Dawn Eden grew up Jewish and learned to talk to St. Maximilian Kolbe.
A former popular-music historian and copy editor who wrote some pretty snazzy headlines at the New York Post, she is now deputy news editor at the New York Daily News.
She recently spoke with Register senior writer Tim Drake.
Where are you from originally?
My family is from the
Tell me about your faith life growing up.
I was brought up Reform Jewish, which means that I led a highly secular lifestyle with a minimum level of Jewish observance. While people from each branch of Judaism have obstacles to accepting Christ, it seems to me that it’s hardest for Reform Jews, because, unlike the Orthodox and the more Orthodox-leaning Conservatives, they lack understanding of a personal God.
The nature of Reform Judaism is that God is out there, but he is hazy and unfathomable, and we can’t make presumptions that he cares about every aspect of our lives. So, a large leap is necessary to get from there to an understanding of God’s redemptive plan. It’s only when one believes that God genuinely cares about individuals that one can even begin to imagine Christ’s sacrifice.
How did a Reform Jewish girl like you find Christ?
During adolescence, I fell into a cyclical suicidal depression, which lasted until I found Jesus at 31. I believed that if there was a God, He didn’t care about me. Due to the cyclical nature of my depression, I knew that, no matter how good I felt at a given time, I would eventually feel suicidal again. My emotional pain had no purpose that I could see, because no healing came from it — it was always just more of the same. Without faith in an afterlife, I could not see the point of living.
During the summer of 1999, I was working as a website writer/editor for a Palestinian boss who used to harass me for being Jewish. Under such persecution, it dawned on me that, if a man who was this antagonistic hated Jews, there must be something very good about being Jewish.
I had a Gideons’ pocket New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs that I’d saved since someone gave it to me in college, and I found myself reading it — never having seen a great contradiction between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. My mom, who had become Christian, encouraged me to pray Psalm 27, which I did.
I got laid off from the job after a few months — an answer to prayer. Shortly thereafter, during the wee hours one night as I lay in bed, I had a hypnagogic experience. I heard a woman’s voice saying with perfect articulation, “Some things are not meant to be known. Some things are meant to be understood.”
Later that day, I went to visit my mother and stepfather — who had long prayed I would share their Christian faith — and sought their help in understanding what the strange message meant. Suddenly, I was directed in my mind to read Romans 5:1: “Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” I realized that I had been trying to get to know God through external knowledge, but the only way to know him was through having faith — the true understanding — and trusting that he would then add knowledge to me. I got on my knees and asked Jesus to come into my heart.
Over the next few days I had an intense feeling of the Holy Spirit. That taught me what it meant to have a sense of divine joy — and to hold that in my memory during times of spiritual dryness.
How did your journey toward Catholicism start?
In December 1995, I interviewed Ben Eshbach, who led the rock band Sugarplastic. I asked him what he was reading, and he told me he had been reading The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton.
I picked it up out of curiosity and was fascinated. I began to pick up everything by Chesterton that I could get my hands on, starting with Orthodoxy. For the first time, it struck me that there was something exciting about Christianity. Up until then, I had been politically liberal and thought that Christians apart from my mom were a faceless mass of white-bread Moral Majority types who controlled the world. I wanted to be a rebel, and part of defining myself that way was to not be a Christian. Chesterton suggested to me that it was the other way around: Christians were the true rebels.
In 2001, two years after I was baptized, wanting to be around Christians but not feeling at home in a church, I joined the New York City Chesterton Society. I still felt very resistant toward Catholicism because most of the Catholics I knew were, I thought, not at all lively in their faith, and I couldn’t see the beauty beyond what I saw as the Church’s arcane rituals. Also, I had the usual Protestant resistance to what I saw as certain non-Biblical practices such as the veneration of Mary and the saints, and Catholics’ arguments in favor of such things seemed forced to me.
What changed that?
I had a blog, The Dawn Patrol, and was becoming increasingly outspoken on it with regard to pro-life issues. In late 2003, I began exploring the Planned Parenthood website and would expose it on my blog, disgusted at the evil I found.
The turning point came when I underwent persecution at the New York Post in January 2005. In my job as a copy editor, I made textual changes to add what I believed was necessary balance to a story. The story was attempting to glorify in vitro fertilization while purposefully avoiding the issues involved — the routine destruction of embryos that it entails.
The reporter was furious over the changes and demanded that I be fired. The editor in chief called me in, said, “I’m very concerned about your blog,” and fired me.
When the troubles first started at my job and it wasn’t clear what was going to happen, I felt I needed a friend in heaven. Searching a Catholic website for a patron saint of journalists, I found the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe. As soon as I started reading his story, I burst into tears and started talking to him as I would to a friend, asking him to pray for me. Immediately, I felt a divine sense of calm. I knew that no matter what happened to me at work, it was going to be okay.
I had been so resistant to the idea of praying to saints, but as soon as I talked to St. Maximilian, I understood. My resistance had come from the idea that speaking to a saint would make me worship the saint, thereby damaging my relationship with God. Instead, it brought me closer to God because it showed me how God allows people to be used as vessels and what a great gift this is.
The other thing that happened is that when I was fired, even though people of all different faiths were very supportive, I felt a particular sense of support from Catholics. I saw that they had a deep understanding of what it means to be persecuted for being on what our culture considers the “wrong” side of the life issue. Even though Protestants have undergone persecution for pro-life views, for them it’s not the case that their denomination has held fast to such beliefs for nearly 2,000 years. There’s an institutional memory that is part of the Catholic faith that you take a stand regardless of what the culture says. Seeing that made me want very much to be within the Church.
In July 2005 you were part of a Chesterton pilgrimage. Did that play a role?
That trip was my last gasp of resistance to joining the Church. I was the only Protestant on the trip. Everyone wanted to convert me, but they didn’t know how. One after another, they would ask me sweetly, “Have you ever heard of Edith Stein?” They meant well, but didn’t realize what an insulting method this is. It was as if I was a black person visiting a synagogue and someone asked, “Have you heard of Sammy Davis Jr.?” The assumption is that because you’re a Jew curious about Catholicism, you must want to know about those of “your people” who became Catholic. For me, it reinforced the idea that if I became one of them, I would always be seen as an outsider.
The ironic thing is that when I wanted to get away from those who wanted to proselytize me, I would go talk to one of the four Catholic priests on the trip. They were happy to accept me as I was, and their graciousness made me want to be around them.
Tim Drake writes from