Saturday, April 16, 2016

It's been a lesson in love.


A fellow young petty officer in the navy who was assigned to my paperwork for my first sacraments told me that he rarely knew of anyone getting what he called “the triple whammy”, which was three sacraments in one day. Baptism, first Holy Communion, and confirmation.  Yet there he was, printing my certificates for the said sacraments that I was to receive on Easter Sunday in 2006.  I was watching him print them in the religious office at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, my home at that time in my life. 

I was a young sailor in those days with a Catholic boyfriend (who was in Guantanamo Bay that year I came into the church) and wanted to become a Catholic myself. Sometimes when I share that he is the one who first introduced me to the church, I receive questions such as “oh, so you had to convert so you could marry him?” or “oh, you converted for Michael?”   The answer to those questions is no, and I can explain by backing up a bit.

My husband Michael and I began dating in September of 2004. We met on base there in Corpus Christi.  He was assigned to base security, and I was assigned to a helicopter squadron.  He had mentioned that he was Catholic, but I knew very little of that faith and didn’t give too much thought to that difference of ours at our start.  We seemed to share similar values, despite the fact that I did not have a church home.  I called myself non-denominational at that time.  Growing up I had attended different churches, but none too regularly.  It was never a top priority and the 21-year-old version of me used to say all the time, “I am spiritual, not religious.” Yes, I believed in God. I prayed, nearly every night, before I would go to sleep. I even believed that I was as close to God as I needed to be (some of my behavior at that time conflicts with that, but more on that is to be told another day.)

Then, one day, Michael invited me to mass. I had never been to a Catholic mass before.  I didn’t have a clue what it was all about.  So, I went along.  He picked me up from my barracks room and we went to church together for the first time of what would be very many. As much as I would like to say it went well that day, it didn’t.  I was confused.  It was very different from anything I had been to before.  I was used to attending a service where there was contemporary worship music for at least half an hour, followed by a motivational sermon.  This was structured so differently.  I told Michael afterward it seemed “robotic and impersonal.” Oh, I cringe now at my ignorance.  And Michael was offended by what I had said, of course. It was one of our first real arguments.  But that feeling of confusion…it led me to a curiosity and I wanted to dig deeper in order to gain some understanding of the mass.  So I did.  In the admin office where I worked on base I google searched “the Catholic church.” Amid my web browsing I stumbled upon Americancatholic.org, and started clicking links and soaking up information I was receiving from the web.  Weeks into this internet searching, something unexpected happened.  I started agreeing with what I was reading.  I remember sitting there, staring at my computer screen, thinking to myself I believe this.  I thought it was weird at the time, how much I agreed with the teachings I was reading about.  Now I know it was the start to being called home.

I started looking into the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults – RCIA – which is the process for prospective converts to get introduced to Catholicism. I wanted to learn even more about what I had been so curious about, and so I jumped in.  When I first told Michael, I’m not sure he took me seriously.  Once he knew I was, he was happy for me.  He couldn’t be too involved, however. He was busy getting ready for one-year orders to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  So he wasn’t physically there during my conversion.  He was out of the country.

So, there I was, taking weekly classes to learn about a faith that not one of my friends or family members shared, because it felt right for some reason that I couldn’t articulate or even understand at the time.  It felt like I was where I was supposed to be.  In mass, I started really paying attention to the readings, and I believed.  I started really paying attention to the gospel each week, and I believed.  I started really paying attention to the homilies, and I believed.  I started really paying attention to the consecration, and I believed.  There was no doubt.  I had experienced doubt and fear with other big decisions leading up to my conversion.  The Navy, for example.  I almost didn’t go to boot camp.  It was a big deal, a big life decision.  Was it right for me?  Now I can say yes, it certainly was.  However my 19-year-old self that joined had her doubts.  And now that 22-year-old girl joining the Catholic Church?  Not a doubt in that mind.  I knew I was meant to become a Catholic.  The thing that no words will suffice in explaining here is that sitting in mass at that little base chapel in Corpus Christi, I felt truth and grace in a way I had never experienced.  I wanted to love Him more. I always felt as though I was loved by God, even when I wasn’t in church.  In fact, that was an excuse of mine I frequented -  “God loves me even if I’m not in church.” And of course God loves us regardless.  But, for the first time, I wanted to show Him how I loved Him in return.

On April 16th, 2006, inside Our Lady of Guadalupe Church onboard NAS Corpus Christi, I joined the Catholic Church. I was the only adult among about 8-10 kids who were receiving their first communion that day.  We shared the same pew during the service.  If you know me at all, you probably know that I am not well in front of crowds.  I get really nervous if I am the center of attention.  I’ve read at a wedding once – my legs shook violently the entire time.  That day, however, rather than feel nervous as the eyes of the parish members were on me as I walked up to the baptismal font, I felt peace.  It is surreal to remember it all.  At first communion I tasted Jesus for the first time and was consumed by His truth.  That was the beginning of a journey I am still on, hoping of course to lead into Heaven. 

Only pics I have of that day. Here I am with my sponsor Florence (assigned by the church to sponsor me) and Fr. Brian Kelly, the base Chaplain assigned to NAS Corpus at that time
                                   
Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, NASCC

 

                                                  

So here I am, a decade later. It’s been a busy ten years. Michael and I were both honorably discharged from the Navy. We married, in our home parish of St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church in Pflugerville, Texas.  We were blessed with SUPER fertility and have had six children.  I feel like I’ve grown in my faith and am incredibly grateful for my journey so far. 

That truth I have a hard time explaining? It’s a feeling of peace.  Of grace.  I feel I’m getting to know Jesus more and more each passing day and know He is good.  The Catholic Church has made me feel closer to Him.  I look at the crucifix and see His love.  It doesn’t matter what is going on in the world.  It doesn’t matter what is going on in my own little world.

Perfect love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18)  Oh, yes, it does.  I am human.  I mess up. I sin.  I fall down, I get up, and I fall down again.  I get sad sometimes. I get angry. I get frustrated, overwhelmed, and fearful.    But all of those feelings are washed away when I fix my eyes on Him.  He has already overcome the world, what else is there to worry about?  His love drives out my fear.  It’s the truth.

 
Until next time...