I have always been quite a counter-culturalist. Celebrating life off the beaten path, finding my own trends and rejecting the dominant, materialist, fame-obsessed lifestyle. This is the story of a nerdy goth girl who is Catholic…or how I managed to incorporate Catholic into being nerdy goth. Whatever way you want to see it.
I mustn’t get preachy; Lord knows I sin as much as the next person. Yet, I’ve noticed my generation’s preoccupation with money, popularity and gratuitous sexual acts. I never considered sex until I was in college, daring as it sounds, and had dated the guy for a year. After getting my heart smashed into pieces and meeting despair head-on, I experienced my wild phase. Physical satisfaction brought nothing but misery at the end. Regardless of how sexy or powerful I seemed, I was still alone.
I absolutely hated my life. Not that I didn’t already hate my life having lived a childhood with emotional and physical abuse, depression and many suicide attempts. Even now, things were not getting any better. No matter which boyfriend I had, I still cried myself to sleep. It would be my scholarly interests that rescued me, well Something else in the form of scholarly interests….
In life, I desired to learn many languages. I failed at teaching myself Japanese, aced high-school Spanish then forgot it by lack of use, then vowed one winter in college to learn Latin- because it sounds cool. If one wants to hear Japanese, they head to Beni Hana, if it’s Spanish, drive to southwest Chicago, but to hear Latin, ye shall go to church!
My friend, Brad who was a devout Catholic, sometimes to my annoyance, and who I’d met during my senior year, took me to a Latin Mass. This is where encountering the past helps to realize the future. In a drafty cathedral unable to understand anything the minister said, I found God. He was there, hidden in …hoc est corpus meum and laid bare by those very words. I don’t mean to get weird, but it was amazing. My disdain for mainstream culture, unhappiness with hedonism and ancient longing finally found balance! And anyone who thinks goth and Catholic don’t mix ask yourself: Where does death find such beauty and light battle the darkness more than in the spilt blood of One Saving Victim?
I had always been open to supernatural experiences. I was one of those people who’d dabbled in witchcraft and could tell a house was haunted by standing outside of it. Church had never been an experience for me. I grew up going to this Evangelical church called Christian Hills in a wealthy part of town. No one there related to me and I had no friends not to mention a relationship with God was far from my mind. I had heard of a relationship with Jesus but believed myself unworthy of His love. Surely all the suffering I’d endured in life was a sigh He didn’t care for me?
I had only been to two Catholic services before the “awesome Latin Mass” in college. I thought it was kind of strange…all that ritualism and pomp. For some reason it took my love for a foreign language- or a certain supernatural openness to get it. Masses were boring until I had its meaning explained to me. Like always, I sought to understand…
I knew who Jesus was, I knew he died for our sins but I did not know He came down to be present in every Eucharist! I had no idea Catholic beliefs were different, that they believed they ate the real flesh and blood of Jesus Christ according to what He taught in John chapter 6. It didn’t disgust me, in fact it moved me in awe of His love.
When I saw that priest lift the wafer and say “hoc est corpus meum” I felt something special was going on. There was “shininess” to the air. That was the first time I felt…Him!
After leaving the mass I asked Brad if I could be “half Catholic” and it all was just beginning there.
Seeing as I was raised Evangelical Protestant, I knew well to ask Brad where various Catholic beliefs were in the Bible. He’d already shown me the place in John chapter 6 and parts of 1st Corinthians where the Bible described the Eucharist as Jesus’s real Body and Blood and it was a shocking thing for me:
What struck me the most is that Jesus not only loved us enough to die for each one of us but that he loves us enough to actually nourish us with his own flesh and blood.
When I found out that Jesus in the Bible actually says we are to eat his flesh and drink his blood and that Paul calls communion “a participation in the body and blood of Christ, I was overcome with awe and love for Jesus. I had to do something.
…but I wanted to know where the pope was, where all the love for Mary was… where was all the hierarchy… where everything was. It was as if I didn’t want to know any longer but as if I needed to know.
Late into the night, my Catholic friend and I would debate and talk as I pummeled him with questions. At the end of it all, blowing the dust from my Bible and beginning to closely read, I saw that Catholic beliefs were actually Bible based! Slowly, I would go over the Scriptures seeing that Jesus left us a church and left us what Catholics call the “deposit of faith”. The Bible even mentioned bishops!
Not only was my knowledge of the Scripture affected but my prayer life. Previously, I only addressed God when I wanted something, to get out of trouble- now I was asking Him for things like “truth”. I would learn to pray all over again.
I am a sensible person, always been. Before I commit myself to anything, I investigate it. I needed knowledge and before I decided to attend any RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults- say it ten times fast) classes, I needed reassurance this was what God wanted me to do. I know you’re not supposed to but I asked Him for a sign. He gave me two:
One night, I had a dream about these people singing. They sang about something called “the black hat of the Holy Spirit.” That is strange to say the least. I told my Catholic friend (Brad) about this and he was insistent it had some deep meaning. Whatever… The next day, he asked me to go to the church and pray a rosary with him- this would be the third or fourth rosary I’ve ever said. I knew he liked company so I went. On the way back from the church, walking through an alley, we saw a black hat to the right of us. Not kidding. Brad cried out “The black hat of the Holy Spirit!” It was just too perfect to be a coincidence.
The next Sunday, I went to a night mass with him kind of hoping for a repeat of the godly feeling. During the opening hymn, watching the procession down the aisle, I suddenly wanted to cry. I had a feeling this was where I would finally be accepted, where I finally belonged. It was an overwhelming, heat and weepiness that came over me and I knew it wasn’t normal. Especially for someone like me who barely ever cried. So to RCIA I’d go.
The people there were very inviting (I supposed maybe-coverts got special treatment). I felt so discouraged though because they seemed to have their lives so together…while mine stayed in five hundred pieces. These people were sinners like me, they were struggling, maybe not as bad but still struggling. Some people are very unsure as to switch over religions. I was the type who jumped in remaining ever suspicious that someone would do something wrong…that God would break my heart.
Strange thing was, I couldn’t remain that way forever. It was the liturgical season of Lent and for some reason I loved it, going along, not eating meat on Fridays…acting like I was Catholic already. My logical conclusion is that nothing helps more than practice, I wanted to make sure I could handle this commitment and all that came with it.
For the first time in my life, it felt like I was doing something extra for God, not just honoring Him with my lips, but with my actions and sacrifice. Not that this was easy. Many times I wanted to tell Brad and the Catholics to leave me alone, not that they bothered me- I bothered me. I thought I’d be too selfish, too impious, too smutty to be a Catholic then reminded myself that a relationship with the Lord required work. That work I would have to do….but with the help of someone greater.
Easter, March 22nd was a night I will never forget. There I accepted Christ into my life. I chose as my patron Saint, Hildegard of Bingen, an abbess who lived in the 11th century when things were old and Medieval. She composed beautiful Latin hymns and was so outspoken to have words with a bishop when he was in error… My kind of lady.
I still remembered my first confession. I was nervous and had a list of sins over a page long, written in Latin to ensure my privacy. After getting it over with, I symbolically tore the paper into shreds and disposed of it. Then I stepped outside and felt sunshine on my face. The birds sang. I oddly felt so alive.
All had been leading to this moment when I approached the Bishop of Peoria who had a fatherly smile and looked kind of like Santa Claus, then was anointed into the Catholic Church. I swear people were purposely hugging me so they could smell the fragrant oil on my forehead. I must not forget Communion, receiving Christ as I never imagined before, present in that little wafer… humbling himself to be one with men…to know what being fully in submission to God meant.
It was epic, as if a long battle had been won, victory declared by the Risen Christ, alleluia!
Ad Majoren Gloriam Dei-
lux in tenebrae.
By: Rachel Marie Gohlman
unshakable and made of grey stone.
Gilded blue and silver against the setting sun.
Gold and white,
the curtains of God’s palace.
His table made immaculate in order to invite the filthy.
lost amongst ecstasy.
Parting the darkness with long notes of the Gloria.
sanctified water and fragrant chrism.
They douse the head in order to give knowledge.
O happy fault, which makes us saved- and me savable.
be one and the same. Unsurpassed by time.
Cloak my frail humanity in strength.
revelation of that, which is greater.
Drips and pours over my frame