Conversion, Part One: Good Shepherds Day

Today, which is the fourth Sunday in the Easter season, Father Carucci’s homily described how the idea of community, of being part of a “flock,” fits into being Christian. A priest of indeterminate age with short-cropped dark hair and a cropped barely graying beard, Carucci lends dark humor and a finger-shaking rhetoric to almost any subject, both of which endear me to him, and as he discussed “Good Shepherds Sunday,” he stabbed directly at the man who believes himself to be “spiritual but not religious,” a schism of convenience he said, since it allows for dogma and morality to be fluid and self-determined. I have been attending Mass at St. Bede’s Catholic Church in Montgomery, Alabama every Sunday since the beginning of Lent, the most consistent church attendance record I have had probably in my whole life. In general, I have enjoyed hearing Father Carucci’s homilies.

Since marrying a Catholic woman ten years ago, I have been considering joining the Catholic Church. As a person whose experiences with organized religion have ranged from lukewarm to negative, the idea of joining the largest and most organized religious institution on Earth has been overwhelming and has filled me with a peculiar reticence. However, recent events have urged me forward into a feeling that is more tangible than anything I have previously felt. Last February, my father died suddenly and without warning of a massive heart attack, and when faced with death so immediately, notions of religion, God, and the afterlife certainly accompany any reasonable man’s spectrum of emotions and thoughts. In addition to his death, I have been facing the fact that my oldest child, my five-year-old daughter, will soon enter into her period of Catholic education, which I agreed to in order to marry her mother, and move toward her first communion. This upcoming facet of our lives will occur in roughly the next two years, meaning that I have roughly one year to experience that cycle of education of myself before I willingly submit to have my child learn things that I myself know very little or nothing about and have never participated in.

My story, something of a conversion narrative, begins much further back. My first time ever entering the doors of a Catholic Church occurred in my mid-20s, and my history of chagrin with institutional Christianity goes back to the beginning of my memories. I recall childhood experiences of church attendance with two significant factors: dressing in horribly uncomfortable clothes in the Alabama heat on what could otherwise be a day off, and listening to sanctimonious messages about what we ought-to-be spoken in the midst of nodding affirmation from people that I wasn’t sure were up to the challenge. As further evidence of my distance from a religious life, I had lived until age 26 believing that I had been baptized in a Baptist church as a child, and found out a truth to the contrary when arranging the details of my pending marriage to a “cradle Catholic.” Though I can never remember a time that I have not considered myself a Christian, I can also never remember taking part in a “church life,” being involved in it, or having a sense that I had any business occupying a church pew.

I have a strong sense now that my journey toward becoming a Catholic has begun. Although I agree now with Father Carucci that being a Christian means being part of a “flock,” I also believe in another aspect that he did not discuss: that each man “follows” in his own way.  In his homily, Carucci alluded to Church that was built on “the rock” of Saint Peter and to the transient nature of non-Catholic denominations that do not have as solid of a foundation; to continue his metaphor, I believe that every stone in the structure has its place, every part has its function . . . this Aristotelian idea of “organic unity.” So where do I fit in? Or possibly the more appropriate question may be: will I fit in at all?

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