On a cold January evening, I left my house and drove for ten minutes to a small Catholic parish. Two days before, I had sent the parish priest a copy of my baptismal certificate and had also gone to him for instructions. He had told me that whenever I was ready, I could be received into the Church.
When I arrived, the parish was completely empty except for two or three other people. Father was surprised to see me there so early. I went to one of the pews and knelt down to pray. For a few minutes, I could not focus on what I was going to tell Father in the confesisonal. I had examined myself carefully beforehand, but I had somehow forgotten what sins I was to confess.
After a few minutes, I remembered and went into the confessional. I closed the door softly behind me and intoned those words that I had heard so often in the movies, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been seven years since my last Confession.”
When I had finished confessing my sins, Father turned to me and gave me these words of advice: “My son, whatever stupid things you may have done in the past are forgiven you. You are now about to join yourself to the Church. Whatever you did in the past is long gone.” Then he gave me advice and, as I said the Act of Contrition, he absolved me.
I emerged from the confessional like a cleansed leper. The sores had been lifted from my body. I wanted to sing or dance for joy. I was almost “in.” In just a few minutes, I would be received. In a few short moments, He would be lying on my tongue.
The Mass itself was beautiful and quiet. Within half an hour, we were already at Holy Communion. I remember kneeling there and waiting with greater and great anticipation for that moment. Finally, Father came and held the Host in his hands. I stretched out my tongue and he said those words, “May the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul to life everlasting.” Then He was there with me and I was united to Him. I was finally a member of the Church.
I remember how happy I felt when I left that parish on that January night. Something inside me had changed for the better. I felt renewed and resurrected. All of those years of struggling to find the truth had suddenly found their resolution. The years of wandering and depression were at an end. Like St. Paul, after his conversion on the road to Damascus, I had gone and found Our Lord in a parish the size of a shoebox.
Of course, the devil sent me doubts that same evening. He tempted me to revert to what I was before. He told me that I wouldn’t be able to handle the tremendous trials that God would send me. Yet I told him firmly that I would stay committed. I could not turn my back on what I had learned. I could not turn away from my Lord.
It seems to me that that evening was the beginning of my journey within Catholicism. Although I left that parish months later because it was in schism, I still feel a great debt of gratitude to Father for receiving me. Indeed, we need more priests like him who are open-hearted to those that need them and willing to counsel those that would like to be helped.
Of course, my conversion continued long after that evening when I was received into the Church. I had many experiences that forever changed my view of Catholicism and what it means to be Catholic. If anything, I have learned that being a Catholic means that one constantly re-learns the faith. It is never enough for us to say that we know something until we know and understand it thoroughly. Indeed, the whole of the spiritual life is a journey to a greater and deeper understanding of God.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!