In June of 2014, I stood before Bishop Paul Loverde as he raised his thumb, covered in oil, to my forehead. “Flora,” he said, dabbing a glistening cross onto my skin. “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
When I slid back into the pew, I leaned forward on the kneeler, heart filled with a strange new feeling. I watched the other confirmandi make their trip to the Bishop to receive the seal, tears building in my eyes. Suddenly, the world looked different. I knew I was different.
Searching for Answers
What leads one back to the Church? I could give you a nice, long story of my own heartbreak, with all its particulars and timelines, but let’s face it – even when the details of one’s story differ from those of another, the same issues are at the center. I knew something was missing in my life. I understood I didn’t have all the answers. I had become disillusioned with the shallow answers the world gave me. And, to quote the great Bishop Fulton Sheen, “Sometimes the only way the good Lord can get into some hearts is to break them.”
Though technically a cradle Catholic, my family stopped attending Mass soon after my First Holy Communion, and even before that, we were solely Sunday churchgoers. I had no real understanding of the Mass, the sacraments, or even who and what Jesus is. So yes, if I filled out a census form, I would have put “Catholic,” but it was really only in name.
Then over the course of the summer and spring of 2013, I went from being someone who never went to Mass, to sitting tentatively at the back of St. Patrick’s Church in Washington, DC for daily Mass, drawn there by what I now know to be the Holy Spirit, as I sought answers. Soon after, I decided it was time to learn to pray the rosary, so I downloaded an app and prayed on the train to and from class and work. That led to praying the Memorare, St. Francis’s morning prayer, and other things that opened my heart. I didn’t plan it; it just happened. There I’d sit, praying, “Oh most gracious Virgin Mary, never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection…” while the world carried on and I kept digging deeper.
Then I graduated from grad school, moved, and found myself within walking distance of a church. On the day I visited the apartment before signing the lease, I looked out the window and saw the cross at the top of a spire gleaming out from the trees. “Well,” I thought, “I’d better start going to church on Sundays, too,”. So I did, but still sitting quietly at the back of the church, often staying in the pew after most everyone had left, with my head in my hands, crying and hoping that just by showing up I was getting closer to something real. By this point, I had also ended a significant romantic relationship . The thought that broke its way through my grief was, “All right, God, I was wrong but I’m here now, so you have to show me the way.” It was begging, but it was true faith.
Confirmed As a Catholic
I didn’t take the decision to go through Confirmation lightly, as it is a sacrament after all and one with real weight and obligation in the Church. I was initially motivated to attend RCIA by a fear of being a half-Catholic or even an impostor. I sat through several weeks of class and it was at this time I began to feel the real change inside me that culminated with the actual sacrament. All that time spent in prayer, examining my habits and thoughts, receding just slightly from the world, had its effect.
I found myself there that June afternoon in front of the Bishop, filled with light and tears – happy this time – thanking God for giving me the chance to start new and find out who I really am. What descended on me in that sacrament was a peace and real love I had never experienced before, as well as clarity and, more importantly, an understanding that my life had never truly been mine, anyway. It has always been God’s, and He had always been waiting for me. It was the feeling of my soul coming home.
The question is, “Why do you remain Catholic?” The answer is, “Because I can see no other way.” I understand now what the “fullness of the Church” means, the history, tradition, and sacraments that no other form of Christianity offers. It’s a technical understanding, but also a spiritual understanding that without these critical pieces of our faith, something major is lacking. Once you see the truth, how do you go back? Why would you even want to go back?
But more than that: the Church is my home. Saints are not just faces in stained glass windows; they are my friends and confidantes, guides on my own path to holiness, as called to holiness, we all are. The Blessed Mother is not just a nice figure, but truly my mother, who walked this earth and felt grief and joy, who continues to intercede on behalf of all her children. Calling on the Holy Spirit is not a hollow gesture, it is an actual moment of connection between God and ourselves, where the divine touches the temporal. My guardian angel is a real being, standing by with sword drawn in protection. As for Jesus, well, He is the one who sees, understands, and loves my heart. He is eternal love, the kind that even I still try, with my human mind, to understand, though I am not sure I will. I am so grateful that He will be there as I try, “until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
What Is Real and Lasting
Catholicism has been my path to finding my real self. When we are, as Matthew Kelly says, “the best version of ourselves,” that means that we are living as closely as we can to who God intends us to be. The Church exists to facilitate this, to bring us closer to the holiness that God plans for us. It is so much easier to be base, self-indulgent, never seeking truth, accepting what the world offers, but I have come to believe that all people, deep down, really are seeking Truth. We find fulfillment in a variety of things – sex, relationships, possessions, alcohol, work, power – but they are all substitutes for the real thing, which is a relationship with God. Everyone wants what is real and lasting. This is what makes us human. In the Church, I have found for myself what is real and lasting, beyond the noise of the everyday world, and it is beautiful beyond belief. That is why I stay.
Soon after Confirmation my sister, who was my sponsor, said, “Never underestimate how happy God wants you to be.” What a beautiful thought. God, who knows my heart and soul so intimately, and who created me in joy, in His own image, is essentially waiting for me to get out of my own way so that He can show me what wonderful things He has planned for me. For many years I resisted the faith of my childhood, only to find myself embracing it in adulthood with a love and abandon I could have never planned. In the Catholic faith, there are answers, new beginnings, and – most importantly – an endless source of mercy for all us humans seeking the Truth. When I knelt at the Cathedral that Pentecost Sunday, the strange new feeling I had was of utter peace and love washing over me. It was the Holy Spirit descending and saying, “You were lost – and now you are found!”
It is good to be home.