At my dear friend John’s request, I will share my personal faith journey with you in this Christmas reflection.
I was born into a Jewish family, but as many in the Jewish community would describe it, we were culturally Jewish but not religious. There was a bit of religious education, for which I am very grateful today, but once I reached the age of 13 I was essentially a person with no actual religious affiliation. I would occasionally call myself an agnostic when asked, but being mathematically oriented I wanted “proof” of God’s existence. I didn’t fully recognize it at the time, but the proof had been front and center in the form of my guardian angel, of whom I had been somehow aware from my very earliest memories. I used to say that “someone is watching over me”, and always felt the protection of a merciful and gentle divine force.
During those early years I spent a great deal of time in the library, mostly reading books on eastern philosophies and religions, and although I found many ideas appealing, especially those that led to peace and moral action, I never really felt “at home” with any particular belief system. A few friends tried to encourage me toward Christianity, but I had unwittingly adopted my extended family’s hostility toward Christianity and immediately dismissed such invitations.
The years went by…
I was a young software professional and had a girlfriend who sang sacred music with the Early Music Singers at Stanford. I loved music, and she invited me to come to various events, always in Catholic churches, at which they would sing extraordinarily beautiful Gregorian chant and works by such composers as Palestrina. I found the music interesting and beautiful, but didn’t notice God’s hand at work in my life. One day, during the Christmas season of 1987, she asked if I wanted to listen to them singing at a mass at a parish church in Palo Alto. I agreed to attend, and my life changed forever.
I sat in the back pew and tried to focus my attention on the choir during the mass, but felt myself inexplicably drawn to the Eucharist. There was something I could not explain going on, and when the parishioners began to receive the Body and Blood of Christ I wanted to walk up and join them! I had to hold myself back, and even in my own ignorance I was somehow aware that would be sacrilege. Mass ended, and the priest processed out of the church. Father Benignus was kind and elderly, and just as he passed my pew he paused just for a moment and looked at me. He had the most gentle, loving look in his eyes, and it brings tears to my own eyes to remember that moment. I was converted on the spot! I was overflowing with the love of God and could not even begin to fathom what had happened.
After mass, I told my girlfriend that I had wanted to consume the Eucharist, and she explained that only Catholics in a state of grace could do that. I said, “Then I want to become a Catholic!” She said, “Don’t do it. It will kill your parents.” I decided to think about that for a while, and ended up taking no action.
Nine years went by…
I reached a point in my life where I felt very unhappy. I was in a very dark place, and did not know that Christ had pursued me and was with me even there. I took no pleasure in anything, and even though I had the trappings of a “successful” life, I truly felt unfulfilled and believed I was a failure. I didn’t feel suicidal, but didn’t feel like I wanted to live anymore.
I had a friend named Kim who was a deeply spiritual person, and confided in her. She revealed that she was a Catholic, and gave me a great deal of comfort and counsel. When she understood how desperate my spiritual state was, she asked me to appeal to Our Blessed Lady for help, and said Mother Mary could bring legions of angels to my assistance. It was all very strange to me, but I decided to try. I sat alone in my room and prayed to God, and asked Mother Mary to help me. It was a cry from the heart that would lead to a new life in Christ.
Eventually, an answer I did not expect came in the form of a spontaneous idea. There was a woman with whom I had formed a wonderful friendship over the past 2 years. I had fallen in love with her but was afraid to act, fearing the loss of our friendship. However, I called her and asked her to dinner. We went to dinner, and professed our mutual love for each other. We were engaged that very evening!
She told me she was a Catholic and had hoped to marry in the Church. I said, “That’s all I needed to hear!” I had waited 9 long years to become a Catholic, and finally had a strong enough reason to face the consequences in my family. I went through the local RCIA program and was baptized during the Easter Vigil of 1997. We were married 2 months later, and are still on our honeymoon today, thanks to the blessing that Jesus gave us.
I can sum up this faith journey by recalling the second joyful mystery of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). I had truly experienced the birth of my Savior during that Christmas long ago, and the greatest gift a person can ever receive was conveyed through the eyes of that saintly priest. Because of that moment, and because Our Lady turned her eyes of mercy toward me, I offer this prayer daily:
“Heart of my heart, spirit of my spirit. Strength of my heart.
My God, in You I live and move and have my being.
Let all who see my countenance feel touched by Your Holy Love.
I am all thine and all I have is thine, O dear Jesus, through Mary, Thy holy Mother.“
When I think of Christmas gifts, it is the unmerited and unspeakably beautiful gift of faith I hope all can receive, and that we, in return, can offer to Christ, through the Holy Spirit, the loving response that brings us into union with the Father.
One thought on “Enter into the Light of Faith”
This is beautiful. But like my story, I can’t finish it. Every time I get to the point I think it is finished and ready to publish, I come across information that says wait. Now that you have undertaken this beautiful piece, you will find more to add, like decorating a Christmas tree. Your friend/brother John