Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Catholics Come Home

Several years ago the Catholic Church started a commercial campaign to bring fallen away Catholics back to the church.  It was called Catholics Come Home. Most of the commercials talked about the many things the Catholic Church has achieved in its two-thousand year existence. I believe a majority of these things were not known even to a lot of cradle Catholics. These commercials should fill every Catholic with a deep sense of pride while giving anti-catholics something to really despise. Contest them as they have the commercials are none-the-less factually accurate.

I was now back to being a husband and a father. My knowledge of my faith was growing daily with the help of Catholic radio. A desire started to grow within me and I began to miss the Mass. More to the point, I began to miss the Eucharist. The desire was strongest during Advent when our Lord became incarnate and again during Lent when he offered himself as sacrifice for all humanity.  Several years I stayed up late and watched midnight Mass at the Vatican. Finally I got to a point where I could not stay away any longer. It was time this Catholic came home.

It was an overcast Sunday. I went to Mass alone, because returning this first time had to be something I did alone. I sat in the parking lot and stared at the church. It looked menacing and I was intimidated. I could imagine how the prodigal son must have felt as he looked upon the place of his birth after foolishly squandering his inheritance. How would I be welcomed? What would people think of me?

I got out of the car and walked up the steps to the doors. I went inside and sat in the very last pew all the way to the right of the church. I tried to be as invisible as I could. As Mass began a sense of calm came over me and I was filled with a joy so great that it was hard to keep the tears from flowing and flow they did. I did not receive the Eucharist that day and that was alright by me. Jesus had welcomed me back.

Before I walked away from the Church those many years before I had been an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and I received the Eucharist every week. I did so without ever receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, even one time. As I have said, I was a Catholic with Lutheran baggage. I thought the Church was wrong to demand that only Catholics in good standing be the only ones who received communion. They would share the word of God with anyone who would listen but they kept the body of God to themselves. Why not give the body of God to anyone who wanted it and let God work from within those people. What could it hurt?

That was before I learned the original meaning of the word ‘sacrament’. Sacrament originally meant “oath to the death”. It was what Roman soldiers took to Caesar. When we go up for communion we aren’t going to receive but to give. When we accept Jesus in the flesh we are pledging a solemn oath to the death that we will give our lives for him. This is the most serious thing we can ever do and it should never be done flippantly. I think that if Catholics actually understood and believed what they were doing when they receive the Eucharist the lines to receive our Lord would be even shorter than they are today.

In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that we aren’t led into temptation. More accurately translated we are asking that we not be put to the test. We aren’t asking protection from any run of the mill temptation – don’t tempt me in taking a penny when I don’t need one or the temptation to eat too many donuts.  What we pray is that we aren’t put to the ultimate test, the test of Peter. Would we freely go to the cross with our Lord the way he did for us or would we deny him three times like Peter did before the crucifixion? That is the temptation or test we pray we never have to take.

When I entered the church that day I did so without my Lutheran baggage, with a greater knowledge of what my faith teaches and an understanding that obedience is more pleasing to God than even sacrifice.  This is the date of my second, my full and my complete conversion.

God wants to mold all of us in his image. Instead of being soft clay needing a gentle touch I chose to be granite needing repeated whacks with a large hammer. My rock hard heart was now beginning to soften.

Friday, September 12, 2014

A Rocky Beginning

My life was looking up. Things were going well between my girlfriend and me and our kids got along well together. I asked them to move in. A short time later I asked her to be my wife. She wanted the big church wedding complete with white dress and reception that she did not get to have her first go around. I wanted to make her happy. We began planning and ran smack dab into our first challenge.

She wanted to get married in a church, as did I, but she had never belonged to any church before. I have an issue with using someone’s building without giving them patronage. To me it doesn’t matter if it is a gas station bathroom or, in this case, a church. I insisted that if she wanted to get married in a church that she find a church she liked and become a member.
Which church to choose? There are so many. She did not know one faith from another. The only church out of the question was the Catholic Church. She didn’t know anything about it but she knew they had rules and no one was going to tell her how she should live her life.
Our kids played sports at a nearby Central Christian Church and she had attended a few services there with a friend. They had a modern service for the young kids and a more traditional service for the older crowd. She thought it would be perfect and asked if I wanted to join that church.
She was a bit surprised when I told her no. It was ok with me if she wanted to join but I could not. She asked me why and I said because I am Catholic. She could not understand this. I had not been in a Catholic Church for almost a decade and in her mind all churches were basically the same. I tried to explain that, to me, faith was like a blood type. I was Catholic and that was something I was not capable of changing.
She really wanted to begin a faith life and she wanted to do it as a family. If I wouldn’t join any of the protestant churches then neither would she. Seeing she wouldn’t join the Catholic Church we were at an impasse.  Instead of throwing in the towel she searched for a compromise.
About two weeks later she called me and asked if I would consider getting married in a little country chapel that performed marriages and funerals and had services but no membership. I was familiar with the chapel she was talking about. It was the chapel we had my step-sister’s funeral in.  It was beautiful and reverent, respectful and graced with the spirit of the Lord. The pastor was a traditionally ordained protestant minister. It was the perfect compromise. The date was set, the dress bought, invitations sent. We were on our way to making this a legal family.
Four months before the wedding my father died. I was devastated although I couldn’t show it. I was my father’s oldest and his only son. It was my duty to be the rock for my sisters and his wife. I swallowed as much of the grief as I possibly could and through tear filled eyes I laid my father to rest. On one hand I was happy that he was no longer in pain. He spent far too long bearing his cross of medical problems, never complaining, while bringing smiles to all who cared for him. On the other hand I mourned the loss of one of my greatest inspirations and teachers. A man I deeply respected and loved. I was lost.
Grief buried deep and not expressed can go rancid becoming toxic and poison the soul. This happened to me and has been the demon I have had to battle ever since. I lost my passion and direction in life. Everything was viewed from the negative and I became very easy to anger. I was in borderline despair. How my wife has been able to endure me is beyond my comprehension.
I wanted to give my bride-to-be the perfect wedding. When viewed through the prism of the negative nothing went according to plan. The tux, the limo, the centerpieces, the reception hall, my wedding party – everything had problems. Even the day upset me. When I should have been over the moon because I was marrying my best friend I was angry because instead of a bright shining day we got severe thunderstorms and tornadoes that kept over half of the guests away. It was a hot and humid June day and when we arrived at the reception hall we found the air conditioning not working as well as it should have. One of the misunderstandings during this time led to me breaking off ties with my best man and cousin and not talking to him for over two years. It is time I will never get back and a relationship I will never be able to fully repair.
We were married and despite my problems I have a family that is flourishing. It’s not without its challenges, the biggest being me, but God continues to bless my life and draw me nearer to him. It was time to return home.

5:00PM - June 7th, 2008
(Yes...that's 5, 6, 7, 8...)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Windex for the Soul

I commute over one hundred miles round trip a day for work. I am spending between three and four hours a day driving. The radio is my sole entertainment. My preference changes from day to day and I jump from political talk radio to music to CDs of my beloved Jimmy Buffett. One day out of sheer boredom I decided to play radio roulette and spin the dial. Where it came to rest had a profound effect on my life and my walk on this road to Damascus.

The dial read 930AM out of Joliet, Illinois and the station was Relevant Radio, a Catholic radio alternative to EWTN. The priest’s voice I heard coming from the speakers was Father Richard Simon and the show was Go ask your Father. It is a call-in show where people can ask any question they have about the Lord, the faith or the Church. Father fielded the questions giving the nuts and bolts answers in a way anyone could understand.  He did so with charity and humility.  Humility – that was something I rarely heard on political talk radio. It was refreshing. I was interested.
I tuned in the next day. It was a different Father but the show was the same. I came to learn that the show was hosted by a core of three priests with an occasional guest priest filling any holes that came about. I liked all the priests but Father Simon was my favorite. He was a man after my own heart who could teach obscure facts with even more obscure humor. He knew how to laugh at himself and was always charitable, especially with those who just didn’t get it. Father Simon became so popular that Relevant Radio gave him his own show – Father Simon Says.  He now does a bible study of the daily readings as well as answer questions from callers. Most enjoyable are his harangues on any number of subjects concerning the Church and the faith. I was hooked.

Father Simon quickly became my favorite person to listen to. I worked backwards through his pod casts and his writings. Soon the Lutheran walls around my Catholic faith began to crumble as I learned why the Church does what it does. It was like looking through a window with forty years of grime on it. I couldn’t see anything clearly and therefore questioned the very fundamentals I claimed to believe. Father Simon cleaned that window allowing me to see the truth as never before. The truth will set you free and I was now free to grow in my faith in profound and monumental ways. So began my true conversion and I walked this road with new sight and understanding.
I am saved by grace through faith but if I had to give credit to those who brought me to Christ they would be:

My parents for believing faith instruction was something to be passed on.
Pastor Mueller for baptizing me.
Pastor Stienkie for confirming me.
Father Mullane for converting me.
Bishop Doran for accepting me.
Father Ariel Valencia for welcoming me home.

And special appreciation goes to Father Richard Simon for his continued instruction on what it means and takes to be a true Catholic in this world. His teaching broke my Lutheran mindset and was the instrumental force behind my second, my full conversion to the Catholic faith. If I had not found Relevant Radio and Father Simon I may have never found my way home.

God provides for all. Sometimes he will give you exactly what you need. Sometimes he gives you more. When he gives you more he provides you to someone else in need. He provided what I needed when I needed it but there is always a reason why.

To learn more about Relevant Radio check out their website:


To learn more about Father Simon or to enjoy one of his harangues start with his blog:

Father Richard Simon

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Lost in the desert

My life had been turned upside down. I was no longer a husband. Although I had my son a large majority of the time I was really only a part-time father. I had been given a do-over and was effectively back to where I was when I left the Navy. Being socially inept, especially when it came to talking to people of the opposite sex, I turned to the internet to try to find a relationship.

If the internet had been around when Dante had written the Divine Comedy I have no doubt that he would have included a tenth circle of Hell just for internet dating.  The eleventh would have been reserved for Face Book but that’s another post.  I have heard that there are millions of success stories when it comes to internet dating, including mine, but for every one that goes right there has to be a hundred or more that end in tragedy or worse.

I had nothing but the best intentions in the beginning.  I was a nice guy and had a lot to offer the right woman. That is when I learned that nice guys don’t finish last as I always had heard the saying go. Nice guys are devoured by ravenous succubae that lurk behind every virtual rock and tree. I was no exception and was gobbled up and spat out over and over again.

I bounced between relationships with great moral ambiguity. My once uncompromising principles were checked at the door. I found myself engaged in behavior that I abhorred just years before and hurt a few good people along the way. When I looked in the mirror I didn’t recognize the person looking back. I didn’t like what I saw.

Now I said that God was with me every step of the way. I would like to think that he protected me from the really big mistakes and the things that could not be undone. He guided me through the bad so that I may recognize the good. There was a girl, recently divorced, also wondering in the desert. An unbaptized mother of two unbaptized children. When the time was right our paths crossed.

Two years later she took my name in a quaint country chapel. In the hours leading up to the wedding severe thunderstorms battered the area and tornadoes were sighted both north and south.  Somewhere someone was not very pleased that we wed but in heaven there was joy. God smiled down upon us that day.

I was picked up, dusted off and led back to the road to be given another chance. God was far from being done.