Encountering the Culture of Life

Okay, so I haven’t updated in a while. I blame the Latin course I took in July, combined with procrastination. So, I’ll try to continue the story where I left off. This piece will probably be a bit rambley, being more a report on my reaction to encountering Catholicism in reality rather than in theory.

In January of 2008, I found myself in a very weird place. I had come to an intellectual decision about the Catholic Church, but I didn’t know what to do. I had talked with a few of my friends about the Church, but had no real idea what becoming a Catholic would actually mean. I now knew the arguments about the Catholic faith from both sides, and saw the Catholic side as true, indeed as the Truth. My world was upside down, left was right, cats lived with dogs. I was, in short, confused.

After my encounter with her family on Mardis Gras, I hung out with Mary and her brother John Paul around Berkeley a few times. We had some good random conversations running into each other once in a while. Mary and her friend Dan decided to check out the Berkeley poetry scene, where I’ve had some minor involvement over the past couple years, so I saw them around a couple of times. Every once in a while, she would send out invites to events for social causes, which I usually supported in concept but couldn’t be bothered to actually attend. Always something more important to do, or I didn’t particularly care enough about the cause to be bothered to leave home.

So it happened that in mid-January, as I found myself wondering what exactly it meant to become Catholic, I noticed that I had been invited to the 4th annual Walk for Life in San Francisco. I had ignored it when I was initially invited, thinking it was far too much trouble to go to San Francisco. Now, pro-life issues were something I’ve always had strong feelings about, even in High School, but for whatever reason I had glossed over it as being somehow unimportant. Not something that would inspire me to go out and walk 2.5 miles, even if I supported it in theory.

It was about 4 days before the Walk that it suddenly struck me that this would be a good thing to do, primarily because the cause was good and just, and needed as much support as possible. But another aspect that occurred to was that Mary and her friends and family who I knew were going, were the same people I had previously had to grudgingly acknowledge as good Christians despite being Catholics. Now that my opinions about the Church were utterly transformed by my experiences, I needed to talk to good Catholics, to interact in reality rather than abstract theory. So I contacted Mary and asked her what was the plan for the walk, and she told me when and where to go.

I met up with Mary, John Paul and a few other acquaintances at the Berkeley BART station around 10, and Dan joined up with us at MacArthur. We chatted a bit on the trip through the tunnel, about the Walk, it’s young history, and John Paul’s native shyness among other topics.

Justin Herman Plaza was crowded, as can be seen from the picture above. 25,000 people had turned out to join in the walk. Coming in all shapes, sizes, colors, and tongues united in one purpose, it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The main thing that popped out to me was the huge number of images of the Blessed Virgin Mary that were visible. For the first time in my life, I did not shrink away in horror and scandal at the sight of her. I saw it for what it was, a sign of love for the Mother of God, and hence for her son, Jesus Christ. I saw it as beautiful.

The speakers were decent, the highlight being Gianna Jessen, a young woman who had actually been aborted and lived. She has cerebral palsy as a result of the attempted abortion. Amazingly, she remains a very bubbly and outgoing person despite her problems, giving full credit to her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Her speech moved me, and I provide the YouTube link below.

After the speeches had been spoken, the actual walk began. 2.5 miles along the San Francisco waterfront, moving at a rather slow pace due to the huge number of people on the walk. Around 250 counter-protesters lined the way jeering and shouting invective at us as we passed by. People mostly responded by breaking out into devotional song or praying. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, surprising in January.

I walked along with Dan, Mary, and several of her younger siblings, mainly discussing the issues of abortion and contraception, but bouncing a bit all over the place. At some point, somehow, Dan and myself got drafted into carrying an unwieldy banner someone had made, which made us move considerably slower.

As I mentioned earlier on, there were many people carrying images of Our Lady. I noticed this more and more during the walk, and increasingly I felt the inherent rightness of it. This was not idolatry, this was the right and proper veneration for the woman who had carried the infinite God in her womb. One man was leading a prayer of the Rosary on a bullhorn, with the crowd around following. Even in my search through apologetic works, I had never seriously meditated on the words of the Rosary. “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” Hearing it repeated over and over led me to consider the words carefully, and slowly to begin joining the crowd in the response. It was my first experience actually participating in Catholic ritual, and it was profoundly moving to me. I felt like I was coming home.

My breakfast that day had consisted of a single apple. I was exhausted and loopy with hunger by the end of the walk, having carried the banner for a good half the while. Mary was kind enough to share a bottle of water with me, so I didn’t get too dehydrated. At the end of the walk, people dispersed to various prepared picnics and barbecues that had been set up withing view of the Golden Gate. I joined with Mary’s family and a few others and enjoyed a nice sandwich with them. At this point, I was able to unwind and shake off some of the exhaustion of the day. Afterwards, Dan, Mary, myself, and Matthew, a friend of theirs in seminary, walked over toe Barney’s Gourmet Burgers to more fully satiate our appetites.

Now, at this point, I had said nothing about my intention to enter the Catholic Church, nor had I actually told it to anyone Catholic yet. As far as Mary knew, I remained a convinced and staunch Protestant, with a deeply dismissive attitude towards Catholicism. She knew of my confused reaction to the Mardis Gras party, and how the Catholic practices freaked me out. Additionally, when I was having having dinner with a group of friends including her and one of the others was talking about his walk towards apostasy from the Catholic Church, I made some rather unsavory comments about how understandable it is for someone raised in the Catholic Church to reject its silly and pernicious doctrines. She overheard this comment, and seemed quite hurt by it. When we got to the restaurant, I realized that she had seemed wary all day about talking about anything Catholic, as she got very nervous mentioning a prayer request pertaining to the Church.

“You know, it’s funny that you should mention that, because I’m actually planning to enter the Catholic Church,” I dropped casually into the conversation. Dan and Matthew responded with a slightly surprised congratulations, but Mary seemed absolutely shocked. Immediately, she was grinning from ear to ear, seemingly flabbergasted at my unexpected change of heart. I don’t think she knew quite what to make of it, a reaction I have encountered quite a bit since, and one of the primary reasons I started this blog to begin with.

We went on to eat, and continued talking about many subjects, from science fiction novels to John Henry Newman. We parted ways with Seminarian Matthew, and the three of us used the fine mass transit system of the city by the bay to get back to Berkeley, conversing the entire way. We parted ways in good cheer, and I went home with the burning certainty in my heart: I was coming home.

Next time, I promise not to take so long to post. As to the topic, we will discuss the Blessed Virgin Mary, Most Holy Mother of God, and my warming relationship with her and the communion of Saints.

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~ by Sam Urfer on August 19, 2008.

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