Friday, August 29, 2014

God answers prayers

About a year after leaving the military I met a girl and we started to date. She was the first girl I truly dated and she was Catholic. Sunday obligation was important to her parents and they tried for months to get me to go with them.  I always refused. I wasn’t Catholic and I didn’t need a building to have a relationship with God. I had my faith and that was enough for me. But as time passed they wore me down and I reluctantly went with them one Sunday. That experience deserves its own post.

Within three months her mom knew that I was the one and began planning the wedding, much behind my back. We had talked about it but nothing serious had been discussed. One day I was told that if I were serious about getting married I had better pick a date because all of the best reception halls were getting reserved a year or more out. A year and a half later their daughter walked down the aisle in a dress of white to a beautiful Catholic wedding.

If any of you have witnessed a Catholic wedding you know that the bride and groom take vows stating that they will be open to life as God grants it to them and that the children be raised with the Catholic faith. I took this vow. Long before I ever learned the true meaning of words like vow, oath, promise or sacrament I held their meaning in my heart.

In the second year of our marriage she got pregnant with our first child. I vowed to raise my children Catholic and I had every intention to do so. I felt it was dishonest to raise a child in a faith that I did not myself hold so I entered the RCIA program at our parish. RCIA stands for the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and is the instruction usually needed for an adult convert to enter into the Catholic Church. On Easter Sunday in 1997 I was accepted into the Catholic Church as a member in good standing. This is the date of my first conversion.

RCIA is meant to open the door to the Catholic faith. It is not meant to answer all questions but to give you a taste of what the faith is all about. For many that is about the extent of their learning about their faith. For some the taste leads to a desire to know more and the more you learn the more you desire to learn. For a few that desire becomes an unquenchable thirst and lifelong quest. When I accepted the faith as my own I brought along my Lutheran baggage. Like so many in Mass today I stood and said “I believe” while in my heart I was saying “but I disagree”. It could be said that I only half converted that day but God wasn’t done with me yet.

Now, as Paul Harvey said so eloquently, here is the rest of the story. Our first three years of marriage went as many of them do. We adjusted to life with someone else and struggled to make ends meet. In general we were as happy as most newlyweds are. Things changed after having our baby. I continued to grow in my newly found faith but she started to grow distant. The distance turned to depression and the depression changed her behavior. In our sixth year of marriage she came to tell me something I had known for a while. She told me she was gay.

I had taken a vow to love her until my last breath. I do not take vows lightly and I was not ready to walk away from this one. I gave her a choice. I told her I would stay with her and be her husband but she would have to stop the lies and behavior that she had been engaged in or I would grant her freedom and she could pursue a life of her choosing. She chose the latter.

I was an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion at the time. I served at the Easter Mass in 2000 and then walked out of the church not to return for the next thirteen years. I did not lose my faith. I had asked God to make me a husband and a father and he granted both. I could not believe that he would want me to live the rest of my days alone.  If the Catholic Church would not grant me an annulment and allow me to remarry I wanted nothing to do with the Catholic Church. The Catholic faith was now in my blood and that was something I could not change. One cannot accept a faith as being true only to exchange it for another simply because one’s situation in life has changed. Far too many do but truth is truth and does not change its nature at my whim or desire. I had become Catholic and Catholic I would stay.

I left the road to Damascus and began my sojourn in the desert. God walked with me every step and guided me to where I needed to be. When I was ready he brought me home.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Tug at the Soul

Everyone is called for a purpose though most will never realize it. Fewer still will actually hear their call and only a small number of those will answer it. I can look back through my life and see God’s hand at work. For me to be where I am today clearly took some intervention. I remember the first time I heard God’s call and like most that call went unanswered.

“I am sorry. Bob isn’t in right now. Please leave a message and he will get back to you in, oh, let’s say thirty years…*Beep*”

The first time I can remember God’s call in my life came during the dark years after confirmation. When I turned seventeen I joined the United States Navy. It was an attempt to get as far away from home as I could and escape what seemed to me to be little chance at a prosperous future. I reported to active duty shortly after graduating high school and after a year of technical training I became a gunner’s mate on a warship stationed in Long Beach, California.
GMMSN Robert Collins
USS Francis Hammond 1988

One night, lying in my rack, a strange feeling came over me. A thought came into my mind in the voice of my subconscious. It told me quite clearly that I should become a priest, that I would make a good priest. Now this idea presented several problems for me, the least of which was that I wasn’t Catholic or that I didn’t have the foggiest notion what a priest actually was. But the voice persisted.

The logical side of my brain couldn’t reconcile the idea of me being a person of the cloth with the person I currently was. I was a specialist on a nuclear capable missile launching platform on a warship deployed mainly to the north Pacific during the height of the cold war. I was on the ship’s security force and stood armed roving watches. I was the body guard to the boarding officer on the alpha boarding team and I was a .50 caliber machine gunner serving as close in ship defense.  During Operation Desert Storm I had the self proclaimed title of DrBob DeathDealer. In short, it was my job to break things and kill people and I could do my job with impunity. 
DrBob DeathDealer
Operation Desert Storm 1991
This wasn’t the only argument my brain presented but it was the strongest. In addition my brain told me that I wasn’t a practicing Christian, didn’t really belong to any particular church and I wasn’t really comfortable around “church people” better known as “bible thumpers”. With all of these arguments before me it was easy for me to say no to the little voice in my head.

But that didn’t keep it from trying. It was persistent. It was annoying. It kept on for at least two weeks. Finally I prayed about it. I told God that I wasn’t cut out to be a priest and would rather be a husband and a father. I asked for that instead. All I really wanted was to find a woman who could love me and raise a large family. Wasn’t that enough?

I may not have listened to God but that didn’t stop him from listening to me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Growing up Lutheran

I have no memory of my father ever attending a church service other than for a wedding or a funeral. I have no doubt the love my father had for God. I can look back now and clearly see the goodness of God working through my father.  He required that his children have a religious upbringing and the family church was Lutheran. 

I was baptized July 19th, 1970 by Reverend Mueller at the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Harvard, Illinois. My godmother was my cousin, Sandy Knull and my godfather was my cousin Mickey Vest. My soul was indelibly marked as a child of God and I was firmly set upon the road to Damascus where I have wondered aimlessly for the past forty-four years.

My “official” religious training started when I was three years old. I was enrolled in the Sunday school program at Trinity and never missed a week. I went two weeks a year for vacation bible school and added Wednesday nights when I got to confirmation age. Davey and Goliath will always hold a special place in my heart.

Confirmation years were tough to say the least. My parents had separated and then divorced. My mother listed her religion as Buddhist although I think she cherry picked what she believed from multiple religions.  The intellectual side of my brain was warring with the creative genius side of my brain which resulted with me being one of the weird kids. The church became a sanctuary where I could escape a strained home life as well as the slings and arrows hurled by my normal peers.

On confirmation day we went from being children of God to adult members of the church. Mid-week school and vacation bible school became memories of our youth. We were now expected to actively participate in the adult service and were no longer allowed in the children’s classes. I missed the intimate instruction and really didn’t care for the service. My church life plummeted faster than a rock thrown down a well. Now an adult, church attendance was left up to me and I chose not to darken the doorstep of any church for a good eight years.

I had pitched my tent in a nice grassy spot along the road and had decided to settle. God had other ideas.