Around the time I was preparing to make Confirmation, I no longer felt close to the Church or God, but being Confirmed was something I did because all of my friends ( I had none who I was aware of being non-Catholic) were doing, and because my family insisted. I didn’t understand this, and felt indignant. They did not go to Church, why should I? I was the only 13 year old I knew who went to Mass alone every Sunday. The reason for this was because I was raised by my mother’s parents, and my mother had been a convert to Catholicism. When I would point out this inconsistency, I was usually just brushed aside.
After being confirmed, I basically decided I didn’t care about being Catholic. Going to Church was something I still did most of the time because my grandmother wanted me to continue going; though she never forced me, her displeasure when I chose not to keep going was noticeable. Around this time I became really interested in Wicca. That is a belief-system which, at least from the understanding I had at 14, worshipped the divine in nature; seeing nature as divinity. Of course, I now know it’s paganism, pure and simple. I was intrigued by the idea of it, and also drawn to its mystery. I wanted to be different, and do something that was rebellious.
Rejecting Christ and his Church to worship nature was different alright! I lasted a few months in my “new-found faith” before it became boring and I decided at the ripe old age of 14 that I would just not believe in anything. Of course, as is the style of 14 year olds, my grandparents had no idea that I had been dabbling in witchcraft. They still thought of me as Catholic, and even went so far as to suggest I think of enrolling in the local Catholic High School that fall. I took the exam to please them, aced it, and then decided to stay in my public school which was more academically challenging, and had the perk of being free.
Then something happened during the summer of 1998. I was 14, and an angry, sad disillusioned teenager who felt I had nothing of value to offer, and would never be ‘normal’. Something inside of me longed for joy and freedom and peace, but I could never have articulated it. The summer before I began high school I was caught up in band practice in the sweltering heat of July and August, of babysitting to be able to buy new clothes in the fall, and desperately trying to figure out how to lose 25 pounds in two months so I could start over fresh in high school.
I was still attending Church a few Sundays a month to appease my grandmother, but only going through the motions, usually more observant of the attractive males in my line of sight during Mass than what was occurring on the altar.
One Sunday the priest, announced that a new youth group would be starting at our parish for all middle and high school aged kids, and a seminarian for the diocese would be working with the youth group. I had no interest. Less than no interest actually, BUT, a boy that I thought was completely beautiful was interested, or so I overheard him tell his mother after Mass, and so off to youth group I went.
The youth group was led by my former Confirmation class teacher and the seminarian. He seemed old to me, though I now know he was in his late twenties. He was smart, and I mean, SMART. He was nice, and funny, and tried to be cool with us kids. I was pretty impressed with the youth group, but mostly just thought of it as something to do, and a way to be in the same room with boys who would have never acknowledged my existence otherwise.
Still, Poetry and Books were my Church, and that meant there was no real room for Jesus and his Church. The youth group heard about a conference that was happening for all high school aged people at a school in Ohio called the Franciscan University of Steubenville. It was a weekend for Catholic teenagers to come together to learn about God and make friends. God I could take or leave, but I was excited at the prospect of meeting new people, and maybe finally being noticed by a boy as I so longed to be.
We took two minivans with about ten people to the conference that first year, and when we arrived on campus after the six hour drive, we were tired. But the campus was alive and buzzing with teenagers; some excited and wholesome, some who looked bored, angry, or unsure. I took note of where the dining hall was, and of the cute boys who crossed my path, and that was about it.
That night there was a meeting of all the retreat participants in a HUGE tent set up with an altar on stage. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and when I heard loud rock music coming from the stage, I was shocked. It was the first time I had heard something other than “On Eagles’ Wings” associated with church. There were speeches that night, but I don’t remember what was said. I remember being filled with much skepticism and feeling somewhat uncomfortable.
Then a woman talked about God as our father; I thought she was saying it like the Our Father prayer. But she talked about God knowing and loving us as though he were our actual father, only moreso. I felt something stir inside me as she was talking: At that moment I had not spoken to my earthly father in about a year, and the last time I had, he had been too strung out on drugs to even remember my name. I didn’t have much use for fathers; in this world or the next.
Even so, something kept me from tuning out, and before I could stop myself, I felt something break inside me. I wanted to know this father the woman spoke of. She had an air about her that made me know she felt loved and cared for by a heavenly Father. I still felt far too freakish to ever believe that God could be my father, but her words enkindled a desire. I fell to my knees when the worship music began, but not because I was paying homage to God, but so that none of my youth group friends could see my tears. As I was doubled over on the ground, feeling even more lost and confused than ever, a woman I did not know came over to me and knelt down next to me.
She whispered to me, “Can I pray with you?” and I said back, “I am not praying. I don’t even know if I can.” She then took a small vial out of her pocket, opened it and put something that looked like oil on her hand. Then she asked if she could put some on my forehead; I said yes, but felt confused. She made the sign of the cross on my head, then put one hand on my back and began praying over me. I did not know what she was saying, or even who she was saying it to for sure, but I felt something strange happen to me.
As she prayed, I felt a warmth spread through my body that I had never felt before. I also felt racked with pain, deep searing pain that tore through my heart. I cried until my eyes were dried out and I felt as though I could collapse from the spiritual weight of it all. She had never said a word to me out loud, but I knew she was praying for my heart and my healing.
Before she left she looked at me and said, “You are a beautiful daughter of God, and Jesus is drawing you to Him. Let God love you, and you will be free.” No one had ever spoken words like those to me in particular before in my life, and even though I wasn’t sure what exactly she meant, or if it could be true – that night I wanted with all of my heart, nothing more than to be a believer.
Looking back on the experience as I remember it, I believe that was the beginning of my journey to Christ. The holy Spirit burst into my heart that night and began the slow sacred dance of bringing my wounded soul back into the arms of God.
Of course at first I resisted; and by at first I mean, for most of my adolescence and early adulthood. But the Hound of Heaven is patient and perseveres, much more than we humans can imagine.
When was the first time you met God?