Looking back 60 years, I realize I’ve always been searching for a conduit for faith. Even as a young child I had a yeaning but I didn’t really know what it was.
My parents lived with Christian values but were suspicious of organized religion. I went to Sunday School, the United Church version, but was never baptized. The assumption was that if I wanted to pursue Christianity I could figure this out when I was adult. Even if I had been baptized, it’s rather different to be devout as a child than adult. I have many friends born as Catholics, who have meandered along in the faith, not making a decision about the place of faith in their lives. There’s no avoiding an adult reckoning with childhood faith; my parents understood I’d come to this one way or another.
Other than wanting to become a monk when I was 14 after reading Thomas Merton’s autobiographical journey to priesthood, The Seven Story Mountain, religion was a fuzzy notion of spirituality. Sort of New Age, me-and-God, vaguely Christian, and comforting to the extent it made no demands. I studied Buddhism and comparative religion. I was always fascinated and drawn to people of faith, especially Catholics, but frightened to go forward towards the Church, perhaps not knowing where to start.
In my 50s, I realized that the only religious cultural that resonated was Christian, and that I needed guidance. I began studying the Catechism with a brilliant priest, a Yale-educated Ph.D. who prior to joining the church had a fascinating, worldly life. After months of intense study, I would have gotten an “A+” on a Catechism exam, but I couldn’t make the leap of faith. As the tough love priest succinctly said, “There’s Christ in Christianity.” Christ wasn’t there for me.
Several years later I was in New York for Easter with friends who happened to be Catholic. They encouraged me to join them for Mass – they said the music would be nice. Walking back to the hotel after the service, I had a powerful feeling, not exactly a lightning bolt, but compelling. “I can do this,” whatever this was.
That fall, I began RCIA at St. Basil’s and was baptized and confirmed the following year on Easter Saturday. While I didn’t quite think that my spiritual struggles would be over, what I didn’t appreciate is that they would intensify. Faith begins to transform your life, and you have increasing expectations of yourself. It’ not a bad thing, and I take comfort that my brothers and sisters share this urgency (the idea of brothers and sisters in Christ being one of many revelations when I became a Catholic.) It’s taken 60 years to get here, and here is the start of the journey, not the destination.