Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Because I Am Happier Than Ever

As soon as I had published my post summarizing my first seven weeks of Catholic blogging, I realized that it was like several Stephen King novels: Hundreds of pages of build-up, then pffft, fizzle—whimper, no bang. Well, here's the bang that post was missing: As a Catholic these eighteen months, I am happier than I have ever been.

I have written that Catholic women seem happy. I have even dared to write that Catholic women are happy. I have described several happy Catholic men, like Father Barnes and Ferde, and a very happy Catholic couple, Frank and Carrie.

What about me?

See that guy sitting in his stocking feet outside a rented cottage in Ballygaw, County Dingle, last March? That's me, a year after my conversion to Catholicism, completely at peace, really quite boundlessly happy. Let me count the ways:

I have never belonged to a community where I felt more at home—I have had many advantages in my life and I have belonged to some pretty fine groups of people. Don't hold it against me. These are just the facts: My family was and is fantastic, grandparents, parents, siblings, in-laws, children, nieces, nephews, the lot. I was a Boy Scout. My parents belonged to several country clubs and sent me to cool summer camps. I attended private schools, including arguably the best boarding school in the world (Exeter) and the best small liberal arts college in America (Amherst). I became part of a world-famous theatrical troupe (“Le Grand David and his own Spectacular Magic Company”), where some of my best friends still are active. And for all that, I have never been anywhere, never belonged to any group, where I felt more welcome, more at home, more loved than I do every single morning at mass. Or any time I have coffee with Ferde or Father or Ellen or Carol.

I have not experienced this level of intellectual excitement since Exeter—I've been a Catholic long enough to know what they say about Catholics: We check our brains at the door. Or as one skeptic put it recently: Baaaaaaa! (sheep sound) Well, I'm here to tell you that in these eighteen months (and in the six months of RCIA that preceded my reception into the Church) I have known greater intellectual stimulation and challenge than I have since reading Crime and Punishment with Henry Ploegstra or The Hero with a Thousand Faces with Rod Marriott, both at Exeter. I can't possibly list all the books I have read, nay studied, in the past two years, especially when preparing a presentation for Saturday morning men's group. Let me just throw a couple of thousand-pagers at you: Kristin Lavransdatter and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You could take those two masterpieces to a desert island and never miss your mommy.

My marriage has never been better—
Katie and I celebrate our 25th anniversary next week. (In lieu of gifts, donations can be made to St. Mary Star of the Sea Church.) I can guarantee that we will be married for as long as God gives us both the health. We've had our ups and downs, mostly ups, but right now . . . I can't express my gratitude adequately. Psalm 89 from today's Office says it best: “I will sing for ever of your love, O Lord . . . ”

I have experienced death at close hand and found it beautiful—For years, I remarked how lucky our family was: Two parents, six siblings, eleven kids in the next generation, and not one death, not one serious accident, really not even one serious illness. Then I became a Catholic, and my father died. I can hear the skeptic saying, Ya see? See what happens when you convert? Here's what happened: No one likes to lose a parent—losing Dad was a life-altering experience for me—but no one who lives a life of normal length can dodge losing a parent or two. So it's not whether Dad died that matters, it's how he died, and how I took that death. I can only say that my being a Catholic in those months of melanoma, increasing weakness and nausea, and finally hospice care was demonstrably good for me and good for him. For me, it all came down to the four nights I spent alone with him in his hospice room, with Dad in and out of consciousness and me reading to him from the Liturgy of the Hours. An angel, a male hospice nurse named Jerome, entered the room during one of those readings, and I will never forget the love.

My life is working—
You know when things are clicking? When things just fit? That's the way it is now, not only in my life, but in Katie's life and, I dare say, in our children's lives. Our business is surviving this downturn and, in fact, turning into something brand-new and exciting. Friends and family seem well, too. Will there be unpleasant surprises down the road? Of course. Life ends, doesn't it? Something's going to get us all, and that probably won't be entirely pleasant.

But armed with my faith (yes, it's like armor, but very comfortable), with my rosary in my right pants pocket and my breviary in my backpack, with the support of friends like Ferde, with the love and support of Katie, Martha, and Marian and above all with the love of God, I know that there is no challenge that cannot be faced. And meanwhile, I'm having an awful lot of fun.