So, umm, Father Corapi. Yeah. Wow.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the situation, here’s a summary. Long story short, the ministry of the great Fr. John Corapi as we know it has come to an end. He says he will continue to serve under the name “The Black Sheepdog” for now, and of course there’s always the possibility that he could one day return to his role as a priest in good standing with his religious society (as unlikely as that may seem at this point, nothing is impossible with God!) But I think it’s safe to say things won’t ever be the way they were again. The golden age of his priestly evangelization has likely passed.
It’s hard to overstate what an impact this has had on those of us who were heavily influenced by his preaching. When I think back on my initial conversion from atheism to Catholicism, Fr. Corapi is there at almost every turn. Shortly after I made the intellectual decision to become Catholic, I faced a serious medical diagnosis which I was told meant that I absolutely had to use artificial contraception. I was thrown into a battle I wasn’t prepared to fight, forced to stand up for principles I had only barely come to understand. I had to go to countless doctor appointments where I was looked at as crazy, backwards, or (worst of all) a religious fundamentalist nut — which was especially painful since my ego had been wrapped up in my identity as an atheist my whole life. And yet when I think back on that time, one of my strongest memories is a pleasant one: driving in my car, listening to the voice of Fr. John Corapi.
My appointments tended to coincide with Relevant Radio’s broadcast of his sermons, and I recall how my body would physically relax when I heard the first hopeful, soothing notes of the French horn piece that introduced his show. All my frantic worrying and confusion would fade away as I listened to his words, imminently reasonable, strong and unapologetic, as he explained each aspect of Catholic teaching. It was during one of those balmy summer mornings in the car, with Fr. Corapi’s words drifting out of the speaker, that I felt the overwhelming peace of knowing that I had found truth, and that my life was about change forever.
My husband and I entered the Church, the months went on, and, naturally, things were sometimes difficult. After an outpouring of great consolation after I first began to receive Communion, I faced my first spiritual dry spell. I was let down by fellow Catholics. I had the unsettling experience of spiritual attack. Through it all, Fr. Corapi was there. His face would be on my television, occasionally obscured by stacks of laundry or a gaggle of toddlers, or his voice on the radio, each time guiding me away from irrelevant distractions and toward the only thing that matters — the truth of Jesus Christ.
Much of what I know about Christianity I originally learned through Fr. Corapi. I’ve since expanded my knowledge from many other sources, but his way of distilling complicated, vague, and/or controversial ideas into crystal clear messages allowed me to quickly understand concepts that otherwise would have been daunting. And I know I’m not alone — countless people cite him as a key influence in their decisions to convert or “revert” to orthodox Catholicism. His body of work is priceless. If you were to create a pie chart of “modern speakers who explain the true Catholic faith in a clear and palatable way,” the portion with his name on it would take up a sizable chunk.
And so this turn of events is upsetting to the thousands of us who were led home, at least in part, by this particular shepherd. As I thought about it and followed the commentary all weekend, I felt distress at the news. But I also sensed something else, something surprising, something good:
The truth that Fr. Corapi led me and so many others to did not originate with him, or from any man. The Catholic Church isn’t a bunch of guys who sit around and come up with brilliant insights about Jesus; its doctrines don’t come from the pope, the bishops, the priests, Fr. Corapi, or anyone else – they come from God himself. The men who make up the Magisterium are simply the tools God uses to convey his message.
I don’t know if I had ever fully appreciated what a gift this system is until now. It’s ironic that the Church is sometimes accused of making its followers “go through people to get to God.” In fact, it’s the one religious institution that is entirely set up so that nobody is beholden to another human being to know God’s truths. When people have questions about the correct interpretation of something in the Bible, or want to know what the Christian answer is to a brand new ethical dilemma the world has never seen before — even if they’re illiterate and can’t read the Bible at all — they can find everything God has chosen to reveal to us in the body of wisdom of the Church that Jesus founded and continues to guide to this day. They don’t have to depend on anyone’s personal opinions; by looking at the Church’s Magisterial teaching, they can go straight to God.
As the news continues to break about the situation and the blog posts continue to pile up one after another, I feel free. Because the truths that Fr. Corapi led me to are separate from Fr. Corapi himself, I’m freed of the need to know whether the accusations against him are true or false. I’m freed of the need to speculate about all the how‘s and why‘s and what if‘s behind all the decisions that have been made by the various parties in this situation. I’m free simply to pray for him, for everyone else involved, and to leave it at that.
An analogy I keep thinking of is that of the great photographer Ansel Adams. On a much smaller scale, he was also a big influence in my life. His breathtaking black and white images of the Grand Tetons and other mountain ranges awakened me to the grandeur of nature, and stirred something within me that had never been there before. Though I wouldn’t have thought of it this way at the time, the moments I spent gazing at his photos were some of my first experiences of God. If Adams had ever been involved in a professional or personal situation I found unsettling, I would have been similarly free not to let it trouble me, other than out of concern for him as a person. Because while he had an incredible talent for conveying the majesty of the mountains, he did not create them. Though the way he captured them led me to a startling awakening to their beauty, it was not he who made them beautiful.
And so it is with Fr. Corapi. No matter what happens, I will always respect his talent for capturing the truth, and will eternally owe him a debt of gratitude for highlighting its beauty so well. I will think back fondly of those days when his voice guided me during those drives to my doctor appointments, when his televised image was a natural part of our family living room. My love of the doctrines of the Faith will remain unscathed, even if the one who originally conveyed them to me does not. And I pray that Fr. Corapi feels similarly liberated to take whatever time he needs to pray, pause, and seek the still, small voice of God, knowing that it is not his burden alone to pass on the Faith. God has given us the truth through a system that is outside of and above any one man. And because of that, we are all free.
What are your plans for Lent? (If you’re not familiar with this season, which starts Wednesday, Marcel Lejeune has the answers to all your questions here.) I know that some people don’t like discussing this publicly, since it can sometimes degenerate into a one-upsmanship contest in which the final commenter triumphs with her announcement that she shall retire to a cave and read Scripture 23 hours a day and eat nothing but beetles and wild grass while wearing a hair shirt throughout the entirety of Lent, but I ask only in the spirit of sharing inspiration.
In the past I have found Lent to be an incredibly fruitful time of spiritual growth; the habits I adopt for the season often having long-lasting positive repercussions in my spiritual life. This year I don’t feel led to undertake anything big, and I can’t seem to come up with some simple practice to help me grow in faith this year. So that’s why I need your ideas!
Also, a bonus (related) question: Bearing brings up an interesting question regarding kids and sacrifices and Lent. She summarized it in an email this way:
I’m wondering how parents are supposed to help their kids keep a Lenten devotion. It feels really wrong and naggy to me to say to my ten-year-old, for example, “Hey! You said you were going to give up video games for Lent! What are you doing with that controller in your hand?” It’s a voluntary sacrifice so is it really my role to enforce it? On the other hand, they’re just kids and they may need reminders. I recognize that my bad feelings about reminding them may come from my old attitudes that raising kids in a religion is a form of brainwashing. But I’m still having trouble figuring it out.
If you have any insight for her, head over to her post and let her know your thoughts.
Ash Wednesday is just around the corner (March 9), so I wanted to share my suggestions for great Lenten reads, and get your suggestions as well.
Also, based on some emails I’ve been getting with questions about Lent, I wanted to say: If you’re considering observing Lent but aren’t familiar with it, I strongly encourage you to go ahead and do so! If you’re not sure where to start, just give up some small thing that you like (e.g. listening to the radio on the way to work, sugar in your coffee, a certain TV show, etc.) and try to do a little more praying. You can find out more here at Marcel LeJueune’s excellent “All About Lent” post.
I first observed Lent a few years ago, before I was Catholic or Christian — in fact, I wasn’t even sure I believed in God! — and it was a very transforming experience. I hadn’t read up on any of the theology behind it. I just heard people on Catholic radio talking about how they were giving something up, so I decided to give up something too (a food item I enjoyed). The impact of that tiny “fast,” along with trying to read more spiritual books, ended up leading to more spiritual growth than I could have imagined.
Anyway, without further ado, here is my recommended reading list:
To Know Christ Jesus by F.J. Sheed
No other book has brought the Gospels alive for me like this one. Sheed offers all sorts of interesting thoughts on the life of Christ, without veering into unfounded speculation. He mines the Scriptures and comes up with gems that I’d never seen before. It is a bit dense (I almost gave up on it about 40 pages into it), but it really picks up around page 50. If you can stick with it, you’ll be richly rewarded.
10 Prayers God Always Says Yes To by Anthony DeStefano
This slim little book is packed with all sorts of interesting thoughts about what God’s will is for you, and how to grow closer to God in times in silence. I found it to be particularly helpful in the discussion of the age-old “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” question. This is the perfect read if you’ve been feeling angry with God, wondering why he’s silent, feeling like he hasn’t been answering your prayers, etc. (I first discovered it through this recommendation from a mother whose only child was murdered in the Virginia Tech shootings.)
He Leadeth Me by Walter Ciszek
This stunning autobiographical account of Fr. Ciszek’s wrongful imprisonment in Russia is one of the most life-changing books I’ve ever read. I read it more than a year ago and yet I still find myself thinking about it almost daily.
What was most surprising to me was how applicable the lessons he learned are to modern American life. His insights about everything from suffering to discerning God’s will to trusting God in all things — which he learned the hard way during five years of brutal solitary confinement and fifteen years in a Siberian death camp — are amazingly inspiring, whether you’re experiencing great suffering or just feeling numbed by the daily grind. I particularly loved his thoughts on how to maintain a lively spiritual life even when life feels mundane or boring. I highly, highly recommend this book.
Journey to Easter by Pope Benedict XVI
Based on a Lenten retreat he gave for John Paul II in the 1980′s (hosting a retreat to help John Paul II grow in faith — how’s that for pressure?!), Pope Benedict XVI walks us through a series of meditations based on Scripture readings for Lent. I admit that there were two or three chapters that were just way over my head, but the rest of the book offered powerful insights on everything from prayer to the Paschal mystery to conversion to the Church. I find myself going back to this book over and over again for inspiration. An excellent read for Lent.
Introduction to the Devout Life by Francis de Sales
When I first read the 17th century classic Introduction to the Devout Life, I didn’t feel like I got that much out of it. When I reached the last chapter I felt like I’d enjoyed reading it but couldn’t point to anything specific I’d taken away from it. Then I picked it up off my desk one day and, as I flipped through and re-read the various passages I’d starred and highlighted, I realized just how much I really had taken away from this book.
Now that I’ve gone through it again, I count it among the best books I’ve ever read. It’s the ultimate how-to manual for conforming yourself to Christ. Also, perhaps because the books is based on de Sales’ letters of spiritual direction to his sister and other women who wanted to grow in faith, I find that his advice perfectly fits the things I struggle with on a day to day basis as a wife and mother. Just know that you may have to read it more than once to have the lessons really sink in.
Finding God’s Will for You by Francis de Sales
How do we know what God wants us to do? Should we try to discern God’s will even for little decisions like what to eat for dinner? What if we pray and it seems like God is telling us nothing at all? These were the questions I had when I decided to get a copy of this book. I found good answers to those questions and a whole lot more: the book has lots of practical advice for daily living that you can start applying to your life right now. It’s also a little bit less dense and more readable than Introduction to the Devout Life.
What are your recommendations for Lenten reading?