This seems to be an easy question to answer, at least for us: we need God. We need other things, yes, but those needs become negotiable if our relationship with God is at risk. Sometimes they fall away for a time, when God wishes to draw us closer to Him in a special way. I remember when this happened to me. I remember the thought I couldn’t quite chase away, distracting me, holding me back from being truly holy: “God, why are You letting my world become so small? Why are You taking away everything from me?”
I lost a lot of things that autumn. The leaves turned, the startling green grasses faded, the tractor ruts in the mud began to freeze at night, and the winter seemed to reach straight through to my bones. I knew I would die, for a time, but I knew, too, that I would live again. I trusted that the spring would come, that God had not brought me to the Church only to leave me orphaned. I trusted that my heavenly Mother’s love was not conditional, and that she would not abandon me, even as the coldness threatened to drag me under the earth.
What I needed was not what I thought I needed.
God, He was a given. My guardian angel, Our Blessed Mother, all of the saints, they were all part of knowing Him; they were the supernatural things that I knew were unaffected by the circumstances of my earthly life. I didn’t fear losing them. I feared losing the things that brought me the closest to them. I realized that my consolation was found in the things that would have meant nothing to me before my conversion.
I no longer feared losing my privacy, losing my freedom, losing the commitment of someone I had fiercely loved. I had survived those things and more. I was still surviving those little deaths, and I was surviving them not by drowning myself in food or drink or exercise or movie marathons or fresh paperbacks. I survived them by walking with my son in a frigid field, the cornstalks brushing the sky above my head, holding on to my rosary beads as though I would drown if I let go. I survived them by escaping every Sunday, where I would hear a low Mass with five or six others in attendance, looking up at the vestments and stained glass and statues, thinking that by seeing a veiled Heaven I would be given the strength to bear one more day of Earth. I survived them by using holy water every night, by tucking prayer cards into novels, by setting up my icons just so amid the chaos around me.
We must acknowledge that a disordered attachment even to spiritual things, even to sacramental things, is an imperfection. It is good for me to be attached to my child, but even that attachment can be dangerous if it becomes primary over my attachment to God Himself. However, God knows that we are weak in our fallen nature. He gave us these things in order to help us to grow in sanctity, not because He expects us to forsake them from the start. I believe He was teaching me something important about the Incarnation when He left me to cling to those things.
The Catholic faith is not something we live out only in our heads. Jesus Christ walked as man, spoke as man, and ate and drank as man. There is a tendency to believe in the idea of the Incarnation while rejecting its implications, a sort of Gnosticism that has plagued us from the beginning, never quite dying, only shape-shifting into something slightly different as history unfolds. Protestantism played a role, materialism played a role, and now Modernism within the Church has carried the torch even to our day.
When I dabbled in Wicca as a teenager, I didn’t understand why it appealed to me; I only knew that it did. Today, my two younger sisters are into witchcraft, as are many other people around my age I know. These pagan ideologies have become positively trendy, especially for women. There are many reasons for this, but I would say that for myself, now that I have been given eyes to see, one aspect is paramount: I was desperate for a faith that would involve not just a part of me, but my whole human substance. C.S. Lewis did not actually say, “You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body,” but nonetheless, it is a popular theological misconception. I am not just a floating soul in a suit of skin and sinew.
When the communion rails were torn up, when the altars were smashed, when the statues were dragged out to the street to be thrown away, when the rosary was cast aside…it was not just a crime against tradition and beauty. It was forced poverty. It was the destruction, in fact if not by intention, of things as needful to man’s earthly life as food and water. It was the human element of the Catholic Church choosing to surrender bread for stone. For those Catholics who truly believed at the height of it, and for us today who have regained what was stolen from us, we know how deeply these things aid us in our faith, even if we trust that we could survive with so much less.
But how much more important is it for those who do not know any better? For those who have grown up in our sterile world, who may ever experience that lifting of the soul only by way of the body through sunsets and mountain summits? Do we really expect them to turn to perfect detachment from earthly things in times of trial, to give up all other needs and desires and seek God alone? That is not where they will go. Instead, they will turn to beautiful tarot cards, to colorful crystals, to smooth runestones, and to the slow wax rivers of candle magic.
Even these lost girls can intuit in their ignorance what the Modernists willfully refuse to believe: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
Stefanie Nicholas is an unexpected Catholic convert from a (very lapsed) Greek Orthodox background. The history of the Crusades played a positive role in her faith journey, and she believes firmly that the Rosary will save the world. Readers can connect with her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @StefMNicholas.