Why I’m Becoming Catholic – Jesuits & C.S. Lewis

After graduating with a B.F.A. in Theatre and Psychology from New York University, I moved to Baltimore to enter a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at Loyola College in Maryland. As evidenced by the name, Loyola is a Jesuit college (soon to become a university). During orientation, we were introduced to the concepts of cura personalis (care of the whole person) and Ad majorem Dei gloriam (to the greater glory of God), two of the mottoes of Jesuit education.

Loyola was the first Christian school I had attended. I had been accepted to Wheaton College in Illinois outside of Chicago for undergraduate work, which is where my father, grandfather, and a number of cousins had attended college. I had loved Wheaton, and had been in awe of its existence as an intentional Christian community of scholars “for Christ and His Kingdom,” as Wheaton’s motto goes. However, I also wanted to study to become a professional actor, and Wheaton did not have a theatre major, much less a professional training program. As a matter of fact, there did not seem to exist a Christian college of Wheaton’s faithfulness and academic caliber that also provided professional arts training. (This gap is one I hope the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s C.S. Lewis College can fill.) The other school to which I had been accepted was NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which has one of the top undergraduate theatre programs in the country. I asked my dad, who I knew was pleased that I had fallen in love with his alma mater, for his advice. He said:

“What do you want to do?”

“Become an actor.”

“Then go where they do that best. In this case, that’s not Wheaton.”

So, I went to NYU, filled with great excitement at having been chosen for a spot, but part of my heart still belonging to Wheaton. I don’t regret that decision, because I received an excellent practical education and gained friends who are very close to my heart, but many times I wish I had not been exposed to the profane and lascivious content that made up a significant amount of the curriculum.

The dirt and filth that ran thickly through the veins of NYU’s artistic culture sullied my spirit enough that I gladly welcomed the refuge of a small Christian college, with grey stone statues of saints lining the walkways of the grassy quad. On the south end of the lawn stood the large stone chapel, with a cross rising on a pinnacle above its main door. I attended a couple services in that chapel, but while I always felt welcome, I always felt separated, and a little embarrassed, because I knew I was a Protestant worshiping as a guest within Catholic space. (I had applied to the Psy.D. program at Wheaton, but, though interviewed, was not accepted. I’m glad now of it, because I think that I would no longer be comfortable in an Evangelical Protestant atmosphere. That, and I would not have wanted to disappoint Wheaton by possibly leaving clinical psychology partway through the first year, as I did at Loyola.)

However much I felt out of place as a Protestant, though, I always felt part of the mission of Loyola as a Christian. I loved being in an academic environment in which I could trust that the faculty and staff, and the majority of my fellow students, shared the same basic worldview as I did – which was definitely not the case at NYU, in which the religious worldview, much less the Christian, was in the minority among the faculty, and became less prevalent among the students in my program as the semesters went by. It was nice to have allies again.

Sadly, though, I left Loyola after only a semester. I loved the school and the faculty, but I realized that the practice of clinical psychology was not for me. I loathed doing psychological testing, and didn’t trust it, but it was about half the curriculum for the first two years. I decided that I was not willing to put up with it for that long, partly because my conscience rebelled against it, and I took a leave of absence to decide whether I would transfer to the pastoral counseling program, or another program at Loyola or elsewhere. In the meantime, I went back to acting, and that became my career after I withdrew from Loyola and did further career discernment, which has lasted for two years (and which you could say is still going on).

When I decided to take a leave of absence, I signed up for an Ignatian silent retreat held in January at the Loyola Jesuits’ retreat center in southern Maryland, on the banks of the Potomac River. I hoped to spend the week in discernment about my future academic path, hopefully with a decision made by the end of the retreat (hah!).

Well, I ended up failing miserably at the silence requirement, to the (charitably unexpressed) annoyance of my spiritual director and some of the other retreatants, but I learned three very important things from that retreat:

1) My prayer life was that of an absolute beginner, and I was not nearly so advanced in the spiritual life as I had thought myself.

2) I was chockful of pride, and rebelled against obedience to spiritual authority. Every time my spiritual director gave me suggestions on how I should spend my time at the retreat, I bristled, gave him reasons why they wouldn’t work (and inwardly thought, “He just doesn’t understand me and how deep my thought really is,”), and did what I wanted anyway.

3) C.S. Lewis’ theology was a lot more Catholic than I realized.

Next up: C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church.

Read part 1 of my multi-part series on my journey to the Catholic Church here.

12 thoughts on “Why I’m Becoming Catholic – Jesuits & C.S. Lewis

  1. Margaret, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’ve gotten to know the Jesuits much better during the past 5 years (including being received into the Church through the Jesuit-run chaplaincy at Oxford and having a Jesuit spiritual director), and their openness to the arts is one of my favourite qualities about them. I actually just moved back to Suffolk, VA, where I grew up – let me know if you’d like to get together at any point (my email’s ccematson AT gmail). I also have a friend doing his PhD at Marquette. Prayers for your daughter.

  2. I realize this post is five years old, but perhaps you visit when you get new comments. You may already know this (this is my first time on your blog) that the Jesuits wholly support acting as a profession and likely, a means to connect with humanity. When I sent my eldest child to a Jesuit HS, I became immersed in the culture and became an honorary Jesuit. I was raised Catholic but did not reach my full(er) spiritual potential until I embraced the Jesuit approach to Catholicism. We moved from Chicago to Norfolk Virginia and there wasn’t a Jesuit to be found. So, my next son went ‘back’ to the Midwest for college–he attends Marquette University and he is engaging with the Jesuit spirit … I fear for my youngest daughter who seeks NYU without the strong Christian or Catholic foundation you have. She has spent her most formative years in the public schools and among an Artist community (she is a Cellist and a member of the Governor’s school for the Arts in addition to attending ‘regular” public HS). Your blog essay really hit home.Our family as an ever evolving spiritual ‘home” struggles with our youngest rejecting Catholicism and the Jesuits. Like Woody Allen, I fear she will join the artists who believe ‘Art is the atheists Catholicism.”

  3. Looks like you put your Political Beliefs before your Fatih in Christ. Without the Church as guide, our faith, as necessity, must always be ecocnetric-Been there….Done that………..

  4. As you are entering, I am leaving Catholicism. It started with seeing how the vatican is operating in the world. I have studied under Scott Hahn and am well versed in Catholic apologetics. Right now, the Vatican is pushing a one world govt. and religion. In 1986 Pope John Paul 2 allowed Buddah to be worshiped on the altar during an interfaith prayer service. He said the prayers of all faiths together brought on an energy of world peace. The peace that is to come will be a false peace and false ecuminism. Pope Benedict 16th’s recent encyclical “charity in truth” is all about wealth distribution and a new world order. The Church is also heavily involved with the United Nations and backs up their agenda for world govt. They also say you must have the sacraments to be saved. I do not believe that as we are saved by grace through faith. The UN is luciferian..why would the pope call for a “United Nations” with teeth” in the latest encyclical? You can check my blog for information on this whole world religion/govt. issue with the Catholic Church.

  5. Thank you, zdenny. I still love Wheaton, and am very glad that it exists and is such a strong school. (As my dad is fond of pointing out, it creates more future Ph.D.s than Harvard. He’s one of them.) I was actually just there in February, to visit the Wade Center and have a reunion with the participants in one of last summer’s C.S. Lewis Seminars-in-Residence at the Kilns in Oxford. Dr. Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Wade Center and a Wheaton theology professor, was the seminar lecturer, and he gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of the Wade during our reunion, including showing us Lewis’ actual library, the bulk of which is kept in the vaults. Go Thunder!

    I don’t see the belief that Christ’s love connects our hearts directly to God as incompatible with Catholicism. As I understand it, the Church hierarchy and magisterium is not so much a middleman between you and God, as an institution ordained by Christ to guide and serve the members of the Body of Christ here on Earth. When the very first house churches had questions and disagreements about theology (such as whether non-Jewish disciples had to be circumcised and follow all points of the Mosaic Law), they went to Peter and the other apostles in Jerusalem to settle the matter. The Pope, as the Successor of Peter, helps to provide the same service to the Church today.

  6. Thanks, Nellie. Let me know if there are any questions in particular you’d like me to address.

  7. I appreciate your work! Keep it up. We need to hear more not less about Jesus

    Great blog!

    I am a graduate of Wheaton…However, I love the history that the Catholics keep before themselves. Understanding our history sometimes helps us to understand ourselves.

    I am a protestant though because I believe that Christ love begins in the heart of the individual which then connects one soul at a time to the Savior.

    I am on facebook at

    http://www.facebook.com/zdennyfamily

  8. Wow! Interesting stuff so far.

    I’ve personally been circling the Catholic question myself for a few years now. No telling where I’ll end up, but it’s illuminating to read of another journey.

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