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  A Christian Faith Magazine November 2002, Volume 8, Issue 4  
The Price of Being a Catholic
Rev. Mark Connolly
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Every sermon a priest delivers generally has one or two themes in mind. The themes for this article are quite different. What do you get out of this article? What you might get out of it is that certain people have to pay a tremendous price emotionally and family wise to join the Catholic Church. Some people pay a price to become a Catholic, but most of you cannot believe the stories that people will tell you concerning the price they pay to be a Catholic.

Let me give you some background.

Trappist Monastery

Several weeks ago I went to Spencer, Massachusetts, to the Trappist Monastery to meet a man who in the field of clinical psychology and psychiatry has been a legend. The man is a Trappist monk. He converted from Judaism many years ago. He was a successful practicing psychiatrist at Bellevue, Creedmoor and the Institute of Living in Hartford. All of us heard his tapes and read his books. He told me a story that prompted this article. He said one day a friend of his, a Catholic, invited him to the baptismal ceremony of his son. This psychiatrist went to the baptismal ceremony and all during the ceremony he heard words such as eternal life and everlasting happiness with God. He said those words struck him like a bolt of lightening. It prompted him eventually to leave his Jewish faith. Remember he was a successful practicing Jewish psychiatrist in New York. When he told his family that he was thinking of converting to Catholicism, his family practically disowned him at that point. One younger sister and a boyfriend invited him to go away with them for a long weekend and he never knew until he got there in the Poconos that in the next room they had brought another practicing psychiatrist to talk him out of becoming a Catholic.

He went to the Trappist monks and told them of his desire to become a priest and a Trappist monk. They made him wait five years and then he entered the Trappist monastery and studied for eight more years. On the day he was ordained to the priesthood, all the members of his Jewish family had the Jewish burial service - the "kol niedre", which indicated to the Jewish family that their son was dead. He was ordained to the priesthood and never saw a member of his family from that day onward. He is sixty years a priest, 93 years of age. When I asked him how you could leave your family in this way and how you could have such a buoyant attitude today at 93. He said, "Father Mark, there are two things I learned that I had to apply to my family. If you read the seven last words of Christ, you will find that one of those seven last words were 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do'". That is the theology and the psychology and spirituality I had to have in relationship to my family. "I forgive them every day. I pray for them every day. I wish them all the success in the world every day. And I hope they are as true to their Judaic beliefs and have the peace that I have found in my Catholic beliefs."


"The second quality I had to learn to keep my sanity while I was striving for sanctity was a quality that Christ showed many, many times during his relationship with his apostles and his disciples. It is the quality of transcendence. I have to make an effort every day to see the good qualities that I know were in my parents and in my sister. I have to see the good qualities in everyone with whom I deal. Spiritually I have to see in every person I meet the image of God and that God's son died for each one of them. I know there are mistakes they make, the foibles they have, the sins they commit, that is not for me to judge. They are accountable to God, not to me. My work as a priest and as a psychiatrist has taught me that one of the inroads to a deep union with God is being able to say to each one I meet, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do even if those same persons hurt me' and then recognize that they have a lot of positive wonderful qualities that I have to look for if I am going to achieve both sanity and sanctity."

I tell you this story of a man that is unique in his spirituality because he has lived by these two qualities of forgiveness and transcendence. That kind of spirituality enables each one to take each day at a time, each person at a time and those two qualities are the qualities each one of us must develop in our every day way of living so we, too, can achieve a higher degree of sanity and sanctity. There is no other way.

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