Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How I came back to the Catholic Church

I guess when I think back to when I had the first thoughts of coming back to the Catholic Church they all started here. But I suppose the seeds were planted much, much earlier. I was born to two non-practicing Catholics. I was baptized in Mexico City, at an old chapel, probably to appease my paternal grandmother. I never really attended church regularly, but there were times when I did. In 5th grade, I was attending a Lutheran school in Bakersfield, CA. I wanted to go to church there, so my father took me most Sundays. We moved and that ended. Fast forward to high school at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. For some strange reason, I started attending daily Mass, even though I had never had first Communion or CCE (or as it used to be known, CCD). We moved again, and I went to a diocesan school in Erie, and it was there in my senior year I became Episcopalian. Mostly because I was really afraid of going to confession.

I attended church for my last one and a half years in high school, and for my freshman year in college. Since I was basically un-churched through most of my life, and there were few other Episcopalian students I knew in college, I drifted away and became an atheist. My turn towards atheism was the product of hanging around with charismatic Episcopalians. I never "felt" anything, so I thought there must be nothing.

Life went on. I got my degree in physics, and met my wife-to-be (as you now know) at in interview in New Mexico. We were the sort of couple that for the first couple years of our marriage were pretty much your standard secular humanist types. Our sacrament was the Sunday New York Times (world and politics for me, fashion and crosswords/puzzles for Brynne).

We decided to attend graduate school, so we ended up in Boulder, Colorado. This certainly excited my liberal secular sensibilities. I was thrilled to live in a town of (mostly) like minded individuals. For some reason, we decided to start attending a church. I don't remember why or when really, but it just happened organically. I felt that there had to be something that created existence, a first mover if you will. I would later discover that this idea was something written about nearly 800 years ago by Saint Thomas Aquinas.

Anyway, I persuaded Brynne that via media was the way to go. It was liturgically traditional, which was something that attracted both of us, but theologically liberal. It was there that we first met the ever thoughtful Reverend James Cavanagh, who ran the student ministry. The church was perfect for us: a nice house to study during the day (with a full kitchen!), and the real deal was the $20/semester parking right next to Brynne's department. We made friends, had a church wedding, and everything was settling into a nice pattern. We were busy with graduate school and active at the church. The first cracks started to appear when Brynne got a book at the Boulder Library. The book was by Elaine Pagels, a scholar of gnostic studies. Brynne wasn't really impressed by the book, but it spurred me on to read the New Testament (NRSV). In reading the Gospels in particular, I started to, particularly with regards to divorce, I started to question the Anglican tradition. It was at this time the whole Gene Robinson debacle broke. This issue proved to be divisive in our little college parish. I made it into the Pauline letters, and started to question my own thoughts on his ordination. Initially, I thought "what was the big issue about?", but again it started chipping away at my Anglicanism. How could a church both promote and condemn same sex relationships? There seemed to be a lack of consistency.

Dipping our feet in the Tiber

Anyway, we went on a vacation to my in-laws house in Illinois. We were having a good time and enjoying some well deserved time away from research and classes. One afternoon we were sitting on their couch and watching TV. We happened across a channel with two priests talking about philosophy. It was kind of interesting, and no one was around, so I kept watching. Brynne came by and initially was surprised, but also got sucked in. We learned that the channel was EWTN, and the show was called Web of Faith. The vacation ended without consequence, and we began our long drive back to Colorado.

Now what happened next requires a little bit of explanation. I usually am the driver of the family - before we had kids, after the kids: I almost always drive. Brynne is good at many things, but navigation is not one of them. Everything was going fine on I-80, until we hit Des Moines, IA. I was asleep and Brynne unknowingly got onto I-35 southbound for Missouri. Several hours later I woke up and said this didn't look like western Iowa. We stopped at the nearest gas station, found out where we were, bought some ice-cream and planned our next move. We would drive through Kansas.

We were cruising through Kansas when we kept seeing signs for the "Cathedral on the Plains". I've always enjoyed going to cathedrals, and we decided to stop since it was only a mile off the highway, and seeing as how we were already severely detoured, we figured "hey, why not!". We walked into the Cathedral, and looked around. It was gorgeous inside, and we were the only people there on that late summer evening. As we were walking out I saw a schedule for monthly programming on EWTN. Since I liked the little bit of one show, I would see what else was on there. If nothing else, it would be kitschy and fun for a while.

Life went back to normal, and we started going back to church, where the whole Gene Robinson ordination was still pretty hot talk. I started reading some histories of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church. I read about the Lambeth conference in the early 20th century that changed the stance on contraception. It started to make me question my faith even more. I started reading theology, which was something I had not done since high school. I started having serious doubts about Anglicanism in general, but the idea of being a Catholic seemed opposite to everything I had believed for most of my adult life - I was a pro-choice, pro-contraception libertarian. If this was going to happen, then I was going to have some serious choices to make. So one night in bed said I was thinking of leaving the Episcopal Church. I think Brynne thought I was nuts, but wrote it off.

That changed with Father James gave us a little book on the night before we were headed out to a Ben Folds concert at Red Rocks. The little book was an introduction to patristics, or studies of the early Church Fathers, also known as the Didache, I remember Brynne reading the first line of it to me while we were getting a quick dinner at a McDonalds drive through window.

There are two ways, one of life and one of death; but a great difference between the two ways.

I think this little book made up my mind, but Brynne's hard decisions were just on the horizon.

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