Associate Professor of Theology
I was raised entirely outside of religion and faith, and I don’t recall having heard much about God or Jesus as I was growing up. My father, an atheist, said he believed the scientists, who said there was no God. As a family we never talked about God, who seemed like some kind of curious abstraction others believed in for some unknown reason.
But one day, when I was 14, I suddenly realized in a very visceral way that I would one day die and that the world would continue to exist without me, and that it didn’t matter if I had never existed at all. This raised some troubling questions. Can life have any meaning if we’re all going to die one day? Isn’t everything we do finally pointless, since everything ends in death? Why am I here on earth at all?
I came to view everything in a new critical light. I started dropping classes and sports. My grades plummeted. Somehow at the end of four years of stumbling around without any guidance I was given a high school diploma, even though I had dropped most math and sciences classes. Since math and science did not address the truly important questions about life, I saw no use for them. And because of my new disturbing behavior, many people thought I had turned to drugs.
After high school, in a different part of the country, I found work washing dishes 80 hours a week. I had no direction or plans for the future, but I did a lot of reading in my spare time. And, like so many 20th-century Catholic converts, I discovered the writings of the famous monk and spiritual writer, Thomas Merton.
Merton opened up to me the world of faith and prayer and ultimate meaning, and he communicated a sense of God’s unconditional mercy and love, particularly as revealed in Christ. You can’t earn such love; it’s already freely offered! Merton’s joy and freedom in God were infectious. Perhaps no modern Catholic writer has spoken so meaningfully to a searching secular audience as he.
My conversion to Catholicism, then, was not the result of a years-long tormented inner struggle. Joining a community that helped nurture a vibrant love of God and neighbor made completely good sense. And so I was baptized. The priest who prepared me for Baptism told me, “Remember, you think you chose God, but it was God who chose you!” Indeed, I have had a strong conviction about divine providence ever since those early days. I realize that it was God who had given me the big questions when I was just 14.
To believe in the Christian way is not to simply believe there must be some kind of God or First Cause who created the world. It is about responding to a creator who is love, a God who calls each one of us into intimate union. Conversion means learning more and more how to give our heart and our life completely to God, who has loved us even before we existed.
Even after my Baptism the conversion continues, day by day, and it has one central, driving force: Jesus Christ. Jesus inspires me to discipleship and love. He represents divine mercy taking on our human condition of vulnerability, meaninglessness, suffering, and death. His call to repentance makes me take a deeper look into my heart and recognize how far I am from the holiness of God and how, in turning to God, I may receive the strength and freedom of forgiveness. And it is in Jesus’ resurrection that I am given a glimpse of the mystery that awaits us all, the victory of love in a world filled with suffering and death.
Thank you, God, for calling me to faith!