To the list of articles
Back to the list of articles

To the home page
Back to the home page

A version of this story was published in Prodigal Daughters: Catholic Women Come Home to the Church
Ignatius Press, 1999
In this book, created and edited by Donna Steichen, 17 women told their stories of leaving the Catholic Church and returning. My story was included among the 17.

The Pied Piper of Lies
By Rosemary Hugo Fielding

          In 1993 Veritatis Splendor proclaimed anew to a jaded and confused Catholic world the traditional Catholic teaching on the essential value of truth.   Can the mere proclamation of an abstract idea make a person joyful? Yes.  I was overjoyed to read in the Pope’s words the same reality that I had only recently acknowledged in my life.  Only a few years earlier, struggling to my feet after taking an emotional, intellectual and spiritual tumble, I had learned the painful and destructive consequences of living as though truth depended on my preferences.  Then did I apprehend viscerally the reality of Truth, with a capital "T."
          As Catholic author E. Michael Jones has shown repeatedly in his analyses of modern man, a person either conforms his desires to truth, or truth to his desires.  I had done the latter too often, and the consequences were catastrophic.
          My life exemplifies many of the experiences of my generation. I was present at the key spiritual hot-spots that drew my peers and kept us wandering from experience to experience, idea to idea.  I dove into American middle-class hedonism, surfaced in Eastern mysticism, reconverted to Christianity, roamed between Protestantism and Catholicism, browsed unknowingly in modernist heresies, staked a claim in radical feminism before falling into the abyss of deconstructionism.  Common to all my experiences was the assumption that I was the sole authority in judging their veracity.  In this, I followed the Pied Piper of Lies.
          Deconstructionism caught me by surprise; it turned out to be a lethal assault on my mental and spiritual well-being.  Right at the moment of despair, I discovered orthodoxy.  Orthodoxy makes clear that there is an authority which transcends any individual's opinion and desire, and that authority is Truth.  When I understood the importance of orthodoxy and authority, I returned to the Catholic faith.
          But in the meantime, the lies of the 20th century made mincemeat of this good Catholic girl.  My saga shows that orthodoxy has become one of the best-kept secrets in the American Church today.  

                             Growing Up Catholic in the Age of Aquarius

          Modern culture fed me lots of lies that led me from the Church, but my family played a role as well.  Its influence and my own immaturity and selfishness made me buy those lies too easily.
          I was a late baby-boomer, the youngest of five children.  Although my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles were all good, even devout, Irish-German Catholics, my older siblings introduced me to the art of rebellion, disobedience and selfish pleasure-seeking at an early age. 
          My family were intellectual Catholics.  Among them was my uncle, the late Fr. John J. Hugo, a priest in the diocese of Pittsburgh, who was well-known for his seven-day silent retreats and his theological and spiritual writings.  My father was a professor of sociology at Duquesne University, a Catholic university, who taught his subject according to a Catholic perspective. Priests often visited our home.
          My parents lived their faith: we prayed, helped the poor, attended Mass, read Bible stories and the lives of the saints, and were taught right from wrong.  My grandparents prayed the rosary nightly and spoke often to us of God and His Providence.  They were models of faith. Aside from two years in a parochial school, I attended public schools.   I finished any catechetical studies with my Confirmation at age 11; therefore, my knowledge of doctrine was slim.
          My Catholic school education had strengthened my conscience and faith.  Public school education, on the other hand, taught me much about the ways of the world which catechism class could not combat. Basically, I forgot my Catholic faith while attending public schools.
          As I grew older, this stable, faithful, relatively happy Catholic upbringing was slowly eroded and then blitzed.
          The seeds of the erosion had already been planted when my parents, particularly my mother, adopted Dr. Spock's popular gospel of permissiveness and accommodation toward children.  It continued due to my mother's family's acceptance of and support for many of the liberal ideas gaining prominence in the culture, and perhaps in great measure due to their allegiance to the Democratic party.  Soon they were also advocating the dissidence within the Church.
          Finally, my father's increasing isolation and withdrawal from his children deprived us of his great intelligence, Catholic sense and wisdom.  He worked hard out of love for us, both outside and in the home, and he was always domestic.  But he had less and less real involvement in our lives.  This was due in part to two factors: his gradual loss of hearing and his growing dependence on alcohol. The other factor was the dynamic of the family relations—of which I could write a book in itself.
          The full-scale assault came with the sixties.  Although my sister, the eldest, joined the Navy in the 1960's, my two eldest brothers brought home anti-authority, student-rebel ideas from college.  My brothers were allowed in many ways to preach and practice these ideas, and my parents, to a large degree, seemed to adapt more to their children’s' ideas than to curtail their propagation in the home.
          My naive, trusting parents had no idea, however, that my two brothers were also using and selling drugs, mainly marijuana, while attending the university where my father taught.  When their highly publicized drug arrest made the evening news, my parents were devastated.  They have never quite recovered from the destruction of the hopes and aspirations for their charming, handsome, gifted, but, alas, self-indulgent sons.  My brothers each were arrested and charged once more on drug counts, but neither was ever convicted.  The toll on my family of my brother’s continued destructive and deceptive behavior included my third brother’s  depression at the tender age of 19. 
          Thus I entered my teens, a most formative time, when my family was suffering from various shocks and upheavals: my father's problem-drinking and growing deafness, my brothers' complete adoption of sixties radicalism, my third brother's clinical depression and my mother's valiant but contradictory efforts to keep our family stable.  My sister had wisely traveled far away.
          Being the youngest and relatively compliant, I, not surprisingly, was generally left to grow up on my own, without strong direction or firm guidance, except the examples of my brothers.  Nor, in the fall-out from all the turmoil, did I receive much affirmation. In particular, my family seemed to value masculine traits over feminine traits, and, as I followed after three highly masculine brothers, my feminine qualities, other than physical attractiveness, were largely overlooked.  I grew up with very little confidence in my strengths and gifts, and, I realized later in life, little trust in men.
          All this formed in me a great fear of commitment, probably born of the conviction that if I always kept the option to move on, I wouldn't have to endure again the painful disintegration I experienced in my family during this time.
          Paradoxically, it also formed a deep desire for security, stability, approval and, especially, belonging in a group which honored and affirmed me. 
          I'm sure this inner conflict largely explains why my strong longing for marriage ended so often in broken engagements, and resulted in a late marriage.  This also explains in part how I could wander from group to group, attaching to ideas as I attached to friends.  Friendship became of paramount importance, because my friends always seemed to appreciate me more than my family.  In a word, I was both emotionally and intellectually insecure.
          Intellectually, I was always well-read and curious about ideas.  But, though bright, I had little foundation, either formally or informally, in logic or in right reasoning.  I had no strong instrument for judging the validity of ideas.  Furthermore, my family background ingrained in me an automatically liberal and progressive trend in thinking. 
          My two oldest brothers influenced my greatly.  Because of them,  I entered my teens surrounded by all the slogans, language, ideas, regalia and immorality of the radical left, and I espoused them with little or no reflection.
          When the eldest stopped going to Mass, announcing it was irrelevant and meaningless, I did so also.  After they were arrested for drug possession, (after introducing me to drugs at age 14) they dropped out of college and moved full-scale into the counter-culture.  This looked glamorous and exciting to me.
          My parents, alarmed and unprepared, tried to counter-act their influence on myself and my third brother. But we, too, effectively abandoned the doctrine (slim though it was in my case)--and much of the morality-- we had learned as children.  After high school, I followed my elder brothers to live as a hippie in the mountains of Oregon.
          I used to understand my rejection of the Church as a normal consequence of youthful soul-searching and healthy defiance of authority.  But now I know rebellion and pleasure-seeking are not intrinsic to youth.  They become a more likely choice when adults collectively give youth over to their own experiences and rules.
There was a message which echoed through my culture.  More dangerously for me, it was embodied in my siblings: "Seek experience.  Seek pleasure.  Find your own way.  Make your own rules, and defy anyone, anything or any idea that limits your pleasure."  It soon became embodied in me.

                                            The First Lie: Hedonism

          The first lie I grew up with, then,  was the unexamined philosophy of moral relativism and the reflexive disdain for authority. It had been served to me (and my siblings) in my youth by the "spirit of the age" and unsuspecting, I had appropriated it like mother's milk.  Ignorant of the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate or divine and human authority, I scorned all claims to authority. Schooled in the prevailing philosophy of "if it benefits you, do it," I adopted moral relativism.  The result: a kind of bourgeois American hedonism. 
          Consequently, I suffered the usual derailments of a life given over to experiences.  Oh, I had fun at times.  But at what cost!  In high school marijuana use, Dionysian parties, rock concerts, and "crazy" adventures led to mediocre academics, drug-induced depression, boredom, guilt and dead ends.  The much good in my life was off-set by the general advance in the wrong direction. The lie of the "spirit-of-the-age" and my brothers' example led me to completely dismiss the Church by the end of high school.  Without its guidance and the discipline of obedience, I was set adrift, and I began to have the anxious feeling of one who is lost.
          It was in this state that I went to Oregon at age 18. I lived on old mining claim near Medford, Oregon, on a beautiful, wild river, the Applegate, in the Cascade Mountains.  I shared a house with my two brothers, a sister-in-law, a cousin and my best girlfriend.  I worked a little at a local agricultural plant, but mostly I read, gardened, hiked the mountains, and learned about being independent.  I had much time alone to reflect. I began to gain some direction in my life and to realize I didn't want to drop out as my brothers had done.  After nine months there, I desired more knowledge and culture, I was beginning to be bored with this drifting in the counter-culture, and I decided to go back to school in the fall.   I was nineteen years old.
          I wanted to enroll in some progressive, experimental west coast school, but my parents gave me one choice: Duquesne University, where I had free tuition because of my father's position.  I thank God I was directed there, for at Duquesne I received a very good classical, mostly Catholic liberal arts education. I majored in English literature, and I loved my studies.  I cut out the marijuana and hungered after the things of the mind. 
          But old habits die hard.  I continued to lead a worldly life, seeking pleasure and good times.  Then in my junior year, the tragic death of someone close to me ushered reality into my life, and I listened for the voice of my childhood God.  The Holy Spirit started me on a search for something more vigorous and lasting than both the mainstream culture and the counter-culture I saw around me.

                                           Gentle Divine Intervention

          The gentle nudges came as I listened to my professor lecture on Milton's "Paradise Lost."  Or when the newly-released movie "Jesus of Nazareth" reminded me of my childhood love of Jesus and inspired me to learn more about him. Or when I read Dorothy Day's autobiography The Long Loneliness and trembled at the thought of God calling me from a life of pleasure to one of sacrifice. I attended Easter vigil Mass with my mother for the first time in years.
          But it was only a beginning. My philosophy classes kept me clueless about classical moral questions.  I took no religion classes, and so learned no doctrine.  And so I came out of my adolescence with my mind shaped by prejudices and assumptions: Democrats were good, Republicans were bad; liberal solutions were the only solutions worth reading about (I scorned conservative thought, ignorant of its substance); venerable institutions were all hopelessly out-dated; religion was for self-fulfillment; change was better than the status quo, and feelings were the highest standards of judgment.  Inspite of the tragic and disastrous consequences I had known in my life and in others', I still lived according to my desire and not to absolute and objective principles.
          Upon graduation in 1978, 23 years old and at a loss with what to do with my English degree, I agreed to travel to Afghanistan as a business representative for a high school friend who had a small business importing clothing (then fashionable) from Afghanistan.  Enveloped in the blessed silence of this media-less country and moved by the sight of Muslims' praying in the streets, I gradually formed my primary goal: to find out who God was.
                                       The Second Lie: We Are Gods
          Predictably, given the era, my long soak in the counter-culture, and the lead of some friends, I turned not to Christianity, but to the Eastern religions. I traveled to India, lived in an ashram for four weeks and was "initiated" into satmat as a disciple of Darshan Sing, a Sikh who purported to be the "living master," this sect's version of an omnipotent, omniscient God.  Jesus Christ, I was instructed, was once a living master, but was no longer.
          I didn't quite swallow the part about this little man being god.  I had some discernment.  But I was open-minded and uninformed, and so I accepted the second lie:  all religions could be distilled into one universal spirituality.  A Christian, for example, could follow Master Darshan as his living master because such a master simply taught the "science of spirituality" that was common to all religions.  Doctrine was unimportant.  What counted were mystical experiences.  These were the only guarantees of an authentic religion.  So, once again, I was seeking experiences: visions, sounds, out-of-body travel, or conversation with spirits.
          Veiled under all these reassurances was the fundamental lie of all Eastern mysticism: we are all gods.  I swallowed that lie with the rest and became the arbiter of truth.  Fortunately, my latent Christian conscience never allowed me to put such power to its full and dangerous use!
          Once again, however, the Holy Spirit protected me from a complete submission to another false creed.  I could never pray to Master Darshan or worship him, as I was told to and as many American and European disciples claimed to do.  I could usually meditate two hours daily, eat strictly vegetarian food and follow the rigorous rules of morality and abstinence.  But when I prayed, I prayed to God the Father, the God of my childhood.
          When I returned to the United States after my four-month business junket, I still had to figure out what to do with my life.  Within two months I decided on writing as a career, since I had always loved to write.  I landed a reporting job on a daily newspaper within three months of my return.
          Over the course of the next two years, American life cooled my practice of my Eastern spirituality.  I wanted to hold on to this spirituality, however, as I truly thought it would lead me to God, and I became alarmed at its diminishment.
          "Why don't you make your uncle's retreat?" my mother and father said to me, referring to Fr. John J. Hugo's seven-day silent retreat.  "He teaches the kind of asceticism and simple way of life that you picked up in India." 

All-Out Divine Intervention

          God bless them for that gentle encouragement.  This week-long, silent retreat was the seminal moment in my Christian life.  It became first the means of conversion and then a litmus test to identify at least some of the heterodoxy I was later to encounter.  At the time, however, I regarded the silence as a way to revisit the ashram and revitalize my Eastern-sect religion.  Though my uncle requested that the Bible be our sole reading material during the retreat, my suitcase was loaded with books by Master Darshan and his predecessors.  I planned to ignore the Christian elements!
           My uncle's first conference ambushed my plans.  On that hot Sunday evening in April, 1981, as he spoke to us of silence and of Christ, I had my first taste of the somber beauty of Christianity.            Over the seven days I quietly, inwardly fell in love with Jesus Christ; and I quietly came to love the man who taught me about Him.  Though Father Hugo was my uncle, his family visits had been rare. I hardly knew him. I grew to love him during those seven days, not only because he reminded me of my father, but also because he preached the Gospel passionately.  He was a man who would die for Christ.
           He had a powerful influence on Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker, and figures prominently in her autobiography. But he also evangelized hundreds more through the silent retreat, which Dorothy called "the famous retreat" and which he later called "Encounter with Silence."  (Weapons of the Spirit: Living a Holy Life in Unholy Times, an anthology of excerpts from his many books and articles, edited by David Scott and Mike Aquilina was published by Our Sunday Visitor in 1997.)
          During that week in April, as the air conditioner hummed, I listened with a faint recognition of my destiny as Father Hugo spoke of the "two ways," God's way and mankind's way.  These were ways in the sense of roads or paths through life, the very thing I had been stumbling about, trying to find. 
          I was used to thinking of the world as divided in two between the permitted and the forbidden, virtue and vice.  But Father Hugo explained that in God's plan the choice is far more formidable.  It is between pagan goodness and Christian holiness.  God asks us to follow the supernatural path set high above the natural way.  The natural is good, but it is not sufficient for eternal life.  The natural includes reason as an essential guide, and human happiness and rectitude as worthy goals.  But though they are not contrary to faith, they alone will not lead to heaven.   For the Christian, something more is asked: faith becomes the guide; agape love and holiness become the goals.
          I underwent a profound mental adjustment and hungered to hear more about this purpose of life.  I shoved my suitcase full of books under the bed.  I consumed the gospels, growing more and more excited and saying to myself, "Jesus, why didn't I ever know you before?"  Here was the truth I had been seeking.
          On Wednesday afternoon of the retreat I knelt in silence in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  My Catholic identity came back to me: Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity, was truly present there.  I said in a whisper, "I believe you are God.  I will follow you for the rest of my life.  My life is yours."  His physical presence in the Sacrament was an embrace.
          The retreat did not claim to teach any new doctrine or even insights; it simply presented what my uncle called "applied Christianity," Christianity that was to be lived to its deepest implications. The most important teaching was "the folly of the Cross."  I learned that to follow Christ I must die to self and sacrifice my will for the will of God.  I learned that a Christian's life should be supernatural and quite different from the life of a "natural" man.  It should bear fruit in action: deep prayer, love for one's enemy, detachment from the world and joy in all circumstances, even poverty.  With joy I learned that the goal of my life was sainthood and its destination was heaven.
          The retreat became a rudder of truth helping to guide me through the bewildering currents that I was soon to find sweeping through the Church. But it did not keep me from initially mistaking many lies about Christianity for authentic teachings. 
          That is because when Fr. Hugo and his predecessor, Fr. Onesimus Lacouture, S.J., developed the retreat in the 1930's and 40's, they had assumed Catholics would be well-catechized and would have a fundamental knowledge of doctrine.   Thus, they would know that the Church was the teaching authority of Christ and, as they were inspired to love and obey Christ, they would respond likewise to His Church.
          Though Fr. Hugo later re-formed the retreat in fidelity to Vatican II, he did so without addressing in detail many modern problems which were just beginning to manifest.  He developed it before Catholics abandoned obedience to their Church in droves, before they demonstrated such an appalling ignorance of their faith, before modernism became the modus operandi of much of the Church, and before fundamentalist Protestants had made a concerted effort to bring Catholics out of the Church.
          It couldn't possibly fill in all the gaps in my own Catholic education.  For instance, like many Catholics I had an incomplete understanding of the sacraments.   Thus, a few years after this conversion, I could walk away from them.
          The retreat did impress upon me the necessity of living as though the Beatitudes were to be followed, and it gave me a great devotion to scripture. It also clearly showed me that such progressive concerns as social justice, the immorality of nuclear war, simplicity in lifestyle and non-violence were rooted in the gospels and in the teachings of the Church.

Old Lies Are Like Old Chums

Unfortunately for me, I was poorly formed overall in Catholic
doctrine, and instead largely formed by a world view that resisted Christian living.  Specifically, the old surreptitious mentality of moral relativism and disdain for authority still ran deep.  It molded my Christianity, instead of vice versa, and I continued to be progressive in ways the Church is not.
          Again, my immediate family influenced me in this direction.  The one brother who remained Catholic gave me a subscription to National Catholic Reporter, and that became my main source of Catholic instruction, introducing me to many errors and confirming my moral relativism.  I became what is called a "cafeteria Catholic," equivocating on chastity, worldly entertainment or certain Church teachings.  Because most of the material I read was dissident, I received the impression that modern Catholicism embraced all progressive causes.   Though my uncle continued to teach me from scripture and doctrine when he could, I was shortly deprived of his wisdom when he died in 1985.
          Within a year of the retreat, I had left journalism and taken a master's degree which certified me to teach.  Two years later in 1983 I took a position at Greater Works Academy, a non-denominational, charismatic, Christian school.  And so, like many of my Catholic peers, I was introduced to Protestantism through the charismatic movement.

                                       The Third Lie: It's All the Same

          The Protestant friends I made there showed deep devotion to the Bible and to discipleship.  Unlike most of the Catholics I had met since the retreat, their ordinary conversation centered on scripture and God.
          Ironically, under their guidance I began to intensely live my Catholic faith and adhere more to absolutes.  I felt accountable to follow Biblical injunctions, especially in the area of chastity, as one who always had a boyfriend, and in purity, as one who grew up on rock music and Hollywood.
          In this atmosphere I accepted the third lie.  Though my Protestant brethren disagreed, I quietly concluded that one's denomination made little difference to one's faith.  Their devotion and zeal convinced me that their denomination was as right as mine.  As long as one had a "personal relationship" to Jesus Christ, denominational distinctions were man-made. 
          They thought differently.  They charged Catholicism with heresy, claimed it was a cult.  At the same time, my two brothers had become "born-again" Christians and were denouncing the Church with their usual know-it-all vehemence.  All these ex-Catholics predicted I would abandon this heretical church as I became more knowledgeable in Scripture and "freer" in the Lord.
          I didn't.  While at Greater Works, I held to my Catholicism.  But when I next took a job teaching in Venezuela, I ended up attending a Protestant church instead of the English-speaking Catholic church.  I still thought of myself as a Catholic, however, and I fully intended to return to a Catholic parish in the States.  But something drew me to the Protestant church there and once there, I stayed the two years I lived in Venezuela.  My knowledge of doctrine was so weak that I didn't know I was forbidden to receive communion outside the Church.
          Bible study was the draw.  Over the years, I had suffered heartbreaks and had ground through some painful decisions, and during these tough times scripture strengthened, guided and instructed me. In daily American Catholicism, I had found little Bible literacy.  Articulate Bible-literate Protestantism moved in to fill this vacuum.
          However, my powers of discernment, strengthened mightily by the teachings of the retreat, still operated. I knew that Protestantism lacked something.   Rarely did the message of the Cross carry with it the injunction for visible acts of sacrifice and mortification.  Constrained by sola fide, Protestants shunned these as works.
          I also missed the Eucharist, and I would then attend a Spanish-speaking Mass at the parish church.
          After two years I returned to the States in 1987. Continuing to believe that both Protestant and Catholic services had equal, but different, value, I attended both, while substitute teaching and taking education classes.  I prayed and read my Bible daily, attended retreats, and sought God's will in making decisions about jobs and where to live.
          In the fall of 1988, hoping to practice my Christianity more radically, I accepted an offer to live in inner-city Washington D.C. with an "intentional community" called Sojourners.  Sojourners had accepted me into their twelve-month internship program, which included formation in community life and a position (unpaid) as assistant to the publisher of Sojourners magazine.
          I had first heard of Sojourners church and community when my brother subscribed me to the magazine shortly after my conversion. In the 1970's and early 80's, Sojourners magazine rendered an image of a community which was both theologically conservative and politically progressive.  Bred from the unlikely combination of evangelical Protestantism and the anti-war/civil rights movement, the current political emphasis of the magazine and community was social justice.   Their decision to live, work and raise families among the poor in a high-crime section of D.C. called Columbia Heights had indicated they took the gospels seriously.  I was soon idealizing the community.
          I realize now that its form of government was Protestant to an extreme. It fiercely rejected leadership by authority and hierarchy. Issues in the community and the church were decided by consensus.  As in many Protestant, non-denominational churches, break-offs and splits were often the result, and the founder, Jim Wallis, held far more influence than anyone else.
          I soon discovered that because liberal, process theology now dominated scripture exegesis in community worship and study, Sojourners was no longer theologically conservative.  The community embraced new scriptural interpretations and innovative doctrine and practice--provided they fell within the realm of the religious left.  The religious right, including orthodox Catholicism, was definitely a non-starter.
          I found not only progressive politics and religion there, but also a warm and social group of kind, articulate and educated 30-somethings.  They emphasized conflict-resolution, consensus-making, and honest-sharing in community life and the kind of emotional support that comes from non-judgmental listening and affirmation.  In retrospect I see its ordinary interactions were similar to those of a support group or even of a loving family, for they helped and cared for each other admirably.
          I had come to the community with a number of hidden emotional problems.  Some developed simply from extended adolescence, the screwy idea of postponing maturity until some indefinite future, thus evading the hard facts of reality.  But some developed from the genuine anguish that follows adolescence in a troubled family. I had been, in a sense, searching for a surrogate family that would give me the attention, recognition and guidance that my own family had bestowed rather skimpily.
          For this reason, the community supplied exactly the kind of therapeutic setting I hungered for at this time of my life when  my friends there noticed and remarked on strengths and gifts of my character I had never before credited myself with.  They delighted in my humor, my intelligence, my integrity and my sincerity.  They were interested in my views and sought me for counsel.  They affirmed me.
          The friendships I formed, however, disarmed me against the ideas that I encountered there, ideas which eventually led me astray in my moral, intellectual and religious life.
          These ideas were those of progressive Christians because Sojourners was essentially a seventies counter-cultural movement.  At the first "sharing of stories," I heard accounts of creation spirituality, "conversions" to gender feminism, the moral defense of fornication and homosexuality, and nuns and priests exploring (together) a "third way" between celibacy and matrimony.
          Over the course of my year there, I swung from predominantly conservative to radically progressive.  The turnabout happened gradually at first.  Just as occurs in seminaries, modern liberal scripture exegesis, especially process theology, was presented as the now acceptable, and only intelligent, way of scripture interpretation.  I witnessed the supernatural elements of scripture gradually fade away in the hands of process theologians.  I witnessed vague or non-existent proscriptions against such things as fornication, practicing homosexality and abortion.  I witnessed little emphasis on daily or sustained prayer or formation in mortification and detachment.  I witnessed no demands, as in evangelical Protestantism or orthodox Catholicism, that community members or interns would remain chaste or avoid certain worldly activities.
          What I witnessed, I gradually accepted.  Why?  To some degree, my longing to fit in made it easy to be non-resistant. I felt something akin to that which prevails in cults: a desire to be accepted by this long-standing, warm and family-like group.  When I had misgivings about the Christian doctrine and practice there, I dismissed them. Love is blind.
          But I could be blinkered by love only because I wasn't thinking straight.  I continued to operate out of my old mentality--moral relativism/disdain for authority-- still untouched by right reason.        Feelings guided me, and I was drawn to these amiable protestors.  I could pick up where I left off before my adherence to a more conservative moral and spiritual life.  I could be Christian and still keep my spiritual and moral options open.  I could justify certain sins.  I back-slid. 

                         The Fourth Lie: The Second Lie in Modern Dress

          The most vehement form of dissent at Sojourners was radical feminism.  In fact, it was fast dividing this community. The more radical feminists charged that sexism had infected even this stridently democratic church.
          Given my emotional state, I was a prime candidate for initiation into feminism's world view.  I lacked a strong relationship with my father;  I had been hurt and confused by other relationships with men; I had learned from my family that masculine traits were highly prized.   In feminism I found compensation for the deprivation and explanations for the failures, and an incentive to continue trying to become a hard-working, aggressive, fearless and independent woman.  I set out to change myself and men.
          I read much feminist writing. One in particular, Kiss Sleeping Beauty Goodbye by Catholic religious Madonna Kobenschlaug changed my perception of everything.  Kobenschlaug says essentially that patriarchy was the original sin, the root of all injustice.
           That idea caused me to view every distinction that had been traditionally recognized between men and women as an example of an unjust, man-made order that must be overturned.  (I'm sure my family's bias toward masculinity drove me unconsciously to long for this sameness.)  In religion, I particularly focused on language and the all-male priesthood.  Scripture was an obstacle to changes in both, so scripture must be changed. 
          Feminism can be very convincing to confused, hurting or angry women. It convinced me.  My in-bred liberal leanings (my sister, aunts and cousins were woman's liberation advocates) also helped the feminist cocktail go down easily.
          Radical, gender feminism, was the big lie.  Ultimately, it is based on the same lie as both Eastern mysticism and moral relativism: we are gods.   We're in charge, and we'll decide how things are to be done.  For although it observes correctly that things are awry between the sexes, its solution is to dismiss the guidance of divine revelation concerning this.
          Both scripture and the Church teach that though men and women were created equal, they are different, with distinctive roles and vocations.  The radical gender feminists claim that these teachings are wrong.  Differences originated not as a gift from the Creator, but as a cruel imposition of culture.  To argue thus, they must deny the authority of the Church and scripture.
          Other feminists agree that men and women are different, but they want to define the differences.  They don't look to scripture or the Church for the definition, but search for other sources of instruction: New Age religions, secular feminism, goddess worship, modern scriptural exegesis and most importantly, what my feminist friends called their "own inner authority."
          When I accepted the feminist lie, I basically thought the Church had pulled a fast one through the centuries, and now the gig was up.  Had I read one word of doctrine or teaching on women, ordination, or hierarchy in the Church's own words?  Of course not.    I was representative of my generation in yet another way--I had very little idea of what the Church taught, and I had no concept that it was supernatural.  Without a knowledge of doctrine, we cannot spot heresies.   Without trust in a supernatural teaching authority, we can accept whatever rendering of scripture suits our needs, even Master Darshan's. Like many Catholics today, I had few weapons to withstand the inroads of dissent, few arguments against it.
          The Sojourner feminists experimented often with prayer and with ritual.  The idea was to find, in their words, "another way of doing" something that had once been grounded in doctrine and tradition.  For instance, a journal entry which rhapsodized about the feelings a book stirred up was just "another way of doing" an examination of conscience.  Never mind that vigilance toward sin had vanished. 
          In this training ground, I unknowingly began to divorce spirituality from both sound doctrine and reason, both of which are essential for true faith.  More and more the center of focus became feelings.   At the same time, from these rituals and prayer services, I grew accustomed to the sacred being misplaced from the divine to the human.  Scripture verses were used to give some kind of Christian flavor to texts whose focus was on self, not God, on our empowerment, not God's mercy.  A secular religion was being proclaimed with Christian language. 
          I continued to attend both Protestant and Catholic services, finding no contradiction in this.  I took from each whatever suited me, both in doctrine and practice; the sacraments were just one among many of the selections, and, to my way of thinking, not even the most important.  I took no special care to seek the sacrament of reconciliation before taking Holy Communion. 
          I was in good company with the other Catholics I met there, many of whom were religious. In fact, many of these neo-pagan prayers and rituals had been written by Catholic religious. 
          Having lived in a community myself where the rigors of monastic life had given way to a kind of spiritual therapy, I can see why so many religious are slowly being pulled into this garbage (I can think of no better word for these liturgy-lites, both in substance and in form).  Many religious communities today enjoy substantial worldly comfort and ease, as well as more liberty in their use of time.  Added to this is the kind of peer pressure, special friendships, and constant group interaction and decision-making done with little or no reference to an absolute authority that previous religious life guarded against.  All these conditions make New Age or hybrid religion very hard to resist when it takes over the community and when an individual doesn't want to feel left out.
          This wave of make-believe Christianity reached its climax about 15 months into my stay there.  About 25 women enacted a feminist ritual devised and published by Madonna Kobenschlaug. We sat in a circle and read Biblical passages that distinguished between men and women.  After each passage was read, all the women would intone, "This is not the word of God, this is not the will of God."  Then, in act of solidarity with Eve's disobedience, we each took a bit of an apple.
          It was a thoroughly evil ritual.  I knew better.  A little voice inside warned that once I blasphemed the word of God, I would have nothing left to stand on.  Deep inside I knew I had arrogantly trampled the Sacred Scriptures that had sustained and nurtured me.  Deep inside I knew I had profoundly offended God.
          But, at the same time, I didn't truly realize the significance of what I was doing.  As I said, many nuns and priests, as well as lay Catholics and Protestants, that I had encountered in D.C. had encouraged these exhilarating acts of defiance and the repudiation of certain scripture verses.  A nun had written the very ritual; another nun had help to facilitate it.  My friends and I were not evil; we were ordinary.  Wives, mothers, professional. But we were arrogant, and that arrogance led us to tell God how to run things, instead of listening to His plan.
          I am convinced that evil forces flowed into my life as we sat there cheerleading Satan's defiance toward God.  The ritual critically wounded my faith and my life of prayer; within a few months of that ritual, after I had left D.C., I was in the hammer-grip of a severe crisis, afraid for my life. 
            Three months after my internship with Sojourners ended in August 1989, I moved to Durham, New Hampshire, to attend the University of New Hampshire.  I planned to obtain an advanced degree in English and in writing, still planning to return to teaching in the future.  Little did I know that I was going into the belly of the beast.
          In my absence from English studies, it had been taken over by a philosophical system called deconstructionism.  I was to find out that I had come to the dark source of the many currents of thought I had been dabbling in.
                   The Fifth Lie: The Devil's Specialty Lie Served Straight-Up                 
          At first I was pleased as punch.  Deconstructionism is the academic tool of radical feminists, Marxists and Freudians.  Hey, I thought, I recognize these comrades!  These are the enemies of white male imperialists!
          But upon deeper dabbling in deconstructionism, I encountered raw nihilism.  I was told that words referred to no reality because there was no reality.  There was no truth. No higher principles, eternal values or universal mores. No God.  These had all been "constructed" (their favorite word) by various elite groups ("interpretive communities") as a means to gain and maintain power through deluding the poor masses.  And for the masses to take that power away, all absolutes must be demolished.  Welcome to the People's Revolution.
          Many people in academia seem to be able to stomach the idea that life is meaningless.  But I couldn't.  I was staring into the abyss of nihilism and I was frightened.  My warm, fuzzy double-think evaporated in the stark clarity of this ultimate question: what is First Cause of reality?  Is it the human will and power, as the deconstructionists said, or is it God's sovereignty?
          Deconstructionism is moral relativism taken to its logical end.  Confronted with this naked nihilism,  I rapidly realized that I had been dabbling in something false and evil, and I pulled back from my intense study of this kind of literary criticism.  But my faith had already been weakened by variants of deconstructionism, feminism and process theology, and I had little now to combat these black ideas.  They infected my thinking.
          I became depressed and anxious.  I attended daily Mass, and waited for the homilies to provide some potent supernatural antidote against these lies, but heard only pep-talks for college students.  
          With the feminist ritual in D.C., I had given the devil an opening, and now darkness descended on my life with supernatural strength.  I lost control of my emotional and moral life.  I began an inappropriate affair.  When I broke it up, my boyfriend threatened suicide.  I suffered unbearable guilt for his pain and for recent sins.  I grew alarmed about family relationships to the point of being afraid to see my family.  Oppressed with the required reading in deconstructionism, I struggled to pray or read the Bible, or even to sit in peace, as I once did.
          I was in a free fall, desperately lashing out for help.
          It came from two sources. I began to listen to tapes of my late uncle's conferences on the retreat.  And I called one of my Protestant, charismatic friends.  Both spoke words of supernatural truth which help me to see where I had gone wrong.  I repented of my sins.
          But by then what I call "the crisis" had built up a head of steam and it was not so easy to regain peace of mind.  Furthermore, at this time I gained some insight into the damage caused by my past relationships with my siblings and parents.  Another tidal wave of emotions, mostly anger and fear and sadness at what I had missed, swept over me.
          I was seized with a pathological and electrifying fear. I was afraid to teach, afraid to write, afraid to be alone, afraid I'd commit suicide.  I dreaded ending up homeless, deranged or dead.
          Panic attacks intensified the fear. They struck daily and nightly.  My heart pounded, my mouth went dry, my stomach knotted. My mind accelerated into a confused frenzy, latching on to a horrifying image or thought that I could not banish.  A friend of mine, as an ironic comment on my state, sent a photocopy of Edward Munch's "The Scream."  Obviously, he had not experienced panic attacks.  The picture was so close to home it almost pushed me over the brink.

              The Bloodhounds Were Sniffing, But Catholic Scents Were Faint

          It was in this state, after my first and last semester in New Hampshire, that I returned in the summer to Pittsburgh to prepare for an assistantship I had received to the University of Pittsburgh.  It would start in the fall.
          Upon settling in Pittsburgh in July, I began to attend Al Anon, a 12-step program for families of alcoholics.  It was a life-saver, showing me how to understand and handle my emotions.  I learned to think more clearly, to respond more serenely, to quell the panic attacks.   
          But knowing my anxiety was essentially a symptom of a spiritual crisis and a consequence of sin, I went to confession and faithfully attended Mass.  I sought to hear about Truth, immutable Truth not subject to "interpretive communities" and situation ethics, the divine Truth that is the Word of God.  I needed to hear about the enemies of Truth, for I had failed to recognize them and had been wounded.
          Sad to say, the Catholic teaching I heard, from the pulpit and in the confessional, did not deliver this.  (So many priests seem afraid to preach that there is only One who saves.  Even now, as I listen to homilies ad nauseum  rhapsodizing about being "open" to all different understandings of truth, I wonder if the priests realize that many in their congregation are truly desperate to hear the Truth and will continue to suffer because they did not hear it in the one place they thought they would.)   
           To find an understanding of the lies and the evil I had succumbed to, I had to turn to my Protestant friends.  They invited me to attend a non-denominational church once more, and it was from the Protestant pulpit that I heard acknowledgement of the great evil forces bearing down on the Truth and encouragement to fight against them.
          And so, in this desperate hour, my defense of the Catholic Church appeared futile.  In the past I had thought that Protestantism and Catholicism were equally valid, with the Catholic Church vaguely superior.  But now I decided the Church, just as my ex-Catholic friends had so often told me, seemed to have abandoned the truth of the scriptures. That is why it had become spiritually impotent in my time of need. 
          I now know that I had simply been short-changed, as many are today, of the true power of orthodox Catholicism.  I had sampled the watered-down, country-club variety so common in Catholic preaching today, and it was lukewarm indeed. 
          I officially joined a Protestant church.  Although, unfortunately, it was based on comparing Protestantism to a false Catholicism, this decision was actually a sign of much clearer thinking on my part. I finally realized that Protestantism and Catholicism contradict each other and demand a choice.  No more fuzzy thinking.  Like a bloodhound given a scent, I was on the trail of Truth.  In the same way I finally admitted that radical feminism contradicts Christianity.  One was true and one was false.  I chose Christianity. 
          This new philosophical clarity dawned just in time for my entrance into a veritable haven for deconstructionists, feminists and other anti-Christian, anti-God radicals at the University of Pittsburgh.  My first semester there started just as I was beginning to climb out of my prison of fear. 
          It was a hellish year, not just for me, but for most of the students. The deconstructionists had taken over the composition seminars.  The only ones who seemed to enjoy the program were the Marxists and feminists.  They were like sharks, preying on us poor, polite humanists, cleansing our language of aestheticism or other signs of elitism. Their job was to re-educate us. 

                             A Diet of Lies Makes a Big Hunger for Truth

          But it was also a year of profound insight and change for me.  I had already seen the way prejudices had blinkered my intelligence.  Where had all my great liberal, anti-authority notions led me?  To an inner hell.  I was ready to listen to some new ideas.
          Among the best were those of the late Richard M. Weaver, a philosopher, rhetorician and social critic.  It was a miracle I came upon his books there, for he stood for all that the deconstructionists hated.
          His book Ideas Have Consequences elucidated something that I and most of my generation had missed in all our learning: that one must decide "whether there is a source of truth higher than and independent of man."  If so, one must live by this truth.
          As Weaver wrote, "For four centuries every man has been not only his own priest but his own professor of ethics" and the consequence is anarchy.  Weaver insisted that "a source of authority must be found."
          From Weaver, I understood what cultural waves I had been riding.  For the first time I saw the foundational differences between liberal and conservative thought and not just the sound-byte synopsis of the media.  I saw that I was deeply wrong in much of my critical reasoning.
          His ideas pinpointed the underlying errors in radical feminism.  I hungrily read other books that exposed the false reasoning in radical feminism, especially books that targeted its specious anthropology.
          In addition, Weaver's argument for the necessity of hierarchy and authority opened the door for my first real understanding of the Roman Catholic Church.
          Most importantly, Weaver defined and embodied right reasoning for me.  He led me from the crazy thinking of post-modernism to the clarity of medieval scholasticism.  I realized that I, as William James once wrote, had mistaken rearranging my prejudices for thinking.  I had never learned the classical art of argument.
    It was at this time, that my aunt gave me a copy of Scott Hahn's conversion tape.  In his taped talk, Hahn, a Presbyterian minister who converted to Catholicism, with great logic and skill proved through scripture that the "twin pillars of the Protestant reformation" sola scriptura and sola fide were unscriptural!  With these collapsed, all other the sundry Protestant arguments I had heard against the Church couldn't stand.  With my new clear thinking, I saw that the Catholic Church made perfect sense. 
                                         Finally--the Teacher of Truth

          The afternoon that I heard Scott Hahn's tape I practically danced around my living room.  So many things finally made sense, or should I say, made final sense.  Questions that had been opened for years were closed, because I had finally learned that one can make a firm and permanent choice, if one uses reason along with faith. 
          I joyfully returned to the Church in the spring of 1991, within days of hearing Dr. Hahn's tape.  I went on to read with exhilaration books of Catholic apologetics, following their well-reasoned arguments with elation. 
          Intellectually, I was on higher ground.  Weaver had straightened me out on philosophical concepts; Catholic apologists and Church writing were straightening me out on Church doctrine.  Now I was armed against deceptions: the sermon heavily indebted to Matthew Fox's creation spirituality or the discussion subtly undermining Church doctrine through use of modern exegesis and dissenting theology.  I had a compass and a tour-book for my continuing odyssey through the post-modern, post-Christian world.
          Knowing the Church for who it really is, I experienced a second conversion.  Just as I had once knelt and accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord, I now knelt and accepted the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church that Christ established.  I felt much closer to our Lord for I had taken a great step in knowing who He is.     

                               Orthodoxy--the Straight and Narrow Way

          In 1995 when I first met the man who was to become my husband, and he had heard a good many of my stories, he asked, "How do I know this is the last change?" 
          "It is," I reassured him.  "I know it is."
          I know because I understand and accept something that I never did before-- obedience to a rightful, living authority.  Without this foundational mentality, one's faith can be molded and changed by any number of forces. 
          My mentality was shaped by moral relativism and by a pride that overlooked the claims of all authority.  Every religious teaching that was poured into it, even the authority of scripture, was distorted by these modern ways of thinking.
    The lies I fell for have one thing in common: each assert, in some aspect of their teaching, the complete autonomy of the individual to decide what is True.  In each of them to a varying degree, man, the creature, curtails God, the Creator, in telling man how he is to live.  Hedonism, Eastern mysticism and radical feminism argue for the complete autonomy of the individual in his spiritual search.   Protestantism rejects the authority of the Church and claims the Bible for its authority.  This claim essentially means that each individual decides the interpretation of scripture.  We have learned since the Reformation that these decisions become increasingly subjective, resulting in thousands of different interpretations and thousands of different Protestant creeds, ranging from Unitarianism to the recently popular "laughing movement."  Thus, without the Church, though one may lay claim to a higher authority, and may even seem to wish to submit to a true authority, one ends ultimately submitting to oneself.
          One of the sad lessons of my story is that many Catholics today have not been taught the demands of orthodoxy.  And, because obedience is so difficult and foreign to our modern mentality, those who have may not acknowledge them as articles of faith.  As a once thoroughly modern thinker, I know that orthodoxy contradicts the modern mentality.  Either one or the other has to go.  I am forever grateful that I finally understood this, and that I knew which one to jettison--modernism.
          As I was learning all this, I was also doing well at Pitt.  But in 1991 after a year of resisting and opposing what I was learning and hating the way I had to teach composition, I withdrew from the program.  I knew my life had to take another course altogether.
          I took a position teaching 6th, 7th and 8th grade English, religion and Spanish at St. Anselm's Catholic school in Pittsburgh. In 1995 I married David Fielding, a Catholic convert.  He is a writer, illustrator and publisher who founded and runs Brightstar Publishing. His two ambitions are to use Brightstar to teach true doctrine to Catholic children and to live a holy life.  He has written, illustrated and published under Brightstar "The Light of the World."  Combining comic-strip illustrations with instructive text, this series teaches children both the full life of Christ and the complete catechism.
          I resigned my teaching position in June 1997 when I became pregnant. I gave birth to Helen Rose on October 5, 1997.  David and I are grateful each day for this blessing given to us late in life. We both thank God for the Roman Catholic Church, and we hope to serve Him in our work and in our family life for the remainder of our lives.
          I am making my peace with my rocky past, and am learning slowly to build my daily life on the only truly secure and stable One: the Lord.       
          As for my family, there is still only one other practicing Catholic sibling (my parents have never stopped attending Mass), but I pray that the ones who remain outside the Church will yet turn their backs on the Pied Piper of Lies and come home.

© Rosemary Hugo Fielding

(Back to the top)