.  I went to the doctor on Monday the 8th, to see if somehow it was something to do with internatl organs.  Nope - just my usual back difficulties.

But I didn't blog that week-end.  The following week-end I was still in considerable pain and blogging did not occur to me.  By then it was all gone.

I will resume!  Tomorrow I will write some more of the memoirs.  Today (and tomorrow) I have been practising.  Or orchestra is going to perform - well, I hope we will perform, and not butcher! - the hardest piece I have ever played in: Mahler's 1st Symphony.  It is a breath-taking music.  It is often referred to as The Titan and it deserves the title.  We are doing an extra week-end's rehearsals for it.  Here is a marvellous performance of it on youtube that I have been practising against.  If you listen to no more of it than this, go to about 53:30 and listen to the end.  It is worth it.

I have been alone this week-end.  Sue went down to Wellington on Thursday afternoon.  Tina Coward's 60th birthday party is happening as I write.  Sue will be home tomorrow.