A Personal Theological Reflection on My Catholic Conversion
Jesus said, "Come and you will see." (John 1:39).
Personal Theological Framework operative and Author's Personal Theological Reflections:
When I consider my own theological reflections on these matters, I must focus upon my own experience as a fairly recent participant of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. These reflections have become the source of deep feelings and a sense of my own first encounter with the historic traditions of the Roman Catholic Faith I have now embraced fully. I share my faith in Christ Jesus with great joy and meaning in my heart. I am finding a deeper love for Jesus daily, and a new love for his Mother, our Lady, Mary. My plan within this personal reflection is to share with you some of my deepest moments in touch with the Lord Jesus Christ Whom we surely love and serve with a perfect joy.
Again, Jesus said to me, "Come and you will see."
When we consider the contexts of this invitation of Jesus, they compel me to convey the following personal experiences.
Contextually and culturally, when I was growing up, like most children, I did not understand the words, "tumult and strife," as the old Quaker hymn used to melodiously sing -- "No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to the Rock I am clinging---Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?"
My own earliest recollections of childhood were that I was a fairly "pampered" child from the stand point of my material goods. I sensed within me that my parents were committed to financial success, as I grew older. They were very hard workers and had a true devotion to our Lord Jesus in their Christian faith. There was, however, a missing dimension for me as I grew up, witnessing the Christian framework within my own cultural context.
For many years both of my parents worked. I stayed with sitters, remembering one event the trauma of some of those experiences, missing my mother and father. I recall a woman who was sitting with me becoming so angry with her vacuum clean that she slammed it on the ground "cursing." It sacred me. Yet, I was always happiest when I was with my grandmother, who told me of Jesus.
I recollect in those days sensing that "numinous," the wholly other Presence that I was not able to comprehend at my youngest years. I felt safe with this Presence of God, though God had no Name for me until my grandmother "gave" for my understanding our God the Name -- "Jesus."
I liked the Name of "Jesus," for in the English language for to me it had a soothing sound. Jesus, for me, was a Name that made me feel safe and Jesus was a Person that I wanted to know, because Jesus, I thought, must be like my grandmother. Jesus must be, I thought, like the loving people I knew.
I weep sometimes when I think of the people in the world like my grandmother, who sing with true conviction and sincere hearts the simple songs of the Faith I was raised with, like -- "What a Friend we have in Jesus."
I knew that Jesus was my friend, if my grandmother told me He was.
My parents disciplined me. They "spanked" me when they felt that I needed it, and, sometimes I did. I am thankful for those spankings. Occasionally, I recall those darker moments, when (terrified of the dark) I was a few times placed on the stairs of the basement in the darkness, as a punishment for some childish (stubborn) wrong doing. I remember those dark moments vividly. Perhaps, those were preparing me for the "dark nights" to come within my soul.
I grew older, raised in Baptist and fundamentalist circles, I found the Jesus of my grandmother, as spoken by others, transformed into "the more doctrinally correct Jesus," with a Biblical Face upon Him. My Jesus of the earlier years became for me the "paper Jesus." Still, God would use this doctrinal period to bring me closer to the Jesus I know today.
It, this doctrinal emphasis of Jesus, would firmly establish me in the orthodoxy I know today. Eventually, I grew up, entered the military, married, had children, developed ministerial graces provided to me in my cultural setting. I was, mainly an affluent, middle class, "affluence" oriented, upwardly mobile, "all white," male chauvinistic, conservative, Goldwater Republican, and very anti-Catholic, but, completely Irish.
I did not really understand why I was feeling so anti-Catholic, but I just was that way, because I had really not explored the matter fully, though I admired the lives of the saints and eventually realized through my father, Ed Curley, that we had gotten our Bible from the Catholic Church.
That was important for me, because I was thoroughly entrenched in "sola scriptura," as taught by Martin Luther.
My God was after all the "paper Jesus," a Jesus that I believed in, but, One that was based on doctrine and my traditions (Baptist and fundamentalist).
Still, I was somewhat troubled by this. For, here was the Jesus I could not approach without fear in the context of my growing realization of my own sin. The God of Mercy and Love that my grandmother told me about had dissipated into a little mist of the past. I had absorbed Jesus in the acids of my circumstances.
All of this is difficult to explain to a cradle Catholic.
My father, used to express, when I was a teen and when I asked about the Catholic Church as to why it was not the true Church? I remember a statement by my father well, as we passed a Catholic Church (St. Francis in Azusa, California) one Saturday as the people were leaving Mass. I asked if they were the "true Church?" My dad responded -- "I hope they are not right" -- (meaning the Catholics). I pondered this thought for years.
My father is gone now. I cannot ask him anymore about this.
Those former visions seemed very distant for me though, as I strove for competence and success within the world's parameters, as I struggled through my forties.
In 1995 on July 21st -- I began to question for the first time the reality of my fragile early faith. My wife of 21 years, and my children, left me in Montana, as they went to begin a new life for themselves in San Diego, California. Yes, there were all the warning signs of this coming event, but, I was too blind to see it coming, so, I just let it happen, thinking that time would re-establish the communications and relational difficulties my former spouse and I were then experiencing.
In 1989 I had retired as a Lieutenant Commander from the Navy after 21 years of service. I was a very successful military officer, and, was deeply involved in serving my evangelical Protestant church as an ordained Southern Baptist bivocational pastor in North Carolina.
We had many successes. Yet, there were many stresses upon me.
God had given my former spouse and me blessings in our early years of marriage, when we were young and idealistic in our enthusiasm for the Lord's work. Nevertheless, something had happened as the years closed in upon me.
Call it -- A crisis of mid life? A problem with listening? Too much stress? Intolerance and indifference? A spiritual "dark night?" These were all working within my personal context, and Patricia's. Today, I will claim for myself all the blame. It does no good for us to harbor grudges. But, something happened within me. MY "Inmost calm" was thoroughly shaken! -- We had considered marriage something that could not break. Yet, it broke down. Something was wrong.
So, I had to reevaluate a crisis of faith that I was experiencing.
To sum up all of this -- what was past was too complicated for me and seemed as though it could not be repaired -- so, I had to leave everything in the past and in the hands of God and move on spiritually. It was far too complicated for me to try to fix things, and, I was a terrible person to try to do so. There was too much judgmental spirit on both sides. The marriage collapsed.
Little did I realize at the time though -- I was really coming Home in a radically different Way than I never had expected -- and, it was very painful. A radical internal and ongoing searching was needed within my heart. I did not know where to begin the search, because I knew there was a missing dimension to my life that I could not explain. I had sensed this for many years, even in the early years of my former marriage. I had never faced within my heart the many issues -- all of the negatives of life: racism, anti-feminism, "affluence," anti-Catholic sentiment, bigotry in many forms that all lurked deeply within the innermost recesses of my soul and spiritual dark night. These haunted me with their terrible ugliness.
I knew things were not right within me.
This was taking time, but, I knew what was needed intuitively. The Holy Spirit guided me, I am convinced beyond any shadow of doubt.
THEN, there it was again -- I had always felt a "tug" within my heart toward the historic and traditional Roman Catholic Church that formed the basis for every other Christian group that ever proclaimed the Name of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ. There in the Catholic Church was the historic "root," the apostolic commission of our Lord Jesus to "Petros," the rock.
Yet, what was happening? -- I had, as an evangelical Christian, always believed the Rock to be Christ. Surely Christ is our Rock, but, there is the Rock, Peter whom Christ empowered and commissioned to be His Vicar on earth -- the apostolic succession.
I thought also that this could not be, because I was raised to think on the Catholic Church as the "whore of Babylon." Yet, the calling was there.
Jesus said to me with my soul, "Come and you will see."
It was Saturday evening and it was 5:30 P.M. -- Mass was beginning at the Stevensville Mission. Father Taulman was officiating and Lucy Evans from the Mission Book Store sat next to me. When the Homily began it was reflecting on the Gospel, but especially related to Philippians 2, speaking of the "kenosis," of Jesus emptying Himself . . . Fr. Taulman spoke of conversion.
I had already been reflecting upon this earlier . . . strange . . . and God worked through that, as the tears flowed, and my heart was warmed again.
I knew that I was finally on the right road at last, because I discovered the Jesus of my grandmother knew again.
I could not wait to get to the next Mass.
After taking the plunge by attending several Masses in Stevensville, I decided to go "deeper," since the Lord might be leading me into more exploration -- I suppose to discover if all of the good I was finding locally were anywhere else?
I needed to become a Catholic!
There could be no "slow road" for me. I was excited! Yet, I knew there was a process and I needed to find it.
I asked my catholic friends about other parishes, and, while looking for another Roman Catholic Church, I stumbled upon what looked like the biggest most ORNATE Roman Catholic Church I could find -- St. Francis Xavier. It was what I expected inside where I went in to pray and ask God for His direction. He gave it.
Suddenly, I saw to the "other side . . . way beyond," the images of the saints, the crucifix, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Beloved in Christ -- I SAW right to the ROOT of where I ALSO NEEDED TO BE WITH OUR EUCHARISTIC LORD AND THE LITURGY OF THE WORD.
The Roman Catholic dogmas that once bothered me were somehow, spiritually, assimilated into the very fiber of my being.
Experientially, the Church immersed me into a foundational understanding of our Faith in the Living, Personal, Lord Jesus Christ.
For some reason, my Latin, Koine Greek and Hebrew came alive to me again.
The Bible was again richer and fuller, as I began to restudy many passages, follow in the Vatican II Missal I had purchased and was reading before each Mass.
I studied the traditions and found them all to be Christ centered. The Mass was Christ centered. The Rosary was Christ centered.
Everything was CHRIST centered!
I could not get enough of the Mass. All I heard was the Gospel over and over... It was wonderful.
Suddenly, all of the misunderstandings of my past began to dissolve before the majesty of Divine illumination through the homily, the liturgy of the Word, the liturgy of the Eucharist.
Christ was indeed Present.
What was happening to me? -- "Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?"
I spoke to Fr. Clarke of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, a Jesuit Parish, and he got me into a non R.C.I.A. program at Christ the King under the leadership of Sister Nancy.
Jesus said to me again, "Come and you will see."
These helpful people of God, all catechists, were clarifying more issues for me.
Still, the sessions were over and I was still hungry.
It was, then, that they invited me to attend whatever sessions I wanted to attend at the R.C.I.A. process at St. Francis Xavier. Since I was a former pastor with a theological background the Fr. Kevin Clarke desired to allow me a choice, however, I elected to attend all of the sessions. They were wonderful I had "devoured" the Catechism. The "koinonia" I discovered with our group was one of the most "radical" events of my spiritual formation.
I had been fully prepared for R.C.I.A. by our Lord.
It was a marvelous encounter with tradition, scriptures, revelation, a new culture, a process of reason and personally experience.
Erin and her team were totally attuned to every need that I had come to the Church to explore. During this process, I knew, when Charmaine Dame (our Music Director) asked me to sing with the choir that I was Home within the Church that Jesus called me to worship and love Him. When they sang Quaker Hymn at the close of that first morning mass, and the tears rolled profusely down my face as I listened to the words with "new ears."
"The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart, a fountain ever springing. All things are mine since I am His. How can I keep from singing?"
One woman in the choir saw this and reached over and tenderly squeezed my hand in Christian Love -- I knew I had come HOME.
I wrote a poem of thanks to God and His people, following a retreat led by Sister Alice Ann with the choir of St. Francis Xavier. I am not the best of poets, but, I feel the poetry within as I write, while I underscore the importance of Love and loving, healing, growing, ministry outreach within our parish --
TAPESTRY OF LOVE
Out of (our) pain God faithfully weaves within (us) the Joy
Of knowing Jesus, His Visions to now for others employ.
Within (our) forming Tapestry there reflects the Woven Image of the Loving One.
We so marred his Face and Form, yet, (we) find in Him that (we) (are) not alone.
He sings with (us) and reaches out to hold (our) hands with His hands.
The Touch of God, so real, sensed (our) tears and reached with Loving bands
To make (us) feel the Song again and Steadfast Love that (we) had lost.
The Hunger pangs, no longer there, have brought a vagrant's heart to Rest at last,
For the Christians (we) know today are, as the One, Another Christ to (us), as (we) (are) no longer alone.
-- R. Curley
Summary and conclusions --
When I embarked upon my own journey, I had come from a thoroughly Protestant background, fundamentalist, and became strongly biblical centered. I would not have described myself as such at the time. In my early years, I wanted to be Christ centered, therefore, I went to the only place in my early theology I thought Christ was at, the Bible. I sought Christ in the Bible, becoming a strong advocate of a biblical centered, pre modern, theology.
As I grew older, the youth in me sensed that it was a "head knowledge" that needed to move into the Heart, then, out to other people in radical ways. Nevertheless, this knowledge of Christ grew into a personal commitment of Faith in Christ through my twenties and thirties. I had married and had a family, but, sensed a missing dimension in my internal spirituality, that intimate, experiential, theology that others had. I looked upon the intimate Faith of others with desire.
It was during these periods, my late 30's, early 40's, that I worked on my first two master's degrees. During those processes I became more aware of certain issues of cosmology that started to become a tool of deepening my own spiritual hunger for the things of God. During the Master of Ministry phase in the early 90's, while I was in the pastorate, a local Church of the Nazarene, my studies confronted me with an overwhelming sense of "awe" for the Lord and God's creation. I had been working, since my Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary days on cosmology and its relationship to the Scriptures, but was dissatisfied with the lack of interest shown by my colleagues.
These studies were bringing me closer to Home, because I was being forced to re-discover my own orthodoxy.
Yet, my own heart was not warmed, as I still tended to serve a "paper Jesus."
It was then that I encountered people (ministers) within my classes that were questioning the Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity. Though the Church had settled this in 325 C.E., it was a new question for them.
Still, the Holy Trinity was an absolute certitude for me.
Then, I began to question my ecclesiastical relationship, even though the official position of the Church of the Nazarene is Trinitarian.
My questionings and struggles troubled my former spouse, since she had grown up in the Church of the Nazarene. For her, this was cultural issue. I was In a kind of cultural "shock," ever sense I first united with the Church of the Nazarene, sensing within myself a nonacceptance of me as a person, minister, because I was not a "cradle Nazarene." There seemed to be within me a feeling that there was an informal covenant theology relationship that some enjoyed, that I could never be a part of. Rightly or wrongly, this was my perception.
Many personal issues invaded my being -- secular employment, trouble within the local parish, a sense of nonsupport by district leadership, a feeling of abandonment, trouble within my secular employment, involvement with law enforcement stresses, mid-life crisis, family stresses, etc.
These all contributed to the eventual separation from me by my former spouse in a time of personal trials, as her two Nazarene pastor brothers helped her. I felt so betrayed, describing it in this paper is very difficult for me. Nevertheless, this was my context, when I finally encountered the R.C.I.A. process.
As I look back now, I know that it was for God's greater plan. Upon my personal failures and disappointments, God has built a new creation in Christ.
A friend of mine suggested following up on some "seeds" that many "saints" of the past planted.
Jesus said, "Come and you will see." (John 1:39). I came and saw my Home.
Erin (at Saint Francis Xavier Parish in Montana) and the R.C.I.A. introduced me into a parish culture (St. Francis Xavier) that meshed with what I had always expected the Church to be. They handled the traditions and scriptures flawlessly during the period of inquiry through to and following my own mystagogia.
This is why I am in the process of finishing a post graduate program in pastoral ministry at Gonzaga University.
Our Lord purposefully constructed my delays to integrate me fully into the experience of surrender again, as my own spiritual journey deepened through an Ignatian retreat experience (one on one) with Fr. Tom Healy, S.J., the Superior for the Jesuit House in Missoula, Montana. This retreat surfaced nearly pages of personal theological reflections in my week in the basement of the Rectory.
What had begun with the R.C.I.A., and the initial impact of Erin's well-coordinated ministry where loving God and the Church are the primary motivations for service, had culminated is a wonderful Easter Vigil experience and sacramental reception of one of the "other sheep" that followed Jesus, now, rejoined to the "one fold."
Today, I enjoy many friendships with fellow Catholic brothers and sisters.
I enjoy a new ministry and apostolate from the Lord in a private retreat setting in Montana at the Hermitage Camp of Saint Anthony's Retreat.
My involvement includes helping in the apostolate of Fr. Daniel Meynen in Ecclesia on Line and Homily Service: http://www.ecclesia-on-line.org/ .
Today I may rejoice and say -- All praise and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ and thanks be to Mary.
Personal Spiritual Formation Activities:
Jesus said, "Come and you will see."
For my own part, my own spirituality has taken a new turn, one that should not be surprising. My spiritual formation consists of prayer, contemplation and journaling. As I write these notes, I am journaling, because of the content of these exercises. Yet, there is more that has happened. Jesus has guided me into deeper religious life, as I explore and involve myself in new doors the Lord has opened.
Where Jesus leads I will follow.
"My sheep hears my voice." The retreat house and other ministries are opening, and, only God knows the beginning and ending of it all through the graces of God.
It is good to be Home with the Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, and, to be able to share with others our Blessed Hope in Jesus.
I rejoice now in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus continues to say to me, "Come and you will see."
Deus et Sanctissima.
NOS CUM PROLE PIA BENEDICAT VIRGO MARIA! May the Virgin Mary bless us with her holy Child!
Brother Guardian, Community of Saint Anthony of Padua
Home page: http://www.cybernet1.com/saintanthony/Index1.html
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