Dr. White converted to the Catholic Faith in 1979. He has
won some 35 converts at the U.S. Naval Academy to the Catholic Faith. Here is
Since I am a professor of Literature I'll tell a story.
I converted to the Catholic Church at the
age of thirty-one, some years ago. I was raised liberal Protestant. That
adjective is extremely important because there are Protestants who know their
Bible, who know something of Christian doctrine. They're the
fundamentalists-hard-core conservative ones.
I was raised liberal Protestant which means I had an
upbringing in terms of church-going, of church suppers, and there were some
lovely people. I was lucky to be raised in a very good home with good parents
but I never received any real religious training. I memorized a few scripture
verses. Occasionally I would go and sit through a Sunday morning worship
ceremony in the bare church, not pay attention to the sermon, sing a few hymns
and then go home. That was about it. This means that when I was seventeen and
was free and went off to university, I just gave the whole thing up.
I say in sorrow, by the way, that this is
what I now see my Catholic students doing. Very often, when the young people
leave home, as soon as they get away, they stop going to Church. I know that.
That's what I did. It is a mark of Protestantism, because there is nothing there
to hold on to and they know it. As a result they leave.
So I went into the university, a modern university, where
they taught me the three things that I think you get at a modern university:
hate your family, hate your country, hate God (Who "doesn't exist," but hate Him
anyway). That's what my head was filled with. So that when I graduated and went
on to graduate school, my head was filled with absolute nonsense. I still knew
nothing about religion, although I would talk about it at length, mainly to try
to debunk it. As far as I was concerned, there was only nature. Nature was all
we needed. Everything was material. There was really only one "Commandment",
that was, "We should be nice to each other even though life has no meaning" -
which is a very peculiar thought.
When I began teaching, that's the sort of
nonsense I was teaching. Absolute nonsense, because I knew nothing. I had no
business being in front of a class teaching anything because I didn't know
anything. But I was a modern teacher with a head full of feathers and sawdust
that I spewed out around the room. Then one day, when I was teaching at Temple
University in Philadelphia, I had a student in the back of the class, who raised
his hand and challenged me. He began debating me in the classroom. In no time at
all, I became aware of a situation that most teachers live in terror of: I had a
student in my class who knew a hundred times more than what I knew. I was an
absolute ignoramus and this student was really smart.
Now the only thing I can say to my credit
is that I began coming into class - I am not making this up, this is not an
exaggeration - I would come into class with a note book, stand at the podium,
ask the young man a question and then take notes of the answers he gave.
This is one of many illustrations that
the modern world, in every detail, is a place of inversion. The symbol of the
devil is a man turned upside down. If you look at anything in the modern world,
it's inverted. My classroom was inverted. I was being paid to teach and I was
standing at the podium taking notes from a student who knew something. Now
fortunately, I was lucky enough to get a quick education. The rest of the
students really didn't care. Most of them slept through it, which is what they'd
been doing during most of my lectures anyway. Well the long and the short of it
was, we debated, we talked for hours, for days, for weeks. And he won every
debate, every single debate. God be praised that I had a logical head so that I
could follow an argument and know when I'd lost one. I lost every debate we had.
Now if you pursue questions of truth;
that is, is there truth, how can we know it? If there is truth, what do we do
about it? Where do we find it? You're going to end up at Christ. It's going to
happen. So at that point, I realized that Christ and His message is not only
important and serious, but it is true. Having realized this, it was clear that I
had to get involved with some church.
There were two choices: the
fundamentalist Protestants, because they seem to know their Bible, and they do
believe in something; or the Catholic Church.
As a student of literature and as a
professor of literature, I knew something about the past. Now, the great writer
Evelyn Waugh, who converted to Catholicism, said of the Catholic Church that "in
considering it, any man has to know that it is true because it presents a
coherent philosophical system that makes intransigent historical claims." If you
look at the philosophy of the Catholic Church, it is air tight, it is reasonable
and complete. If you look at the history of the Church over two thousand years,
it has given us everything that is good. Hence, how could it not be true?
Therefore when the time came I chose the Catholic Church.
Now my student who had challenged me in class had converted
about six months before I did. He had not been a Catholic either; he was simply
an honest mind seeking the truth. He had walked into a Catholic Church and said
to the priest, "I want to become a Catholic." It wasn't long before this young
man was battling with the priest who was supposed to be giving instruction,
because the priest was presenting a whole series of new ideas in a new way. This
brilliant young man was rightly challenging these new ideas, saying to the
priest, "No, Father, the Church teaches this...".
So you now had a convert instructing the
priest in the Faith. My friend did not want me to go through that experience. He
went all around the Philadelphia area until he found an elderly Irish Monsignor,
out in one of the suburbs, who had the Faith. So once a week, I would take the
train to go out there and receive real instruction from a priest who had the
Catholic Faith. It was a great blessing. I would also go out to his Mass, the
Novus Ordo, which he said very reverently.
So at the beginning of my conversion, I wasn't quite aware
of what had happened regarding the liturgy. But after I was received into the
Church, I decided to attend Mass in center city Philadelphia, where I was living
at the time. Suddenly, I walked into something that looked just like the empty
Protestant service I had left when I was seventeen. I'd been there, I'd seen it,
I knew it. I thought, what is this? This can't be what I've joined, this can't
be what it's about. Two thousand years can't have come to this! I've already
rejected this. Nonetheless, I still went to this new Mass for a while. Then I
began doing the same thing again; I would sleep in on Sunday mornings because
there didn't seem to be a reason to go.
Then one summer I was home visiting in
Wisconsin where I am originally from. I decided to fulfill my duty and go to
Mass. I got in the car to drive to Church "A". It was my intention to drive to
Church "A", St. Patrick's. I knew where it was. I backed out of the driveway, I
headed for St. Patrick's and somehow, I arrived at Church "B", on the other side
of town. It was one of those oddities. I was thinking about other things, I was
not paying attention. I wound up not just at the wrong church, but at a church
miles away from the one I intended to go to. I was at Sacred Heart Parish and I
didn't know how I got there.
I looked in. They had a Mass starting. I
was just baffled. What am I doing here? But I thought, I don't have time to get
over to St. Patrick's. I'll go to Mass here. I walked inside and heard "Introibo
ad altare Dei", and my goodness, there it was. I heard this strange language.
There was the priest with his back to us. I had no idea what was happening. I
then realized that this was that "Old Mass" I'd heard about. About half way
through it, I said to myself, this is Catholic! And I was home at a place that I
had never known before.
The old Mass, for me, at that moment, was entirely new. It
was not "old". It was home! At that instant I knew that this is what the
Catholic Faith is all about. I knew that this is how I would worship God in the
future. I mentioned earlier that all good things have come out of that Old Latin
Mass, the Mass of all time. I'll give you examples.
I teach literature; I have a special love for music and for
art. It is the Mass that gave us western music. The oldest western music we have
written is Gregorian Chant. If you take a music history course, you'll begin
with Chant, continue through Church music, and you won't find music secularized
until much later. But even when music becomes secularized, you're still going to
have Mozart writing Masses and Haydn writing Masses. You'll even have someone
like Beethoven who wrestled with God his whole life, still writing the great "Missa
solemnis" and seeing the priest on his death bed. That is the traditional music.
If you go to Western art, it is Catholic.
It grows out of the Church. That's where it comes from. Western art as we know
it comes from the Church. Go to an art gallery. Go back to the beginning of art
and, (aside from Greece and Rome - still the beginning of art as we know it) the
great Renaissance works - their subject matter is Catholic.
Go to literature, and you have Dante, you have Shakespeare.
The writers have been Catholic. All of that came out the Mass.
The Novus Ordo Mass, in the thirty years
its been around, has given us lousy music, lousy literature, putrid liturgical
dancing. In fact, it has only given us one thing that has actually caught on and
become culturally significant. And when I heard this, I nearly fell off my
chair, but it's true. The New Mass gave us one thing that the culture knows, and
that is Beavis and Butthead - that ghastly, ghastly cartoon series that all your
children know from MTV. I heard the creator of it speaking on television. He was
asked how he came up with the idea. He answered, "Well I was sitting at Mass in
my Catholic high school, and I wasn't really paying attention, and the priest
said 'this is the body of Christ' and this guy behind me went 'heh heh heh heh
heh heh heh,' and suddenly I got the whole thing in my mind and started drawing
Beavis and Butthead."
There you have the one cultural fruit of
the Novus Ordo Mass. If you expect anything other than that from that ceremony,
I would say, you're not going to get it. The best you can hope for is the kind
of barrenness that Protestant worship has given to the world. Protestant worship
has not produced great art, great music. It's given us a few good hymns, but it
has produced very little and now it's fading away. There is nothing more to
produce. The same will be true with the new Mass.
It's time for those in the Church to come
home to the true Mass. The Mass is our heritage, even for those of us who were
not born into it. It is our heritage. I thank God every day that I found it.
When I get up on Sunday mornings and make the hour drive to the Tridentine Mass,
it's nothing compared to the great glory and beauty of the majestic Sacrifice
that awaits me there on the altar when I arrive.