Why I am a Catholic (still)
My story begins before my birth. My mother who was now a converted Catholic from agnosticism, conceived me with my father( who is to this day a staunch atheist). My mother, who at that point had been diagnosed with Lupus and Fibromayalgia was advised by her doctors to abort me, as in the worst case scenario, we would both die. The best case scenario was that one of us would die. Even if I were to be born, I would be filled with her sickness and be addicted to all of her pain medications. The outlook looked quite grim. My mother, convicted that she would not be responsible for my death declared “If God wants me to have this child, I will have him. I trust in Him”. On the day of my birth, two teams of doctors came to give me a complete blood transfusion upon my exit. Though slightly premature, the birth went without a hitch and lo and behold we both survived, AND when they did a blood test, it came up NEGATIVE for all traces of medications and disease. I was a healthy baby boy.
This miracle, plus other convincing proofs could not sway my father. 6 months after I was born, he left my mother because she had remained faithful to Christ and His Church. He went to live with his mistress whom he had been sleeping with for months before I was even born. Left with a faithful yet ill single mother to raise me, and an absent father, this was to be the backdrop of my upbringing.
I was the first born Catholic in my family. The rest of my mother’s side of the family had converted to Catholicism after my mother had been healed of a disease in the early eighties by a catholic priest named Fr. D’Orio. So you could say I had a typical cradle catholic upbringing. My child-like faith was fostered very well by my mother, who loved our Lord so deeply. Attending Mass weekly, involved in Catholic devotions in particular to Our Lady, I knew that God loved me and so did our Lady.
One of the first times I can remember experiencing God’s love intensely was receiving my unofficial first communion. I was with my family on a pilgrimage to the Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston, NY. At communion time, I had crossed my arms across my chest to receive a blessing. The priest insisted on giving me communion and so, out went my tongue, and he laid our Blessed Lord on my tongue. I can remember going back to my pew, and being so enraptured to have received our Lord that I was almost giddy. This experience however was soon forgotten by me until years later.
As I got older, I found myself very different from the kids I went to school with. My desire to know about God and my involvement in my faith led to ridicule even within my catholic school friends. I was much more introspective than the other kids and I knew that. I knew myself better and was more serious than any of them. Being an only child probably increased that. However as I got older, I began to question the big philosophical questions of life. It all hit the fan so to speak after a bunch of kids in school began to make fun of me, and pushing me down, ripped the gold crucifix that I was wearing from my neck. At this point, battered and upset, I went home that night and said “If there really is a God, how can He let someone who loves Him like my mom hurt so badly, and then have those who believe in Him, be left to be beaten and made fun of. The priests are a joke and aren’t even convinced about this. God? If you’re real, which I doubt, I don’t want ANYTHING to do with you. We’re done!” I was 11 years old. From there, my attitudes began to change drastically.
Things went from bad to worse as I became a little delinquent. I got into fights at school, started listening to bad music with my older friends, and generally became angrier and angrier. I was aching for love and acceptance. It is hard to believe a kid of my age could have these types of feelings and attitudes, but I did. I hated God. I hated the Church. It was nothing my mom was doing or not doing that was making this happen. She was a perfect parent. It was literally the cry of a boy lost, and looking for his true Father and nothing would stop this rampage except that one fact. I had even contemplated suicide. The plane of my life was in a full out nose dive.
In the summer before the beginning of 7th grade, a new priest by the name of Father Simard was moved to a parish near my town. My family had been friends with him so they decided we would start attending his parish. I still went to church, just to please my family, however I didn’t really want to. Fr. Simard was standing outside, welcoming people to Mass. He was laughing and joyful. He was a different priest than I had seen before. My family reintroduced me to him, and we went to Mass. I don’t remember much of those first masses, but I do remember his disposition. He was convinced this was the real deal. It intrigued me. He began to become more of a friend to me. As the months passed, we began talking more and more. I really looked up to him as a man and friend. I knew I could trust him, but still wasn’t convinced that he was following something real.
October 14th, 1998, Fr. Simard invited me to join him and a bunch of young people for a catholic praise and worship night in Michigan. I went because I wanted time off of school. Little did I know what awaited me. When we arrived at the church, it was filled with young catholics, who had that same joy and enthusiasm as I had seen in Fr. Simard. I knew I did not have this joy, but wondered if they had drank a little too much of the kool-aid. The event began, and everyone stood and began to joyfully sing and praise God. Some expressed their worship physically. I kept my hands in my pockets, totally freaked out, and unable to leave. I had been to events like this before but it still freaked me out.
However, this time was different. As I looked around, I realized I was the only one completely uninvolved with what was going on. Deep down in my heart, I felt this pull to just drop my guard. Heck everyone else was doing it, and so I closed my eyes and subtly opened my hands. I didn’t even know the words of the songs but I just stood there like this. In that very moment, it was as if an ocean of love had been locked behind a door, and I simply opened the door ajar. Suddenly in those moments, I felt this overwhelming sense of love and peace I never knew before come rushing into my heart. I knew immediately who it was, for it was God Himself, filling me with His Love. In an instant my heart was changed, and I knew now that God loved me. I knew that He loved me and was with me through all of those incredibly difficult times. He stood by me, crying with me while I watched my mom become more ill. He was there while I was being ridiculed. He stood as the ever present Father while my earthly father walked out, and continued to abandon me with disinterest. I was simply unaware of all of this. In that moment, I felt the embrace of the Trinity -God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. That night I made the decision while driving home that I was going to abandon all for God, and seek to know Him and His truth. It was past midnight, Oct 15th, 1998 when this decision was made.
That night when I got home, I said to my mother “I get it now. I met Jesus tonight. I know He loves me. I’ve committed myself to Him.” She replied to me, “All of my sufferings I have offered up for you, so that you would experience this conversion and know Jesus.” God had used the merits of her suffering to bring me to Him. I went back to school the next day a completely different person. People could tell something had changed. I was joyful, truly happy, and excited. I began rooting out sins and vices in my life. My friendships were changing. I was ridiculed again for this, but it didn’t matter, because I was growing in my relationship with God. I began studying the Sacred Scriptures, and began to question why I should be catholic. What made this faith different?
I hadn’t even experienced God’s love most intensely yet. It was not until attending a Steubenville Catholic youth conference that following summer that drove this fact home and brought my questions concerning the Roman Catholic church to a close. It was in Eucharistic Adoration (click here to see what this looks like), surrounded by 2000 young people who were praising and worshiping God ,that His love really broke me. As I was kneeling, the priest walked, carrying Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament in the Montrance and stopped right in front of me. It was in that moment that Jesus and I met face to face in an encounter that took that first encounter in Michigan and drove it home. It was here that Jesus, present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar, revealed His true presence in the Blessed Sacrament to me. I may have known in my mind that this was Jesus, but I didn’t know it in my heart. It was in this moment that I fell in a deep love with Jesus in the Eucharist. I knew that only here in the Roman Catholic Church, Jesus Himself resided truly, really, and substantially.
If Jesus Himself is here, this must be His Church.
As I went from there, I had a drive to know more about my Roman Catholic faith. I had an insatiable thirst for the truth. I learned quickly that the Catholic faith is not the priests, or even the Bishops. The Catholic faith belongs to Jesus Christ, given to His Apostles and passed on by them through the Popes who protect and guard the Truth. Priests and Bishops, in union with the Pope, should only live to guard and protect this truth also. I learned that the Holy Spirit ensures that what the Church teaches on faith and morals will always be infallible and without error. I learned via my own study that the Church’s teaching has remained constant and unchanged in 2000 years. The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church were all instituted by Jesus Himself. I was inspired by my heavenly family, the Saints and Martyrs, who had preceded me and taught me, especially in those times where I felt alone in my faith, that this was the real deal, and no matter what, never to give up. No matter what question I had, the Church was able to offer an answer. And when I still questioned the Church, if I used reason, it made sense, and any of my previous doubts were decimated. This was not something that is present in other ecclesial communities. Sure, their music may be great, the people may tend to be nicer or more welcoming. If the Catholic Church had to prove it’s worth by how nice the people in the pews were, the Church would be dead along time ago. I had to look beyond the disposition of the majority of the people in the pews and the ones wearing the robes, and look right directly for the heart of the Catholic Church, and when I did, I found that Jesus was the center, beginning and the end of the Catholic Church.
I have to give so much credit to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus, the Most Blessed Sacrament. Without her intercession and care, I would not be where I am. She truly was the one who led me by the hand to her Divine Son. The joy and peace I have found in knowing Jesus Christ and being faithful to the Roman Catholic Church far surpasses anything that I have ever experienced. However, if this mere experience came and went, it would have simply faded away into obscurity as a distant memory of something once felt. However it has been the Truth, grounded in Jesus Christ, and guarded and proclaimed in it’s entirety by the Holy roman Catholic church for 2000 years, without exception or compromise, that KEEPS me Catholic. It is the daily experience of Christ in prayer and the immense power of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. It is the family of believers spread across the world, faithful to her teachings who continually call me to seek holiness. It is knowing that I’m absolutely imperfect, yet the One who loves me perfectly, is willing to forgive me completely if I am contrite, through His Sacrament of Confession. It is the Saints, and their heroic examples. It is waking up every morning knowing that God is present, and His grace is enough, and that in the end, I know I’m loving Him and serving Him, and that He is loving me.
I would encourage you if you do not know this love, to ask Jesus to reveal it to you. If your life is in a downward spiral, or at the end of the day, you feel this ache that nothing can fill, take the time to seek God out. He will pull you out of the mire and give you hope. He will satisfy that thirst that things of this world cannot satisfy. Being Catholic for me has certainly not given me an easy life. If anything, it has given me a greater cross to bear. This however I can carry with joy, knowing that my Lord is carrying it with me. When suffering arises, it gives it meaning and purpose. When successes happen, I know from where it comes and where it goes. I encourage you to seek the Truth, because once you meet the person who is Truth itself, your life will be changed.
If you already have encountered this incredible love, keep going and keep telling everyone you know about it. Keep questioning and keep going deeper into the infinitely deep truths of God, and when you grow weary, go to Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament, who will give you strength to carry on and to become a Saint, if you let Him.
In the Immaculata,