This is a guest article from a lady that Brenda and I know from RCIA. Each person has their own story and I'm thankful that she was willing to share hers here with us on Catholic Transformation.
Almost 7,000 Words - Well worth reading.
This Lent, as I prepare for baptism and entry into the Catholic Church, I have looked back upon my journey and wondered with amazement: How did I come to be here? How did someone like me from a Hindu background arrive at this point of becoming Catholic? Today this sense of awe struck me afresh during one of the rites at our cathedral, when I stood among the other elect at the front of the church to receive the blessing of the priest. I gazed upon Christ on the cross before me and my soul was moved. I spoke in my heart, “How is it that You will receive me, after all the years I never knew You? Will I really become one of Yours?” And quietly but clearly, I heard a whisper-like reply: I have been with you from the beginning.
So it is for each of us. These journeys which each of us are taking are not the work of our own hands, but reflect the artistry of God, ever at work in our lives. As I reflect upon my own journey, I marvel that God has drawn me thus far into the faith, out of a background so seemingly disparate with Christianity.
I was raised in a nominally Hindu family. Perhaps it is more accurate to describe my Hindu upbringing as a cultural one, rather than a religious one, for we never spoke of God at home. Being Hindu was just what we were and had nothing to do with what anyone really believed; after all, my father called himself Hindu by birth, atheist by belief. Once or twice a year we would take a three-hour drive to the nearest temple in Chicago, and I remember the loathing I felt for those trips. I would follow my parents into the temple with dread and discontent, waiting each time for the ordeal to be done with. I always felt a deep aversion to the idols of the gods set there in the temple. I found myself incredulous at the devotions of everyone else there. I saw people prostrating themselves before the idols, and two thoughts came strongly to mind: one, that is not God; and two, why do I feel nothing, compared to everyone else here? I wanted to feel something. Even at that age, I felt a desire for God which I could not express.
That wordless hunger to know God is wired into each of our hearts. How, then, does that seed blossom into faith? My path has been complex, yet as I peruse the design, I see that God has woven two main threads in my life to bring me here: beauty and suffering. The experience of beauty opened my mind to the faith; suffering opened my heart.
Though I had no place of true religious worship while growing up, I knew one place which became for me my temple, my church, and my sanctuary: the public library. It was through the abundance of the library, inexhaustible in its treasure of the written word, where I came to know the large ideas of life which my heart was searching for. It was not yet God; but it was the hint of God, through the transcendental values of life which coalesced in my mind as one principle, Beauty.
In high school, prompted by a friend’s recommendation, I began to read the classics. I took up a novel called Tess of the D’Urbervilles, which, though it was not religious in any sense, nonetheless opened to view a whole vista of ideas and truths I had never encountered before. It was unlike any other book I had ever read, for it transcended plot in order to reveal universal questions and ideas about life; and these questions struck a powerful chord in me. I was hungry for more. Over the next ten years I made it my mission to read as many classics as possible; and so I read with zeal, exploring many of the gems of Western literature, and in the process, discovering more and more of my desire for truth, goodness, and beauty.
I do not know if I was more attuned to these ideas than anyone else; I believe everyone has a built-in capacity to appreciate beauty, and to discern the forms of truth. Nonetheless I often felt like a solo wanderer. While everyone around me in high school was looking forward to college, I felt profoundly aware of the passing of time, and I spent my last summer of high school wrestling with this reality of the transience of life. How could no one else see it? I wondered. Life was passing, passing even as we spoke; somehow I had to figure out the meaning of it all.
Inevitably, my travels through literature brought me into increasing acquaintance with Christian ideas. Acquaintance became interest, which led to understanding, and finally an attraction and desire I had to hide even from myself. I clothed that desire with the name of intellectual interest, and under that name, I allowed myself free rein into the world of Christian ideas and art.
Dostoevsky was a revelation. In his novels I discovered living breathing souls who were grappling with the existence of God and the nature of free will. I had never known people who seemed so startlingly real, so full of the contradictions of the human heart. Strangely, at that age, I was not bewildered or confused by those contradictions, but filled with respect for Dosteovsky’s insight into the psyche, into the heart.
In college I took up Dante’s Divine Comedy. I started with the Inferno, and though I read it with a certain detachment at the outset, as I accompanied Dante on his journey into Hell, his world became more and more real to me. By the end I felt so subsumed by the darkness of the Inferno, with its vivid exploration of human sin, that I found myself thirsting for escape into Purgatory. The day I finished reading Inferno, I ran all the way to my campus library, up three flights of stairs, to the shelf where I found Purgatario. And when I sat down to open up the book, I expressed thanks silently, then looked up and at that very moment saw a bird flying along the ceiling of the library. I have never forgotten that moment, which seemed like a touch of God’s grace into my life.
So profound is my love for the library, that I believe anyone left long enough in the library is bound to become Catholic. It is only a matter of time.
At length, I found my way to the New Testament. I would not have taken it up as a religious work, since my mission was still purely literary and aesthetic. I was a follower of beauty and of truth, not of religion. Yet while wandering the shelves one day at my library, I discovered a prose translation of The New Testament by a well-known translator of Greek, Richmond Lattimore. He had written beautiful translations of Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad, so I had great respect for him. Well, I asked myself, why not? With both curiosity and uncertainty, I took the book home and made it my companion over the next couple months.
The story of Christ had long fascinated me from afar. Yet I had never encountered him up close. Till then I had known only the mainstream, hand-me-down picture of Jesus as a teacher of peace, and little else. Even then, I had felt that picture to be strangely dissonant with the image of the cross. How could the nice, simple Jesus I saw depicted around me be the same as one who died that horrific death on the cross? Were they the same? So, at last, I started to read the Gospels for myself.
Here, I discovered Christ to be startlingly different than the one I’d imagined up till then. Put simply, this Christ was compelling, real, and historical. There was a piercing truth in his words; and his words conveyed a presence, an authority, more powerful than anything I’d known before. Was this truly the Son of God? a small voice in me wondered. Was this the one who had risen from death, as he had said he would? I could not yet let myself answer these questions with certainty, yet I knew I was in the midst of something—rather, Someone—powerful enough to change the world. Rather than offering mere teachings, Jesus offers himself, his very person, in the Gospels, testifying again and again to his sonship with God the Father. What other religion, what other philosophy dared give something so radical? So almost unimaginable?
More and more as I delved into the Gospels, I realized I was discovering a presence, a person, which felt eternal and historical at the same time. One verse seared my heart to the point of making me teeter upon faith: I am the truth, the way, and the life. Who could fail to be transfixed by those words?
When I finished reading the New Testament, the landscape of my thoughts was irreversibly changed. I had glimpsed a reality and a person beyond nature, beyond time. I could not yet utter the words of belief, yet I sensed them on the cusp of expression, waiting to be spoken. At the very least, I said to myself, This is the faith I want to believe in. I acknowledged that desire, held it to view, then wrapped it up like a treasure box in the innermost room of my heart.
The search for beauty had led me this far, to the precipice of faith. I could not make it my own, however; as someone from the outside, I could not yet surrender myself to belief. So it was that I locked up that secret room, hoping no one would ever find it, and I returned to the outside world and continued on with my life, believing I would never need to open it up to view. I would only come back many years later, when the darkness around me forced me to call upon the light of faith.
After finishing medical school, I began to focus my energy on searching for a life partner. I found someone who seemed to have the same simple, thoughtful sensibility as I did, and I felt an immediate connection with him. After a few years of courtship, we married; and I began what I thought was the deep and beautiful adventure of married life.
It certainly seemed that way in the beginning. I was convinced we were the example of a truly happy marriage, the kind of marriage other people longed to have.
After the birth of our first son, however, the dream evaporated. My husband’s mask fell off, and what I saw was a person utterly unlike the husband I knew: cold, callous, terrifying, completely void of feeling or remorse. For the next year and a half, I lived through nightmarish abuse on an almost daily basis. It seemed too bizarre to be real, yet it was. I could make no sense of it. Why would someone who loved me turn into such a monster? Rather than facing the uncomfortable truth, I tried to bend the truth to my wishes. Surely he didn’t know what he was doing; surely he couldn’t see that he was hurting me. For I didn’t know the alternative. I could not reconcile myself to the possibility that my real husband was indeed the abuser, and that the one I had fallen in love with was the mask.
That year and a half was the darkest time of my life. I had never known I could experience such intense pain day after day, month after month, without reprieve; I had not known such desolation in my soul before, such intense loneliness. There was no witness to this nightmare. There was only me and him, and he could continue to hurt without restraint; indeed, when I asked him, he replied that he wanted to hurt me, and didn’t want to stop. Each day when I would try to pick myself back up and rebuild a semblance of peace, he would dash it back down with a burst of anger or contempt.
I remember many times stepping outside and sobbing quietly on the front porch, since I was not allowed to cry in front of him. And on Sunday mornings, in the midst of my tears, I would see our neighbors across the street heading out to church. They were an elderly couple we had befriended when we moved there. Each Sunday I watched the wife take time to wheel her husband out to the car, helping him out of his wheelchair into the car, then folding up the chair into the trunk. They did this every Sunday without fail; and through my tears I marveled at their quiet, steady faith, and I longed for the nourishment they must be receiving at church. I felt like a prisoner looking out through the bars of my window to the sunlit world outside. How nice it would be to have faith like theirs, I thought to myself wistfully.
When we moved to Virginia and when I started working, the abuse started to subside. I tried to push it under the rug, since we could never seem to agree on what had actually happened. I simply said that we would resolve it all another time, when we were more stable as a couple; and so for awhile, we reached a level of seeming peace at home. Of course, even then I didn’t realize I was still working hard to avoid any anger from him and making sure never to show any sadness or frustration to him, for fear of the consequences.
We had a second son, and life continued in this state of apparent equilibrium. Yet soon the abuse re-emerged in full force. My husband’s anger and contempt once again became the climate of our home. Every discussion with him became a distorted reality, an attempt to speak with someone who insisted upon blatant untruths. I struggled to figure out how I could communicate with someone who operated in a reality of his own making, in which the sky was red, and two plus two was five. And again, such was my devotion to our marriage that rather than firmly defending the truth, or challenging his lies, I tried to wrap my head around the possibility that his distorted reality might somehow coexist with the reality I knew to be true. I did not know that such existential gymnastics are not part of a normal relationship.
Soon, though, even my mind was stretched beyond capacity, and I could no longer stomach the flagrant unreality. One day, for example, my husband mouthed curse words at me, and when I asked him if he had said what I thought he said, he denied it outright, almost smiling as he lied to me. It was at such times I glimpsed with horror the world of lies my husband was living in. Where was the truth? Did truth even mean anything anymore? I felt as if reality were slipping away.
One exchange stayed in my mind, making me wonder seriously about truth. My husband had spent a whole discussion trying to convince me to repeat back to him that I spoke things which were false—essentially asking me to state that I tell lies; and I struggled and struggled but told him I just couldn’t say something like that. My refusal left him angry and silent, while I felt completely bewildered. I called up a friend of ours, sharing the exchange, and her reply struck a discordant note I could not shake off. She said simply, “It is all perception. He has his perception, you have your perception.”
As I mulled over her words, I became indignant. No, it had to stop here. What he was doing was utterly and absolutely wrong, and it could not be washed away with the excuse of “perception.” When had the concept of right and wrong dissolved away into the meaningless haze of mere “perception”? To ignore this kind of evil by calling it merely “perception” was like ignoring a cancer in one’s body.
Thus I began to experience a pull back toward the primacy of truth, away from the lies I had been living with while at the mercy of my husband. Truth began to whisper in my heart. I began to realize I could no longer negotiate between the world of his lies, and the real world of truth which was out there and in my heart. I had to choose, for it was now impossible to keep one foot in both.
Finally, one night, after being on the receiving end of another barrage of abuse, I went to my room and knelt on the floor by my bed, overtaken with tears. I sobbed for a long time that night, mourning the sheer wreckage of my marriage, feeling utterly desolate and utterly alone. I thought of all the countless nights in the past few years I had cried myself to sleep, wondering when the abuse would end, and here I still was, still bearing the lashes of his anger. And the worst part of it was, only I knew of the abuse. It was only between me and him. There was no one else to see it or stop it. I was completely alone, without anyone to help.
Then, all of a sudden, there came to me a flash of truth which was like a voice in the night: I am not alone. God is with me. In that moment, for the first time in my life, I sensed a presence other than myself in my solitude. I felt the presence of a Person, an Other far greater than myself and yet closer to me than I was to my own thoughts.
In that moment, the darkness lifted. I realized, almost with a start through my soul, that I was not alone. I never had been alone. God is here with you…God is with you, a voice echoed in my heart. The knowledge of that mysterious and intimate “with-ness”—that divine Person who had never left me, and never would leave me—was like water to my thirsty soul. None of my suffering had been alone; not one tear had escaped unnoticed, but in fact all of those tears, from all those lonely nights, had been caught lovingly in the hand of God. God had been present with me on each and every one of those dark nights.
As this settled upon me, another refrain proclaimed itself in my mind: God knows the truth of what happened. God knew it even more deeply than I did. The realization was liberating. Up till then I had felt resigned to the fact that there was no actual truth of what had happened between my husband and me. After all, no one else had witnessed the abuse. Yet now I could trust once again in the truth, for God knew. I was no longer a slave to my husband’s lies and his distorted reality. I was free to call upon truth through God.
That night was the decisive moment of my journey into faith. God’s presence had broken in upon the darkness of abuse, and I, like a prisoner who sees a light from afar, knew that my only way out of the prison rested entirely in following that light. For the past few years I had struggled to find someone, anyone who could help me out of the darkness. I had reached out to my husband’s parents, his brother, his friends, hoping that someone might offer a helping hand, or at least a word of sympathy; yet I had found none. I had felt like someone trapped in a burning building, calling for help, yet receiving only the indifferent stares of people who passed by. None had cared.
Yet now, at last, I was rescued from the burning building. Was this, then, what people meant when they spoke of being saved by God? I did not know for sure, but I was certain that God’s presence that night had shown me the way out of my prison, when all hope and all truth had seemed lost. So it was that I began to take my first steps toward faith.
Beginning the Journey
It was on Christmas Eve that I first ventured to step inside a church. That morning I had had a massage, prompted by my mother’s urging; and during the session, the masseuse spoke to me of her Christian faith, slowly at first, then as I shared my wonderings, she suddenly just offered, “Go tomorrow.” The offer was like opening a door before me, and I paused in disbelief, amazed that it could be so simple. Could I really just step inside a church, just like that? Yes, I could, she replied. I mulled over this. Wouldn’t they see I didn’t belong? I asked. She urged me again that all I needed to do was go inside, that I would be welcome in any church.
That evening itself, armed with the keys of her invitation, I drove to a nearby church and walked inside. At that point I didn’t even think of choosing any denomination or type of church; I simply found one near my parents’ home and walked inside. It happened to a be a non-denominational church called The Vineyard. When I stepped inside I saw each person held a candle, and as each person lit his neighbor’s candle, the room became aglow with warmth and light. I was touched by the fellowship I saw here, so different than the cold indifference I had endured these past few years; how I had longed for that warmth of spirit! One other point captured my attention: the pastor’s wife spoke to the congregation and mentioned her love of Shakespeare. When I heard the name of Shakespeare I was won over. I thought to myself, Surely God is speaking to me now. If these people knew Shakespeare, and if love of Shakespeare could coexist with faith, then I was in.
That church did not become my church, but it was the doorway in my search for a true and living faith. I knew I wanted to be Christian; but what exactly did that mean? In the back of my mind, locked away in the secret room of my heart, I remembered I had once loved all the art and literature of the Catholic tradition. I remembered that I had used to feel very Catholic in my sensibility, understanding the sacramental quality of life. Yet I did not let such thoughts come to the surface. I tried a couple other churches at first, believing I ought to be fair in my selection, rather than following the deep intuition of my heart. In a way, because I had so long known and admired the Catholic faith from afar, I regarded it as something too good, too beautiful for me.
Yet those churches failed to satisfy the longing of my heart. Where was the sense of reverence and mystery? Where was the power of beauty? Where was that glimpse of the transcendent, drawing one into the presence of God? I discerned none of it there.
At length, I gave in to the quiet desire of my heart. I remembered St. Michael’s in Cary: in months past when driving out of Bond Park, I had seen the church standing there like a great punctuation mark touching the sky; and I had felt wistful even then, loving the sight of that beautiful building. Finally, one Friday after work, I decided to go there. I didn’t even know if it would be open, or what I would do when I got there; but I sensed that I should just go and see for myself.
When I arrived, I found the door was locked; I peered through the window for a moment, then, finding no one, walked away, feeling disappointed. Yet then I heard a voice calling behind me, and the door was opened. Apparently there had been some workers inside, one of whom had seen me at the door. I offered my thanks and walked inside.
When I stepped inside, I almost had to catch my breath: I had not expected such beauty, such hospitable beauty, in this house of God. I knew immediately that I had found my spiritual home. It was as if the deep chord my heart had been longing for finally found completion here. I will not belabor the details here, for every Catholic church is sprung from beauty, and offers that beauty to all who come. Yet I found special and significant touches of beauty at each turn in St. Michael’s that effectively convinced me this was, beyond doubt, my destination.
There were many beautiful pieces of art in the gathering space; the one which spoke most powerfully to me was a tapestry of The Holy Trinity, by the Russian iconographer Andrei Rublev. Why did it win me over? This was more than mere beauty; this was God announcing His presence to me. I had watched a movie on Andrei Rublev many years ago in high school, long before I knew anything about God. I had picked it out by chance, and had found it a strange, even bizarre movie, yet what had stuck in my mind was the last scene showing long, sustained still shots of Rublev’s paintings, featuring this very icon of the Holy Trinity.
I realized then, as I have realized countless times since, the fact that God wastes nothing. Every piece of our life finds echoes and connections with other pieces, all weaving together to draw us ever closer to God.
God is a master artist. Once we begin the journey of faith, we can look back upon our life and find dozens upon dozens of various moments which at the time may have seemed insignificant, yet which suddenly reveal their meaning in the light of burgeoning faith. I certainly have. One of the gifts of this exercise is that we begin to hear God speak to us, as we discern His providence, His craftsmanship, in the various moments of our life. I now understand, for example, that all the moments of my youth in which I had an intense, memorable experience of beauty, were actually intimations of God.
It is astonishing to realize now that God has been seeking me all this time, long before I even cared to know Him. He has spoken countless times to me through the vehicle of beauty. I remember, for example, that when I was living in Virginia I would often have an hour or two to myself on Saturday mornings, while the boys would be outside with my husband. For that time I would sit by myself in the living room, drinking my tea, savoring the quiet; and slowly the room would be filled with intense mid-day sunlight, almost overpoweringly so, till the whole room became like a vessel of light. I was moved deeply by those moments, sensing—and knowing—that something much greater than mere sunlight was at work. I did not yet know that God was sharing His presence with me through that beauty.
Sometimes God can speak very clearly. One such experience last year proved to me that when we ask for guidance, especially when we are most earnest, God always answers. Last summer, months after separating from my husband, I went to attend the wedding of one of my cousins. It ended up being an emotionally grueling experience. That night during the wedding reception activities, I found myself at a very low point. All day I had been faced with reminders of my own wedding years ago. The absence of my husband felt more painful than ever, in the midst of this wedding event. On top of that, I had to endure the indifference of my cousin, judgmental remarks from another, and the unruly behavior of my two little boys. Finally, feeling almost ready to burst with grief, I walked outside in search of escape.
The night was strangely peaceful outside. I walked and walked through the parking lot, not knowing where I was headed. At length I reached the edge of the lot; I leaned against the gate and bowed my head low for quite some time, just reaching out in fervent prayer to God for some comfort, some strength. After a moment, I looked up. I saw directly in front of me two street signs next to each other, one saying, “One way,” pointing to the right, and the other, “Do not enter.” Slightly up along the road was another sign, saying, “No U-Turn.” The message was too obvious to ignore, and it spoke clearly in my heart. What did “One Way” mean except the Way? And the Way, of course, was Christ. The arrow on the sign pointed to a bridge leading across the river, and here too the meaning was clear: Christ was the Way, the bridge and the path to a new life.
I knew, also, what God meant by “Do not enter,” and ‘No U-Turn.” I was not to enter into the temptation of going back to my husband; I could not turn back. There was only one way, the Way, to take, which meant following Christ. It was almost with a sigh in my heart that I received the message. God knew the struggle in my heart and had marked out my path clearly. The way forward meant turning away from darkness; and that meant rejecting all temptations of evil, even to the point of sacrificing my attachment to my husband. Yet heavy as the message was, I could not help being struck with awe by God’s clarity. I had asked, and He had answered. In that answer was the grace of His love.
Choosing the Catholic Church, versus the myriads of other Christian denominations, was never a real question for me. In fact the question was rather, Why not the Catholic faith? Why not choose the original church planted by Christ’s apostles, sustained throughout the centuries, versus choosing a particular offshoot?
In truth, my mind had been Catholic for a long time already, through my love of the arts, of philosophy and knowledge. For years I had explored and savored the Catholic tradition; I had come right up to the cathedral, in a sense, appreciating its beauty, yet not letting myself open the door. When I was finally ready to offer up my will to Christ, to become a follower of Christ, it was only natural that I enter the Catholic faith which I had long loved from a distance. Through that supreme artistry of God, head and heart were reconciled in perfect harmony, like a lost key fitting at last into its lock. By choosing to become Catholic, I was becoming more fully the person I was always meant to be.
The Catholic faith is nothing less than an abundant treasure-house, into which we are each invited. To me it is the ultimate library, and indeed invokes the very spirit of the library. As a child—and even now as an adult—I have felt unspeakable joy simply in entering the library and knowing I could partake of any book I wished. All the knowledge and creativity of human history was there for me to peruse, to sit with, to take home and absorb deeply into myself. What had I done to deserve such a gift? I wondered at times. How much greater, then, is the joy of entering the Catholic faith, which is the house of God’s love for each of us. Here we may bring all our intellect, our imagination, our love of science and truth, our love of literature and beauty, and all finds its consummation in the great ark of the Catholic Church.
Because Catholicism traces back to a robust intellectual tradition, it vigorously invites reason and discussion, rather than discouraging it. I was delighted to discover, for example, that my love of space and astronomy was entirely consonant with the Catholic faith. I didn’t have to leave behind the theory of the Big Bang or scientific evidence for the vastness of an expanding universe; all of it cohered within the Catholic understanding of God.
To be Catholic, in fact, is to be raised up through reason, through intellect, to the realm of faith. All that is best in our human nature—both individually and generally, across all of civilization—finds its fullest expression once we accept God’s grace. As St. Irenaeus tells us, “The glory of God is a man fully alive.”
Deciding to become Christian was a radical choice for me. It seemed like leaving behind the culture and background I had come from, leaving behind the ties of my family in a sense, in order to unite myself to a new family—the body of Christ, through His Church. Yet I found great solace in knowing I had chosen to become Catholic: for the very word Catholic means “universal.” Therefore I was not losing anything by becoming Catholic; rather, I was joining something as universal and all-encompassing as the sky and stars above. This is of vital importance for anyone coming into the faith from a non-Christian background. Because Catholicism has roots throughout the world in hundreds of different countries, it embraces everyone. One need not abandon one’s ethnicity or culture, in order to become Catholic; and I find this abundant hospitality to be one of the most beautiful parts of the Church. Like a ray of light which encompasses countless different shades of color, so too the Church reaches out to all cultures, to all times, and to every human heart.
As one who enters the Church from outside the fold, so to speak, I cannot help rejoicing in the sheer gift of this Catholic faith. It seems at times like an uncontainable joy, ready to burst. Over the past year of my journey I have discovered, almost to my surprise, that all the truths of life find their full expression in the framework of the Catholic faith.
What defines the human person? Quite simply, it is our relationship to God. We exist purely because God has loved us into being. Our journey into or out of that relationship is the defining nature of our existence.
Here I say to all of you, as one who used to live outside the fold: What a gift we have been given! No other faith offers this treasure of relationship. Other religions like Hinduism offer a God that is impersonal, diffused throughout every creature and object of the universe, rather than a Person we may engage with, converse with, and ultimately, love with our whole mind and heart. Or there is Eastern philosophy, which casts off God altogether and encourages a total emptying of the mind in order to attain peace.
Yet somehow these ideas never satisfied me. The soul longs to relate to a reality outside of itself; in a sense, to eat the bread of real truth, rather than ruminate on its own self-referential thoughts. Quite simply, the soul hungers to know God, in Whom is all truth, all goodness, and all beauty. We do not wish simply to know of God, but to know Him deeply, intimately, and honestly, as we would know a beloved. To enter into right relationship with God naturally aligns our heart with all that is good, all that is true, indeed with the very life of God which is love. One might say that the real value of a person emerges only to the extent that he relates fully to God. And this is the extraordinary gift which Christ has won for us through his death on the cross: a reconciliation between man and God. In accepting the enormous gift of Christ’s sacrifice, we are restored back to friendship with God, in a way we could never have achieved on our own. The Christian life could be expressed simply as our continual free response to God’s continual grace, and the love which flows from that relationship.
In the past year, as I have immersed myself in the Christian faith, I have been able to forgive my husband fully for what he has done, and in fact to love him with compassion. Yet at the same time, I often found myself wondering: If I forgive him, can I not simply allow him back in my life? If I love and forgive him, why do I close the door on him?
Here, I recall the tale of the prodigal son. In that story, Christ tells us of how the younger son willfully abandoned his father, wasted away his inheritance, and gave himself over to a sinful life. Yet everything changes once he decides to turn home. That act of repentance is the key, for once he turns back home in humility, his father receives him with joy. Indeed, the father has been waiting all along. He could not seek out the son himself, because the relationship would not have been restored without his son’s free choice. The father was waiting with abundant mercy, yet he could not offer it until his son had repented of his sins and decided, out of love for the father, to turn home.
In this light I understood that forgiving my husband for what he had done was not enough to reconcile the relationship. True reconciliation demands the repentance of the one who has turned away from the relationship to begin with; there must be that turn back home, however seemingly small that step may be, for without it, the gift of mercy cannot be given. Put simply, a gift cannot be given if one is not there to receive it.
This also sheds light on the meaning of the cross. I often found myself wondering why Christ had to suffer so terribly, in order to effect reconciliation between mankind and God. Could not have God easily erased the debt of original sin, and restored mankind in an instant to its original state of harmony with God? Indeed, God could have done so quite easily, yet it would not have truly restored the essential relationship, once broken by original sin. Man’s heart had to be made completely new, in order to obtain union with God; and for his heart to be changed, he had to freely say yes in response to God’s grace. To freely say yes, though, means one has the freedom to say no as well. This is the great crux of being human. God well knew what was at stake when He created us with the ability to reject Him, yet He allowed it all the same, knowing that love ceases to be love when it is forced, and that love is real only when it is freely given.
In the aftermath of leaving my husband, I have many times wondered how I might bring him back to truth. If he just knew that I had already forgiven him, might he not receive the love I was offering him? Might he not learn to love genuinely and fully for the first time? I realized that the first move had to come from him, not from me. He had to choose freely on his own, to choose truth over lies, in order for love to work on his heart.
Though I cannot change him, I have learned from this the beautiful gift-and-response dynamic of our relationship with God. In response to our infinite sin, He has given us the infinite gift of mercy through Christ’s death on the cross; yet even here God has not forced our hand. He offers the gift, desiring our love as any parent does for his child, and we may receive or reject it. Yet what an extraordinary journey unfolds, once we make that first movement toward God. That lifelong dialogue, in which we respond to God’s grace, to which God gives again and again, continually and abundantly, is the essence of the Christian life. We are blessed to know this gift in its fullest form through the Catholic faith; may we share that gift through our lives to all those around us.
In closing, if there is only one point my story may leave you with, let it be this: Be always aware of the power of each of your encounters with everyone you meet, especially people outside the faith. I have learned from my journey that each of our interactions with others is a seed. Some seeds bear fruit right away, but many of them do not bear fruit for years to come. Yet they will. Now as I look back on my life, I see countless small encounters which were actually small seeds of the faith I now receive in my heart. When you live out your faith sincerely, when you share the love of Christ through your example and your life, you are planting seeds in the hearts of the people you meet. It is the people who seem most different from you, most devoid of God and Christ, who bear a heart most desiring the gift of faith. We do not know where the seeds will fall, but we may trust in God’s grace to work through us and to bring about new life in each heart.