Friday, July 8, 2016

Analysis of a Conversion, Three Tsunamis of grace

Grace alone is not Catholic Teaching
Before I begin, I want to remind Catholics that the Doctrine of Grace alone is a false doctrine which Protestants invented in order to deny the authority of the Church, the authority of Priests, the efficacy of the Sacraments and the necessity of good works.
The Catholic Church Teaches the necessity of Grace and that all things are by God’s grace.  Therefore, the Church, our Priests, the Sacraments and even the works which we do are the result of God’s grace.  But it is by our participation in the grace that it becomes efficacious in our lives.  The Catechism puts it this way:
1847 "God created us without us: but he did not will to save us without us." To receive his mercy, we must admit our faults. "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Why are we talking about Grace alone?
When I came back to faith in God, I was confused about this, because, well, let me just tell it.

By this time, I was married
As I’ve mentioned, I was an atheist from the around 7 years of age.  And I was going along on my merry, atheistic way.  I met a beautiful young lady, Catholic, and we were married.  I was married, three years, to my Catholic wife and hiding my atheism from her, because I loved her and didn’t want to give her any undue distress.  
We were married in the Church because she wouldn’t have it any other way.  She said, “Either we get married in the Church or we don’t get married.”  It was an ultimatum.
So, we got married in the Church.  Although, I gave the poor priest fits at every opportunity.  I don’t think he’d ever met a more uncooperative and unappreciative groom.  But he stuck to his guns and we had a perfectly valid and orthodox wedding.  So everyone thought.  Except that I didn't believe in God, which is definitely a canonical impediment.  (Don't worry, we've done it again, this time everything was right.)
Anyway, afterwards, I rarely went to Church with my wife, except for big events, to keep the peace.  On her part, my wife never nagged. She went to Mass, if not every Sunday.  At least, regularly.  She might miss for emergencies and special occasions.  But that was it.

First Tsunami, we’re going to have a baby
We had been trying to have a baby, for three years.  One day, in late October or early November, 1986, I came home from work to find my wife in the kitchen.  She was working back then, so it was rare to find her home.  We normally drove home from our respective jobs at around the same time.
Anyway, when she heard me, she walked up to me and said, “We’re having a baby.”  At that instant, I was transported.  It was as though there were an added depth or dimension to the present moment. Like moving in slow motion.  But, since I’ve always been hard of hearing.  And therefore, frequently misunderstand what people have actually said.  I heard myself ask her to repeat it.  She did.  And it confirmed what I thought I heard.  

I didn’t realize it, but I was on Cloud 9
I don’t know if you’ve ever felt that way.  I’ve actually had a great deal of experience with that, since I was an avid reader and an athlete.  It’s like when you’re reading a great book and you’re so absorbed that you lose track of time and reality.  You’re literally living in the book.
Or, when you’re playing an intense game and you’re lost in the moment.  I remember when I was in high school, playing basketball and the coach would call a time out.  He would have to snap us out of our fixation so that we could hear and understand what he was saying.  They call it, being in the zone.
This was very much like that, but in my opinion, deeper.  I could see and hear everything, but everything was moving in slow motion and colors were richer and deeper.  I walked outside and for the first time, I could see God’s hand at work in the universe.
From one moment to the next, I went from atheist to believer.  In one instant, I believed in God and all His goodness.  Every argument that I had ever used to deny God’s existence, I could now turn around to prove God’s existence.  I believe I received a gift of infused knowledge at that moment.  But I did not realize it.
All I know is that I looked at a cloud and knew with all certainty that God had put it there and that God was moving it.  I looked at a leaf and all the random veins within it and knew that God was the reason for those little canals.  I also knew that I had very little to do with the life that was being knit in my wife’s womb.  All I really did was have fun one night and now, something wonderful was happening and I was only the recipient of this gift.  Not its author.
That day,  I changed profoundly.  Before, I never thought about God.  From that moment, all I could think of was how I could repay God for such a wonderful gift.  I couldn’t think of anything.  So, I made up my mind to simply say “Thank you.”  Every waking moment, for the rest of my life.

Second Tsunami, productivity videos
The first tsunami of grace took me up into the heavens, in joy.  The second tsunami, knocked me to my knees, in tears.
Here’s how that started.  It was still 1986, around late November or early December.  The time of the year when nothing gets done around the office because of Thanksgiving and Christmas parties.  I was an accountant/auditor for a very large hospital.  One of the two largest in the world.  So, they picked this time to give us some continuing education.  They sent our whole office to a seminar on how to increase worker productivity.
The seminar consisted of two videos which we were to watch and then discuss.  Anyway, I think it was just two.  That’s all I remember.  The first one was about an experiment conducted by some big outfit, where they turned up the lights while people in a factory were working.  They turned them up and got more productivity.  So, at first they concluded that better visibility increased productivity.  Then they turned them down.  The more they turned them down, the more productive the people got.
Conclusion.  The lighting doesn’t matter, its whether management is paying attention that matters.  Its called the observation effect.
The second video was about a little girl who seemed to have a chronic injury on her forehead.  The Mom had brought her to a hospital to see why the wound kept coming back.  The Doctors couldn’t figure anything out.  But they started noticing that the wound would reappear or become aggravated every time the Mom visited.  They started to suspect the Mom was causing the injury.  So, they installed some hidden video cameras and had the Mom come to see her child.  The Mom came in and sat coldly with her child.  Then, the Mom left.  As soon as she was out the door, the child took a toy and smashed it against her forehead and howled in distress.  The Mom then rushed in and cradled the child in her arms and did her best to sooth her pain.
It turns out that the only time the child received affection from her Mom, was when she was sick or injured.
And THAT floored me.  I don’t know what lesson I was supposed to learn.  But all I saw was a baby that needed love.  And I couldn’t stop crying.  Most of the people in my office were moms.  I just told them that the film had really affected me.  But I cried and cried, all the way to the office and for many weeks.  Not just at the office, but also at home.  I couldn’t look at a child without remembering the child in the video and breaking down.  
Thank God it was the holiday season, because everybody’s productivity was down.  I couldn't do any work.  I spent hours on my knees in my cubicle, calling out to God (quietly, in my thoughts, of course) and asking Him to take care of my baby that was on the way.  I had come to realize that even if I was around, so many things could happen to my baby that were beyond my control.
I didn’t recover from that until the New Year.  Actually, I have never really recovered from that.  Even now, just thinking about that little girl, I’m tearing up.
I didn’t know it then, but that is a spiritual gift.  It is called the gift of tears.

One of my dumb thoughts
Before the second tsunami but after the first, I had a dumb thought pop into my head.  I had decided that I would not teach my child anything about God.  I’d let her, (somehow I knew she was a girl), decide for herself.  I’d let her go to Church with her Mom and I’d just keep on living my life.

I had never been afraid of hell
I couldn’t imagine it.  It was too distant a place.  
During one of those times that I was crying on my knees in my cubicle, I realized that children don’t do as you tell them.  They do as you do.  I could see my little girl going to hell along with me.  And that is when I became afraid of hell, for her sake.  I couldn’t forgive myself if my child wound up in hell, even if she was there with me.
So, from that point, I decided that I would teach my child all that I knew about God.  And I also became determined to learn all that I could about Him.

Third tsunami, my daughter was born
My mom and grandma had always said that every child brings a basket of grace.  I don’t know if its a Mexican saying or what.  But my child didn’t bring a little basket.  She brought brought a whole truckload!  
My daughter was born and we were in the hospital.  When I had her in my arms and had a little privacy, I dedicated her to God.  I simply said, “God, you know that I can’t raise her without you.  I am giving her back to You.  Right now!  You have to take care of her.  Because without you, I can do nothing.”
I was on Cloud 9 again and I told my wife I was going to call my mom and give her the good news.  There was a bank of pay phones downstairs in the waiting room.  So, I went there to call my mom.  The telephones were at the entrance to the waiting room and the waiting room was nearly empty.  Just a couple of people.  One man, sitting quietly on one side of the room.  And another, standing on the opposite side, looking out the window.

The Voice
As I picked up the phone, I heard a voice directly behind me.  So close that I felt the warm breath on the back of my neck.  “When will you keep your promises?”  I turned around, but no one was there.  Confused, I looked from one end of the waiting room to the other.  No one was close to me.
Then I heard the Voice again, “When will you keep your promises?”  Then, my life was opened before my eyes and I could see myself from the time I was a child to the present, always promising God that I would go to Church if He would only do this or that for me.  
Then, I came  back to the moment.  Determined to keep my promises.  At the time, I was confused about one thing.  I knew that when I made those promises, I meant the Catholic Mass.  But, I no longer believed in the Catholic Church.  So, I didn’t know where God wanted me to go to Church in order to keep my promise.  It couldn’t possibly be the Catholic Church, could it?
This is when I went through about a three year process of studying various religions until I came back to the Catholic Church.  You can read about that, here.

My confusion about grace alone
Perhaps you will understand why I came back believing in the doctrine of grace alone.  It wasn’t until I realized that the doctrine is used by Protestant to deny the fact of man’s free will response to God’s love that I understood my error. 
Obviously, if we do not accept God’s grace and act upon it, we remain in the same condition that we were in before.  You should realize that this is just a summary of my conversion.  There were times when I thought I was simply going nuts and was tempted to deny the grace of God.  But, thanks to God, I didn’t.

After coming back to the Catholic Church, I realized that I needed to share the gift that I had received. And so, I’ve dedicated myself to teaching the Catholic Faith from that point.  First to my children and then, to anyone who will listen.

Thanks for listening.  I hope my conversion is a blessing to you.  I hope it also gives you hope and consolation if your spouse or children are far from God. 

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