Prior to two years ago, I hadn’t known much about Jesus, either the man or the Son of G-d. As a child, we never learned about his Jewish heritage, and anyone who had ever reminded us that He was Jewish did so in a condescending, but ‘he’s better now’ way.
Growing up, most of our friends were Christian, but our neighborhoods and schools were mixed, so being either was not terribly strange for us. I understood that Christmas was Jesus’ birthday, although I really did not understand Easter at all. It seemed strange to me, but all in all it wasn’t that big a deal.
I’ve always believed in G-d. Despite that most Jews don’t, I’ve always believed in an afterlife. I have this love-hate relationship with a Shirley Temple movie that takes place on a boat with a boy and it’s supposed to be heaven, both pre-birth and after-death, I don’t know. I feel the same way about Dead Again and DOA.
I follow the traditions of my family’s holidays, and carried that over to my married and family life. While we didn’t have a Seder, we did observe Passover, and consumed no bread for eight days. My kids would bring bag lunches to school during the holiday. We still use my parents’ menorahs at Chanukah.
When I wandered into the church two years ago in March, no one, especially me would have expected that twenty-five months later, I would be baptized Catholic. It hadn’t occurred to me. Not even for a moment.
Afterwards, the hardest question I have been asked sounds so simple: “Why did you decide to become Catholic?” Or alternatively, “why did you decide to join the Catholic Church?”
Unfortunately, for simple questions there is no simple answer.
The most truthful answer is that I didn’t choose anything, but there is no thirty-second sound bite to follow that introduction to the answer of my conversion or as I like to describe it, my transition.
In the middle of an unexpected crisis, I took the words of the Count of Monte Cristo (wait and hope) and a sign in Schenectady (Job) and together they were a sign that I needed a place to think. Not an hour before, I thought I would stop in and hide myself in a pew, but thought that idea was slightly crazy. Now, with Job leading the way, I drove back towards home and went in.
There were two main reasons that I allowed myself to go. One, no one would ask me why I was there, and two, no one would ask me to leave. Somehow, deep down, I knew both of those things.
That evening, a friend, G in Philadelphia posted a choir rendition of Psalm 23 and T in Nebraska sent me an uplifting, supportive message. Two weeks later, T suggested that I stay for Mass, telling me that Easter Masses were really beautiful. I couldn’t be there for Easter Day (family plans), but I began on the Tuesday during Holy Week in 2012.
I have gone to daily Mass ever since.
Sometime after that, I was still continuing to wander in when the spirit moved me (whether this was the Holy Spirit or just some paranormal poke, I didn’t know at the time, but strongly believed in the latter more than the former.)
So far, every time I had been there randomly, the odd verse or Scripture that I read or more frighteningly the chosen Gospel or reading for that day spoke to me in very real ways. Not the typical, you will overcome what is ailing you, but very specific, the person you’ve avoided for the last three days will call you after dark.
Obviously, that’s not really a scripture, but it was specific like that.
The first time, I was upset; I was crying, and I sat down, picked up the missalette, opened it to a random page, and read, “Cry to me in distress and I will hear you.”
I looked around, thinking Candid Camera, but it was pretty much on the mark and it never disappointed.
The incense would remind me of something long forgotten. The tree in my line of sight reminded me so strongly of Wales that I would tear up. When someone would shake my hand, it was electric. I’d ask a question, ask for a sign, and the bells would chime, and I would know the answer.
When my priest returned from his pilgrimage to Rome, the way he talked about Rome was the way I felt about Wales. He told a story of a red steamer trunk that first week, and that has stayed with me, and motivates me as I try to declutter my life, mostly my mind, and hopefully the rest will follow.
One day, I was sitting there, just thinking quietly. I don’t even remember what I was thinking about, if there was something specific or if I was asking for guidance, or just strength, but there was a moment of uncertainty, a hesitation. I still don’t know if it was mine or someone – something – else’s.
As unbelievable as it sounds, I turned my head and there was this bright light. Not the shape of a man, not the shape of an angel, but a glowing, shimmery white light, broader across the top, tapering at the bottom. No cross, no halo, just light.
I didn’t hear any words, and I didn’t speak.
I just stared into the light.
Just before it faded, I knew.
I just knew.
I didn’t need an explanation. I didn’t need to hear the words, “Follow me.” I didn’t need a history book or witnesses to miracles.
I just believed.
I understood; well, as much as anyone can.
I finally grasped what Easter meant.
I had no doubt who Jesus was; that he was Son of Man and Son of G-d. There was no more, ‘hows or whys.’
I didn’t even think about joining the Church; I was happy just knowing, just having the remarkable experience of Jesus metaphorically taking my hand and leading me out of darkness.
My visits to Mass became more meaningful after that. I don’t know when I knew that I was truly missing something during the Eucharist, but once I began with my first Communion at Easter, I knew that a piece of me was returned.