Monday, August 02, 2010

My Faith Journey



I came into this old world in the year 1955, the first of three sons to be born to my parents.

There were three hospitals in Asheville, North Carolina where I was born. The smallest was Aston Park Hospital that ceased to serve as a hospital sometime in the 80's. The other two hospitals were Memorial Mission Hospital, and Saint Joseph's Hospital which was a Catholic hospital operated by the Sisters of Mercy. Memorial Mission and Saint Joseph's merged in the 1990's when Saint Joseph's was purchased by Memorial Mission.

That bit of hospital history aside, I will continue.

My parents were both Baptists, yet when I was born they had chosen Saint Joseph’s Hospital maternity ward (I am assuming it was a ward, as I was extremely young and don't remember much about it) over the one at Memorial Mission. As my mother later told me, “because patients got better care and treatment at Saint Joseph’s, and the sisters made sure of it”. So there was my first Catholic “connection” in my life.

Time went on, and I became old enough to start school, and my parents enrolled me in Saint Joan of Arc's school in West Asheville. The school was operated by the Catholic parish of the same name. I don't recall much about the school, except for one event that somehow stayed with me. The priest was talking to the kids in my class (we were 5 or 6 years old), and he began to teach us about the tabernacle. I realize now that he was explaining to us about Christ's Presence, but I only recalled what impressed me the most. I remember telling my mother that “Father showed us this box (tabernacle was too big a word for me then), and he said that this man died, and they have all his blood in it”. That was my second Catholic “connection”.

My youngest brother had been born about a month before I started school. I went to Saint Joan of Arc school that first year only. I suppose the financial strain and expense of three young boys didn't justify sending the oldest to a private parochial school. Especially since my mom was a stay at home mom then and my dad's job was the sole source of income.

I recall one other event that was related to my time at Saint Joan of Arc School. There was a lady who came to visit my mom often. She was a Sunday School teacher at a local Baptist church, and she once told my mom, “you should be careful sending Stevie to Saint Joan of Arc. They'll try to turn him Catholic”. Now my mom was not the kind of person who would take any intrusive suggestions from anyone when it came to her family. She looked straight at that woman, and without so much as blinking an eye said, “and what would it matter if he became Catholic? Catholics are just as good as anybody else, and a whole lot better than most”. The woman didn't say another word, and she never brought up Catholics in our house again, either.

Time went on, and when I was about 10, I started attending church at a baptist church with a school friend, and when I was about 11 or 12 years old, I went up to the altar where I accepted Jesus, and then was later baptized. I remember when I went up for the altar call, I told the preacher that I was a sinner and wanted to confess my sins to Jesus. I don't recall his response, but looking back, I don't think he thought much of an 11 or 12 year old kid wanting to “confess”. In fact, when he came to our house to visit later that same week, I remember he told me that baptism wouldn't save me and that I needed to be “sure” this was what I wanted to do. I was more sure than he was, and I was baptized at the church a few weeks later.

I grew older, and began to attend church less and less. By the time I got out of high school my church attendance went from little to none. I started working nights at a store after my junior year at high school and continued working there for several years after. I still read the Bible, went to work, went home, and often felt very guilty for not going to church. I wasn't a party animal or trouble maker, and had no social life to speak of. It was a life of going to work, then going home, with an occasional fishing or hunting excursion thrown in.

My dad passed away in 1978, and then my mom in 1995. I had attended church a few times. I felt a call to go but was not happy with what I was finding. I tried going to different protestant churches. I went from Baptist to Presbyterian to Baptist and then Evangelical Presbyterian. There was the desire to go, but I was never happy with what I found. I prayed on it. Read the Bible, talked to some friends about it, and talked to some ministers about it, but still had an unfulfilled spiritual yearning and hunger.

A couple of years before my mom died, I remember looking at some classified ads in the back of a newspaper from another state, and there was an ad that simply said “thank you Saint Jude for prayers answered”. The ad went on below that, and said something about Jude being the patron of desperate cases. The first thought that crossed my mind was, “who is Jude?” I did some researching (this was before I ever had a computer or heard about the internet), and discovered Jude is one of the Twelve Apostles. My curiosity satisfied, I didn't think much more about it. That was my third Catholic “connection”.

Time went on, and again I continued my spiritual search but to no avail. Looking back now, one would think that the “introduction” to Saint Jude would have given me more of a direction to follow, but it didn't. It's kind of like the old saying, “I can't see for looking”. I would think about the classified ad that was thanking Saint Jude from time to time, but otherwise didn't give it any further thought until some few years later.

Now, I am going to tell you about my fourth Catholic “connection”. There was a show that was on the A&E cable channel called “Mysteries of the Bible”. I would watch it on occasion, and I really thought (and still do) that the show was more bent on disproving the Bible than providing any enlightenment or information about the Bible.

Then one night I was watching “Mysteries of the Bible”, and it was about the Maccabees. I had never heard of the Maccabees, and they kept mentioning it being in the Old Testament. Being something of a student of the Old Testament, I knew that Maccabees was not in my King James version of the Bible. So once again I did some investigating and discovered what Maccabees was. It somehow didn't sink in that the Maccabees were two books that had been removed from protestant Bibles. I still was on my search and still didn't realize that I was being “nudged” towards the truth once again.

A few years later, I got a computer and went online. I discovered new things, and met new people from around the world. I met one lady from Britain who was living in the United States in Arkansas at the time. We became good friends and spoke on the phone occasionally. We were talking on the phone one day, and somehow religion was brought up. She then said to me that I might not want to talk to her again. When I asked why she said “because I am Catholic”. I told her that her being Catholic was no reason not to talk to her or be friends. That was my fifth Catholic “connection”.

We began talking about the Catholic faith, starting then and continuing for several months. The more I learned, the more it sounded like where I wanted to be. I told her this, and she suggested I attend Mass and read “Catholic Christianity”, a book by Peter Kreeft. This became my sixth Catholic “connection”.

I decided to read the book first, as I didn't want to attend a Catholic “service” without some idea about what the Church taught, and an idea of what was going on during the Mass. After several months of reading and studying the book and then comparing what I learned with scripture, I decided to go to Mass. What parish should I go to though?

There are five Catholic parishes in Buncombe County where I live. I was trying to decide. Should I go to the Basilica of Saint Lawrence in Asheville, Saint Eugene, Saint Joan of Arc or another? I had started going to a Catholic chat group, and was still trying to decide. A friend in Kentucky asked me if I had ever been to Saint Barnabas Roman Catholic Church in Arden. I replied no, but I was familiar with it because a former co-worker had attended Mass there. He told me that I should go there, because Father Roger Arnsparger was an excellent preacher. So Saint Barnabas is where I went. This was Catholic “connection” number seven.

I cannot explain it, but the very moment I went into that church, I felt at home. It was not anything someone said. It was not anything someone did. I was at home and I knew it deep in my heart. I took a seat in a pew, saw the crucifix on the stone wall, the altar and the tabernacle, and I had a feeling of peace, a feeling I had been looking for, searching for.

Father Arnsparger's reputation as an excellent preacher was understated. His homilies were well thought out, presented and explained. Here was a man who truly saw himself as a shepherd of his flock.

I finally decided that I wanted to be Catholic and not just an outside observer at a Catholic parish. I started going to the RCIA classes in September, and I was welcomed and well received by Father Arnsparger and the people of Saint Barnabas. Every Wednesday evening I attended Mass and then went to the RCIA class.

Then in December, about 3 weeks before Christmas, an obstacle was thrown in my way. I and some others lost our jobs when the company we worked for began closing its locations one at a time. I had to take a job at a call center for a dial-up internet service company, and the job was working all nights. I had to work on Wednesday nights and could not continue RCIA.

I still attended Mass whenever I could, but my conversion was temporarily put on hold.

When I first lost my job, I was desperate to find employment. Jobs are not easy to come by in December in a town where tourism is the main industry. I was talking to a Catholic friend in Texas online one night late after work. For some reason, the ad I had read years earlier thanking Saint Jude came to mind. I mentioned this to her, and asked her about Saint Jude. She had a great devotion to Saint Jude, and sent me a pamphlet in the mail with a Novena to Saint Jude. She told me to pray the Novena since I was certainly in a desperate situation. So, I did pray the Novena, and two days after completing the Novena, I was hired at the call center. Four months after that, I got a second job. I tried working both jobs for a while, and then I left the first job, since the second job paid better and was only 4 miles from my home.

That fall, I again started going to the RCIA classes. I continued the RCIA classes, and the week before my entering the Church, I went to confession for the first time.

That was quite an experience, let me tell you. Father Arnsparger had done a wonderful job in preparing us for our first confession. He explained that we were not confessing to him, but to Jesus through him. I was nervous about my first confession but Father Arnsparger explained to us that we would not be confessing anything that had not been heard before. He also explained the Seal of the Confession which is the grave duty of keeping absolutely secret all sins that are told in confession.

So early one Sunday morning I went to my first confession. Father Arnsparger helped guide me along, and I received absolution. No one can ever explain to you the wonderful, euphoric feeling, that finally being able to confess your sins gives you. It is a feeling of extreme joy and happiness that no mere words can convey. It is joy in knowing that your sins are forgiven and that your guilt is gone.

So on the Easter Vigil Mass of April 10, 2004, I “came home” to the Catholic Church, and received the Holy Eucharist for the first time. That was the epitome of joy and happiness for me. I finally found where I belonged, and most importantly, I found the fullness of the Truth that is Christ's Church. The Roman Catholic Church.

Thanks be to God!

May the Good Lord Bless you and Our Lady keep you in her care.


Copyright © 2010 Steve Smith. All Rights Reserved.

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Catholic Blogs.


2 comments:

  1. Thank you, and God Bless you as well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Steve! Thanks for posting your story! My wife and I reverted the Church of our yout October 2004.
    6 years later and you are still talking about the faith! God bless you!

    ReplyDelete

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