As a Protestant at a Catholic University

Sometimes I ask myself, “How on earth did I go from dreaming about attending Patrick Henry College to this? University of Dallas, the Catholic School for Independent Thinkers??”

This thought initially unsettles me. I find myself asking God, “Why here, Lord? What is your plan? Where are you leading me?”

I mean, Patrick Henry College contrasts quite a bit with University of Dallas. As does Baylor, with the George W. Truett theological Baptist seminary integrated into the campus. I visited both, actually. And neither felt right. When I visited UD for the first time, it felt like coming home. Like it fit me right. Why, though?

I’m not Catholic, and sometimes I wonder if those of my friends raised strictly Catholic view me as one of those disturbingly enthusiastic Evangelicals. The kinds of people who jump up and down during praise and worship, the kind of people who speaking tongues and “twitch”. I wonder if they wonder if my pastor gives sermons with Calvinist abrasion and fury. I never thought of it before–I never questioned my chosen church/denomination. I grew up at the church I attend. It is more or less Evangelical, with Baptist roots since the founding pastor was Baptist. But now that I’ve begun to explore the rich Roman Catholic culture at UD, attended mass at the Cistercian Abbey, Dominican Priory, and Church of the Incarnation, all easy to reach around campus, I find myself thinking more and more about my own chosen denomination. The Roman Catholic church is the oldest church in history. It was the original church that began with the Apostles. The more I learn about it, the more I see how rich and rooted it is in traditions that are thousands of years old. My church was just founded back in the late 90’s. It has been growing fast since then, and it is rooted in the Baptist denomination, but at the same time I feel like I’m floating. Is the theology grounded in Bible stories introduced way back in my kindergarten Sunday School class enough? Is it substantial enough?

I was pretty overwhelmed by the rituals and liturgy performed during the mass. Each time it hits me harder than before. Is a session of praise and worship and a forty minute sermon afterwards enough? It seems so bare compared to the solemn liturgy and prayers chanted and repeated throughout the mass. The Eucharist is also a new concept. The wafers and wine taken during communion is seen as a crucial moment to receive the sacraments of Christ. Whereas, I’ve been raised to see this as a mere symbolic ritual. Far more emphasis is placed on communion in the Catholic Church than in my Evangelical church.

We bow our heads and listen as our pastor explains the reason for taking Communion, explaining that the bread represents Christ’s body, the “wine” (grape juice at our church???) is His blood. And then we take it. We stay in our seats. I am reminded to appreciate the Lord’s sacrifice on the Cross, but in my memory, it seems almost downplayed.

At Mass here at UD I find myself walking up the aisle to the priest, and wait with nervousness heating my face up. What if I trip? Should I bow, like my friends are doing before they receive Communion from the priest? Or is that just for the Catholic? Is it disrespectful if I don’t? Oh, and I can’t take the Communion…I need to cross my arms now, so they’ll know I’m an outsider… Am I imagining that the priest regards me with distrust? He blesses me, and I slowly walk back to my seat, my heart pounding. Each time these thoughts run through my head. Each time, a flush burns in my cheeks. I can barely take everything in that’s going on in the room. The incense, the holy water, the rising and the kneeling. And yet, through it all, it is beautiful. The words that they chant in honor of Jesus, I stand in awe as I listen. Never before have I seen this much reverence, this solemn, august reverence paid to my savior. It is so different, yet so awe-inspiring.

Before class begins, some of my professors pray, and lead the class in doing the sign of the cross and saying the Lord’s prayer. At times I feel self-conscious, though I know the Lord’s Prayer by heart. Am I missing something when I don’t do the sign of the cross? Exactly how much importance is placed on doing it?

And so, I ask again, Why? Why UD?

What if the picture is bigger than you see?
And God has you right where he wants you to be
Just listen to your heart
He’s telling you with every beat

“Still That Girl” by Britt Nicole

I sincerely believe that God does “have me right where He wants me to be”

He has drawn me closer in the past weeks, and I find myself turning to Him more and more in my quiet moments, when I am out running or walking to each class. He reminds me to trust in Him. The other day I opened His Word and read this verse:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
 in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight

Proverbs 3:5-6

For so long this verse has brought comfort to me when I am unsure, confused, anxious or filled with doubts. God chooses the best moments to reach out and touch my heart, whispering that He does have a plan, He does know what is best for me, He does have it all in His control. I need not fear anything. Thank God that He is the author of our lives.

Ironically, my Grandfather, Russell J. Young, a devout Catholic, discovered the church my family has attended since 2000. Way back then he met our founding pastor at the local mall, and my Grandfather, who loved to meet new people whenever possible, anywhere possible, struck up a conversation with two young men (my pastor and his deacon) as they discussed the church they had just begun. Grandpa learned about it, and I’m sure their discussion was lively as he engaged with them, as they told him about their vision, to begin a family-oriented church, with a mission for spreading the Lord’s Word in the DFW metroplex. My Grandpa went to my parents and told them about his new friends, who would be our pastor/deacon. “So, is there any chance that you and Danny [my Dad] will come back to the Catholic Church?”

My Mom replied, “Well, I don’t think so…” Since my Dad is Baptist, and my Mom joined his church, our family has been raised in the Protestant church.

“Well, then, this church I’m going to tell you about is the next best thing to being Catholic,” my Grandpa said, probably with the twinkle in his eye that I remember so well. 🙂

And truly, Valley Creek Church has been wonderful. I’ve grown up there. I’ve grown up with so many people there who are now off attending college just as I am. My parents have been in small groups with other couples and have formed a strong fellowship with other families, many of them homeschooling families like ours. In fact, a lot of the seniors in my [homeschooled] graduating class attend Valley Creek as well. It is a wonderful place where I’ve made many lifelong friends and learned so much about the nature of the Lord. I’m so thankful for having this church in my life. I have seen other kinds of Protestant churches, attending those with friends or family. But Valley Creek is my home base, and our current pastor speaks such relevant truth into my life that it is sometimes chilling, how strongly the Holy Spirit works through our pastor to reach my heart. I know that the Holy Spirit speaks in different ways through our pastor’s sermons to each and every person sitting in the room. And knowing that is breathtaking.

But I feel as though I’ve entered a whole new world each time I sit through a Roman Catholic mass and see a different side of Christianity that I’ve never known. A wonderful, beautiful side. A side with majesty and reverence in honor of Christ and the men and women who have died to themselves and lived for Him throughout the ages. I never could have imagined it, but as I type this I realize that this is one of the many ways that God shows himself to us. He uses our experiences (such as my choice to attend a Catholic university) to show us different aspects of His nature. He is teaching us, with every step we make in life, about faith in Him, about laying down our selves for Him.

I know that I wouldn’t trade life at UD for life anywhere else. If I were to go back in time, I know that I would make the same exact choice to attend this school and meet the people I have met. It is all part of the larger picture, as we encounter people and experiences that introduce us to marvelous Revelation in Him.

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Answers

fa9b0ebc349855a9a24993414570521bFor one of my last assignments of high school, I was commissioned to write a short story based on a work of literature this year. I chose to base my work of fiction on the theme and premise of St. Augustine’s Confessions (my favorite Christian treatise, by the way!)

Answers: by Rebecca W.

He hurried down the street, swerving this way and that to weave through the evening crowd along the sidewalks. A glance at his phone told him the time, and just as he raised his eyes to the church tower, the church bells tolled, their rings echoing deeply throughout the city. When he heard them he did stop, and pushed his cold-chafed hands into his pockets. The steeple rose above the building tops, it stood out, an old red brick cathedral in the metropolis. The sight of it held him and with a tightness in his chest and throat he stood, staring up at it through the bare branches of the trees, over the cold surfaces of these buildings.

His phone vibrated, shattering his focus. He held up the device and saw that he had received a text message from his mother, his gentle mother, waiting at home for his return. She doesn’t need to always wait, he thought, almost bitterly.

“Augustus, I look forward to hearing about the first day of the semester. I’ll be waiting up. J

He replaced the phone in his pocket and started walking again, pressing against the frigid winds weaving like ghouls throughout this grey city. In all honesty, he began to believe he had chosen the wrong college plan. The wrong focus. The classes…they served to affix his mind with the philosophical questions, ponderings, and insights he had known and wrestled with forever, it seemed. His enthusiasm for investing time and energy in reading the meditations of classical ages…his enthusiasm seemed leaden within him, encrusted by icy indifference. And that feeling dismantled everything about his future, his present, and his past. Augustus’s stride quickened and at last, after an empty hour of pushing past people and ignoring the cold biting his face, he turned onto his street. The apartment he and his mother shared was at the opposite end, but he hurried, his drained mind hardly comprehending the space of time.

“I’m home, mom,” he called, slinging his coat on the rack as he slid the door chain in place. His mother suddenly appeared at the end of the hall in the kitchen doorway, surrounded by the golden glow from within that room.

“Augustus! How was it? How did you like your classes?”

He shrugged and slipped past her to set his backpack down on the window seat.

“Fine,” he said briskly.

She gave a small laugh but then as she watched him her smile became a slight frown. “Just fine?”

“I mean, not much happens on the first day,” Augustus sank into the chair to pull off his leather boots.

“Which class do you like best?” his mom prodded.

“Oh…astronomy, I guess.”

“What about the philosophy one…the Philosophy in Literature class that you signed up for?”

“Fine,” Augustus repeated, even more tersely. He pulled his backpack into his lap and unzipped it, shuffling around for his homework assignment notebook.

His mom sat down across from him, watching him with a thoughtful purse at her mouth. Her eyes, gray-green like his, gazed at him with a steadiness he suddenly found discomfiting.

He felt driven to answer her look, offer at least some explanation for his attitude of disinterest. “Things have changed, I guess. None of it clicks for me. I want to understand too many things, and I just can’t find a way to…relax. I don’t know…” he bit his lip and studied a pen he’d pulled out of the bag. “Maybe I just lost interest.”

His mother sat down at the table, resting her hands on the table. She leaned a bit towards him, and watched how his shoulder slackened, his head bent with weariness.

“Augustus, you were…so ready to begin last year. So full of enthusiasm to jump in, start studying, start working towards your goals…”

“It’s not the teachers, or the classes, or anything. It’s me. Just me.” He sighed, rubbing his jaw slowly. “Maybe it’s time I go a different direction. None of it feels…right…anymore.”

His mother sat back, biting her lip.

“Everything feels so indefinite. What we learn about. What we read. The professors don’t help. I want answers, but I can’t find any. No matter how much I try.”

“Answers to…” his mother prompted.

“Answers to why. How. I mean, it’s just so pointless. Why do I need to study what the Apostles wrote, what the saints of Byzantium wrote, the speculations of Greek philosophers? Maybe I’d be better off concentrating on one of the sciences. Biology. Physics. Those make more sense. I just…got so tired of it all today. I feel like I took the wrong turn in my education.”

As he spoke he sensed the rise of frantic dismay that had chased him on his way home. It caught up now, and he pushed back from the table, stepped out onto the apartment’s balcony, where he could hear the sirens and city sounds reverberating throughout the night. The stars were invisible against the glow of the metropolis. For one swaying, empty moment Augustus longed to see them. He didn’t care how many number of ancient writers, poets, and bards had written of the stars. At the moment, they were out of reach but real. The dizzying thought occurred to him that answers were the same as stars. Desirable answers that never appeared in the reading assignments or in the library books he’d borrowed for research. What did he need answers for? He knew his mother had wanted to ask, but didn’t, out of consideration. He folded his arms, causing his jacket to tighten along his shoulders, warming him in the chill.

Why did he want answers? Why did the disappoint strike him so hard when he lost a train of truth? Why did he open nearly every door available except for one? That one door…it stayed closed. It was the leather-bound book his mother had given to him at age 13. It was the book he ignored. Why didn’t he want to look for answers there? Maybe he feared the truth that existed, for real, within those pages. Like the stars, hidden from his view by the city lights. Always hidden and wanted. But never sought out. He still lived in the city. He still studied the answerless books.

freedom OF religion or freedom FROM religion? That is the question.

Followers, I’d appreciate your thoughts! This is a small essay I wrote for school!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. (The First Amendment of the Constitution)

            Many modern Americans desire to paraphrase this amendment and claim that this amendment completely separates the church from the state, in order to support their belief that religion should be completely annihilated from society and government. Unfortunately for them, the first amendment states that Congress cannot establish a religion, but it was not written with the intent of pushing the church out the door. This amendment was written by our Founding Fathers with their forefathers in mind—the people such as Pilgrims who crossed the sea and settled at Plymouth in order to escape the oppression of King James, who established his own church of England to the exclusion of those who practiced their own set of Christian beliefs. His establishment of religion infringed on the personal rights of other believers who did not agree exactly with the king’s theology, thus forcing them to flee their homes in England and settle in the new world.

However, the meaning of this amendment has been warped by those who seek to eradicate the Church altogether.

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Subtlety

There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin 

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene

Only then I am human
Only then I am clean 

“Take me to Church”

by Hozier

(Grammy’s selected Song of 2014)

It’s catchy, clever, and provocative. Today, secular music has managed to capture the full attention of the world, utilizing the power in this easily-accessed medium to send messages laced in an appealing rhythm and talented singers. “It’s true—most of the time, secular music is a lot catchier than a lot of Christian songs,” my studio art teacher observed. Her words have stuck in my head through the years and at this point, as a young adult with more freedom to choose the media I consume, I find myself agreeing to an extent with her statement. As a girl raised in a Christian household, I’ve been raised surrounded by Biblical values and truths which I firmly believe in. Yet, I and many other young Christians are familiar with the songs broadcasted on secular radio stations—songs sung by secular stars—songs that echo the mindset of a godless, caving culture. A considerable amount of the music I listen to comprises of songs which I find romantic, relatable, and of course, catchy. But even these positive attributes fail to negate the reality of modern music’s dark underbelly. Top chart songs contain subliminal meanings which promote blatant promiscuity, amorality, materialism. It might not be obvious, but if a listener is careful and listens closely, a deeper malice towards virtue penetrates the soul of contemporary music.

Satan utilizes one of the mediums which touches the hearts and infiltrates the minds of the younger generations. What we simply shrug off as a song really engenders subconscious messages which infiltrate into daily thoughts. These thoughts easily influence attitudes and behavior. For example, a recent billboard chart top hit, “Take Me to Church” by Irish tenor, Hozier, was nominated at the Grammy’s for 2014 Song of the Year.

The song is hauntingly beautiful with subtle verses and a soulful chorus. Admittedly, when I first heard it, I thought, “Wow, this is a powerful song. It’s almost hymn-like.” It’s Elton John mixed with an old Southern Spiritual from the American Civil War.

 

So said Dr. Taylor Marshall, a professor in Philosophy at University of Dallas. But his opinion changed when he listened to the lyrics:

 

What’s amazing about his song is that it’s about as offensive as anything produced by Marilyn Manson, Judas Priest, or Slayer yet hardly anyone recognizes it! It takes rich Catholic sacramental language but re-signifies the imagery as a sexual encounter. And that’s the so-called “genius” of this song.

The music industry is now much smarter than it was in the days of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and Slayer. Your daughter is not likely to love Marilyn Manson and erect an idol to Satan in her bedroom. Your son will not likely consecrate his baby to Lucifer and baptize him in goat’s blood.

Overt Satanism is out of style. However, young people are likely to exchange their Christian faith for sexual license. The stats show that young people will likely exchange the sacramental life and liturgy for the liturgy of sexual experimentation.

And that’s exactly why this song has become an American anthem. The devil doesn’t needs a league of heavy metal Satanists. He’d almost prefer to have people mocking the Christian sacraments and images.

If God isn’t real – “If the Heavens ever did speak” – then the only goods to be enjoyed in this life are the pleasures of food and sex. That’s all there is left for humans to experience transcendence. Hozier gets it and he sings for us a catchy hymn.

 

Dr. Marshall points out how modern society dresses up anti-Biblical messages and ideas and promotes them via the media—music, film, literature, art, and the internet. It’s “just a song”? No—songs like “Take Me to Church” make it to the Grammy’s to become the Song of 2014, and this is a clear statement about the direction in which our culture is hurtling.

As the title of the book by Robert H. Bork so aptly puts it, you could say that America is “slouching towards Gomorrah”. The patterns can be seen everywhere. Rampant promiscuity, invading the mindsets of younger children, blatant homosexuality, devaluing of human life as exemplified by euthanasia and abortion. The materialistic attitude of millions of Americans reflects in our extravagant, reckless lifestyles. Egocentricity becomes the norm, and the 21st century generation embraces the idea of self-love. Some would call it “progress”, but really, it seems that we merely regress towards the days of Nero and Caligula, when orgies and amorality raged the streets of the “Eternal City”. Music hugely impacts the outlook of each coming generation. With the recent trends in blatant sexual experimentation, the arts as an expression of the human soul reveal the deeper darkness that draws us farther and farther away from Christ.

4a4acb431a1a0b60f6331268b25241af            Dr. Marshall’s insights on this particularly popular song, and a simple analysis of modern culture, both provide a sharper view of this disease infecting the nation, the entire world. When songs like “Take Me to Church” twist the sacrosanct Eucharistic, Biblical words and references into a song idolizing sexuality and promiscuity, obviously the slouching has begun. But Satan cleverly wields his deception. He infects us with his poison as we enjoy a top-notch song a talented singer. He contaminates our thoughts when we enjoy a movie with a scene or two that would’ve made a younger, naïve self, blush. His trick? Subtlety.

Here is a link to Dr. Marshall’s article concerning “Take Me to Church” by Hozier: http://taylormarshall.com/2014/12/take-church-lyrics-meaning-christian-analysis-critique.html

To be a lover of the vintage, the classic, the archaic

01eff7382ad07aaaa14f2edc9664004e (1) It means to relish in reading of the past: History. It is definitely not surprising to you that I am a major fan of anything historical. My favorite books are from the Classic Lit. genre. The artists I look up to most are the masters, the stars of the Renaissance, and a lot of the music I listen to on spotify is historically themed. I wildly enjoy writing and reading historical fiction. Genealogy fascinates me (and lately I am excited by the investigations of my older sister who is interviewing my Grandma about our family history, my grandmother’s life through the past decades of the 20th century . . .)

History comes alive for me. Maybe that’s why I choose to write about it, because it is not merely accounts to read about for school history assignments. It goes far, far beyond that. History to me is a massive tapestry, woven beautifully, a story to read and memorize and understand and analyze. People to know, to remember. I prefer history to fantasy any day. But I the fantasy that I do love is time-travel stories. Those really make my heart race, because time travel is my wish upon a star. I frequently think about what I would do if I could pass through the “universe of time” and somehow push aside this thin veil to some year long, long ago.

If you feel this same passion about history that I do, I hope you’re saying an amen by now. I mean, who wouldn’t want a time machine. Sure, time travel stories always come with the age-old caveat about “you can’t change the past” . . . but the idealist in me yearns to step back across the centuries and meet and walk through the history that I can only now read about. Change wouldn’t be my objective, but Experience would. A glimpse at another world, so to speak. That would matter. A chance to meet the people I admire and respect. To look one of the Founding Fathers in the eye and thank the soldiers of the D-Day mission . . . to even see Robert E. Lee or Lewis and Clark from across the room. I don’t know. That would be magical and enchanting to me. I know they are people like you and me. But deep down they have earned a place in the annals of the past. Because they lived–they accomplished things with the time they had. It should be a message to all of us, to live our lives to the fullest, to appreciate every moment and person in our lives, every opportunity we have to make a difference for our family, our country (America!), for our Faith. Deep down, there is a purpose, a flying standard by which to live. Even if we want to turn away from it, there is a grander meaning to it all. There is His Story, that has gone down across the thousands of years, since Eden.

That’s the Divine beauty of it all, I guess. I am rambling now, but I just had to make this statement about History. Because History teaches, it inspires, it reminds us of what it means to fight for what is right and good and just. Sure, history is rife with error and darkness. But Light will always prevail. And that is the best thing that History can possibly teach us.

God bless,

Rebecca