Friday, May 23, 2008

Owed to joy

I arrived in Seattle on the afternoon of May 15 and, after a bit of confusion when Mark Shea and I couldn't find one another at the airport (the foremost Catholic blogger doesn't carry a cell phone—who knew?), I gave my first talk of the Washington leg of my tour, addressing the Seattle Chesterton Society. (Mark is the bearded gent making me look even shorter than I am in this photo taken the following day with Father Phil Bloom.)

My talk was titled "“The Girl Who Was Thirsty: How G. K. Chesterton Led Me to Faith," and it was similar to the one I gave to the American Chesterton Society last year, except that I had the benefit of another year's speaking experience, as well as a longer view of how God's grace of conversion had worked in my life. Mark gave me a lovely introduction, and during the course of my talk I would mention that he, along with other Catholics I got to know through my blog, such as Dennis Schenkel (and, I forgot to mention, Father Bryce Sibley), helped lead me into the Faith.

The audience of about 80 was very engaged and supportive, a speaker's dream. During the Q&A, after I had discussed some of the missteps Catholics had made in trying to convert me, a young man asked me what were some good ways to share the Faith.

A large part of what drew me to the Church was the her consistent pro-life witness, I said—not only that she had not changed her stand on life during the past 2,000-odd years, but that she could not change her stand. Beyond that, I said, my interest in Catholicism grew once I started to meet Catholics who wore their joy on the outside.

When, as a new Christian, I first began discussing faith, I met some who were sincerely devotional but wore their devotion internally. On the outside, they struck me as serious and dry. I was drawn to their intellectual knowledge, but there was little about their manner to make me want to learn more about the Eucharistic fuel on which they ran.

That changed, I said, when I began to know Catholics who, through their spirited manner more than words, made me want to learn about how their sharing in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ enabled them to stay on fire for Him. (One member of the audience—I'm pretty sure it was Father Sean Raftis, S.J., who hosted my talk the following night at Seattle University—told me afterwards that my answer echoed Tertullian's writings on how Christians best witnessed their faith by the way they lived.)

An example comes to me as I write this that I didn't mention at my talk—that Dale Ahlquist of the American Chesterton Society, a former Baptist who tried so valiantly to give me strong reasons for the truth of Catholicism, gave the strongest witness for the faith simply by being Dale Ahlquist.

It is interesting to go back to my blog archives from March 2004—nearly a year before I made the decision to enter the Church—and find myself rhapsodizing about the indescribable good feeling I had upon meeting Dale for the first time. Having then only recently begun to put my behavior in line with my faith, and not yet understanding the spiritual benefits of such a change, I wasn't used to enjoying rich platonic fellowship. You could say it was a preview of the thrill of the chaste.

What's particularly noteworthy from the standpoint of good evangelism vs. bad is that four months later, I would be complaining of efforts by Dale and others to hard-sell me on Catholicism during the Chesterton Society's England pilgrimage. (Not that I mind now; in retrospect, I believe they all helped to pray me into the Church.) Yet, that first time I met him, even though I remember he tried to sell me on Catholicism within minutes of meeting me at Grand Central (it was when we got into the uptown cab, to be exact), the overwhelming impression I had was of his contagious joy:

Magical things just seem to follow Dale. I'm not being superstitious—I'm sure everything that happened yesterday was quite ordinary to any outside observer. But it seemed magical because of his sense of wonder. Like what happened with the priests.

We were walking in the upstairs hall by the 19th-century paintings when Dale leaned over to me saying, sotto voce, "Are those twin priests?"

Twin priests? Just the concept seemed so quaint and funny. Like the Dancing Itos or something. But I looked and it seemed he was right. I encouraged him to ask them himself.

He approached them and asked one of them if they were twins. The priest responded with a smile—I think he said, "Last time I looked." They were originally Episcopalian and converted to Catholicism—just like one G.K. Chesterton. (A later Web search showed that they're quite accomplished—you can read about them here and here.)

Of course, we had to get a photo. I feel like I'm in an ecclesiastical Doublemint commercial.