The strangeness of Catholicism…

There is a series of hurdles that one must overcome in one’s appropriation of the Catholic faith. One raised in the religion will be largely unconscious of these hurdles, at least until one reaches an age at which external concepts and influences challenge one’s received acceptance of the faith. This series is especially significant for converts, and comprise a kind of personal tatoo of transformation in Christ. For myself, the hurdle of the Eucharist was the first one that I cleared, and it made all the other that much easier to clear. Other hurdles included the nature of justification, the validity of confession, the role of Scripture, the communion of saints, the reality of purgatory, the perpetually mediated merits of Christ (indulgences), devotion to Our Lady, and the Roman papacy. This apologetics site addresses these hurdles and more. At some point, all such hurdles become quaint memories, and one simply “gets on with” one’s life as a Catholic. Little remains remarkable, still less controversial.

And yet–

There are a few hurdles which stick out even to the uninterested observer, that is, to someone not considering entering the Church.



Eucharistic miracles.

Lay mystics.


Even after becoming Catholic, I find myself jarred by such things, not because I object to or cringe at them, but because they are like lightning flashes that expose the inner vitality of the Church with a haiku-like vividness. Just when the Church might have seemed hum-drum and repetitive, such phenomena, because they flow from the very heart of the Church, make Her strange again; and by making the Church strange again, they make Her alluring all over again, for their unique unpredictability bespeaks the Living One who constantly animates Her. It is as if a man, married for decades, suddenly caught a glimpse of his wife in motion which revealed a new contour in her ear, or in the swoop of her jawline, which in turn made him fall in love with her all over again. What he saw was a part of her, yet somehow also a strange new barrier one must pass in order to embrace her once more in toto. Granted, the shock is not always benign. At times, the shock of seeing a living being, as if for the first time, can engender chills, goosebumps, and stupefied humility. There’s a power that comes to light that is as endearing as it is jarring.

In that spirit, let me post a few things which recently caught me off-guard from a Catholic perspective. I will not hang my hat on any one of them, but they certainly added some spice to my proverbial egg nog.

First, from St. Faustina’s Diary – December 17, 1936:

“I have offered this day for priests. I have suffered more today than ever before, both interiorly and exteriorly. I did not know it was possible to suffer so much in one day. I tried to make a Holy Hour, in the course of which my spirit had a taste of the bitterness of the Garden of Gethsemane. I am fighting alone, supported by His arm, against all the difficulties that face me like unassailable walls. But I trust in the power of His name and I fear nothing.”

Who was born on December 17, 1936?

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Pope Francis.

As I said, I will not hang my hat on this, but… Good Lord, it sent a shiver up my spine when I read it.

In other words, a case of Catholicism making itself feel strange all over again.

Second, from the visions of Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich:


I saw also the relationship between two popes … I saw how baleful would be the consequences of this false church. I saw it increase in size; heretics of every kind came into the city of Rome. The local clergy grew lukewarm, and I saw a great darkness…

“I had another vision of the great tribulation. It seems to me that a concession was demanded from the clergy which could not be granted. I saw many older priests, especially one, who wept bitterly. A few younger ones were also weeping. But others, and the lukewarm among them, readily did what was demanded. It was as if people were splitting into two camps.” …

“I see the Holy Father in great anguish. He lives in a palace other than before and he admits only a limited number of friends near him. I fear that the Holy Father will suffer many more trials before he dies.

“I see that the false Church of darkness is making progress and I see the dreadful influence it has on the people. The Holy Father and the Church are verily in so great a distress that one must implore God night and day…”

Did somebody say Catholic shivers?!

What do such things mean? At the very least, we must keep our eyes and heart open–vigilate et orate.


About The Codgitator (a cadgertator)

Catholic convert. Quasi-Zorbatic. Freelance interpreter, translator, and web marketer. Former ESL teacher in Taiwan (2003-2012) and former public high school teacher (2012-2014). Married father of three. Multilingual, would-be scholar, and fairly consistent fitness monkey. My research interests include: the interface of religion and science, the history and philosophy of science and technology, ancient and medieval philosophy, and cognitive neuroscience. Please pray for me.
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20 Responses to The strangeness of Catholicism…

  1. Branch says:

    This is beautifully written and a consolation. Thank you.

  2. vermontcrank1 says:

    Dear BC. Excellent and eye-opening. I admire your courage and conviction

  3. I treasure the “strangeness” of Catholicism from a distance. I never experience such strangeness myself, but I know some people who do, and of course I read the lives of saints and mystics.

    That said, there are Catholics who set too much store by such things. Discernment, using the Church as one’s touchstone, is essential. Thus I take St. Faustina very seriously, because JP2 canonized her and instituted the feast of Divine Mercy Sunday. I do not take Anna Catherine Emmerich very seriously, because she enjoys no such formal approval. I have the same attitude about Marian apparations. I could go on and on, but the point is that my faith in no way depends on anything I might make of these things myself.

  4. wewjude says:

    Don’t forget….the lightning strike on St. Peter’s the evening of Benedict’s resignation. I know, I know….so medieval to believe in signs and portents!

  5. wewjude says:

    Michael Liccione – Her writings have been questioned despite her being beatified by JPII. One interesting fact that bolsters the veracity (at least some) of her visions is the story behind finding the house of Mary in Ephesus…fascinating stuff.

  6. IbnYacob says:

    Emmerich? Seriously? The women’s visions aren’t really all that reliable. First the women was an illiterate peasant who dictated her visions to a third party a poet by the name of Brentano who believed in Jewish Blood libels & we have trouble separating her words from his artistic licence. Second they are filled with anachronism such as portraying Our Lord & Our Lady living in a First Century Jewish society that somehow discovered late medieval German Architecture.

    The Radtrad knuckle draggers who cite this crap claimed this meant JP2 would be driven out of Rome and a false anti-Pope would take his place. Others used it to claim JP2 was an anti-Pope.

    What’s next for you Codg? 911 conspiracy trutherism? Birtherism? Grassy Knoll & or Roswell fruitcakery? Geocentricism?

    This is just sad and paranoid.

  7. ErnstThalmann says:

    A convert from Protestantism now of some 25 years, I found comfort with the answers to the challenges Catholicism presented to my then impoverished faith by pursuing them theologically. Precisely what was believed about such questions as the Immaculate Conception? In the end, one realizes that one is asking a single question since most, if not all, are resolved Christologically. Here 20th century theologies – both Protestant and Catholic – can be enormously helpful but the theology I found most edifying was that of Hans Urs von Balthasar, a thinker many consider on a par with Thomas Aquinas. Interestingly, much of von Balthasar’s theology was inspired by a mystic, Adrienne von Speyr. Thinking with von Balthasar, a Cardinal of the Church, one thinks first from above in a Trinitarian rather than a theistic fashion so as eventually to reach the Christology that helps to resolve many of the “strangenesses”. Here Jesus resides more the center of creation than at its zenith, Balthasar’s is Scotian theology at its best, avoiding the pitfalls that emerged from St. Thomas’s vision of the reasons for the Incarnation. One wonders anymore what valid reason Protestants have for spurning the embrace of Catholic theology.

  8. wewjude says:

    Crazy 911 people who claim something strange happened with Bldg 7….what utter fools!

  9. unknownsaint says:

    What I find kind of sad is saying someone can’t be trusted because they are an illiterate peasant. It’s one thing to say she is unreliable because of things you disagree with, it is another thing to say that just because a woman is poor and illiterate she can’t be used by God. St. Catherine of Siena was illiterate and dictated her visions, letters etc and she is a doctor of the Church. Also, your overall tone of name-calling and insecurity is very sad.

  10. Proph says:

    He’s not saying she can’t be trusted because she’s illiterate but because of who she chose to dictate her visions to.

  11. Heh. “Don’t feed the trolls.”

  12. I recognize the status of her writings (as separated from her official cause), and as I said I’m not putting any stock in it from a formal faith perspective. Just reading the prophecy, though… I think we can admit it’s pretty striking.

  13. unknownsaint says:

    He mentioned it, that’s why I also said, it’s one thing to say he didn’t trust her because of certain reasons (which he mentioned) but to bring up that she was illiterate is what I was objecting to. That’s all.

  14. unknownsaint says:

    K I’ll remember in future. 😉

  15. Tony Jokin says:

    I feel Hans Urs von Balthasar while good and orthodox in general, did go off the rails on the question of salvation. His proposal that we can have good hope that all are saved is one of the most dubious Theological writings that outright contradict the teachings of Sacred Tradition on the matter. It was also probably a teaching that together with Rahner’s anonymous Christian, lead to a weakening of the missions (as Ralph Martin argues in one of his books) in the entire Catholic Church.

    But as you said, he is good when he is speaking in line with Church teaching.

  16. Tony Jokin says:

    Have you heard of the Prophecies of St. Don Bosco Mr. Bougis?

    They give some room to hope! 🙂

  17. No, but I do keep hearing about them, so I guess I need to get into them!

  18. Tony Jokin says:

    From what I have heard Pope Pius IX was very close to St. Don Bosco and heard his prophecies in a private audience with him. He seems to have been known well to the Popes as well.

    The link I posted above says

    “He did see it from heaven [in 1929] when the Lateran Treaty was signed. [As Pius XI declared] it gave “God back to Italy, and Italy back to God.” The signing took place just a month before Pius XI’s proclamation of the acceptance of the miracles which had been submitted for Don Bosco’s beatification.
    In pointing out the “charming, admirable and striking coincidence,” the Pope characterized Don Bosco as a “great, faithful and truly clear-sighted servant of the Church and of the Holy See . . .” Such indeed he always was! Pius XI then went on to state that he had learned “from Don Bosco himself” how much “a solution of this deplorable dissension was truly uppermost in his thoughts and desires . . . a solution that would, above all, guarantee the honor of God and of the Church, and the welfare of souls.” (cf. L’Osservatore Romano, March 20-21, 1929.)”

  19. ErnstThalmann says:

    You would prefer that there be no hope that all be saved, Tony? Important here to remember that with von Balthasar, you are dealing with a theologian that started Communio, International Catholic Review, together with Joseph Ratzinger, Henri du Lubac and others I really don’t think that Ralph Martin can be considered a thinker in that class, eh? And properly understood, Rahner’s vision of the so-called “anonymous Christian” is perfectly sound. It grounds Vatican II teaching on the subject.

    You might find it edifying to sample the theological community supporting Communio, Tony. In the United States Its lead by David Schindler of the John Paul II Institute and is clearly the pre-eminent Catholic journal of the age. That way you might not come to rely quite so much on the writings of a television evangelist to guide you as to what constitutes Catholic orthodoxy. You deserve better than that.

  20. Pingback: Well, well, well… | FideCogitActio : "Omnis per gratiam" fidescogitactio @ gmail . com

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