Reflections on a conversion to hope and freedom
During Mass on Palm Sunday, I was reminded of a freedom that is not physical nor is it monetary. It’s a freedom of the mind and spirit.
On a run before Mass, I was thinking about Palm Sunday and the upcoming Holy Week. I began thinking what led me to where I am today, a point where I thoroughly enjoy Mass and look forward to the hour of peace that it brings my soul.
And how did I get here? As a boy, I was raised devoid of religion and spirituality. There was no Mass, no baptism, no First Holy Communion and no Confirmation. Sunday was just like Saturday with the only difference being that school was the next day. My Mom, on the other hand, was raised Catholic. Her mother was an alcoholic, severely handicapped by mental problems, which often made family life for the children a living hell.
Noting the hypocrisy, mom was fed up with the Catholic Church and wanted nothing to do with Her by the time she was of age. It was the sixties, and she immersed herself in the counter culture. When I came along, she had already been duped by the women’s liberation movement, so she plopped me in a day care and off to work she went. The institution of women’s rights and chasing a career was her Church. At six, my parents, a marriage doomed from the start, were divorced.
As I grew older, I had no Faith, and I don’t really think I believed in God if I believed in anything at all. I went to Mass for weddings, funerals and other rare occasions. I also attended Mass with my Grand Pop once or twice when he and Grand Mom would stay with me while my parent’s (my Mom remarried when I was 10) went on vacation. I did not understand any of it. Stand up, sit down, kneel and now come have a cracker and some free wine. That was my interpretation of it all, boring and pointless.
When I was in my late teens, I had an unjustified anger toward the Church. Maybe I thought it was justified because it seemed that mostly every Catholic I came in contact with was more judgmental, selfish and hypocritical than any non-religious person I came in contact with.
And so I led a life of impurity with little shame. Sure I had a conscience and knew the basic difference between right and wrong. I knew stealing was bad and I knew lying and cheating were wrong. And even though I knew it was wrong, I overindulged in alcohol, drugs and sex through my late teens and into my mid-twenties. In the beginning, I felt the pangs of guilt, but as time went on, this lifestyle became the norm and I convinced myself it was simply part of growing up and who I was.
In my late twenties, I got married to a beautiful woman who was raised Catholic, and in order to marry in the Church, I had to take classes. I had to show that I was baptized and I realized that two of my aunts and my aforementioned Bible thumping alcoholic of a Grand Mother had all baptized me on three separate occasions.
As my Mom grew older, she found her way back to the Catholic Church and with such a renewed commitment that I started to think maybe there was something in it for me. She and my Step Father got “remarried” in the Catholic Church because the Church did not recognize their marriage.
Even though my interest was piqued, I still resented the Church, and the scandals in the news about some of Her Priests did not help, but, at my wife’s insistence, we baptized our daughter because my wife, although not a devout Catholic, insisted.
When it came time to decide where our daughter would go to school, we waffled between the local Catholic School, which my wife had attended and the public school, which I had attended. To save money, we chose public and our daughter was miserable. She cried every night. Any parent who has ever experienced something like that, knows what a heartbreaking situation like that can be. Four months later, we switched her to the Catholic School. She was instantly transformed from a kid who was terrified of school to a kid who loved school.
We then started going to Mass regularly. It was a spoken rule that all children must attend Mass every Sunday. As the weeks turned into months, I started to feel something. Each time we knelt at Mass witnessing the priest repeat the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and as the bread and wine were miraculously transubstantiated into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of the Christ Jesus, I was brought to tears of hope and joy. Chills ran through my body as I watched hundreds of people line up to receive the Holy Sacrament some 2,000 years after the passing of a man called Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I began longing to receive this most Holy of Sacraments.
I then decided that, if we were raising our daughter Catholic, I should become Catholic as well, but it was more than that. The joy and sometimes sadness that I felt during Mass pulled me to God. It was stronger than gravity, and I knew I had come home.
And now, several years later I prepare for Holy Week. Palm Sunday Mass sparked the same emotion that every other Mass ignited in my soul. I marvel at the man who died for our sins. The ultimate sacrifice. Anything else in our lives seems insignificant.
As we celebrate the Paschal Mystery, I am brought to tears once again. I close my eyes and allow my sole focus to be on God. My mind is clear and my soul is, once again, free.