I remember the day it happened. Although I didn’t recognize it at the time, I realize now that God was tugging on me that day. It was August 2004 and the day I took my second-oldest daughter to sign up for 1st grade. Her new teacher went through all the important information and asked a series of questions. Is your address and phone the same? Will she be walking, going by car or riding the bus? Then she asked something I didn’t expect. She asked if I would like her to attend weekly religion classes. I was surprised that a public school even allowed such a thing. I agreed and then she asked: “Catholic or non-Catholic class?” Umm… Catholic I guess.
I’m a Cradle Catholic by definition. It’s the only faith I’ve ever known. But I spent most of my life away from my faith. I attended Catholic grade school through 8th grade and then went on to public high school. When I was young, I attended Mass at school and on Sundays with my family. My mom rarely missed weekend Mass her entire life. It was clear that it was very important to her. At home though, I don’t remember mom or dad ever talking about faith, God, the bible, The Eucharist, or anything at all to do with the Catholic faith. The only Catholic “thing” we did was say Catholic grace before meals. There was a Crucifix hanging on the wall, a religious statue on the mantle and a Bible on the bookshelf. My mom had several rosaries in her jewelry box, but I never saw her pray with them. I have no memory of Dad ever going to church or talking about faith.
When I was 14 and just starting high school, my dad suffered a severe stroke. He survived but was disabled. The stroke changed his personality and there was a lot of turmoil in our home. It was then that my church habits changed. I would go to mass occasionally but the older I got the less frequently I would go. Mom would always tell me I should go to church but she never told me why. I wouldn’t say I ever stopped believing in God. I just didn’t feel that I needed to go to church. I figured if I was a good person then I would be ok. Dad was never very healthy after that stroke and he passed away when I was 19. As I got older, the longer I was away from the church, the more uncomfortable I became with anything regarding religion. I did my best to avoid it. I didn’t want to talk about it, read about it, or hear about it.
When I was 25 I became pregnant with my oldest daughter. I was unmarried, scared and faced with raising her alone. Even though I was a single-mom, I was determined to do all I could to give her a great life. Becoming a mom for the first time was an amazing experience. She was a perfectly healthy beautiful little girl and I felt truly blessed. At my mother’s urging, my daughter was baptized at a local Catholic Parish shortly after she was born. But that is where her Catholic faith ended. I realize now that all I was doing that day was trying to please everyone. Mom wanted her baptized and I just went along with it. I didn’t have a clue how important it was. I didn’t understand that I was making a promise to God that I had no intention of keeping. One of my deepest regrets is that I did not give my oldest child the gift of faith. But then how could I give something that I myself had lost?
I was in my 30’s when I met my husband. We were married by the County Clerk and began our life together. We were blessed with three more daughters within a short period of time. Needless to say it was an incredibly busy time in our lives. I knew my husband had been baptized in a Baptist church as a teenager, but he wasn’t attending any church when we met. When the girls came along, we never even discussed having them baptized. I guess neither of us was very comfortable talking about God. That’s why when the teacher asked me that day if I wanted my daughter to attend religion classes, I was fine with it. She could learn about God and I was off the hook. My daughter grew very excited by what she was learning each week. She would bring home her activity papers which always had suggestions for family activities. I learned to ignore those. I didn’t want to talk about God. She had a teacher for that.
I never counted on what came next. My daughter started asking me to take her to church. Her teacher would talk about going to Mass and how wonderful it was. My daughter had always been fascinated by the beautiful, historic Catholic church we drove by almost daily and that’s where she wanted to go. My husband and I were never against going to church. It was just something that we had never thought about. And being different faiths was something we had never even discussed. But we decided that if our child was asking to go to church then maybe we should give it a try it. And so off we went to Mass one Sunday. Like the girls, Mike had never been to a Catholic mass before. I answered lots of questions during and after the best I could. But I was very uneasy being there. I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. Some of the prayers and music were familiar, but something just didn’t feel right. I felt out of place, like I didn’t belong. I thought maybe this was a mistake. I decided to start researching different faiths. I knew people switched faiths all the time and maybe I wasn’t even supposed to be Catholic. Maybe that was why I left the Church as a teenager. Maybe that was why I was so uncomfortable at Mass that day.
One Sunday I finally decided to accept a friend’s invitation to attend a service at the Baptist church she belonged to. We enjoyed the service. The music was catchy and the preacher was passionate. The people were very friendly. But then something happened that changed everything. One evening the pastor and a couple other people from the church came to my house for a visit. He asked me a lot of questions. He wanted me to define faith. I had no idea what to say. When he found out that I had been raised Catholic, he suddenly said I needed to be baptized right away. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. When they left, I shut the door and told my husband how offended I was that they thought my Catholic baptism wasn’t good enough. I knew better than that. I was more confused than ever. After giving it some thought and discussing it with Mike, it finally became clear to me what I had to do. I had to give my Catholic faith another chance. I knew it would be a big commitment for Mike to join the church but he was completely on board with me. No matter what, we had to do this as a family. We went to Mass again one Sunday and something amazing happened. I felt a sense of peace come over me. It was like someone was wrapping their arms around me. This time I felt completely at home and I knew that was where I belonged.
Mike and I started RCIA classes in September of 2006. At the Easter Vigil in April of 2007 Mike was received into the Catholic Church. My three youngest daughters were baptized and two of them received their First Communion. Our marriage was also convalidated in front of the congregation that evening. It was an amazing and beautiful experience for our family.
I learned so much that first year back in the Church. I felt like Paul who had been blinded by Jesus. My eyes were opened like the scales that fell from his eyes. I could finally see and learn what had been missing for so many years. I was amazed to learn that Jesus started the Catholic Church. I never knew that the Eucharist was the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus. I was on fire and hungry to learn.
My family has come so far in the last 7 years. I no longer avoid talking about God and try to bring our Catholic Faith into our home and our family life every single day. My children see us read the Bible and recite the rosary. We attend Mass as a family every Sunday. I try to get to weekday Mass as often as I can and we are very involved in parish activities. I am now a Catechist for our parish religious education program and facilitate adult Bible study classes. I still have work to do, much to learn and many improvements to make. Prayer doesn’t come easy to me but it’s getting better. That day years ago, God invited me onto this path when I least expected it. I know he’s still with me tugging on me when he sees me get distracted or frustrated, so I will keep going and do all I can to serve God just as He’s asked me to do. One day I will face Him and hopefully I will hear the words “Well done, my good and faithful servant”.