I was a cradle Catholic in the sense that I was born into a household where my parents loosely considered themselves Catholic by virtue of their own upbringing. They had me baptized in the Catholic Church. My exposure to Catholicism was, at an early age, one of affection. I really loved the Church and there was something just inexplicably majestic about it to me. I made the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Confession in fourth grade, and I became a Mass server. And I just loved that. It was just so amazing. I loved being in the Church. I felt, even as a child, just this peace and awe and wonder about God.
By the end of my fifth grade year, my dad would say he was an atheist while my mom was probably at best an agnostic. And they would send me and my sister to Mass on Saturday for the vigil and then we would walk home, while my parents would stay home. My parents were really struggling, I think, at the time within their marriage. My dad would say he was struggling with depression and worry and things like that, but he ended up getting saved in the evangelical sense of the word. He just had — without question — a radical, life changing experience with God. As a result of that, he started going to a Pentecostal church. My mom then “got saved” as well, and they had what I would say was an anti-Catholic experience. They kind of let me double dip and continue serving Mass for a while, but then right before eighth grade Confirmation is when they informed the parish that our family was no longer Catholic. I continued on in Catholic school, but was not allowed to continue on in Catholic practice.
Into my twenties, I actually had quite a spiritual falling away from God and some confusion, but I stayed involved because that was my circle of friends. The pastor of that church at the time is still a pillar in my life today. He's almost like a second father.
But then, years later, I attended a wedding at Sweetest Heart of Mary, near Detroit’s Eastern Market. It was about ten minutes until the start of the Mass, I’d guess. The organist was playing something softly through the pipe array marshaled across the rear of the balcony, and a server was lighting all the candles.
As I took in the beauty of the church, I appreciated the intentionality of Catholics in articulating physical beauty and making aesthetic worship a priority. And it was out of this appreciation that I began to sense something moving upon me. Maybe it was more like something welling up within me, or maybe it was both. But I realized God was present with me again. I felt an incomparable awareness of God’s nearness upon my mind, spirit, and every physical fiber of being—as if down to the molecule.
I was becoming breathless, and tears rushed to my eyes. The intensity grew. God drew nearer. It was an intensity that was encompassing. It was both growing within, and around me, but more so … upon me. I leaned forward and looked at the floor, wondering why this was happening. I closed my eyes and asked, “Lord … what?”
Then, that familiar whisper, not heard with ears, but with soul. It breathed, ‘Know I am here.’
Around then, the organ burst into full volume as the procession began. Everyone stood. And I followed suit, still breathless and under the influence of the presence of God. I was hit with a very deep conviction to join in the Mass. I began to doubt, thinking, “But … I’m no longer a Catholic.” Then the priest said, “Let us begin our celebration, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Words that were accompanied by a gesture — the Sign of the Cross. For the first time in decades, I joined with the Catholics in attendance and crossed myself, practically without thinking or intent.
At that moment, almost five years ago, I knew everything was different. I knew my path was leading me someplace I had not scripted for myself, nor even imagined. Personally, I found myself being drawn to the Eucharist in inexplicable ways. I sought out Confession and found myself dipping into Masses at a local parish, whenever I had the chance.
Even in my work life, the Lord was using a professional relationship I had developed with Detroit Catholic Central High School, over the past decade, as a powerful means of steering my spiritual attention back to His presence in the Church.
Between these factors and many others, I realized I was caught in a gravitational force back to my Catholic roots that I was unable to ignore for long. And so, a few years back, and by the grace of God, I made my return.
And God, it seems, is not without a wonderful sense of irony about it all. Last year, and with the guidance of my parish pastor, Fr. Joe Malia, I made the Sacrament of Confirmation, one of a pair of adults among another eighth grade class, nearly four decades after my own.
I retired within months of that, however my relationship with Catholic Central endured, as they were cheering my return to the Church on, the entire way. And with my professional life over, my vocational life has begun, teaching theology and Church history, as part of the Catholic Central family and God’s mission through it.
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.