Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ten Years


Today, October 21st, is a very special ten year anniversary for me; not the ten year anniversary of my marriage, but the ten year anniversary of my commitment to follow Christ. It was ten years ago tonight that I abandoned my indulgent, semi-agnostic and nihilistic stupor to follow the call of Jesus. Here's what happened.

I was nineteen years old. The year was 1999. I had a very nominal religious upbringing - a basic understanding of the most rudimentary basics of Christianity (the Ten Commandments pretty much). I was baptized Catholic, but had never been to Mass in my life - in fact, I was so ignorant of the faith that I did not even know I had been baptized.

After a raucous youth full of fleshly gratification and some drug use, I found myself at 19 full of misery and nihilism, not wanting to get up in the morning, failing to see any purpose in anything I did. I was a fresman student art an art college in Detroit pursuing a career in animation and graphic design, but my spiritual malaise so was so intense that it became debilitating. My grades began to suffer and a very deep depression set in. I recall sitting outside in the courtyard of the college, watching the leaves fall from the trees in the early autumn and the cold blueness of the sky and being utterly unable to find any joy in it - I even thought to myself, "Everybody has to die someday, so what difference does it make if I live out my life to the end or shoot myself right now? It makes no difference whatsoever..." These types of thoughts clouded my mind continually and life was bereft of joy.

One evening (this very evening) I went to a party at the home of an old friend. I had a really good group of friends in high school, sincere and caring and though not without their own troubles, very sturdy souls to have about. But by 1999 the first dynamism of our friendships had spent itself, and all that was left of what had once been an idyllic and innocent youth was cynicism and despair, which meant a lot of drinking. The mood of the party was dour and it did little to soothe my aching soul.

But then a friend of mine showed up, a very special friend whom I had known in my youth and who had actually taught me how to play guitar. He had recently put off his former life and had embraced Christ and came to the party to preach to his friends still mired in the world. Most blew him off or scoffed at him, but my soul drank in his words like parched earth drinking in the rain. He went off to walk with another kid to talk to him more, and I tagged along because the name of Jesus seemed to light some kind of fire in my heart and I desired to hear more.

We walked for a ways, and the other kid eventually went his own way. Yet I remainded and said, "Tell me more." So we left the party and went for a long walk by night, where amidst the frigid blasts of Michigan October wind and the blustering skies he spoke to me of Jesus Christ, of God's love for man and of Christ's death on the cross - and of the forgiveness of sins. The particular type of Christianity he was preaching was simple Protestantism ("believe in Jesus Christ and confess He is Lord and you will be forgiven"), but oh how powerful the message was to one mired in misery.

At the end of the discussion I grapsed his shirt and asked to be baptized. I don't know where this came from, but I think I just knew that Christians were supposed to be baptized (and I was ignorant of my own baptism as a Catholic). He took me down to a lake by a park (pictured above), and under the churning clouds and among the choppy and blisteringly cold waters dunked me and pronounced the words of baptism. I know thaty sacramentally nothing occurred there, for I had already entered the holy laver as an infant, but the act of faith and the desire to truly start a new life must have been effacacious because I immediately and sensibly felt the greatest outpouring of grace and mercy I had ever known. This was by a special mercy of God.

The world seemed brand new, and as I came dripping (but not cold) from the waters, the whole earth seemed as fresh and beautiful as it did the moment it came forth from the hand of God and was beheld by Adam newly formed. I know grace is entirely of the supernatural order and not something knowable experientially, but at that moment God pulled back the veil and allowed me to feel and experience what was working in my soul - a true turning, a pulling back, the metanoia talked about by St. John the Baptist and likewise experienced so intensely by St. Augustine in the garden. This is what happened to me on this evening ten years ago today.

As I went home, my mind told me, "Nothing has really changed. You will wake up tomorrow and feel the same." And I did feel the same in the morning - but different; lighter, happier. It was the subtle and silent presence of joy for the first time. I became hungry for the Scriptures and devoured the Bible with zealous intensity, underlining and marking it up until the pages were worn thin. I did not intentionally set out to lose my old friends, but by and by as my interests became more focused on Jesus and His Kingdom, my old friends just sort of fell away. Before I know it I was a Christian and had only Christian friends. And though life was not easy, I was happy.

Well, there is more to the story - how I started going to a Protestant non-denominational church and met my wife; how through the study of the Scriptures and disputes with my friends I began to see the fallacy of sola scriptura and how I slowly became aware of my Catholic baptism and origin; how the historical fact of the Church's existence and the Catholicity of the early Fathers drew me Rome-ward, and how I was finally received into full communion with the Church on the Feast of St. Francis, 2002.

But today I commemorate that first wonderous night when the grace of God first blew apart the blindness and despair of my heart and let in the glorious light of Christ. It was that event which knocked me on a different course - and everything I have done subsequently has drawn its momentum from that initial burst of grace, just as an object in space once propelled will continue in that direction forever. Every night on this date I revisit this spot by the lake, as close to the original time as I can, and venerate the spot where God struck me from my horse. It has become a pilgrimage and an occasion of rededication, as well as repentance: repentance for years wasted, opportunities to do good thrown away, sinsAdd Image stubbornly clung to and selfishness yet to be rooted out.

Praise and thanks be to Jesus Christ our Lord. His mercy endures forever.

10 comments:

Mr S said...

Wonderful.

Awesome.

And you will find, after 15, after 20 years, that when you reflect on this first ten .... and how much road you had traveled..... that you actually travel more road each subsequent year. Day one...very little to build on, but you proceeded. Day 3650, you have so much to build on, and it becomes more vibrant, more fulfilling, more productive. Witness the progress you (not they) have made with the youth..... with marriage, with children.

There is no end to God's Graces.

May He "burden" you with many more.

Kate said...

Happy anniversary! God truly is all good and all merciful.

Jack said...

"my old friends just sort of fell away. Before I know it I was a Christian and had only Christian friends" - Me to

Anonymous said...

Me too, and some of them are ungry with me...

Anonymous said...

Do you, my child, love every one with the pure love of charity, but have no friendship save with those whose intercourse is good and true, and the purer the bond which unites you so much higher will your friendship be. If your intercourse is based on science it is praiseworthy, still more if it arises from a participation in goodness, prudence, justice and the like; but if the bond of your mutual liking be charity, devotion and Christian perfection, God knows how very precious a friendship it is! Precious because it comes from God, because it tends to God, because God is the link that binds you, because it will last for ever in Him. Truly it is a blessed thing to love on earth as we hope to love in Heaven, and to begin that friendship here which is to endure for ever there. I am not now speaking of simple charity, a love due to all mankind, but of that spiritual friendship which binds souls together, leading them to share devotions and spiritual interests, so as to have but one mind between them. Such as these may well cry out, “Behold, how good and joyful a thing it is, brethren, to dwell together in unity!”. Even so, for the “precious ointment” of devotion trickles continually from one heart to the other, so that truly we may say that to such friendship the Lord promises His Blessing and life for evermore. To my mind all other friendship is but as a shadow with respect to this, its links mere fragile glass compared to the golden bond of true devotion.

St. Francis de Sales.

Ben said...

How I loathe the whole RCIA process.

How much better would it be to drag the repentant before the priest, he look into their eyes and baptize them forthwith.

Anonymous said...

a moving account--this shows that the Holy Ghost is always at work, touching hearts. God truly desires our salvation. and it's great that you remember your conversion and are grateful. pray for us--your fellow catholics.

BONIFACE said...

Ben-

RCIA has its merits if it is taught by someone knowledgable and in an organic manner - but overall I agree; if we look at the story of the Ethiopian eunuch, he was baptized as soon as he evidenced Faith, in fact the very same day that he heardabout Jesus Christ for the first time. Looks ta Acts 8:35-39:

And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him. And as they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; and the eunuch saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing

Anonymous said...

Hey Phil,

I just had a chance to read this and wanted to tell you how happy I am to learn that you are doing so well. I went thru RCIA in 01, at St Augustine. Too bad we couldn't do it together, we could have made RCIA history with one of our famous hit lists. :)

jamie

BONIFACE said...

Jamie-

Good to hear from you...for some reason I thought you would come across this via Facebook...the funny thing is I now teach RCIA!

LOL...hit lists...