Miracle on Main Street
My reasons for becoming a Catholic have nothing to do with incense and genuflection, although I admit I do like that part of it.My parents baptized me Lutheran, but one time when the minister pitched a particularly fiery sermon, I started bawling right there in church. I knew I’d burn in Hell forever. After we left in the middle of the service, Dad said something about “that hellfire and damnation” preacher, and we never went back. I was maybe 6.We bounced around to various mainstream Protestant denominations, including the Congregationalists and even the Unitarians for a while. But I don’t recall that anybody in our family ever actually enjoyed church. By the time you got dressed up and went to an 11 a.m. service, you’d already wasted a perfectly good Sunday. And even though he always maintained that there was a “Higher Power” that you could draw strength from, Dad never really bought into organized religion. He tried, but ultimately he was too honest to fake it. Eventually, when we stopped going to church altogether, I don’t recall that Mom or even my sister objected. I certainly didn’t.My senior year in high school I got religion in a big way. The Rev. Norton, a Calvary Baptist minister and pillar of the local John Birch Society, became my religious and political mentor. Dad called him “Snortin’ Norton,” because of his inflammatory letters to the editor. The reverend kept asking me if I “truly believed.” Finally one day I said, “Yes,” and he said, “Hallelujah, you’re saved.” And that was that.It felt reassuring knowing I was going to heaven, even if you weren’t.At Colorado State University, I still believed the world was only 5,000 years old when I enrolled in a philosophy course called “arguments for and against the existence of God.” We studied Descartes, Kant, Aquinas, Hegel, etc. I remember the “ontological argument” set forth by St. Anselm. It goes like this: Assume that God is “a being than which nothing greater can be conceived.” Fine. Now, which is greater, something infinitely great that exists or something infinitely great that does not exist? Obviously, if something exists, it’s greater than something that doesn’t exist. Right? So God must exist. Tricky, no?I thought the ontological argument bombproof right up until some other philosopher ripped it apart. It went like this for the whole course. By the end of the quarter I didn’t believe in anything. After I dropped out of college and moved to Aspen, I went through a rough spell. You don’t need to know her name. But one Saturday I paced the streets all night feeling sorry for myself. Sunday morning at 8 a.m. I was still walking. I followed some people into St. Mary Catholic Church on Main Street.It may have helped that I was sleep-deprived. But in a crystal-clear way, the Mass revealed itself as a sort of mantra for awakening us to our true nature as children of God. Everyone in that church somehow radiated brotherly/sisterly love, and when we all held hands and recited the Lord’s Prayer, it affirmed in a dramatic way our frailty and our common humanity. Father Tom merely acted as conductor for this symphony. All this was beyond mystical. It set me back on my heels.I rarely tell this story because people look at me funny. Without faith, I might doubt it myself. But we Catholics sometimes require a miracle. More than any other religion, and especially at this time of the year, we need a dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe coming down from Heaven to speak to the humble Indian Juan Diego. We need December roses. We need a Bobby Lehman. We need a sign.There’s more to Catholicism than incense and genuflection, although I like that part, too.Beekeeper and Aspen Mountain ski patroller Ed Colby writes from Peach Valley. Ed’s e-mail: email@example.com.
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