Back in 1984, I was a young lawyer who years before had abandoned the faith of my youth. I had largely cleaned up my act since my wild undergraduate days, but that was more a matter of expedience, not moral conviction. I felt as though I should give my life to something or Someone, but I really didn’t know where to turn.
My sights weren’t set particularly high, so I resolved to help build the earthly city. After all, what else was there to life?
At that time, my mother asked me to start going back to Mass on Sunday so as to set a good example for my nephews and nieces. I was reluctant to do so, as I felt like a hypocrite since I no longer even considered myself a Catholic. I eventually relented, figuring that an hour a week wouldn’t kill me.
As it turned out, some of the Sunday homilies that I heard gradually drew me in, and I became increasingly receptive to what the Church had to say, especially in social justice matters. Soon, I no longer had to be asked to go to Mass, even though I was still on the fence.
Attending weekly Mass opened an unexpected door for me. One of the secretaries at my law office saw me one Sunday at Mass, so she invited me to a weekly young-adult Bible study. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I said I would go with her to check it out. Here’s what happened.
I was immediately impressed by how genuinely welcoming the group was. I was also intrigued by the fact that everyone could be so fun-loving and at the same time so much in earnest when it came to the Bible and their Christian beliefs. The leader of the study, as I came to learn, originally started the group as a Protestant, but at this point he was in the process of returning to the Catholic Church. He was a veteran of Campus Crusade for Christ, and he sure seemed to know a lot about the Bible. And he definitely liked to talk!
Despite the dozens of good people who were “regulars” at this weekly study–many of whom are still dear friends to this day–the whole thing seemed uncomfortably “Protestant” to me at first. Reading the Bible, praying spontaneously, and the whole concept of “fellowship” were foreign to this cradle Catholic. I remember once trying to conceal the fact that I was futilely searching the Old Testament to look up a quoted passage from Hebrews.
One evening, though, the leader affirmed the existence of objective truth, and his words shot through my entire being. It was as though I was immediately awakened from a ten-year slumber. Then and there I knew that it must all be true. I wanted to know the Lord Jesus and devote my life to Him and His Church.
The leader, by the way, was none other than Curtis Martin, who has gone on to found the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), far and away the most dynamic and effective Catholic evangelization program on college campuses today (www.focusonline.org).
At that point, elements of my Catholic upbringing, such as Marian devotion, came back to me. I eventually resolved to go to Confession–a daunting prospect for someone who hadn’t gone for many years. The priest was very compassionate and helpful; my fears were not at all justified, as the weight of past sins fell off like scales.
One little miracle occurred at that time: Virtually overnight and without conscious effort or relapse I not only stopped using foul language, but became extremely sensitive to any violation of the Second Commandment.
Underneath, however, was the real miracle, as I was restored to God’s friendship. With a clean conscience (cf. 1 Cor 11:28), I was able to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. I was back home! Why was I ever so foolish as to leave in the first place?
While that time of my life was a singularly important moment of conversion for me, I’ve had to renew my commitment to the Lord many times since then. I’ve made countless wrong turns–the hundreds of times I’ve been to Confession since 1984 attest to my need for ongoing conversion. I do think, however, that Our Heavenly Father takes a long view of the matter and has been genuinely entertained by my feeble and at times misguided attempts to follow His Son. In fact, I think He’s more than entertained: Scripture tells us He’s downright thrilled whenever He recovers one of His lost sheep (cf. Lk. 15:3-7).
There’s a movie that’s been out a few years called Miracle, which tells the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team’s improbable upset of the Soviet Union en route to its remarkable gold medal. Who can forget announcer Al Michaels shouting triumphantly at the end of the game, “Do you believe in miracles?” In a manner of speaking, the U.S. hockey team’s performance was a miracle.
Yet, finding our way back to God is even more of a miracle, because attaining our eternal prize on our own is not merely improbable or unlikely, but impossible. And if Our Heavenly Father is willing and able to save someone like me, I’m able to hold out a realistic hope that He will do the same for many others, as no one is beyond His reach.