My interview with Aurora Griffin, author of How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard. How was Aurora a devout Catholic going to Harvard?

It was nothing short of providential that I would meet Aurora, a rising star when she was in Boston at the headquarters of the Catholic TV station to promote her book, How I Stayed Catholic at Harvard. John Carmichael and I found ourselves in the studio of Boston Catholic TV at the exact same time as Aurora; we were there for filming; John and I were interviewed in studio for a show called The Gist that will be broadcast next fall.

After a few minutes of chatting, Aurora and I joined the dots and found that we had several people in common; I had co-hosted Episode 2 of Extraordinary Faith a show showcasing a dynamic group of Harvard students where I interviewed on camera some of Aurora's college friends. Prior to meeting Aurora, I had been curious about her, knowing of her from afar as someone steely and spunky who stood up to satanists in Boston when they attempted to hold a Black Mass.

Aurora ascertained I would be going to Los Angeles for an extended period, and that we would be sharing the same city. That's not all we have in common; Aurora grew up with a brother who has autism, and I grew up with a brother who has autism. I can't help but see the hand of God giving me a friend like Aurora.

At Aurora's Westlake Village home
Back in L.A. Aurora gave Drunks & Monks an insightful review and John Carmichael gave Aurora's book a stellar endorsement. Then recently one Saturday when the sun shone a honeyed gold John Carmichael and I drove to Aurora's neck of the woods; Westlake Village for hot tea and a chance to get to know each other in depth. There was a beautiful painting of St Anthony hung on the family's kitchen; I held back from hugging it, such is my love for the saint.

John, our intrepid attorney got to the heart of the matter in one of his questions to Aurora, how was she Catholic going to Harvard? This formed the basis of the interview that I did with Aurora. As you will read, Aurora gives some very generous answers that are more than food for thought, rather food for souls. 

Aurora, you were born and raised in Westlake Village, Los Angeles, describe your childhood faith; what made your heart sing when you were little?

It’s funny: I don’t remember being a particularly saintly child. I hesitate to ask if my parents concur, but it seems to me that my childhood was a time when seeds were sown deeply without many external signals of progress. My parents invested in me for years, having no idea how it would manifest itself -- this is true of my faith, and of academics, and any number of other areas.

Aurora, on the occasion of her First Holy Communion
We prayed together as a family every day. Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory be, and then family intentions. We prayed about serious themes that I didn’t yet understand -- for example for the “babies in their mommies’ tummies” instead of “abortion.”

We were busy, like most families, but always made time to get to weekly Mass. My brother and I rode horses, so the family would often be at shows on weekends. We’d request to be moved up in the order or forgo certain competitions to go to Sunday Mass. It instilled in me the deep sense that Mass was not optional: it’s something you do every week no matter what. That attitude has remained with me my whole life.

What form did your preparation for your First Holy Communion take - what made you cherish the Eucharist?

In addition to taking us to Mass, my dad made a point of teaching my brother and me from the Baltimore Catechism. Formation at local parishes and Catholic schools at the time wasn’t great, and he wanted to be sure to pass along the fundamentals of the faith. True to the form of the Catechism, dad would ask us questions (“Why did God make you?”) and we’d memorize the answer (“To know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven”).

Now, those answers get a lot more complicated when it comes to the Eucharist. I’m sure we didn’t memorize those, but instead learned the essentials. The most important lesson here, apart from the True Presence of course, was that some things about the faith were hard to understand. And my dad didn’t back away from them: he taught us the Truth, and let us conform ourselves to it instead of watering it down for us.

This instilled in me a deep sense of the significance of the Eucharist, if not a holy affection. When I was about seven, a babysitter took me to Mass and received communion even though she wasn’t Catholic. The minister just handed her a host, and she had no idea what to do with it. So she put it in her pocket, and took it out in the car, asking me what to do. I immediately consumed the Host, and told Jesus I was sorry for the whole ordeal.

Was there any single event in your upbringing that made you graduate to a higher level of Faith?

I received such good formation as a child that I instinctively understood how the Catholic worldview fit together long before I understood the more complex theological arguments. In other words, I knew how the conclusions followed from the premises and respected the logical axes around which the Faith revolves.

There comes to be a time in everyone’s life, however, when she must accept the Truth of the Church for herself. For me, this came in high school. There was a time that I knew how things fit together, but didn’t believe the premises on which theology was founded, so I rejected it all. The story of how I made my way back could be the subject of a different discussion. It wasn’t so much a single event as a good group of people who were able to slowly point me to good sources. I was into the existentialists at the time (e.g. Camus), so I started with the Christian existentialists, like Kierkegaard. Slowly, I found my way back to believing the fundamental Truths of the Catholic faith.

Most importantly, these people helped me see that a relationship with Christ is the most precious thing in the world. As Pope Benedict XVI liked to say, Christianity is not about arguments, but about an encounter with a living person. Once I recognized that, the formation I received as a child came back into play, and everything fit together once more.

Did your father and you ever disagree on a matter of Faith and how was that resolved?

Aurora and her father, Paul at the Sea of Galilee
When I was old enough to understand what it was, I found the Church’s teaching on contraception appalling. All I knew was that some kids in high school were having sex, and if you wanted that and were a good Christian, you had to wait until marriage. I thought it was wildly unfair that the Church had anything to say about your sex life after that.

My dad and I didn’t argue about it: he pointed me to Janet Smith. She has a beautiful talk called “Contraception: Why Not?” I listened carefully, and came out a changed person. I realized that the Church’s Teaching on sex is not about prohibition, but true flourishing. I think it was a good idea that dad pointed me to Janet. I was open to hearing her talk about it in a way that I probably wouldn’t have been with my dad.

For young women in particular, what do you think is their most important battle against sin, and why fight it at all?

I’m not sure if this is for young women in particular, but I can certainly speak to my own experience. The most effective tool I have found in fighting sin and cultivating virtue comes from a framework I learned from the Legion of Christ. The basic idea is that you try to identify your root sin. Instead of rattling off a list of misdeeds in confession, you think about your motivation for each of your sins and see if you can find a common theme. Am I doing it to make myself comfortable? To make others like me? To glorify myself? These people deal with sloth, vanity, and pride, respectively. Most of us have all three, but one will be pre-dominant.

When you take the time to identify the root sin, you can work on it directly instead of trying to merely suppress its results. I have found that extremely helpful.

Why fight it at all? I’ll go back to the Catechism and to Aristotle on this one. The Ethics tells us that on a human level, we all desire to be happy, and happiness comes from virtue. On a supernatural level, we were made for God. We can only find happiness and fulfillment of who we are when we’re connected to Christ and living virtuously. I believe it. I’ve experienced it.


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