I Was an Ideological Catholic

by Nicholas Da Silva

Nicholas participated in the 2017-2018 MH spiritual formation program for men discerning a priestly vocation

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Two years before going to Madonna House, I returned to my childhood Catholic faith from atheism and the New Age Movement.

During that time, my experience of interacting with Catholic communities was limited.

I had few practicing Catholic friends, and with the exception of Sunday Mass and the occasional parish group, much of my formation occurred online. On the internet, I encountered a lot of rigid viewpoints, and I lacked adequate real-world, Church-related living to balance them out.

The result was that, though my expression of faith was moved by grace, it was immature. I was an ideological Catholic living in a bubble of my own making.

Then I came to Madonna House. Madonna House is real. Real flesh. Real body. Real people. At its core, it is deeply, deeply Catholic, and at the same time, it is deeply human.

And that’s really what I needed at that point of my life: human encounters, human relationships, human formation.

Whether it was dorm-room festivities where the goof-balling and self-discovery happened in equally generous proportions, honest discussions with Catholics of a far different political perspective than mine, or illuminating, pastorally-focused classes with the priests, I encountered authentic, 21st century Catholic culture which demolished my idealized notions of what it meant to be a good Catholic.

One example of this was my experiences with Madonna House’s spirit of celebration. Previously, I had thought that as one progressed in the spiritual life, pleasure was to be avoided and eventually sacrificed entirely. This type of thinking was a source of deep conflict and spiritual bondage within my heart.

But as I saw these eighty or so lay apostles lead deeply holy lives while still putting a strong emphasis on the joy of feasting and celebration, I realized that Christ came to free creation, not to imprison it.

Rather than renounce the pleasures of life, we are called to consecrate them to God, giving them up in times of fasting, putting them into an ordered relationship with our other needs on a daily basis, and enjoying them in a special way in times of celebration.

The true power of feasting and fasting revealed itself to me in a way that was not just an unrealistic goal of the intellect, but a liveable spirituality that brought balance to my earthly pilgrimage.

Another key moment in my Madonna House experience was when the Church’s true teaching on mercy entered into my heart. Before coming to Madonna House, I was influenced by many critics of Pope Francis’ message of mercy. “We need to speak the hard truths,” they were saying.

Some even suspected the Holy Father of denying the Church’s own teachings in favour of a lukewarm acceptance of sin.

Struggling with this skewed vision of the Church, I entered Madonna House with a divided heart.

It was only after hearing homily after homily by the Madonna House priests on the absolute necessity of speaking with a voice of mercy, as well as the deep and personal witness of the lay staff about their own experiences of God’s healing mercy, that I had a spiritual encounter with Our Lady, which resulted in the opening of the eyes of my heart to Mercy Incarnate himself.

Suddenly, ideological polemics and strawman arguments made way for the Mother of Mercy.

My Madonna House study of St. Louis de Montfort suddenly rang true within me: Our Lady is in the order of mercy, not judgment. I decided to work tirelessly to connect the heart of every human being to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

No more could I look at other human beings as ideological enemies needing to be defeated. Instead, I understood that every human being is a lost child of God just waiting to return home.

Nothing else matters. We cannot convince people to adopt our values if they have not experienced the mercy of God first.

After all, St. John said: We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).

And so, at the end of these seven months, I came out formed. I got just what I asked for, and it’s thanks to the priests as well as the lay men and women of Madonna House.

The way I see it, active lay people continue to be key to the renewal of the Church. The laity draw the clergy back into the real world. They may be imperfect, as we all are, but through the imperfections of ordinary people, the clergy and the body of Christ as a whole are made more human, more connected to one another.

Christ created the human body, and it is good. How can a priest give the people the Body of Christ if he himself is not united personally with the body of the Church?

It was love that connected me with the staff, guests, and applicants of Madonna House, and it was love that was truly at the heart of my experience these past seven months.

When you are moved by love, you aren’t overly strict or scrupulous, you are at peace.

And so I thank you, Madonna House, for being there when Our Lady needed you most for me—for allowing me to experience a deeper connection with God that words simply can’t fully describe. It’s been a beautiful time, guys; I love you all.