By Caroline Peterson
A character in one of the great Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton’s detective stories makes this curious observation: “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”
Many of Chesterton’s readers have long wondered at the meaning of this mysterious comment. One who did so was the British author Evelyn Waugh (he wrote a novel, “Brideshead Revisited,” based on that one sentence). For Waugh, the invisible line Father Brown describes is the grace of God, eternally following us, always waiting for that moment when we recognize its presence so that it can lead us home. The “twitch upon the thread” is the moment of our realization of divine grace.
I am a cradle Catholic. My father, however, is Lutheran. When he married my (Catholic) mom, they agreed to raise their children as Catholics. So, from my infancy, the Catholic faith has infused my life.
I never remember my dad missing Sunday Mass. Our family prayed together every night, and he always joined us. To anyone looking in from the outside, my dad was Catholic.
When I was in middle school, however, my dad told me why he hadn’t yet joined the Church. He had a great deal of trouble, he said, accepting the doctrine of the Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. Everything else the Church taught he could accept. But the doctrine of transubstantiation was the sticking point. So, at that time, I did not expect him to ever become Catholic.
Then last Easter Vigil, the divine Fisherman gently tugged His thread. A dear family friend, Mr. Scott Kovatch, approached my dad after the Mass and told him excitedly, “I was praying today at Mass, and I know that you will be up there in front of the church being confirmed next Easter Vigil.” And he offered to be my dad’s RCIA sponsor that next year.
This past fall my dad began attending RCIA classes, which went well for him. Then, for Mr. Kovatch, my dad’s sponsor, the gently pulling thread became a swaying tightrope. He learned that his wife needed urgent brain surgery. And everyone connected with the Kovatches learned the second form of conversion.
Conversion can indeed be a gentle and beautiful experience — a mysterious pull towards home, a gradual turning of the soul back to God. But conversion — by which I mean not just becoming Catholic, but the daily self-denial required of every Christian — can also jar us. Our required journey, the way of the cross, can frighten and shock us. Reality’s unexpected punches — a doubt, a lost job, a diagnosis — upset any preconceived notions of what our futures hold. But we are Christians, not nihilists. We know that these events need not be meaningless. We know we are not animals, but men capable of virtue and reason. Above all, we know that we must hold fast to our faith in our heavenly Father. And Mr. Kovatch, the man responsible for starting my father on his path to complete acceptance of the faith, exemplified this constant trust in God. He continued to support my dad even as his wife prepared for (and is now recovering from) brain surgery.
When my family watched the Kovatches go through such heartache, our small crosses ceased to matter so much. Just as his words to my dad after the Easter Vigil last year were an example of his great faith, so did Mr. Kovatch’s actions witness to his trust in God. And as Mr. Kovatch placed his faith in God, so did my father, when this past spring he put aside his doubts about the Eucharist, and trusted in His power to accomplish even that “impossible” thing — the transubstantiation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood.
“O love, O charity beyond all telling; to ransom a slave You gave away Your Son,” proclaims the Easter Vigil Exsultet. Have mercy on us, Lord, for we are so weak and desperate that we could not live for a moment without dependence on You. We are foolish and ignorant, too; only rarely will we possess those glorious moments when we fully recognize that “twitch upon the thread” — the power of Your grace. Rather, most of the time, we will silently carry our unrecognized crosses along that mundane routine of our lives’ road. My father will learn this as he walks the journey of Catholicism for the rest of his life. The Kovatches will learn this as their lives return to normal after their wife/mother’s recovery. Therefore, have pity, Lord, and stay with them and all of us, as we trudge up the long and arduous path to the judgment seat of God.
Caroline Peterson is a teen writer from St. Pius X Parish, Granger.