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Lindsay Younce: A Godspy Interview

When Lindsay Younce was a Quaker, she believed Catholics weren’t Christians. But she eventually found her way to the Church, and to the lead role in the new movie, Thérèse. Here’s her story.

Lindsay Younce as St. Therese of Lisieux

Tony Rossi:
You've had an interesting faith journey, Lindsay. You were raised Quaker but converted to Catholicism in 2001. What motivated your conversion?

Lindsay Younce: I was content with my Quaker faith and had always accepted that there were different denominations, attributing it to people's preferences in worship. I had thought, like many Protestants and non-Christians, that Catholics weren't Christians. For some reason, I thought Catholics didn't have a "personal relationship with Jesus" and the ritualism of the Faith led them to just "go through the motions" instead of sincerely connecting with God. A Catholic friend of mine in high school challenged my misconceptions. Basically, he told me that if I was going to make these assumptions, I should at least be more informed. He challenged me to actually consult a Catholic or Catholic text (like the Catechism) on Catholic beliefs. Once I realized the Catholic Church wasn't what I thought it was, I wondered about Christianity in general. I started to study theology and creeds of different Christian churches, including Quaker. As an adherent to sola scriptura, I figured I'd find all the answers in Scripture (indeed, they are there!). I was 16 or 17 when I realized I couldn't be Quaker in good conscience as I read about Jesus commanding His disciples to baptize, eat His flesh and drink His blood, and adhere to the leaders of His Church. I felt without a home because I did not want to be Catholic. But I prayed in Catholic Churches all the time. I loved the ambiance—the silence, the reverence, and mystery. I took two trips to Europe where I was exposed to a lot of Catholic culture and history. As I desperately sought after Christ's Church, I started to read the early Church Fathers and was amazed to see they were writing about infant baptism, the Eucharist, the authority of the Church, and even relics. I was praying the Lord would guide me to Truth and He had. Even though I was frightened by the idea of becoming Catholic, I realized that it was the very Church He had led me to. I was baptized and confirmed Catholic in May of 2001, when I was 19. It was heavenly and still is.

In her book "The New Faithful," author Colleen Carroll notes that some young people today are attracted to Catholicism because "they yearn for mystery." What role do the mystical elements of the Catholic faith play in your own spiritual life?

For some reason, I thought Catholics didn’t have a “personal relationship with Jesus” and the ritualism of the Faith led them to just “go through the motions.”
That's an excellent and very true quote. I realize that there are a few Protestant churches that have preserved some kind of liturgy and form of the Sacraments, but growing up Quaker, there was no liturgy and no Sacraments (as we understand them). Historically, Quakers felt that people were abusing the Sacraments. In an effort to experience those sacraments daily, they stripped them of their outward-ness. In other words, my experience of "communion" growing up was a period of silence in which we were to wait upon the Spirit—prayer, at its core. So there was a great deal of mystery for me when I encountered the essence of Sacraments in the Catholic Church. The ideas I had been raised with were fulfilled in the Catholic Church. I felt as though I had been experiencing only one small layer of what Jesus has offered to us. Though I had already pronounced my faith in the Trinity and asked for forgiveness of my sins, I could take part in the very real cleansing through the holy water of baptism. Much of my theological upbringing was about Scriptural education and Scriptural evidence. My experience as a Catholic has allowed me to really experience faith: faith that the small host is actually Christ's body, faith that the wine is Christ's blood, faith that the water did in fact wash me of my sins, faith that the Holy Father and all priests are the representations of Christ on earth, faith that Mary is my Mother and the Mother of all, and faith that Heaven exists right here and now as we celebrate Mass daily. That is mystery.

What similarities are there between the Quaker faith and Catholicism?

So many people are taken aback when I say that I went from Quaker to Catholic. They often say, "That's quite a transition," or "What a jump!" But really it's not. I know many Quakers who love visiting monasteries and praying with religious brothers and sisters. The essence of Quaker worship is reverence and silence. They are a simple people who believe in poverty and modesty. (Of course, this is ideal Quaker-ism.) The first time I walked into a Catholic Church, the stillness made me feel at home. Granted, there are no icons of any kind in a Quaker church, but there is that same feeling of awesomeness, that we are to both love and fear God.

In another interview, you said that you learned "what it means to devote oneself to obedience and humility" at an early age. In an age that celebrates individualism, what comfort or fulfillment do you find in obedience and humility?

It is fulfilling as an actor to become a vessel through which people learn about themselves and others.
I wish I were as obedient and humble as that interview made me sound. I suppose these are two virtues that are very difficult and are products of life-long surrender to Jesus. (Lord, have mercy on us.) I don't think there's been one thing in my life that God has asked me to that I actually wanted to do. He is very patient with me and once I finally surrender, I realize that it was the best. Truth exists. Our perfect path exists. But we don't create that. God, who has an infinitely better perspective than I, knows what I need. In order to discover, surrender is our only option. With God at the helm, what ship can go down?

A theater critic in the 1930s once said, "Theaters are the new Church of the Masseswhere people sit huddled in the dark listening to people in the light tell them what it is to be human." What does the movie "Therese" teach us about being human? Did playing Therese teach you anything in particular?

In college, I used to refer to the stage as my sanctuary. I don't mean that in a disrespectful sense, but it is fulfilling as an actor to become a vessel through which people learn about themselves and others, just as that quote refers to. The film, "Therese," offers a different perspective on the human condition than most stories and films. I think a lot of modern stories have a sense of hopelessness. But St. Therese spent much of her life countering this idea by offering up her failures and imperfections. "Therese" tells a story of hope—hope in God that we can be better lovers not by our own merits, but through God's mercy. That's what I learned from playing St. Therese and what I pray people learn as well. Even if someone does not believe in God, they can still watch the film and understand the concept of loving others more than oneself.

Popular culture often promotes materialism and a me-first attitude. That's the opposite of the way Therese lived her life. How do you stay grounded and focused on what's truly important in life?

Therese encourages people to be at peace with how weak and imperfect we are.
I often wonder the same thing! People write books on this... Well, I have to credit my answer to my spiritual director, but he always tells me that we were born to be lovers. When I get caught up in my career or relationships, I always try to remember that: I was made to love and be loved. With this perspective, it's much easier to stay grounded and focus on what's truly important. This is a very child-like way of living, which is exactly what Therese desired. As Therese was trying to understand what her "calling" or vocation was in life, she realized that it was all too simple: to love. "In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be love." Thus, all of her other dreams (to be a martyr, a doctor of the Church, an apostle, a missionary, etc.) were fulfilled. It's taken me time, but that has become my desire as well: to be love. No matter what I'm doing, if I'm not reflecting God's love, than all is for naught. (And because I am incapable of even this, I must rely on God's mercy.)

Sainthood can be seen as something unattainable—a state that only "perfect" people can achieve. Based on your personal readings and your experience playing Therese, what insight have you gained into sainthood as an achievable goal for everyone?

I don't think any of the Saints were perfect in their lifetime. They all struggled as everyone struggles, but lived "in confidence and love." At times, I think I'll never be like Therese or any of the saints. But that goes against everything Therese wanted us to learn from her example. What I admire about Therese the most is how she surrendered her imperfections, how she said, "God, I want to be a saint, but I feel so helpless." She asked Jesus to be her elevator to Heaven. She knew she was incapable of being holy, so she asked Him, in His mercy, to pick her up like a child and carry her to sainthood. I struggle (and I think many do) just like Therese: I want to be a hero for Jesus. Like St. Peter I tell the Lord that I will never leave Him, then not long after, I deny Him. I take that step onto the water, then see a wave and begin to sink. Through her own example, Therese encourages people to be at peace with how weak and imperfect we are. She encourages us to accept the infinite mercy that God desires to pour over us. Once we accept our little-ness, instead of trying to be heroic, we can offer up the little sacrifices we make during the day. For example, the little discomforts or annoyances we undergo on a daily basis are actually opportunities to experience God's grace. And hopefully, in the evening of our lives, we can confidently say, "Jesus, I am yours." We are all called to be Saints. 

October 1, 2004

TONY ROSSI works as a TV/Radio producer for The Christophers, and as a freelance writer. He writes from New York City.

©2004. All rights reserved.

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09.30.04   Godspy says:
When Lindsay Younce was a Quaker, she believed Catholics weren’t Christians. But she eventually found her way to the Church, and to the lead role in the new movie, Th&eacute;r&egrave;se. Here’s her story.

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