There’s something about the start of September, is there not? Fall is in the air, a new school year is beginning, and everything feels fresh and crisp. For me, fall has always been a special time. It’s my very favorite season for food, activities, and crafts. And one fall in particular, it was a season of change in heart and faith…
I spoke about my childhood faith and my family’s Catholic identity, spurred on by St. Kateri Tekakwitha, in an earlier post, and wanted to finish out that story with my adult “reversion” back to my Catholic roots. I think, for cradle Catholics, this is a very key moment in one’s faith journey. It is not a true reversion in that I never formally left the Church, but certainly my heart was lacking the commitment needed to retain a strong, adult faith throughout the rest of my life.
I left off the story in high school, so I will pick back up at my freshmen year in the Catholic college that I chose. There, I often attended daily Mass between classes. The spark that St. Kateri had ignited in the heart of my family bore fruit within me, to be sure. But by my senior year, I had trailed off with the daily Mass attendance, and though I still attended Mass on the weekends with my family, I didn’t think too much about my faith anymore. I was too concerned with my plans for graduate school, and finding a decent boyfriend.
And in graduate school, well…I still considered myself Catholic, but my religious identity took a hit. My mind was on other endeavors, and I did not prioritize my faith at all. I stopped going to Sunday Mass. I slept in on the weekends, and though I felt a bit guilty, I figured that I deserved the sleep due to the intensity of my studies. It is certainly an exercise in humility and embarrassment to look back at my selfishness!
The interesting thing is I met a friend who became very dear to me, someone whom I remain friends with to this day. Her name is Irena, and we got along famously from the start. When she found out that I was Catholic, she very excitedly asked to go to Mass with me. She was an atheist, but loved the liturgy and historic old churches. I remember dragging myself to Mass a few times because she wanted to go, feeling a little chagrined that someone with no religious faith at all had a bigger commitment to attend Mass than I did. Whenever I could convince her to sleep in as well, I very happily skipped Mass.
Aside from my sporadic Mass attendance with Irena, I did not think about religious things at all. I certainly had no prayer life to speak of, and my interior life was dominated by thoughts of the type of job I would like to secure upon graduation, and the drama surrounding a few doomed romantic relationships.
My first year ended, and I found myself in a bad place. I was not enjoying my (very expensive!) studies as much as I had hoped, the romantic relationship angle had gone from practically non-existent in college to just plain disastrous in graduate school, and overall I was incredibly unhappy. I knew that my own choices had caused this conundrum, but that did not ease the sting any.
I went back for my second year grateful for my friendship with Irena and not much else. One day that autumn, I was walking through campus and stumbled upon the chapel. I was at a secular, private university, so I had not even known that there *was* a chapel. Curious, I peeked inside. It was very cute and cozy, and I noticed that the posted listing of services included daily Mass. I shrugged and kept walking. I didn’t miss going to Mass. Did I?
Throughout that fall semester, while making trips back and forth from the library as part of my research assistant duties for a law professor, I kept glimpsing the chapel. I knew where it was now, and went out of my way to walk by it. I took a look at the listing of services again. Weekday Mass started at 12:05 pm. Daily Mass…back in college, it had brought me a lot of comfort. And right at that moment? I could use some serious comfort. I was in the throes of an emotional crisis and did not know how to fix the mess I was making of my life.
The next day, I had a class that ran until 12 pm. Class let out, and I paused with my books in my arms at the bottom of the staircase that would take me up and to the exit closest to the chapel. I remember standing there, truly unsure of what to do next. I could go eat lunch, and indeed I was hungry. Or I could go to Mass. I dallied there a bit longer, and then made a spontaneous decision – eating could wait. Things were bad, and I needed to try something different if I had any hope of digging out of the abyss. I walked up the stairs and out to the chapel.
There was a small group gathered in one corner of the chapel, with a priest presiding over a small altar. I joined in towards the back, and that moment changed my faith life forever. Being a part of that small community, who took time out of their work and school day to celebrate the Eucharist, and fellowship together…that changed everything. It changed my heart. How could I have forgotten how glorious it was to sit in the peace of Christ like that, surrounded by my family in faith?
I was hooked. Monday through Friday, I wanted to go to daily Mass. It was such a soothing presence in my life, and I could feel things changing within me for the better, although I was still very fragile. I also started attending Sunday Mass every week.
Suddenly, I wanted to learn more about my faith, and took a trip to the large bookstore in town to stock up on resources. I left with a stack of new books, including one about popular apparitions of Our Lady. I thought about her a lot, about how it was so comforting to ask her to pray for me. I found an old rosary, and started to pray with it again.
By this point, it was November, and the weather had turned cold. One day when I didn’t have class, I was tucked in my apartment with my new books. I wondered if there was a Catholic television station on my cable plan, and quickly found EWTN. There was a little “countdown to Advent” icon in the corner of the screen, and I realized how much about Catholic traditions I still had to learn. This meant more books, which was just fine with me.
As I did my research, I read up on the liturgical calendar. It was late November, and guess whose feast day was right around the corner?
St. Cecilia. My Confirmation patron. That did not feel like a coincidence to me. The grace of the sacrament really does permeate one’s heart in unseen ways.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter’s words from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, now took on pronounced meaning in my life. I had my faith back. I had the Eucharist. Although I would do so very imperfectly, I now had the tools to try and make sense of the rest of my life.
In the years that followed, I despaired over ever meeting that decent guy, but a prayer winged up at the shrine of St.-Anne-de-Beaupre resulted in my meeting my future husband, Mike, shortly thereafter. As well, some years later, we named our daughter after St. Anne. And Irena? She called me up one fall day five years ago and told me that she was enrolling in RCIA classes, and wanted to become Catholic. Although I was shocked, I was not at all surprised, if that makes any sense. I think Our Lady and St. Cecilia worked their charms on her, as well. Although I was eight months pregnant, I traveled to New York City to be present for Irena’s baptism and entrance into the Church, and to be her Godmother. It remains one of the great joys of my life.
The Lord truly does work in wonderful and mysterious ways. How has He worked in *your* life, and your commitment to your faith walk? Do you have a saint that is your special intercessor, or Confirmation patron?
Copyright 2015 Tiffany Walsh
Photo copyright 2015 Tiffany Walsh. All rights reserved.