Tuesday, September 24, 2013

An Atheist's Conversion to Catholicism, the Traditional Liturgy, and Young Adults - Faith and Tradition Series

The following story forms the third installment in the Faith and Tradition series here on the NLM. 

If you would like to contribute your own story to the series, please write to me at jdonelson@newliturgicalmovement.org.  

For an introduction to the idea behind the series, click here. Though the stories thus far have been focused on the role of the usus antiquior in the lives of the storytellers, the series also hopes to highlight stories which talk about the incorporation of more traditional elements in the novus ordo, as well as the role of beauty and sacred art in the lives of the faithful. 

Please keep in mind that contributions to the series will be shared with varying degrees of anonymity (since the import of the story doesn't hinge on knowledge of the author's identity), or even with a closed combox, per the author's preference. I'm happy to present this story from my own parish, which is filled with many similar stories - converts to Catholicism, "reversions" back to the faith after an extended absence, those whose faith has been deeply nourished by the Church's traditions, liturgical life, and sacred art. If you know of similar stories in your own hometown or parish, please consider sending them along to share with others for their edification during this "year of faith." 

By "Zita Mirzakhani"

I am blessed to say that I am a convert to the Catholic faith from atheism. I proclaimed my atheistic beliefs as early as 10 years of age; following years in darkness, however, and after my last year of college, I spontaneously decided to trek the journey of a renowned pilgrimage, El Camino de Santiago, the Road of St. James. It was on the third day of the Camino that I decided to become Catholic, and I have had an undying fidelity to Christ’s bride since that day of providence. Before flying back to the states from London, I was obliged to visit Oxford where my favorite authors who helped lead me to my conversion lived and taught. It was here where I first experienced the Mass in Latin. It was a solemn high Mass, and it was perhaps the most beautiful experience I have ever had. Though now I know the liturgy, understand what is happening upon the altar, and am familiar with the replies in Latin, in my ignorance on that happy day in Oxford I was able to experience that Mass as a blind child, imagining the angels singing from on high, as I was too embarrassed in this foreign place to turn my head back to get a glimpse of the choir loft.

Upon returning to Miami I immediately began hunting down a suitable RCIA program. The moment I walked into Miami’s historic Jesuit parish, I knew I had found my home. Though the smell of incense penetrates the walls of Gesu, and the old high altar still stands in all its glory within its sanctuary the extraordinary form of the liturgy isn’t celebrated there on a regular basis.

But I was fortunate to learn about the Latin Mass offered at the Mission of St. Francis and St. Clare early on in my faith. I would only visit occasionally, for I considered the place I was baptized in as my home parish, and to be honest, nine a.m. for a young adult is quite early on a Sunday. Nevertheless, about a year ago I began attending the Sunday Latin Mass more regularly, and the more I attended, the more painful it was to miss a Sunday. I had become addicted to the Mass in the Extraordinary form of the Roman rite.

There is an unsurpassed solemnity that the “old” rite carries. I am living proof that you do not need to be an expert in Latin to understand that something holy is happening; quite the contrary, it appears that wider use of this form of the Mass may be necessary today to regain the belief in the holy Eucharist and our Catholic identity.

Though I had become “hooked” onto the Latin Mass, there was something else that drew me to this little mission’s church. It was the youth. Not just because there were young people, but young people I could call my dear friends. You see, I was quite isolated my first two years as a Catholic young woman, since my family is from Iran and very secular, and the rest of my friends and colleagues who surrounded me were either Protestant or of the world; I felt alone in the faith. Gesu, due to its location, is predominantly composed of elderly parishioners—I sacrificed youth in friendship for beauty in my house of worship. But upon becoming a regular at St. Francis and St. Clare, I have found my calendar full, and my social life dizzying. I prayed for friends my first year as a Catholic; then my prayers were answered once I forgot what I was praying for in the first place. The young adults at this little mission’s church in Miami always go to brunch after socializing some over coffee with everyone after Mass. This tradition is the highlight of my week. I look forward to this day, like most adults look forward to happy hour on Fridays after a long week. We talk for hours, and never wary; when we have social outings aside from our Sundays we find much joy and revelry in one another’s company, each and every one of us. We never grow tired of topics of conversation, even if they repeat sometimes (Lord of the Rings, the liturgy, history, our love for the Pope, the modern world, super heroes and the like…)

In terms of evangelization, the beauty of the Mass is of course very effective, but I have also found that the social events of our young adult group can be so as well. For one, those that are near to me have now discovered that I’m not the only “crazy” Catholic. Yet, there is still something more to be said about the Extraordinary form of the Mass. Once, when someone accepted my invitation to come to Mass, she was late and afterwards told me, “I felt like I had stepped into another world.” Isn’t that how the Mass should feel? Otherworldly? Another young person, who is completely ignorant of Catholicism, and who had just attended her first Mass about a week prior to coming to St. Francis and St. Clare told me afterwards that “it was only after I attended Mass with you there that I truly got a sense that something holy was going on”.

I do not like being labeled as a traditionalist, or “traddy”, for I am Catholic; I believe being traditional is already implied. It reminds me of a scene from Brideshead Revisited when Sebastian Flyte is describing his family and off-handedly makes a remark about Catholics. Charles replies that Catholics “seem just like other people,” and Sebastian declares, “My dear Charles, that’s exactly what they’re not—particularly in this country, where they’re so few. It's not just that they’re a clique…but they’ve got an entirely different outlook on life; everything they think important is different from other people. They try and hide it as much as they can, but it comes out all the time.” Perhaps we have been trying to hide “it” for too long. With my new found friends at St. Francis and St. Clare I’ve had to get used to the fact that I don’t have to be wayward and defensive any longer, I can simply be who I have become and better flourish in this beautiful faith that we live.

To see the first installment in the "Faith and Tradition" series, click here. The second installment is available here. Please note the commenting policy in the introduction to the series.

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