My dad is an atheist and my mom was a fallen-away Catholic. Sadly, the early part of my story is not as unusual as I used to think. My mom had me Baptized when I was a toddler because that’s what you do with children and she had been Baptized in the Catholic Church. We never actually went to church. When it came time to attend school, my parents sent me to a Catholic school because they wanted me to have a good education. We still never went to church. My class got ready for First Communion in 2nd grade and so did I, followed by Reconciliation in 4th grade (a little backward but that’s how it was then), then Confirmation in the 7th grade. I prepared in school and received all of these sacraments with my classmates, all without ever stepping foot in a church on Sundays.
There was no faith life at all in my home. We didn’t pray and if we discussed God, Jesus, or Scripture, it was only from a secular perspective with very negative connotations. I saw no example in my family, immediate or extended, of a person of faith. Despite all of that, I don’t recall a time when I did not believe in God. I think back now and see a childlike faith that was as devout as I knew how to be at the time; I even created a little prayer area in my bedroom, even though I don’t remember ever actually praying there. It was the 70s, fairly recently post-Vatican II, so not all of the catechesis I received in the Catholic school was great, but some of it was outstanding. I took to heart the reality of Christ in the Eucharist and His love for me. I don’t know why or how, I just knew those things were real.
Then, in the middle of 8th grade, we moved to Michigan. I began going to a public school. For the first time in my academic life, I wasn’t going to Mass with school, which meant I wasn’t going at all, and that’s pretty much the way it stayed for a long time. Oh, sure, I’d go every now and then, maybe once or twice a year I’d give in to that tug of the Holy Spirit. When I was in the Air Force, I went to Mass fairly regularly (in other words maybe once a month or so), but in all those years, when I did go to Mass, I rarely received Communion. I just knew I shouldn’t and I had no idea why.
When I got engaged, I told my husband-to-be that I had to be married in a Catholic Church by a priest. He asked why since I didn’t even go to Mass most of the time. I told him that I had no idea, but I just knew it was important! Fortunately, there was a priest willing to marry us even though I wasn’t living my faith. When we started a family, I felt a final tug to come home.
During my pregnancy I began to attend Mass regularly for the first time and knew that I wanted our baby to be Baptized. Yet again, I knew that it was important but didn’t really know why. Around that same time, I received the sacrament of Reconciliation for probably the second or third time in my life. I vaguely recall going once after my First Confession, but that’s it. Finally, I could receive the Eucharist again, and the graces of those sacraments poured the Holy Spirit into me like crazy!
At about the same time, my husband began asking lots of questions about the Catholic faith. I had no answers, so I began to study everything I could get my hands on. The Holy Spirit led me to good, solid authors and helped me to understand what I was reading! The more I read, the more I could see all the ways that the Spirit had been protecting and guiding me for all of those years. I thought about going to a different denomination, something with less “rules,” but the Eucharist always called me back. “If I’m going to be Christian, I have to be Catholic,” was the conclusion I came to. I have to be where Jesus is present in the Eucharist. He just relentlessly, persistently, gently pulled at my heart.
My most profound moments with God in prayer have always been at Mass, in the Eucharist. I’ve heard Him speak to me during times of difficulty and the feeling of His Presence has brought me to tears. I have encountered Jesus in the Eucharist many times in the last 20 years and there’ve also been several people along the way that have been great witnesses to me. My good friend, Todd, taught me to love Scripture and a lot about prayer. My best girlfriend, Marcy, has been by my side as my best cheerleader through my journey. And my husband, Dave, although he’s agnostic, has revealed the love of Christ to me in more ways than I can count. His witness of what real, unconditional love looks like has done more to show me who Jesus is than anything else.
Maybe you don’t think you have a faith story to share. You might not have had an “A-ha” moment that knocked your socks off. Maybe you can’t point to one particular event, encounter, or experience when you suddenly KNEW that Jesus is who He says He is, that He loves you, that He died & rose for you, and that He’s inviting you into His life. That’s okay. Think back. Look for those tugs of the Holy Spirit, the slow brightening of the dimmer switch. Ask God to show you where He’s been touching your heart throughout your life. I promise you, they’re there. My story is filled with “little encounters” and “baby graces” rather than a big lightswitch moment and that’s okay because lots of little moments or a big billboard doesn’t matter. What matters is that we respond, we say “yes”, and then we tell others.