Sunshine while before the Tabernacle

I think this happened last summer (2016) but am not really sure of the date.

It was a cloudy day. I went to my parish in the evening to pray in front of the Tabernacle as I like to do from time to time. I was there alone, and brought my earphones so that I could listen to worship songs on my phone while meditating on the Lord. I have a list of such songs on my Youtube account. I was kneeling before the Tabernacle, and pulled up one of my favorite songs, Agnus Dei by Michael W. Smith:

I was praying while listening to this song, and I don’t really remember the specifics of my petitions. It was probably something about my children and family, as those are the most common prayers I make.

The song slowly builds, layer upon layer, of new instruments and voices added at each layer. There is a point at about the 2:47 mark, when the drums really kick in and the song is crescendoing (I think that is the correct word). RIGHT at the beginning of the crescendo, the clouds parted and sunlight POURED into the entire church! The greyness of the walls caused by the cloudy day vanished and was replaced by a brilliant yellow light! The timing was pretty cool, and I was amazed and in awe, and just sat there and enjoyed it.

Then, at about the 4:12 mark, a decrescendo begins and the music takes a dramatically mellow turn (again, not certain of the terminology but if you listen, you’ll get the idea). RIGHT at that moment, the clouds closed over the sun. The direct sunlight in the church was gone, the brilliant yellow light was gone, and the greyness from the clouds returned.

I was really blown away the timing. It was just too perfect to be coincidence. I really believe God was letting me know that he is with me and hears my prayers.

There is a time when I would have doubted something such as this, to the point of outright disbelief. But I am learning to be more open to these sorts of occurences. And I am learning to share them when they happen. 🙂

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How big is your Jesus?

jesus i trust in youOne of the things that persuaded me to become Catholic was the idea that Christ established a Church that has continued into the present day. Once I understood Apostolic Succession and the magisterium, I found this more compelling than the alternative view I had been implicitly raised with and unknowingly accepted.

The alternative view is that Christ started a church but then left it for some unknown reason to fall into error, or worse, that he was too weak or unloving to keep his church from error. He somehow guided this church to codify the Bible infallibly, and to define a few key doctrines correctly (ie, the Trinity), but there was little else that this church did that was correct.

I do remember having that conception of the church, so let me defend my old view for a moment. That view fits with how I imagined Christ’s ministry while he was walking on the earth. He was an itinerant preacher, wandering from place to place, preaching the Gospel and performing miracles. He appeared to be outside of the established Jewish hierarchy, railing against it to discredit it, to encourage people to abandon it and to follow him.

I see now that my picture of Christ’s relationship to the Jewish hierarchy of his day was not correct. Why? Because that hierarchy was established by God, so Christ was not discrediting the hierarchy itself or its authority. He was only discrediting the poor conduct and lack of faith of its members. For example:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice…” (Matt. 23:1-3)

Sitting on Moses’ seat is a big deal. It means that the authority structure was established by God. There is no way Christ would encourage people to abandon or disrespect that authority structure while it was still active. It was, however, annulled with the implementation of the New Covenant.

The Catholic claim is that the priesthood of the New Covenant is a continuation of the priesthood of Melchizedek, not of Aaron. Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, and he established a hierarchy that is founded on, and operates through, himself. The Apostles and their successors participate in and express Christ’s priesthood. They operate in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. So when, for example, I go to confession, I am confessing to Christ, not to the priest, strictly speaking. The order of Melchizedek forms the backbone of the Church (read more about this here, starting at 1544).

Christ has kept this hierarchy and the Church it supports free from error in regards to its teachings regarding faith and morals, and to me, this is a miracle. This living Church is the very sort of miracle he would perform. To me, it means that he is a lot bigger and more loving than I originally thought he was.

My dreams about the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today is All Soul’s Day, so it is a great time to tell the story of my dreams about the Blessed Virgin Mary. I had two dreams, about four decades apart. The second dream interpreted the first, and they both were about purgatory although I did not know that until after the second dream.

The first dream

After my parents split up, my mother and I moved to a condo in the town where I was born. I think we lived there by ourselves at first but am not 100% sure. The man who would later become my step dad might have moved in with us right away but it’s a bit foggy. I was about four years old, I think.

One night I had a dream. My mother and I were in a very small room, like a box really. She was lying on her back, holding me up. The entire room was on fire, the floor, ceiling, walls. She was holding me up out of the flames. It was really scary. When the morning came, I think I told her about the dream but I don’t remember what she said.

I often wondered what the dream meant. After I became a Christian, I wondered if the fire represented hell, and this scared me a lot. But even that didn’t really make sense, since I wasn’t getting burned in the dream. It seemed that the dream had some meaning but I could not figure it out. As the years turned to decades, I just filed the dream away in the back of mind.

The second dream

In the late summer of 2011, after attending mass regularly for 8-9 months, I enrolled in RCIA. I had just learned the Hail Mary prayer:

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

I was a little bit reluctant to learn this prayer, because, being a former Protestant I had plenty of reservations about Mary. I even remember the cult leader denigrating her from time to time. So I learned the prayer. I figured that since I was going to become Catholic, I should know it.

Right around that time, I had a dream. I was walking along a road that was paved with black asphalt. As I walked along, there was a very large hole in the road, with flames coming out. With trepidation I approached the hole and could hear people screaming and crying inside it. I wondered to myself if it was hell, and felt very afraid that if I fell in, I wouldn’t be able to get out. That’s the nature of hell, after all. Once you’re there, that’s it. Game over.

Well, somehow I fell in. And I was utterly terrified because I thought I had fallen into hell, the place where there is no escape. People were screaming and crying and there were flames of fire everywhere. I wasn’t in pain, but for a reason I still cannot explain, reflexively I began to say the Hail Mary prayer that I had only memorized the prior week or so:

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee…

I had not finished it, and was lifted up out of the flaming pit into the air above it. Lifted, sort of like flying while staying upright but not on my own effort. And I’m not sure if this was part of the dream, or if I had this thought after waking up, but I saw Mary (or a statue of her) above me in the sky.

So I woke up and was completely bewildered. The dream was scary and didn’t make sense to me. But as I thought about it the next day, two amazing things occurred to me:

  • The pit was not hell, it was purgatory.
  • That dream interpreted the dream I had as a child. They both gave the same message.

holy-souls-in-purgatoryIt was purgatory, since people do get out of purgatory and the only way out is up. And the woman in the first dream was actually Mary. She was interceding for me. This knowledge came to me suddenly and I knew it was true.

What is really interesting is that I had not learned all that much about purgatory up to that point, and had definitely not learned anything about Mary’s intercession for those there. It was only much later that I learned about it. Here are some links for more info:

For more than four decades, the first dream made no sense to me, although I have since learned that there are a few Protestants who believe in purgatory. See here and here for examples. So God, in his good time, gave me the interpretation. It enabled me to let go of my ALL of reservations about Mary. Seriously. Overnight every reservation vanished and I joyfully embraced what the Church taught about her. God orchestrated both dreams, giving me the second dream when I needed it to help me enter into the Church.

Believe me, as a former Protestant (and Gnostic) I know how strange all this sounds. I really, really do. I can very easy put myself in those shoes and see how off-the-wall it seems. But that’s the beauty and the liberty of having a Bible interpreter, the beauty and liberty of not needing to be my own Bible interpreter. As I have stated many times, I am not responsible for figuring out the faith in order to establish it; I only need to enter into that which has already been established (per Jude 3). I can help defend that which has already been established, and perhaps develop it, but I can’t establish it as if the Holy Spirit were using me for something entirely new. There is so much peace and freedom there, far more than I ever experienced before. 

Thanks to SR, who inspired me to write this post after I read her post about Mary:

My Conversion Story: How the Blessed Mother Called Me to the Catholic Church

See also: