An old family friend, himself a fairly recent "revert" to Catholicism emailed me the following, which had started as a comment on the other day's post on grace and forming a relationship with God. But since it had grown too long to be a comment, the author emailed it to me and I thought I'd turn it into a guest post. The author blogs under the name Logeyed Roman over at Forest and Mote -- though not as often as some might wish.
Bottom line: Your only hope is the grace of God, but that’s true for every one of us in all things.
I mention something that basic because of the way I keep forgetting it, and being astonished when I remember it.
You can trust in God and His mercy and grace. But His grace requires a response from us.
I was away from the church for over 30 years, and taking those final steps back was the hardest thing I have ever done. However, all the strength which got me over those last hurdles came from God, not me.
What I found so difficult was to turn everything over to Him. To really turn my will over to His.
After I did that, the rest was relatively downhill. No, it was not a smooth hill with a comfortable slope and a smooth surface. It was more like a broken ridgeline on the Moon or something. Lots of boulders, and ravines that require some uphill climbs. Nevertheless the trend is downhill and as long as I keep turning to God, His grace draws me on like gravity.
The step I first took, which I here recommend to you, was so simple and easy it took me forever to think of it.
So I wanted to trust Him and have faith, but couldn’t take that final step. Finally, I told Him that I was willing for Him to change my heart for me. I was willing to let HIM give me the will and strength to turn back. With that, though the struggle was still long and hard, I had in fact turned the corner. I might still relapse, of course. But now it would take an act of will on my part.
As for the rest, our response to God’s grace includes doing everything we can while trusting the ultimate guidance of our journey to Him.
I concur with the comment that books alone are questionable, though for me they provided essential information and encouragement. But it was contact with good orthodox Catholics which was the most important factor in my reclamation. Prominent among these has been Darwin’s parents and Darwin himself. I have been a friend of the family for decades.
People like Darwin and his parents are in short supply. But if you trust and seek, you will find.
You have some resistance, due to a bad experience with a priest and perhaps with the resistance of your friends. All this is totally understandable to me. I found past mistreatment by Catholics, as well as the fear and hostility to Catholicism which surrounds us, to be formidable obstacles. But such difficulties have been the lot of the faithful all along. Our Savior was in fact crucified by his own people, betrayed by a close friend. In fact the struggles of the faithful go back all the way to Abel, murdered by his own brother for the offense of simply being more devout than Cain. We can expect this situation to improve after Judgment Day.
I bring this up to make the point that these same difficulties have always been the lot of the Faithful. God understands, and the means to overcome these are available. While the details are unique to every individual, our faith journey is a walk to Calvary.
It was pointed out that when Jesus said “My yoke is light”, he was probably referring to the common ox yoke, which was made for TWO. Remember that the cross you are being called to bear will have a Helper alongside, giving you all the help you need.
After prayer, I would suggest scaring up some Catholic friends and counselors. I don’t know the specifics of your situation, and none of us know the exact means God works to help us until after it arrives. But I found it useful to talk to a priest after Mass if I felt I could trust him. I found it useful to volunteer to help with catechism and RCIA. They’ll train you to teach catechism classes, and give you time to prepare ahead of time. You don’t need to be an expert ahead of time. One of the best experiences I had was taking the Archdiocese’s “Ministry Formation” class. Especially for the people; they were committed, friendly, orthodox Catholics. Finally, a good Catholic bookstore might be helpful. Not only to find more books, but to talk to the staff. If you live close enough to one, I especially recommend the bookstores run by the Pauline sisters. There are a number around the country. Their selection of books etc. is excellent and the staff is very helpful.
In the meantime, I might suggest you putting as much consoling and edifying materials into your reading and entertainment that you can. I’m serious. Watch movies with good Catholic messages. The Pauline sisters have a very good selection of videos. Watch things like good Narnia movies, and the “Lord of the Rings” series which embody strong Christian values. Read Scripture (and don’t neglect the Old Testament!). I recommend the Navarre Bible series. These are highly annotated Bible texts, put out by Navarre university. They have the text itself, then along with it, page by page, extensive commentary and explanations. There are several versions. The fanciest one has the Old Testament in like six hardback volumes, and the New Testament in twelve paperbacks. I have the whole set; it took me years, because it’s nearly $200 for the whole thing.
The other books recommended are, I’m sure, excellent. I am familiar with most of them. I will add a few suggestions: “Why Do Catholics Do That?” by Kevin Orlin. It’s both very readable and very well-informed, useful for the seeker, the curious non-Catholic, and the experienced Catholic who can use reminders of the basics. Then there’s “While You Were Away”, I forget the author right now. It’s a guide for returning Catholics about some of the changes in the Church. Finally, I strongly recommend—believe it or not—“Catholicism for Dummies.” Not only does it cover the basics thoroughly, it assiduously explains them for the modern person. One priest says it does this so well that even experienced catechists turn to it for useful arguments and so on to present to curious and sometimes hostile non-Catholics.
Anything by Peter Kreeft is likely to be useful. And of course Benedict 16 and JP II. I also recommend the works of C.S. Lewis. Including the big ones: “Mere Christianity”, “The Screwtape Letters”, “The Problem of Pain”, “Miracles”, and “A Grief Observed.” These are available in a box set of paperbacks; slightly cheaper and more elegant but less portable, they are available in a single volume in a nice hardback. (Cheaper used, of course).
I especially found Lewis useful; he can’t quite match Kreeft’s outstanding philosophical and theological abilities, but Lewis’ work is so literate, even poetic (he wrote a lot of poetry and was always sorry that it was never popular), that I leaned heavily on it for consolation for decades. (Still do.)