Why I am Catholic (Part 3)
My series (that is running longer than I expected) about becoming Catholic continues. Part 1 (here) and Part 2 (here) can be accessed if you need to catch up.
What a ride. I was a Catholic now. I must say that my in-laws were very happy, my wife was very happy, and the rest of my family was at least okay with it. Except for my paternal grandfather. He was ecstatic. He was the most Catholic man I had ever known. He never missed Mass and had even once done that thing that modern Catholics just don’t do: he asked me if I had ever thought about becoming Catholic. As a kid of about thirteen who put religious faith at about item number 479 on my list of important things in life, I recall getting a surprised look on my face before I answered “no, can’t really say that I have.”
Life went on. We had one child, then another. And then the day following the Memorial Day holiday in 1994, I learned that my law firm was breaking up and that after nine years there, I was going to have to find something else to do. I had not prepared well for this, foolishly neglecting to build a client base of my own while working on the files provided by my partners. With a newly purchased house, two little kids and a wife who stayed home with them, this was bad.
It is time, I said, to put in that call to God. I started to pray. And by this time, I had enough of a belief to know that if I was going to ask God for help, I had to be in a position to listen to him in the event of a response. So I turned on the radio in my car and found a little AM christian talk radio station. That station became my travel companion whenever I was in a car by myself. Such a wide variety of viewpoints, including some that were overtly anti-Catholic. I will admit that during this period of time, my knowledge (though not my Catholicism) grew quiet a lot.
I soon enough lined up a new office arrangement, with a couple of older attorneys who did what I did and had lots of extra work. But as a creature of habit, I stuck with that radio station, even adjusting my morning commute time to catch a broadcast of an evangelical pastor reading and teaching through the entire bible. This pattern continued over perhaps two or two and half years and resulted in my becoming on quite good terms with the Old Testament.
So here I was, formally Catholic on the one hand yet steeped in evangelical protestant views of how the big questions of faith came together. Cognitive dissonance? Why yes, it was. But when a person comes from a protestant background, it is very easy to ignore those parts of Church doctrine that conflict with your personal faith compass. I was perfectly content to weigh the positions and to make my own decision. In hindsight, I realize that this is not even remotely a Catholic way of thinking, but then in those first couple of decades after the Second Vatican Counsel in the 1960s, nobody was much interested in teaching me what a Catholic way of thinking was, so how was I to know?
The point of this part of the story is that I needed to get beyond my mechanical approach to faith and religion and get into that one-on-one relationship with Christ. St. Jerome, the brilliant 5th century scripture scholar, said that “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ” and he was right. Those couple of years with the “bible thumping” protestants helped me in this part of the journey.
I realized that I had made some progress when my third child was born. From before I was married, I had known that there was hearing loss in my wife’s family, but both of our boys had been born with normal hearing and so by the time our daughter came along, I gave the early hearing test nary a thought. Until she failed it.
This was a moment when everything changed in my life. Up to that time, I had concocted in my mind this perfect little version of how my marriage and family life would work out, with my perfect children being attractive and popular and smart, and going on to successful careers and marriages of their own with loving spouses as attractive and popular and smart as my kids were. (well, almost, anyhow.) Hearing loss had no place in this little fantasy, and my life came to a screeching halt.
My response at one particular low point was to sit on my living room sofa and pick up my Bible. “OK God, what do you have to say to me?” My method was that completely stupid one of opening that bible to some random page and to start reading. And the most amazing thing happened.
It turns out that I had opened to a passage in Exodus, the one where God is trying to convince Moses to take charge and lead God’s people out of their slavery in Egypt. Anyone who has ever watched The Ten Commandments or The Prince of Egypt (the animated version) will know the story. Moses kept coming up with reason after reason why he was not the right man for the job, including one I had never really paid attnetion to. “I am slow of speech and toungue”, he said. And it was God’s reply to Moses that served as the 2 x 4 that smacked me across the head. “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” (Exodus 4, 10-11 for those interested.)
Wow. Was this somehow part of a plan? And if it was, how was I going to respond to it? When your boss at work tells you his plan for you, you either need to get on board or quit and find another job. All of my years of soaking up a foundation of Lutheran, Catholic and all the rest had me convinced that “another job” was out of the question. And then that oh-so-Catholic response came out of me: I don’t like this plan. I think it’s a terrible plan. I would have done it some other way. But You are God and I am not. If this is Your plan, then You need to give me what I need to accept it and to work with it.
As it worked out, that is exactly what happened. Every family with a child who is afflicted by some illness or disability must eventually come to accept a new kind of normal, and this is true whether that family has some kind of religious faith or not. But for me, the deep conviction that this is all part of a plan working out in our lives has helped me to make peace with this state of things. There is a lot more to say about this part of our lives, but for the purposes of this topic, I’ll just say that my daughter has grown into an amazing young woman. An amazing young woman who eventually received two cochlear implants, and who has done exceedingly well, but only by great personal struggle and perseverance. I still don’t know why it had to be this way, and I still wish we could have all gone about lives without this difficulty, but here we are in a place that could have been so much worse.
You are probably wondering when this story is going to be finished. Not yet, is my anwer. Even though I was making slow progress and had finally learned some lessons about trust and actually living that faith that I had been professing, I remained simmering in this undefined stew of Christianity which was part Catholic and part everything else. I would soon make the discovery that finally pushed me all the way over the fence.
Jim, this series is terrific. And it continues to hit rather close to home, amplifying it all the more.
“This is God’s universe and he does things his way. Now, you may have a better way of doing things, but you don’t have a universe.” -J. Vernon McGee
You probably heard that one on the radio too. Hearing loss is a struggle, I’m totally right side deaf. Possibly the plan was to make me sit right up front in Church so I could hear & read lips, thus ensuring that I pay attention.
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Thank you for sharing!