My journey to the Catholic Church began in the 11th grade. My incredible, now retired English teacher, whose “disappointed face” still inspires me to double-check the grammar in everything I write, assigned us our yearly research paper. That year, she decided we would each write on a famous English poet of her choosing. By choosing, she meant, “I’m drawing names out of a hat, and no, you can’t trade.” You can almost hear the collective groan, but not from me. Finally, a topic I liked! (Last year we’d written on careers. Boring.) I went home with the name of an old dead British guy I knew nothing about—Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Born in 1844 to a family of devout Anglicans, Hopkins converted to Catholicism during his time at Oxford, and John Henry Newman received him into the Church October of 1866. Hopkins resolved to become a religious shortly after, and joined the Society of Jesus in 1868. His conversion cost him his family, and it wouldn’t be until a few years before his death that they would completely reconcile. Hopkins’ parents honestly believed they had lost their son. In a letter to his confessor, Hopkins’ father Manley wrote,
The blow is so deadly and great that we have not yet recovered from the first shock of it… The deepness of our distress, the shattering of our hopes and the foreseen estrangement which must happen, are my excuse for writing to you so freely.
To them, Hopkins’ talent, intellectual promise, and very soul had been lost. Hopkins didn’t even think he would be allowed home, although his parents did consent to have him at holidays. I read all this and thought, “What’s so important that you would give up your family for it?” I learned Hopkins had become a Catholic to embrace the doctrine of the Real Presence. At first, I only wanted to understand what I was writing. I had no intention of becoming Catholic, but like the title says, Hopkins built a snowman.
I did what any self-respecting scholar would do and typed it into Google. This is what I found, per Wikipedia:
[The] Real Presence is a term used in various Christian traditions to express belief that Jesus Christ is really present in the elements of the Eucharist, and that his presence is not merely symbolic, metaphorical, or by his activity alone…
Of course, I had no idea what the word “Eucharist” meant. Cue Google. Oh right, it’s that thing Presbyterians do four times a year. But Catholics think Communion is actually Jesus? Why on earth do they think that? Cue Google, and a lot of Bible reading. So Catholics actually believe this. Well, in John 6:55 Jesus does say, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” Even when his disciples are confused and leave, Jesus only asks, “Will you also go away?” (6:67) He doesn’t do his patented Jesus thing and correct them—he asks if they accept it or not. Wait… The Catholics might actually have a point.
All I needed was a carrot.
For reasons of length and readability, I’m dividing this post into sections. More to come! If you would like to learn more about Hopkins and his poetry, please visit The Poetry Foundation. Be sure to read my favorite poem, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”
In His Sacred Heart,