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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Last time i felt brave?

What with a surgery, college prep, finishing senior year, and a multitude of other things going on, it is easy to sink into what Anne calls, “the Depths of Despair”. I tend to get overwhelmed pretty easily, when my emotions ride up and down, waves and waves of confusing feelings and doubts and fears and irritations. The other day while running I started to listen to Owl City, because this music soothes me, as only some music can. One song I played struck an especially deep cord with me. It paralleled my turbulent mindset. It gave voice to the swirling thoughts in my head.

Tidal Wave by Owl City

I wish I could cross my arms, and cross your mind
Cause I believe you’d unfold your paper heart and wear it on your sleeve
All my life I wish I broke mirrors, instead of promises
Cause all I see, is a shattered conscience staring right back at me
I wish I had covered all my tracks completely cause I’m so afraid
Is that the light at the far end of the tunnel or just the train?
Lift your arms only heaven knows, where the danger grows
And it’s safe to say there’s a bright light up ahead and help is on the way
(Help is on the way, Help is on the way, Help is on the way…)

Help is on the way
I forget the last time I felt brave, I just recall insecurity
Cause it came down like a tidal wave, and sorrow swept over me

Depression, please cut to the chase and cut a long story short
Oh please be done. How much longer can this drama afford to run?
Fate looks sharp, severs all my ties and breaks whatever doesn’t bend
But sadly then, all my heavy hopes just pull me back down again
(Back down again, back down again, back down again…)

I forget the last time I felt brave, I just recall insecurity
Cause it came down like a tidal wave, and sorrow swept over me
Then I was given grace and love, I was blind but now I can see
Cause I found a new hope from above, and courage swept over me

It hurts just to wake up, whenever you’re wearing thin
Alone on the outside, so tired of looking in
The end is uncertain and I’ve never been so afraid
But I don’t need a telescope to see that there’s hope
And that makes me feel brave

Written to God

734914bf233c84e5038a83cf43c4d46cAs part II for the last post, I decided to post some of the lyrics of the songs that especially mean something to me, that describe my walk with the Lord, the struggle, and the redemption of His love, power, mercy and forgiveness. I love how this band I once listened to constantly (Jump5) describes these struggles, emotions, and feelings. And so many of the songs portray this relationship with the Lord, so well that I find myself relating intensely.

Virtual Reality

I may never get it right
You might find I fall away
I can’t live the perfect life
Every hour everyday
I may stumble, You may see
A side you never knew of me
I don’t want to let
You down
But I cannot make the guarantee
That I could love you like
You Love me ’til the end of time
It drives me crazy thinking why
You want me by
Your side

 

Wonderful:

You’re my beautiful reality
And everything about you speaks to me
You’re a fragrance in my mind
Caught up in my thoughts time after time

You cay, come closer, look at the possibility
When I get closer you pull me in like gravity

Every body looking for the way to everlasting love
Hoping to find a little piece of mine from anyone
But when they see what you mean to me,
Then they will know
That perfect love you’ve given
(Lord) You’re wonderful, You’re wonderful

My thoughts inside and feelings, too
Will struggle till’ my heart and mind are one with you
The answer is so plain to see
And now I know the way this love is supposed to be

I’ll never have the words enough to tell you how I feel
Like when you kept my world from falling down
If there’s any good in me, it must be plain to see
‘Cause it’s your fingerprints inside the very heart of me

You are patient, you are kind
You are not easily angered
You keep no record of wrongs
You always protect and always trust
You never fail [Everybody’s looking for that everlasting love]

 

Tell me Why:

Although I’ll never deserve it
I realize that You will give me all of Your love
I couldn’t ever return it
I know that I could never give You reason enough
Your love came over me
You found the way to my heart

Let everybody believe it
I want the world to see the kind of love that we’ve got
Deep down in me I can feel it
I’m gonna give You all I have and no matter what
Your love came over me
You found the way to my heart

Wish that I could Read Your Mind:

So tired of waiting
Your heart must be breaking in two
While you do
With all the things in the world that you’re trying to do
Does what I’m trying to say
get through
to you?

Wish that I could read your mind
Understand what you hide in your heart
Then maybe, baby, I could help you see how loved you are
Wish that I could find the words
That would echo inside of your soul
‘Cause then, my friend, you’d know
He loves you so
God loves you so

I have a confession
For all your hard questions
The answers may not seem clear
There’s no use pretending
‘Cause we’re all out here spinning our wheels so it feels
Only one knows your heart
what you hope to become
Do you know who you’re running from or to

 

I Belong to You:

Maybe the time has come for me to believe
The safest place for me to be is in Your arms
When I draw near to You
You meet me where I am
You are my all and I realize . . .

I am in love
I belong to You
You have chosen me
I give my heart
I give everything
I belong to You
Because I believe
I have been set free so naturally
And I belong to You
Now I can feel You here with me, I believe
Who else could change my heart?

 

 

 

Gain the World but Lose my Soul?

I have realized that too often lately I turn the radio to a major hit station like i93 or iheart radio, or on Spotify my first choice is to listen to songs that please me in the now. Artists such as Lana Del Ray, Sam Smith, Maroon 5, Ed Sheeran, and numbers of others, all fill my head with their catchy beats and well-written lyrics that capture a mood, emotion, or sentiment. The artist in me responds to the soul in these songs which makes it to the top charts. I have begun to tend towards the view that “Christian” music, movies, and fiction is inferior to the success, glamor, and power of pop culture media. What I am missing is the promise that dwells at the very core of what I label as Christian–the potential striving of a musician, an artist, a writer, who strives to bring light to the world. My generalization, haughty and rather patronizing of the church, I must admit, is one of the most damaging mindsets existent today. Even as I strive to seek the Lord, I am pulled towards the world and its wondrous beauty, its profound talent. Why?

I could give you the cliche, basic answer that Christians who have grown up in the church could give you: “the world wants to pull us in”. And as cliche as that sounds, it’s true. Yeah, you reading this might just chuckle and roll your eyes because I am trying to sound like such a philosopher, mechanically repeating an exhausted caveat of the Church. I am saying it because it is true for those who wish to seek God. DC talk defines the walk with Christ as “the narrow path which you [Christ] have carved”. Why do Christians strive to reach out via music, film, and fiction, making their own genre (Christian film, music, and especially the Amish-dominated Christian fiction)? Because we are called. Why would we want to just sit back and stay safe within the walls of our churches? Why would we want to be merely content with a musical follower of Christ who sings his original songs on the church stage, instead of using a recording studio and extensive radio network to expose his God-inspired songs?

Why would we want to simply blog and pass around books written by a literary Christian? Why not go ahead and strive to publish at a major publishing house?

When I ignore or scoff at Christian media I am in a sense turning to the world as my source of entertainment, fulfillment, and sensory thrills. I am essentially stepping away a wonderful passion and potential that rests in artists who want to honor God with their talents. Why should I have to settle for the talent of pop culture royalty? Sure, they sound good. They look good. They make good stuff. But that shouldn’t be a reason to settle for them, and let them dominate America. Because even that which creates the most delightful feelings in us does not automatically make the catchy song of “La La La” or “Stay the Night” right.

What I’m trying to say is, the Church, the Bride of Christ, has a mission. So often I have almost subconsciously decided that this mission is either unsuccessful, unimpressive, or simply unattractive. That is not to say that I see a complete lacking in Christian Media. I greatly admire the music of TobyMac, DC Talk, Newsboys, Natalie Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, and many others. But sometimes, I just want to listen to i93, let my adrenaline get pumping to a catchy song. And this isn’t wrong, but I question my priorities. If I really mean what I say about the Church reaching out to the world, daring to stand up to the giant of Pop Culture, Ivy League scholars, and the Left Wing, we definitely have something–I mean someONE–going for us. God blessed Hollywood actors with their ability to capture emotion, perform on the silver screens. He gave singers such as Demi Lovato and Ed Sheeran their beautiful voices. HE is in control. So why can’t we look to Him (why can’t I look to him??) and realize that He is behind who we are and what we do. In fact, what we do comes from who we are. And when we are in Him, what we do can be better than anything imagined. It can change hearts. It can give hope. It can stir the embers of the truest love–that love which Christ had for us, when He hung on the cross.

I will probably follow this up later on, but for now . . . here you are. dff4cbac1a1c1ff3638f29eead9d9b7e

“A restless heart”

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For Philosophy in school I wrote this paper about St. Augustine. He is probably one of the most inspirational figures in history to me, and I only just began to discover him this year–reading his Confessions and researching his life and conversion thoroughly. He, C. S. Lewis, Tolkien and a few others stand as passionate believers who used their understanding and intellect to further explore the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy reading about St. Augustine. I drew close to God while writing this paper, because of the power of St. Augustine’s testimony.

God’s Philosopher

“Thou hast created us for thyself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in Thee.” The profound sincerity with which St. Augustine of Hippo wrote these words continues to touch the hearts of modern readers. Even across the centuries since his time, his writings have the ability to “docere, movere, et delectare”—to teach, to move, to delight. His remarkable faith and testimony empower his talents and intellect, propelling them beyond the scope of his own century and era, and into the annals of Western Civilization. St. Augustine used the arts of Rhetoric, Logic, and Philosophy to strengthen his dissertations, his texts marked by eloquence, but laced by potent revelation of Christ and His wondrous nature. One ought to pay heed while reading a work of St. Augustine’s, whether it be his soul-searching Confessions or The City of God, or any of his other numerous expositions which explore the connections between eloquence and Truth. Indeed, throughout St. Augustine’s writings one can behold his struggle to embrace and understand the meaning of Truth, as it applies Biblically to the earthly life every human must pass through, while in pursuit of “The City of God”. He manages to capture in his Confessions, the raw vulnerability of the human soul, which yearns to understand and find the Truth, yet simultaneously clings to self-sufficient independence. St. Augustine ought to be viewed as a man who can testify for the very prevalent struggle between self and surrender to Christ, who defines the Darkness in this world as the absence of light, and an as encouraging theologian who brings clarity and a wealth of wisdom to the Summa Theologica.

Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou was with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee.” Born in 354 A.D., in Hippo, a Roman Province on the North-Eastern coast of Africa, Augustine was the son of Roman pagan Patricius and devout Christian, Monica. He belonged to an upper-class Roman family, which permitted him to pursue a higher education—he initially began at a school in Madaurus, in the province of Numidia. Later he journeyed to Carthage, to study at a more intense level as a Rhetorician. He aspired to become a respected teacher in Rhetoric, and engaged himself in teaching and pursuing intellectual excellence. His eagerness to attain wisdom led him to desire an understanding of deeply spiritual matters, and he became frustrated when the Biblical faith his mother endeavored to instill in him as a youth, did not seem to satisfy him. Thus, he turned aside from the Church in order to seek his own lifestyle, from which he expected at least some measure of pleasing fulfillment. Moreover, he preferred to pursue his own desires and plans, once praying “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.” Yet, as hard as he might attempt to bring fulfillment and meaning into his life, he could not uproot a strange frustration with the emptiness he persistently experienced. Augustine spent a considerable amount of his young-adult life exploring religious groups, which he hoped would answer his numerous questions. In the years before Western Rome fell to barbarian invasions, this “Eternal City” was overrun by an assortment of groups which attempted to unite intellect with spirituality, oftentimes straying from the Canonical Scriptures of the Bible, which were highly impactful in those early years of the Christian Church. Augustine of Hippo turned his back on God, who he later understood would prod him and draw him close to the only Truth in heaven and on earth.

Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness.” The Manicheans, a cult which twisted and warped Biblical truths, drew in St. Augustine, who found himself increasingly desperate for an explanation of eternity, and of the Divine presence which he felt, but did not understand. He knew of God, but did not know His power to heal, to illuminate the darkness and desolation of a human heart bound by pride and stubbornness. His Confessions reveal this struggle, and his exasperation when a respected and “wise” leader in the Manichean group disappointed him, and failed to explain away Augustine’s bewilderment. As he continued to lose himself in sexual immorality, illegitimate relations with numerous women, and in falling prey to his fleshly desires and ambitions, Augustine sought answers elsewhere. He looked to the stars, rather than to the One who created those celestial lights. Astronomy temporarily appeared like a promising source of scientific logic, to reason away the confusion of his tangled soul. His emptiness would not leave, however. At last, he wandered into the halls of a widely-known teacher and Christian, whose doctrines impressed Augustine and stirred his heart, reminding him of his desire for fulfillment. He began to read about the life of Saint Anthony of the Desert, whose turbulent journey to salvation struck Augustine. He began to study the scriptures, gleaning from them answers, slowly unsheathing breathtaking comfort and revelation. Resistance against God’s gentle summons flared continually in Augustine, and he hesitated even as he felt drawn towards the Peace one can only find in Christ. His conversion can best be told in his own words:

“In the direction towards which I had turned my face and was quivering in fear of going, I could see the austere beauty of continence, serene and indeed joyous but not evilly, honourably soliciting me to come to her and not linger, stretching forth loving hands to receive and embrace me, hands full of multitudes of good examples. With her I saw such hosts of young men and maidens, a multitude of youth and of every age, gray widows and women grown old in virginity, and in them all Continence herself, not barren but the fruitful mother of children, her joys, by you, Lord, her Spouse. And she smiled upon me and her smile gave courage as if she were saying: “Can you not do what these men have done, what these women have done? Or could men or women have done such in themselves, and not in the Lord their God? The Lord their God gave me to them. Why do you stand upon yourself and so not stand at all? Cast yourself upon him and be not afraid. He will not draw away and let you fall. Cast yourself without fear. He will receive you and heal you.” (Book VIII: Birthpangs of Conversion, the Confessions)

 

            Thus, he “cast himself” towards the Lord, surrendering at last. His conversion undeniably connects to the human tendency of fear and pride, which in turn causes hesitation. Yet, reading of his conversion offers hope and encouragement, inspiration to perceive in the value of understanding, and the importance of humility when bowing before the Creator of Mankind, and giving up the spirit and mind to Him. For Augustine, this “giving up” meant uniting human intelligence with spiritual wisdom—the wisdom to seek humility over self-sufficiency. This wisdom requires acknowledging the mystery of God, his Infallible Power which cannot always be explained. Augustine must have experienced profound relief, as his words so aptly express: “Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace”. Now at least he turned over his life to God, and this meant dying to self. It meant yielding his lusts and (often immoral) pleasures, in order to live according to the Word of God; he yearned for virtue insofar as it fully honored God, and glorified Him. He explored these beautiful revelations of Christ, and the Truth solely found in Christ, in his Confessions and subsequent works. His writings articulate the beauty of a human soul encountering the Magnificent Veritas, the ultimate meaning, the omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent Lord who created all things. Today, St. Augustine is recognized as a church father whose thoughts have resounded throughout the centuries, echoing in the hearts of those early Christians in the early days of Western Civilization. And even now in the 21st century, men and women breathe in the philosophy borne by Scripture’s revelation and value, as they would inhale oxygen in the air—both are crucial to life. Yet while one is crucial to the physical wellbeing, the other, Scripture, preserves a soul for eternity. He paints so vividly the human struggle, the collision of the will, and the Will of God, the reality of God’s mystery, the infallible perfection of His majesty.

St. Augustine of Hippo ought to be read repeatedly, a father of the faith, one founder of theology’s definitions and explanation. At the same time, he acknowledges that God is in all things, in God all things exist, and God exists outside of human understanding or rational. This may directly address a prevalent demand among even Christians, who have not yet reconciled themselves to complete belief and surrender to the Lord. One would do well to delve into Augustine’s writings, using them as an interpretation of what it means to pursue God, to live in surrender to Him, for outside of God there is nothing but emptiness. A study of St. Augustine’s early life illustrates this aimless wandering and susceptibility to harmful creeds which could eventually lead to darkness. And even minutes before he laid down his life before the Lord, he was struggling against embracing the peace of God.

“For I said mentally, Lo, let it be done now, let it be done now. And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not. Yet fell I not back to my old condition, but took up my position hard by, and drew breath. And I tried again, and wanted but very little of reaching it, and somewhat less, and then all but touched and grasped it; and yet came not at it, nor touched, nor grasped it, hesitating to die unto death, and to live unto life; and the worse, whereto I had been habituated, prevailed more with me than the better, which I had not tried.” (Book VIII: The Confessions)

Hearing such words of emotion and visualizing this grasping for the presence of God, readers across the centuries understand, and experience the impact of St. Augustine’s revelation, a compelling encounter with truth and the beauty of a soul coming into Christ’s Kingdom.