Somewhere between "empty nest syndrome" and our 25th wedding anniversary both my wife and I started a search for some kind of meaning to life. Both of our kids were grown, educated and on their own. Perhaps it had something to do with the way that we were brought up, since both of us were raised Catholic, or perhaps it was just having the time to stare each other in the face and say; "Is this all there is to life?"
We had been so busy for so many years trying to keep body and soul together and then at age 40 we had two kids in college. While looking back I can honestly say that the Holy Spirit wasted no time. Little by little the Spirit started working on both of us. This became obvious when we started planning for our 25th wedding anniversary. We planned on a trip to the Bahamas and we both agreed to renew our wedding vows. What surprised me was when my wife asked me if I would include God in my vows and I agreed. We talked just a little about our search but to be honest we were both so looking forward to our trip that our search got pushed to the background. We renewed our vows in the presence of a minister and a small group of friends and we had a great time in the Bahamas for a week and retuned home to Maine in time for spring. After our return to reality the Spirit continued working on both of us with, in my case, a series of coincidences that had me listening to a Christian radio station on a regular basis.
So I started setting aside time for prayer and reading the Scriptures. Hardly a day went by that I didn't honor my prayer time and continue to listen to that Christian station. At this point in my journey I had no idea that I was actually on a journey back to the Catholic Church, nor did I have any idea that God was working in my life. I had left the Church 20+ years ago believing that God was not active in the world but that He was off in the distance somewhere since He was only an observer.
My wife by this time had decided to join a Baptist church that she had attended with a very good friend of hers. I went one Sunday to this Church with my wife, being curious as to what she had found and curious as to why the pastor would baptize her again. She was already baptized since she had been raised Catholic. Let's just say that I was not impressed nor did I feel at home, like my wife. I decided to keep looking for a church to belong to since I knew that if left on my own that I would probably fall by the wayside. So I started looking for a church with a promise to God that I would look for Him but that I wanted to know Who He was and that I did not care where it took me. That was where I started taking a separate path from my wife.
So I began with a list of Churches within a 20 mile radius of my home and I went from church to church looking for a church to belong to but nothing really felt comfortable and as I went along on my visiting process I became more and more confused. The Christian radio station that I had been listening to had given me the very strong message that all I needed was a strictly Scripture based faith. The problem was that every church I went to visit, almost 100% of the people walked in Bible in hand. I had been to another Baptist church, a Lutheran church, an Assembly of God, a generic Christian church, an Episcopal church and to a Kingdom Hall to name a few.
Now I was more confused than when I had started. I wanted to know who God was and I felt like I was further away from Him than when I had started. I not only was confused but now I was pissed at God for making it so difficult. Was it just a matter of choosing a church? Was it just a question of feeling comfortable? What I really wanted was to know who God is and in my search I found myself getting more and more confused until I THOUGHT that I was mad at God. So I took the next 2 Sundays off and I did not go to any church. I kept my prayer time and asked God for help. The third Sunday rolled around and I again had not made plans to go to church. While having my morning coffee that Sunday I got a nudge; "don't forget your promise!".
Well I was getting tired of looking but I grabbed the newspaper, turned to the Churches section and started going down the list. It is important to remember that I am still confused and still mad at God, as a result I was willing to go to church but I did not want to spend a lot of time doing so. I picked the earliest service that I could find which just happened to be at a Catholic church and I had just enough time to shower and get dressed. So off to St. Denis I go.
The trouble started as I got closer to the church. It started with; "You know that this is a Catholic church?! Why bother, you left that church over 20 years ago; there's nothing in that church for you! Why bother? Go home and enjoy your time off". Well anyway, you get the idea.
As I sat in the car across from St. Denis I looked at the Church and the banner that was over the main door to the church. The banner said, "Catholics can always come home". I thought to myself, oh yeah, right. I did not realize it at the time but there was a battle going on in my car and the outcome was not certain. At least 3 times I reached for the keys to start the car and get out of there but something always stopped me. As I reached for the keys one more time, I got a very clear and overpowering message; "Get out of the car"; and before I knew what was happening I was about 12 feet away from the car, just standing there with the keys in my hand. I turned to look back at the car and then turned towards the church and just started walking.
I did not want to walk into the church but I just kept moving. When I walked through the door the devil tried one more time. "This church is going to fall down and everyone is going to know whose fault it is and they are all going to look at you and blame you because it will be your fault!" Despite all of this I went inside. I took a book from the hand of one of the greeters and I slunk off to the left and slid into the next to last pew and sat down. As soon as my butt hit the pew I started making plans for my escape, but it was too late, the Mass had started and immediately I was drawn to the priest. At the very beginning it was apparent to me that this priest really loved what he was doing. I could tell that he loved to minister to people. Fr. John had my attention from the start and I enjoyed watching him. After the Gospel reading Fr. John gave his homily, not from the pulpit, but from the center aisle where he walked up and down, talking to people in his flock.
I watched Fr. John and I watched some of the people around me and before I knew it people were going up to receive Holy Communion. I just sat there and then some ideas started coming to mind, and a couple came to mind in Latin no less. That really surprised me at first but like I said earlier I had been raised Catholic with 14 years of Catholic education. What came to mind was "Sola Scriptura", "Sola Fide", Tradition, Magisterium and a few others. By the time that I walked out of the church I felt totally refreshed and I had homework to do.
During the next couple of weeks I looked in the library and on the net for anything that I could find related to the ideas that came to my mind that Sunday. There was only one problem, the closer I looked the more obvious it became to me that the Catholic Church had gotten it right. I kept going back to St. Denis and became aware that there really was a sense of community in this church and I actually was looking forward to Sunday. It took several weeks but I eventually felt more and more comfortable at St. Denis. Then one night, while at home, I made a list of the different churches that I had visited and I added to the list who founded the faith and when. To my surprise I realized that I was not mad at God but rather I was mad at MAN. Now certainly these fellow Christians feel strongly that God raised up Martin Luther, Joseph Smith, Charles Taz Russell and others to start their churches but I was no longer so inclined, especially after all the confusion that I was going through. In response to them I would ask just one question. Who is it that really stands to benefit from confusion about God?
After I answered my own question I called Fr. John and made an appointment to see him. I went through my life story with him, he heard my confession and I started to receive the sacraments again. But even after reconciliation with the Church I wasn't sure if I went back to go back or if I went back in order to move on.
I then decided that the only way to find out for sure was to participate as much as I was able. I could just as easily have gone to Mass and continued to receive the sacraments but I kept getting nudged to do more. So I joined a men's group, then I went through the Alpha program and then joined the program. This winter I went through the RCIA program as the sponsor for one of three guests who had gone through our Alpha program. I am learning that the rewards far outweigh any of the efforts that I may put into these commitments. I have also learned through this process of prayer time, reading, preparation and time spent with Christians of other faiths that I have come back in order to come Home. Through this whole process of several years I have been given the blessing of making the Catholic Church my home. It has been a process of searching, then confusion, followed by a process of discovery and lastly being "Surprised By Truth".
Now that you have been patient and persistent enough to read this story, I would be less than truthful if I neglected to say something about the "nudges" that I have received from time to time. For just a minute let's go back to my first visit to St.Denis. Up until that time "nudges" was all that I had received, but during that process of getting out of the car and walking into the church I was not in control of the situation. If it had been up to me either I would have turned that key and gone home or I would still be sitting in that parking lot trying to decide what to do. I received a blessing that day in the form of a simple, direct and overpowering sense. Not because of anything I had done but rather because of someone's intercession. I guess that I am trying to say that I feel that it is important to LISTEN.
Sometimes there are coincidences that happen, sometimes there are people that come into our lives, sometimes there is someone planting an idea in our minds and sometimes it is a lot more direct. Many times prayer comes easily but listening can be very, very hard. I try to listen for 2 reasons. One reason is purely selfish: that I would not want to be hit over the head because I wasn't listening. The second reason is because God is not an observer but rather He is alive and well and present in our lives and truly wants to participate. He pursues us, and is always ready to great us we just take first step in His direction and open the door.
Kindly thank Patrick for sharing this story with us on our pages - thanks, Patrick!