Catholic by Choice: When I First Fell in Love With the Church

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Today, we’re pleased to welcome a guest article from Richard Cole, author of the newly released book Catholic by Choice: Why I Embraced the Faith, Joined the Church, and Embarked on the Adventure of a Lifetime. I know you’ll love Richard’s contribution and urge you to take a look at this great book. LMH

When I First Fell in Love With the Church

Richard Cole

Richard Cole

“So why are you Catholic?”

We all have our different answers to that question. For me, the simplest thing to say is that I fell in love. In the middle of my life, I visited a Benedictine monastery. I wasn’t a believer, but somehow I fell in love with God and the Church, and two years later I became a Catholic.

The memoir I wrote about this experience, Catholic by Choice, is basically a love story. Like most love stories, there were bumps and jolts along the way, but that didn’t keep me from being completely dazzled by everything Catholic.

Here’s an account of what I was feeling at the time.

The Catholic thing kept snowballing. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I honestly thought my heart was going to explode. Whether this was a new toy or a new vision, I knew I had something beautiful in my life, a nourishment that was gradually seeping into my heart, and the more I received, the more I wanted, and I realized how parched and desperate I’d been. I was overwhelmed by gratitude. I wasn’t thinking about becoming a Catholic. I didn’t want to join anything. Just being there in church—a real, live Catholic church!—was enough. I think if someone had told me that, sorry, I could never join, I could never take communion, that would have been fine. I would have been content to just stay in the pews, as long as I could come in from the cold and attend Mass.

A psychologist might argue that my Catholicism was simply a coping mechanism, a way to deal with a normal midlife crisis. Some men buy a red sports car; I was going to Mass. Religion is an obvious compensation for a personal lack in other areas. “God” simply fills a gap in your life. But you can turn that around and say that God doesn’t fill gaps in our lives. He creates a world with gaps, and through these gaps we’re given the grace to fall into his arms.

CatholicByChoiceSo yes, I was falling in love, the deep kind that happens maybe once or twice in a lifetime. I knew it was love because I’d gone through the same feelings with my wife. When we were first together, I was completely confused. I stammered a lot. I couldn’t focus. “Who is this person?” I felt the same dizziness when I entered church. I loved how the woodwork and the walls gave off the faint smell of incense. I loved crossing myself at the door and feeling the holy water, with maybe a little drop trickling down my forehead as I walked down the aisle. I loved kneeling on those kneeler things on the back of the pew and crossing myself and standing and sitting. I loved the whole gloriously complicated beauty of the Mass. Catholics knew that God was beautiful, and with all their rituals and habits and the weird statues and icons and secret symbols and devotional cards and rosaries and warm banks of candles flickering in front of Our Lady, they were simply acknowledging and celebrating this beauty. “Richness” was a word I kept using. Catholics were like these spiritual trust-fund babies, unbelievably rich with a two–thousand-year-old religious culture stacked on another three thousand years of Hebraic culture. Best of all, I could share this richness, even if I couldn’t actually eat at the table. I could watch, and nobody would tell me to leave.

All that happened 15 years ago. Some might say that my experience was just a honeymoon, and they’d be right. But honeymoons can mature into marriage. I’m still Catholic, I’m still in love with the Church, and I’m still in love with my wife. Last October we celebrated 30 years of marriage.

Richard Cole is the author of  Catholic by Choice: Why I Embraced the Faith, Joined the Church, and Embarked on the Adventure of a Lifetime as well as two collections of poetry: The Glass Children and Success Stories. His poetry and prose have been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, The SunHudson Review and Image Journal: Good Letters. He lives with his family in Austin, TX. Learn more at www.richard-cole.net.

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Copyright 2014 Lisa Hendey

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About Author

Lisa M. Hendey is the founder and editor of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of the Chime Travelers children's fiction series, The Grace of Yes, The Handbook for Catholic Moms and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. As a board member and frequent host on KNXT Catholic Television, Lisa has produced and hosted multiple programs and has appeared on EWTN and CatholicTV. Hendey hosted “Catholic Moments” on Radio Maria and is the technology contributor for EWTN’s SonRise Morning Show. Lisa's articles have appeared in Catholic Digest, National Catholic Register, and Our Sunday Visitor. Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and Catholic technology and communications topics. She was selected as an Elizabeth Egan Journalism Fellow, attended the Vatican Bloggers Meeting, the “Bishops and Bloggers” meeting and has written internationally on the work of Catholic Relief Services and Unbound. Hendey lives with her family in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Visit Lisa at www.LisaHendey.com for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish or organization.

3 Comments

  1. Cesar Chavira on

    Beautiful. I felt the same way when I found the church. Truth is, I was raised Catholic but I never understood the faith, the practices of our church. It took more than a dozen years of atheism and a slow, hesitant return to the faith to get me to more fully appreciate the beauty of what our faith gives so generously, so tirelessly, so lovingly. Seems Richard Cole and I both played the wayfarer, both wandered about, not realizing our church had been waiting, lovingly, patiently waiting, for us to come back home.

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