May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

My Faith Journey

My heritage, like that of many Americans, is a mix of ancestries. The surnames of my great-grandparents derive from Sweden, Germany, Wales, England, Ireland, Switzerland and Scotland. All northern European. All Protestant. Among them are Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers and more.

But, here I am today, Catholic. On this, my first full day as a Catholic, I realize that I am the first Catholic in my family for generations, centuries perhaps. Is this a betrayal of family? A dishonor to my heritage? I ask myself on this Easter Sunday, have I made the right choice?

Then, I remember last night, after I drank from the cup, the first face I saw among the congregation waiting to receive me into the Catholic Church was not a Catholic face at all. It was my mother's. Her eyes were filled with tears of joy, and my father next to her beamed with pride. The love and support they have always provided was as real in that moment as it has ever been.

I do not pretend that they fully understand my choice, but they understand my reasons. They have seen me succeed and they have seen me fail. They have watched my struggles and longed to heal my wounds, tried to protect me from harm. That is what parents do. Throughout my life, I have been seeking peace and purpose. I sought at times through a variety of faith traditions. I sought at times by questioning God's existence and by intellectualizing against religious doctrines.

As a self-proclaimed geek who, at 12 years old, read the entire World Book Encyclopedia (except L, somehow that volume had disappeared years earlier.), I knew the basic tenets of Catholicism, just as I knew those of Islam and Judaism. As a teen, my first real encounter with Catholicism had been a funeral, and I found the Hail Marys sad--the prayers made me feel distant from God. It wasn't until I heard actress Nell Carter sing the Ave Maria, that I understood the comfort of the prayer. From that day forward, through two decades, I always prayed the Hail Mary when frightened or anxious. It got me through several iffy airplane takeoffs and landings!

In college, I was asked to take an early-admission student to mass each week. She was too young to drive herself, and so I went with her. Then, I went without her. Something kept drawing me back. I loved the bells during the Eucharist. I loved the moment when everyone, stranger and friend alike, wished each other peace.

Later, I moved to another city, and I adopted the Methodist tradition, but I grew further and further from God until about 14 months ago, when a beloved friend asked me what I was doing with my life. For years, I had been praying daily and seeking peace, but I had not entrusted my life to God.  I realized that I had been making the wrong choices in my life for all the right reasons. I had tried to be "good" but I had lost my way. I had sought to control everyone and everything in my world. Nothing had turned out the way I thought it would. I was "successful" in many ways, but at a great cost to myself and my spirit. I felt desperate. Lost.

I began to pray for God to lead me in the direction I should go, and I begged him to make it very clear so that I could understand. The transformation began. The next Sunday, I found myself in a Catholic church. My soul felt healed. I went to church, not because I was "supposed to", but because I really had to. The peace and joy, comfort and fulfillment, the purpose that I found there, I had never found anywhere else.

In the last year, nearly every element of my life has changed.  I will not tell you it was easy. I will not tell you there were not moments of great anxiety. I will not tell you that there were no tears. But, I will tell you this: at every moment, I knew that God was showing me the path I should follow, that he was laying it out before me as clearly as I had asked Him to, and that the choice to follow it was mine to make.

I have not reached the end of this journey by any means, but God has blessed me with all that I need and with more than I could have expected. Each day is a new discovery.

Perhaps, if any of my grandparents were still alive, this path would have been even more challenging. They would have questioned me more intently than my parents. My Protestant Irish and British ancestors no doubt suffered in the religious conflicts of their homelands. More recently, my Quaker grandfather spent his boyhood in the Cuban countryside where he witnessed greedy abuses by the local priesthood that he felt helped impoverish the people and seeded the revolution there.

But, I did not choose the Catholic church because of its history. In many ways, I chose it because of my own history. At some point, in each of those Protestant lineages that led to me, someone stood up for his or her faith. Someone made the decision to worship in the way that brought them closer to God. Perhaps it is ironic that the faith that has brought me closer to God is one that caused my ancestors ultimately to seek the New World. God, as they say, works in mysterious ways. Today, I pay homage to my family, who held firmly to their faith. Today, I stand on their shoulders as I return my life to God. Like my parents, they may not have understood my choice, but I know they would support my right to worship as I choose.