You Cannot Argue with This

Nor does it redound to the great intellectual tradition.

It is Father Dwight’s conversion narrative about the Immaculate Conception. He concedes that it is not an ancient dogma and that Thomas Aquinas “didn’t believe it.” But when an overweight priest told him, “We believe in the Immaculate Conception because the pope tells us to. Pass the fried chicken,” Longenecker knew his interlocutor was right.

Still, he needed to own the Immaculate Conception. Here is how he had a really, really personal relationship with Jesus:

I was traveling in Normandy in France. I wandered into Bayeaux Cathedral. As in most of the medieval cathedrals there were lots of little side chapels. I was pretty much the only person in the cathedral. I stopped in a little chapel and saw the finger bone of St Thérèse who had lived just down the road in Lisieux.

Then I stopped in another chapel and knelt to pray. I don’t know what I prayed — maybe the Rosary. I don’t know. I was caught up in prayer for some time. Then I walked out of the cathedral and the morning sun was bright and clear in the plaza outside, and I suddenly realized that I believed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Then I also remembered who the little chapel was dedicated to in which I was praying. It was St. Bernadette — to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared and confided, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

I no longer simply understood the dogma and the logic of it, but I saw the beauty of it and the wonder of the simple girl of Nazareth becoming the second Eve. As I realized I believed in the Immaculate Conception I also suddenly became more aware, in a deeper way — a way very difficult to articulate — of the reality and historical concreteness of the incarnation itself.

Suddenly Jesus Christ — Son of God and Son of Mary — was more real than he ever was before, and I also grasped why the Church requires this belief and does not allow it to remain a pious option.

It is because the Church wants us, through the Marian dogmas, to be introduced to Christ in a more real and powerful way.

Could this be the explanation for evangelical conversions to Rome? Too little doctrine, too much experience?

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7 thoughts on “You Cannot Argue with This

  1. “Then I walked out of the cathedral and the morning sun was bright and clear in the plaza outside, and I suddenly realized that I believed in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.”

    This sounds like a line from “Mary’s Not Dead.”

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  2. If you fast for a week and engage in some serious sleep deprivation you might get a vision of Joseph Smith as well….errr….I mean if you get serious about the spiritual disciplines you’ll get closer to God. How do you get past Twenty-five and still believe in some of this? Isn’t it miraculous enough to embrace the incarnation and resurrection? And then there’s the Trinity. But, yes, it’s a little over dramatic. Though, try going without sleep and much food for forty-eight hours. It’s amazing what you can come up with.

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  3. Why doesn’t he “immaculate” the prostitution, pimping, drug using and selling, drunkards, etc. building in front of his church?

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  4. My rescues by the Spirit during a few really dark moments and about 3 trillion hum-drum ones (embracing the suckiness of life) tops anything that seems miraculous. Not as exciting though to boast about.

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  5. Does veneration of Mary make sense of this?

    In the Old Testament, “idolatry” often means worshipping the false gods of the various peoples Israel encounters; in Deuteronomy, “idolatry” is the false god of self-sufficiency. Settled in the land, Israel may be tempted by prosperity to fall back into its national “original sin,” symbolized by the darkest moment of the Exodus epic, the incident of the golden calf. For what was that all about? It was about the worship of a domesticated God whom Israel can fashion into an image and see, and thus control.

    Self-sufficiency – the forgetting of our dependence on the Lord and on the Lord alone – is a perennial temptation for all those who share in the spiritual heritage of Israel. In this twenty-first century, we are no less tempted to domesticate God, and thus to sink into a shallow religious indifference or insouciance, than our biblical ancestors.

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