And then Rusty and I separated. It was unhappy, unwanted, and completely necessary. But out of that disappointment came the good: the conflict of my being in a marriage which could not be recognized by the Church was resolved. I got word in early September, 2002, that I could be received into the Church.
The first step was to go to Confession. You’ve got to appreciate the irony of this: As an Evangelical, the one sacrament I used to actively ridicule was that of Confession – it was wrong, it was superstitious, it was idolatrous to look to a man to forgive me from my sins. “For we have one mediator…” and now Confession was to be the first Sacrament I could receive as a Catholic
In the interim, I had come to understand the Sacraments – and the role of the priesthood – very differently than I had during my years as an evangelical. As an evangelical, the priesthood was so distant and remote a concept that it might have come from another planet. We didn’t have priests – we had pastors Shepherds of the flock, teachers and evangelists. But not priests. Of course, we couldn’t have priests. The primary function of the priest, in times ancient and modern, is to offer sacrifice. The Old Testament priests offered the sacrifice of the burnt offerings; the Catholic priest offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
And it was the Twelve, not all followers, to whom Jesus gave authority to forgive sins on earth. He established the priesthood as well as the Eucharist in the Upper Room during the Last Supper; he reaffirmed the priesthood and authorized the Twelve and their successors to forgive sins before His ascension, in Matthew 28. This is a key source of the Tradition of what is now called Reconciliation, and the root of the teaching of Apostolic Succession.
In fact, II Corinthians is predicated upon the observance of sacramental confession.
I scheduled an appointment with a retired priest. We met one early autumn afternoon. I had an examination of conscience that I had gotten off my favorite web site. We took nearly two hours, but then, at almost 45 years of age, I had a lot to confess
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. This is my first Confession.” And I began to recite my sins, using Father Robert Altier’s Examination of Conscience as my prompt.
That night, September 26, 2002, I wrote to my friend, the Director of Religious Education for the parish:
Tonight it has quite overpowered me – I have begun my active life as a Catholic and a sharer and recipient of the Sacraments, those glorious, power-filled Mysteries of our Savior… The weight and glory of what transpired today has come to me tonight with even greater impact than it did today. And earlier it was quite great. Some sins I confessed out of duty rather than actual remorse, because I knew the Church calls those things sins whether I had previously thought or felt them to be so, and yet once I had done, I felt so clean… Tonight, I see for the first time how terribly far I have to go. As an Evangelical, I was considered not only in pretty good shape, but downright exemplary despite my failings. Yet tonight I FEEL for the first time what it means to acknowledge myself a sinner, guilty of doing things which grieve the kind, good Lord Who has loved me enough to bring me down this road. I see for the first time how much I have to learn and to do in order to be, really BE, a good Christian, the thoughts and habits I have been so careless and comfortable with all these years but now must choose to address and fight and overcome, to “be transformed,” not as a careless eventuality but as a deliberate choice to be consciously exercised on a daily, hourly basis.
…the real work begins now. I’ve been so blessed, and been so excited by all the events of the past two years, all the openings of those floodgates of God’s blessings. But this is the real blessing, isn’t it? To be admitted into His presence through the Sacraments, to be touched and chosen to be His own, to be allowed the opportunity to truly convert, not just as a formality of church membership, but that inward conversion of the heart which I need so greatly….
Two and a half years after writing those words, they still represent my experience, now. It is an amazing thing to be a Catholic. I first came to know Christ as a Protestant. I first came to appreciate His work on the Cross, the glory of His Resurrection and our hope of Eternal Life as a Protestant. I first came to love the Written Word of the Scriptures as a Protestant. I am grateful for those years and for the lessons I learned in them. But as a Catholic, I have been admitted to that Church which can not only trace its history in great detail all the way back to Peter and the Upper Room, but which also contains the very fullness of Truth. The inexhaustible depth of that Truth still leaves me in awe.
I love the liturgy, with its poetry and drama bringing not only emotions and intellect but also my body into the act of worship. In genuflecting, in standing for the Gospel reading and in kneeling for the Eucharistic prayers, I bring my body into physical gestures of reverence toward God; all my senses enter into the act of worship with the fragrance of incense, the sights and sounds of the hymns, the prayers, the taste of the Precious Body and Precious Blood.
I love the completeness of the Church – her historical continuity, her broad-reaching expressions of devotion that include the monastic, the contemplative, the mystical, the active; the care for conversions, the care for helping souls become mature in faith and devotion, for the development of social conscience.. All aspects of Christian life come together under the care and oversight of the Church; nothing is neglected.
I love the opportunities for worship in the Church. Not only the mass, but also in the Holy Hour, one has a chance to be physically close to Christ in the Holy Eucharist. There is not only the rosary, there is also the beautiful and profound Liturgy of the Hours, a series of prayers and psalms and readings which are arranged to be observed at different times during the day. Even before my Confirmation, I was able to participate in these devotions, as well as in the long-loved music of worship. They all help deepen my understanding of the teachings and the Reality of the Church, and were a great comfort to me while I awaited my Confirmation.
Two and a half years after my Confirmation, they continue to guide me closer to Christ.