How does one narrate a journey still in progress? Or speak of what only the Spirit knows, impulses not understood, choices made because they seem to be the only choice?
In 1967 I left the Catholic Church. Vatican II had concluded and I, like many of my generation, were inflamed with the breadth and depth of Christ’s love and the joy of being the people of God. Having been a member of a religious order, I experienced “culture shock” upon returning to a local parish not yet in touch with the openness and expansiveness of my religious community. The decision to leave was not easy. I sought guidance from those I respected,and eventually knew what I must do.
And so for the next 38 years I lived the gospel as best I could, finding my way as a member of the United Church of Christ and then upon coming to Westerville, as an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church. I experienced the mercy and compassion of a loving God who embraces all. But always I longed for the liturgy I’d known and especially for the Eucharist, food for the journey.
When our eldest daughter married and became a Catholic, I re-examined old issues. But the time wasn’t right or perhaps I wasn’t ready. Ten years later my youngest daughter said she was drawn to Catholicism and when I volunteered to accompany her to classes, it seemed as if it were someone else using my voice. How could I be back in the same place again?
Good friends had told me for years that I would one day “come home.” It was their witness to the Eucharistic Christ that warmed me when I was anxious, when I doubted the path. And then, when at the parish website I found words of acceptance and welcome, when I read Father Charlie’s apology on behalf of the Church, I wept. I could go home again.
Each week at the RCIA classes the Spirit nudged a little bit more. At the six Come Home sessions, the Spirit pushed and the resistance and old defenses crumbled. They were unnecessary. Here was a place of integrity without judgment, of clarity without narrowness. And while a sense of “home” has remained with me always, “being home” was now a choice I could make wholeheartedly.
In January, during what was once called The Church Unity Octave, almost 38 years to the day I left, I professed my faith in the Catholic Church. Troublesome issues continue, but because of what I have learned from Susan Bellotti, St. Paul Pastoral Associate and the many generous and kind people involved in this ministry, I see the Church differently. The tensions that can divide are the very tensions that make this Church alive. The Catholic Church’s struggle to be both faithful and responsive is my very human struggle too.
I am grateful to the Holy Spirit and all who serve with such love.
November 4, 1943-March 1, 2010
I like numbers. After all, there is a Bible book called Numbers which is basically a narrative history detailing the passage of the Israelites into the promise land.
Our lives too are narrative histories separated by rites of passage: 13 (teenager); 16 (drive a car); 18 (vote); 21 (coming of age); and 65 (retirement). But there are other numbers that define my life: living 26 years of my life as a “hatched” and “matched” and not yet “dispatched” Catholic; receiving the Eucharist at age 7; being confirmed at age 9; serving as an acolyte for 10 years; graduating from 4 Catholic schools from grade school to graduate school for a total of 17 years.
My formative years were spent living in a neighborhood that was predominantly Roman Catholic. The family ties were centered on my maternal grandparents who owned two homes in the neighborhood. We lived on the first floor of one of the homes, with an aunt and uncle and their two children who lived on the second floor; another aunt and uncle and their daughter lived less than a block away in the other home; and, upstairs from them lived another aunt and uncle. Additionally, a great aunt lived next door. All of my relatives practiced their Roman Catholic faith devoutly. This was the environment in which I was raised in St. Leo the Great Parish in Cincinnati consisting of daily mass, Friday benediction and, of course, Sunday mass.
So how did I become an absent Catholic for over 40 years? My journey away from the Church began at another number – the age of 19. April 28, 1967 began like any other day: Mom, Dad and I eating breakfast and then Dad and Mom off to work and I off to Xavier University. I had a busy day with my sophomore classes, ROTC, 4 hour shift at Kroger’s, and then dinner with a buddy. I got home late to find an empty house with a telephone ringing. It was the hospital. The caller said to come immediately. I was there in 7 minutes and was told 3 minutes later that there was no hope for my Mom’s survival. My beloved Mother had suffered a massive brain aneurism at age 42. She never regained consciousness and she was pronounced dead on April 30, 1967. Mom’s sudden death did not give me or my Dad the opportunity to say goodbye. Dad and I were both numb from the shock and unable to function. As an only child, devastating is much too mild a word to describe my loss of hope for anything in this world to be right or good again. Then the drifting began.
At age 23, a 4-year marriage to a Catholic woman within the Church and then, at age 27, a 20-year marriage to a Catholic woman outside the Church, both ending in divorce. Although we were all cradle Catholics, nonetheless, the practice of our faith was minimal to non-existent.
My two marriages coincided with my geographical fix: Cincinnati to Toledo, to Augusta, to Cincinnati, to Denver, to Breckenridge, to Ann Arbor, to Baltimore, to Cincinnati, to Westerville. I kept running, was getting tired, but I filled my life with three graduate programs, my work, and my family. Ah, the numbers again: 7 years as an English teacher and 3 years as a judicial administration instructor; 35 years as a court administrator in State and Federal courts; 12 years as a sports coach for my 3 children. Man, was I busy! In fact, I had to keep ordering new shoes every few weeks as the tread on my material soles was wearing thin. But, it finally hit me that maybe the tread that was wearing thin was actually on my spiritual soul.
At age 47, I began to date and eventually married a wonderful Methodist woman. Beth and I have been together for over 20 years. It was 2 years ago that she suggested we attend Mass at St. Paul’s. I was curious as to why Beth chose a Catholic Church. She told me that although she was baptized and confirmed as a Methodist, her religious memories of peace and joy were centered on attending Catholic Mass with her maternal Grandmother Clara. So, in July of 2013, we began to attend Sunday Mass at St. Paul.
We made an appointment with Susan Bellotti and all of a sudden we were in the Coming Home classes. I was not happy about these developments. I needed a “fix” in order not to think about the tough emotional issues that I had struggled with for over 40 years. Since my Mom’s sudden death I had felt deserted by God and by the Church. I thought the Church was arrogant, exclusive, and overall apathetic to my situation. After all, my 2 divorces seemed to be an irreparable chasm between the church and me.
Then Father Charlie came to one of the Coming Home classes and distributed a letter from him on behalf of the Catholic Church apologizing for the manner in which the church had treated lapsed Catholics in the past. Wow! Is this guy for real? Humble, apologetic, arms open wide! Now a dilemma – I could not figure out who else I could blame for my situation. During the Coming Home classes I began the journey of forgiving God and myself.
After the Coming Home classes Beth and I attended a Bible Study with Mary Koors and then Susan gently nudged us both into RCIA. I decided that I did not need to attend as I knew all about the Catholic Church. Beth said that was fine but she was hoping that I would be her sponsor. I finally agreed. On April 4, 2015 at the Easter Vigil, our 8 month journey of faith reached a milestone when Beth was confirmed, we both received the Eucharist and our marriage was blessed by Father Charlie. Between a designated sponsor and me, all three of us got through RCIA along with help from Father Charlie, Father Dave, Father Mike, all the Deacons, Susan Bellotti, numerous volunteers, speakers and advisors.
Always remember tenacity, patience, and forgiving yourself are the key elements to completing the Coming Home & RCIA classes and reaching your goal of oneness with God through your church home.
“I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for good and not for harm, to give you a future and a hope“.
– Jeremiah 29:11