On 30 May of this year, in response to the recent Pew Report indicating a decline in American religiosity, Tod Worner published an article entitled “Why I am not leaving the Catholic Church.” On 3 June, Elizabeth Scalia (The Anchoress), managing editor of the Patheos Catholic portal, decided to build on this theme, inviting Catholics to explain why they remain in the Church. The hashtag #WhyRemainCatholic began to trend on Twitter, inciting countless responses to Scalia’s prompt.
I’ve decided to respond in rhyming iambic heptameter.
UPDATE 16 JUNE 2015: Elizabeth Scalia kindly retweeted my poem with some very gracious comments. Thanks to The Anchoress for her kind words and the much appreciated traffic boost!
— Elizabeth Scalia (@TheAnchoress) June 15, 2015
Apologia pro fide mea
The Anchoress inquired of us a simple, deep demand:
to state the reasons why our Church doth hold our heart’s command.
Her question now stands answered with refreshing clarity
despite our station in the age of secularity.
To show that this our sacred faith is not one to conceal,
the terse and shy and eloquent replied with zest and zeal,
whose tweets and blogs and paragraphs, rife with variety,
revealed a unity of heart and fervent piety.
I too have pondered what she asked for many days and nights,
and wondered if I might express the joy which faith incites.
My tardiness is known to all, my written thoughts ill-timed,
but here is my apologia— humble, metered, rhymed.
O, sing to me, proceeding Spirit, breathe inspiring breath;
reveal to me the ray of hope which conquers final death;
unlock my ears to angels’ speech and ope my shuttered eyes
and kindly join my words with their Hosannas in the skies.
Among my dearest memories when first I learned to speak,
when still my stupid tongue would oft revert to infant squeak:
great shock and awe arrested me within the holy place
whene’er the ancient chant resounded in that sacred space.
‘Twas then— just past my infancy— I learned the Preface tone,
and oft I sang that melody which stirred my flesh and bone,
and there I saw a priest with arms outstretched toward the sky
whose soaring voice did very well to lift our hearts on high.
And at the Sanctus bell, my parents fell— but I arose,
and I stood high upon the kneeler, perched upon my toes;
so ardently I fought my childish stature just to gaze
upon that which the Church extols as worthiest of praise.
Although my mind could scarcely grasp what books would later teach,
the signs and smells and sounds supplied what simple souls beseech;
for though I was unlearn’d, my feeble mind e’er stood amazed
each time I saw, with smoke and bells, the cup and wafer raised.
This wonder failed to leave me; ’twas a force none could dispel,
while friends who grew up in the Church, as Zeitgeist victims, fell.
The grace of that first Wash stood firm and never washed away,
and thus I waited patiently ’til I could make my way
unto the rail which marks where earth encounters Paradise
to meet with Him who comes to us in humblest a disguise;
so first I was absolved, and later years gave Chrismal seal,
but these forever yield unto the Sacrificial Meal.
Like Jonah, I discovered that from God no man can flee,
so why should we abandon Him who died for you and me?
“I am with you,” He promised us, “until the ages end,”
and He remains in ways which only faith can comprehend.
With eyes of faith, I testify the promise has rung true,
for life has tossed me to and fro, yet I see Him anew.
From continent to continent and o’er the wildest sea,
in ev’ry nation I can come to Him on bended knee.
For in an archipelago which oft feels monsoon grief,
or in the country of the emblematic maple leaf,
or on the winding roads which Father Nepomuk had trod,
or where the deacon Lawrence felt the stinging, red-hot prod,
or underneath the big bright stars which light the Lone Star State,
or where a foggy blanket veils the stunning Golden Gate,
or where the orchards bloom to yield the ripest, sweetest peach,
no land nor state nor isle nor peak remains outside His reach.
In those diverse locales I’ve lived; in each I have beheld
a vision of the Cenacle which keeps me e’er compelled;
in places where I have not lived, but only briefly stayed,
mine eyes have seen the glory of His radiance displayed:
His praises in Twin Cities I’ve heard children sweetly sing
who, with bare knees on stone-cold floors, receive the spotless King;
in caverns of the catacombs or bright baroque delight,
I know His presence e’er I see the flick’ring candlelight.
And when I hurried to the cracking sound of mighty guns,
entrusted with the lives and welfare of my nation’s sons,
dispatched to where the Crescent Moon unleashed its gloomy shade,
where I had lost a friend in a most devastating raid;
or where the mask of peace conceals a bitter discontent
as that cruel number Thirty-Eight still tears a people rent,
whose sundered, broken families pray that the walls be razed—
there too have I beheld the Lord, ‘twixt thumb and index, raised.
Throughout the globe, the selfsame sight has ever caught my eye:
inclining low before a monstrance elevated high,
all races, ages, sexes praise the one Divinity
while singing Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus to the Trinity.
Intense devotion to our Lord has bound us all as one
from furthest reaches of the East unto the setting sun;
and yet, expressions of each single personality
have flourished into harmony within plurality.
The many whom I’ve known but only through electric means—
the old and well-accomplished, many young adults and teens—
all speak and write of Catholicity in varied form
while still, to sacred scripture and tradition, most conform:
a Minnesota man with whom I readily agree;
Professor Greg, to whom I must object in charity;
a new dad and his college friend (a seminarian);
a promising young lady of devotion Marian;
a bearded man who relishes traditions of the South;
a transplant Philadelphian who boasts of his lewd mouth;
the snarkiest philosopher who oft will change his name;
a girl to whom the Compline hour has lain a special claim
who, with her roommate, shares a love of arts and finer things;
a budding engineer who loves to play and pluck the strings;
a dame who reads theology beneath Our Lady’s hand;
a scholar by whose pen recalls the mind of Hildebrand…
What strikes me of our Church is this: if ever I should meet
with these aforesaid people whom I know but through a tweet,
I know that, on one subject, we already share accord
—that we can kneel together at the altar of the Lord.
And yet, despite all distances, when each we pray the Mass
in far flung lands, in chapels made of stone or wood or glass,
as we adore the Victim and are by His grace possessed,
His love brings us to Calvary where all we stand abreast.
From all the vasty world’s expanse forms one community
convoked and gathered by the Sacrament of unity;
all diff’rent and all Catholic, diverse and still the same
are all the varied knees that bend unto that highest Name
of Him who here abides in humble forms of wine and bread,
who swore non praevalebunt, placing Peter at the head
to guide us on the path of peace in this vale here below
and causes us to shout, benedicamus Domino!
I bless, therefore, the Father who created ev’ry thing,
by whose design the lifeless dust allows new life to spring;
I venerate the Son who freely hung upon the Tree
and took our mortal flesh that our flesh might immortal be;
I bow unto the Paraclete, our Advocate on high,
who sends the flaming Septenarium down from the sky;
I praise the Triune God, the font of true euphoria—
ut ipsi in Ecclesia sit semper gloria!