When someone we love dies, we find comfort in talking about events in their lives with other friends and relatives who knew and cherished them. I’ve discovered lately that when a loved one’s memory dies, you can find comfort in relating those events to the very person who enjoys hearing about exploits she can no longer remember.
The stroke that robbed my mother of her memory has not totally altered the personality that made her the great lioness of the Faith that I remember. In another column, I shared her role in founding CREDO (Catholics for the Restoration in Education of Doctrinal Orthodoxy), but her involvement in that apostolate was not the sum total of her courageous efforts to defend the faith.
She had a personal apostolate as well, which, to my mind at least, made her deserving of the title “Scourge of Heretics.” She attended daily Mass from the age of twelve on, so she was well fortified in this undertaking.
The campaign she waged was relentless. It involved attending “Catholic” lectures around town, where known dissenters were to appear, and then challenging them with the truth of the Faith in the question-and-answer period. She was strong yet civil, always making her point in the form of a question in order to present the Church’s teaching on whatever topic the speaker had just tried to undermine.
But she was not shy. If the speaker avoided recognizing her raised hand she would ask her question anyway, whenever the opportunity arose.
Although she hoped to enlighten the speaker, she soon realized that her target audience was more likely members of the audience who might be uneasy about what they had heard – but weren’t sure why. She hoped her intervention would reaffirm such persons in the faith.
To her, even one person thus informed was enough to warrant these frequent jaunts, and quite often at least one such person would approach her at the end of the lecture, thanking her for what she had said. This added fuel to the fiery passion of her faith.
Religion Overthrowing Heresy and Hatred by Pierre Le Gros the Younger, c. 1695
At first she and my father were collaborators in the effort. But he soon departed the campaign, quoting St. John according to Polycarp: “Let us flee lest the room should fall in, for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” Having heard the stories, though, I’m sure it was rather a fear of coming to blows, such was the anger these “Catholic” speakers aroused in him.
My mother, however, soldiered on, simply finding willing friends to accompany her. Brave friends, I might add, because as time wore on, she became a known entity and efforts were made to head her off at the pass. She was resilient and resourceful and more than once scribbled her name on the sign-in sheet so that it was illegible.
At one particular talk, she was recognized and the “bouncer” tried to keep her from entering the hall by telling her that she was not a parishioner and therefore not allowed to attend. The brave friend who accompanied her that evening was a parishioner and informed the woman that my mother was her invited guest. The two of them passed unhindered.
Returning home from these events, she would tell my father about everything objectionable that the speaker had said. In response, my father would yell at the speaker through my mother, often starting the argument with, “Doesn’t that jackass know. . .”, and then quoting the applicable doctrine, pope, church father, or saint. She would excitedly reply, telling him the points she had previously presented in her dogged but ladylike duel with the dissenter. It was fascinating to listen in – and impossible not to – owing to the decibel level these “debriefing” sessions reached.
As a young adult, I knew more about my faith than many of my friends, who wondered how I had accumulated the knowledge. “Applied apologetics” was my response. I heard so many of these conversations between my parents that I am certain every major Church doctrine was covered in depth at one time or another.
I’ve always thought fondly of my mother as a “guerrilla Catholic.” And I’m grateful that in addition to her efforts to defend the Church, she also passed the flame of faith to her daughters. But the staid catechetical lessons she and my father dutifully arranged could not hold a candle to those late night, wild and woolly apologetic sessions they unwittingly held for us.
These have been perilous times and at an important time in their children’s lives her generation was suddenly deprived of the trustworthy assistance they had been heretofore receiving from the local church in educating them in the faith.
I find myself praying these days that the sacrifices of my parents and many more of their generation may serve as an offering for the salvation of the many children and grandchildren whose faith patrimony was squandered by the revolt of the scholars.