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  • ‘God loves the stranger…’

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Milestones

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Youth

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    Social studies teacher Rob Dornfried, center, on trip to Italy with East Catholic High School...

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I went to a long and painful dinner party recently. The hostess either had a sense of irony or thought I deserved some temporal punishment for the misdeeds I’ve committed in life, so she sat me beside a strident anti-Catholic fallen Catholic. And then the fun began.

All night long, from the arugula salad with gorgonzola cheese through the roasted salmon and then the mixed berry tart with decaffeinated coffee, she went from one complaint about the Catholic Church to another, as if she were obsessed.

I would have preferred an evening of small talk about the weather, the presidential campaign or the Kardashians, but with this woman, it was nothing but business, and her business was trashing the Church.

The topics were all familiar ones – the nuns hit her with 16-inch rulers when she went to Catholic grammar school, the nuns in high school gave her a distorted view of God, the sex-abuse scandal, disagreement with the teaching on birth control and various other complaints.

She went to Catholic school for 16 years, so this gave her ample opportunities to grumble about the religious orders that taught at each institution.

"I go to the First Congregational Church now," she said proudly, "and I enjoy every moment of it."

She looked at me with intense questioning in her eyes as if to ask, "Aren’t you going to argue with me?"

Clearly, that was one of her goals – to provoke me into defending the Church. However, it was obvious there was no arguing with her because it meant confronting a lifetime of accumulated acrimony, and I knew that only grace and prayer could change her now. The Holy Spirit had to do some heavy lifting, and it was heavy lifting that only the Holy Spirit could do.

Over the years, I’ve met other people like her; and their bitter memories, which are usually exaggerated and sometimes justified, become almost obsessive.

During her relentless outpouring of venom, I felt as if I was being pelted with rocks. I was getting tired listening to her and wanted to leave dinner early or else turn to the woman on the other side of me to discuss something lighter, perhaps the national debt, but she was talking to the head of the local hospital about health care. I have to say the health care debate never seemed so inviting before.

"We’ve exhausted religion," I said, "so why don’t we talk about politics or sex?"

She ignored my joke and asked, "Why do you still go to that Church?" All night long I knew this was where she was headed. I was a practicing Catholic, ergo I was guilty.

"The novelist Walker Percy converted to Catholicism," I told her, "and when reporters asked him why he did it, he would always respond, ‘What else is there?’"

I saw anger flash across her eyes.

"What else is there?" I repeated.

She was about to go around the block again and repeat her many complaints about the Church, but before she could, I said, "I believe in the True Presence, I believe that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ and I don’t want to live without it."

She certainly understood the dogma of the True Presence after all that Catholic upbringing. The nuns had taught her well.

"I have my doubts about that," she sniffed. "I always had."

"I don’t."

"But I can’t believe that teaching after everything I’ve –"

I interrupted her and said, "Let me just talk for a moment," and she graciously shut up.

"Pray to be shown the truth," I said, "because if Christ is truly present in the Eucharist – and I believe he is – receiving him is about the most important thing you can do in life. Anything I say won’t convince you, but if you pray with an open heart, you’ll get the answer you need."

There was silence. She didn’t want to hear what I had to say. But Walker Percy was right – what else is there?

There are a lot of fallen anti-Catholics in the world, a lot of very angry fallen Catholics, people who are so spiritually debilitated by their frustrations that they don’t see the miracle occurring every day in the sacrifice of the Mass, a miracle that’s available to everyone regardless of their position in life or their financial assets or their academic degrees.

The problem with this woman and the rest of them is that they are so obsessed with the crack in the sidewalk that they don’t lift up their eyes to see the splendor and infinite beauty of the sky.

J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.

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12:30 PM
Chippanee Golf Club, Bristol, Bristol, United States
The 15th annual Rev. Robert A. Lysz Memorial Golf Tournament will have a shotgun start at 12:30 p.m. July 31 at [...]
Date :  July 31, 2014

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