i·ro·ny ˈ(īrənē/): an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects and is often amusing as a result.
Late Sunday evening, a 92 year old man died in his sleep. I never met him personally—indeed, he was known for being very reclusive—but his work played a huge part in my conversion to Catholicism. Through his art, I discovered the Eucharist. Because of his writings, I explored the Early Church. In many ways, this man’s work gave me the push I needed to really dive into what Holy Mother Church teaches about Herself.
And yet he was no mentor, and I can’t say that I truly mourn his passing. Oh, I’ve been praying for the repose of his soul constantly since learning about his death, and I have hope in God’s infinite Mercy, but I tremble for this man’s judgment.
The man was Jack Chick, and he has left behind a legacy of fear-mongering, lies, and slander. Through his mass-produced, pulpy little Chick Tracts (750 million copies of them worldwide, according to his website), people are fed distortions and caricatures about Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism, ideally to get them to say the Jesus Prayer and join their nearest fundamentalist Protestant church. I was first introduced to his work one afternoon, deep in the heart of the Bible Belt.
I was 29, non-religious, but “deeply spiritual.” I’d been wandering in a theological wilderness for over a decade, having chucked the Presbyterianism of my youth, then wallowing in New Age occultism during college. I was pregnant with my second child, had just moved to Mississippi, and was trying to adjust to the twin culture shocks of Southern living and stay-at-home mothering.
I was introduced to Chick’s work at our local library. I was with my two-year old daughter, waiting for story time to begin, when she informed me she needed to use the bathroom. Anyone who has ever been tasked with potty training a human knows that those early bathroom trips can take a long time, so as she sang to herself in the stall, I hung out by the sink.
And that’s when I saw…them.
It was a small stack of tracts, sitting neatly next to the paper towels. Mundane. Harmless. But there was something about the stark color blocking and all-caps lettering that struck me as somehow sinister. Puzzled by the immediate visceral response I was having, I vaguely heard my daughter emerge from the stall. I was overwhelmed by the absolute certainty that there was something obscene about the booklets, something I needed to protect my child from, so I threw the towels over the stack, pocketing one to examine later.
“Later” came that evening, after I’d safely tucked my daughter in bed. I sat down on the couch, flipped the thing open, and was astounded to discover that it was a comic book! A shabby, dreary series of crudely drawn illustrations, which quickly revealed itself to be a story about how Catholicism had been specifically, and diabolically, designed to deceive and enslave people.
Logically, my response should have been nothing but a mental “yawn”, and a casual flick of the booklet into the trash. Though my sincere (if convoluted) search for a true relationship with God had recently led me back to Christianity, I was still the one who proudly stated that “the Catholic Church was going to crumble under its own bloated weight, and if we were lucky, it would happen in our lifetimes”. But there was something so lurid, so deceptive about the depiction of Catholicism that I actually found myself offended on behalf of the Faith.
Titled “The Death Cookie”, it claimed that the Eucharist was nothing but a recycling of Egyptian sun worship, that Catholics controlled people by “magic and witchcraft”, and that God Himself had spoken through the comic. Having just come off a half decade of being immersed in New Age philosophy, I knew that what Chick was passing off as ancient Egyptian religion was false, which made me wonder what other falsehoods he was pedaling. So I took it upon myself to debunk this offensive little hate pamphlet.
I decided I would start by learning what Catholics taught about this Eucharist thing. After all, I’d just read Mr. Chick claiming that it was a “death cookie”, designed to demonically ensnare the foolish, it only seemed fair to see what the Church taught about this thing.
And that’s where it all fell apart for both Mr. Chick and myself.
Once I learned about the Catholic (and not the Chick) teachings on the Eucharist—that from the earliest days of Christianity, the faithful understood the bread and wine to be literally transformed into Christ Himself—well, there was no coming back from that. Finally, the resolution to that deepest longing in my heart was staring me in the face: “God, show me how to know You, how to meet You. Show me that You love me.” To learn that God the Son was waiting for me in every Catholic Church in the world, humbled and helpless under the sign of bread out of love for me, well, it was both unspeakable and unspeakably amazing.
So in a display of Providential irony, the very thing that Jack Chick had created to scare people away from the Catholic Church had played a part in me joining it. Like so many others before me, once I started reading about the Early Church, reading about the nature of the Eucharist, I was hooked. And to think it was all because of one garish little comic book.
Jack Chick is responsible for cultivating deliberate falsehoods and blaspheming Christ’s Church via his Chick Tracts. But it is one of those very tracts that helped nudge me along my conversion, and so it seems fitting that I offer prayers and a Mass for the repose of his soul. May he rest in the peace of our merciful Eucharistic Lord.