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
“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.
So 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 Sun, Hudson Review and Image Journal: Good Letters. He lives with his family in Austin, TX. Learn more at www.richard-cole.net.
Copyright 2014 Lisa Hendey