Picking up from the previous post: what exactly did I believe, and which was the God that had answered my prayers?
At that moment I simply knew that the God who had answered my prayers could be only one, and that monotheistic God could only be He who had given up His only Son. I did not know what that meant at the time – I couldn’t perhaps even articulate it – but I was certain of it, almost intuitively you might say. There was only one God, and He was the God of the Christians. And remember, at this point I knew next to nothing about the Christian faith; I could hardly recall anything of my Sunday school upbringing, and studying for several years in a Catholic school did not really impart any profound or significant Catholic teaching.
I did not return to the Church all at once. For a while, all I could do was pray Psalm 23 (22). For a time, that – and the promise to lead a virtuous life – sufficed. Christ’s death and resurrection were to be understood allegorically. Though I did believe that He had died on the Cross, His resurrection was something that my reasoning abhorred. If He did “come back”, it couldn’t have been in body; maybe it was a spirit or such. And how could His death do anything for me? Why was His passion effective for me if He had undergone it? (Remember, radical individualism was still in my system) No, if His death and resurrection were to have any import on my life, it was that they signified all those times that I die to myself and arise anew after hardships, purged and a better/stronger man. And yet, reading through the entries of that period, I see that the conversion was a gradual process. Coupled with the desire for a virtous life, there were still pagan elements in it, thoughts and desires which were still quite opposed to Christian morality.
At the same time this was going on a Russian and a Dane came into my life. I can no longer remember exactly, but I think I discovered Dostoevsky and Kierkegaard in relation to Nietzsche. From the Dane I learned that following Christ was something “radical”: that there had to be a change in my life, that following Him could not be a merely intellectual exercise, with no impact on the way I lived my life. Either I would follow Him and my life would change, or I would follow Him not at all. There was to be no middle ground. From the Russian’s novels came the subtle fragrance of the Gospel, stories of repentance and forgiveness. I was puzzled at the belief of a physically resurrected Christ that came across in the novels, but I decided not to mock it and remain “open”.
Somewhere along the line I realised that this one man show was not tenable, and so I began to consider my options. If I were to be a Christian, I needed to belong to a body of believers; I could not make it up as I went along. Christ had certainly left something behind which would have lasted to the present and which could be easily identified. I saw three options: Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and Catholicism. As for Protestantism, I dismissed it straightaway. The idea that Christians had been wrong up until the Protestant “reformers” came along was absurd, and that Protestants could not even agree among themselves was enough to convince me that that such a position was ridiculous and a recipe for disaster. That left Orthodoxy and Catholicism. Orthodoxy at the time was a bit of a mystery to me. All I knew was that the Orthodox believe pretty much what Catholics believe, only expressed it differently, and have no Pope. Given that I had been baptised into the Catholic Church, was culturally connected to it and the fact that there was a “final arbiter” in the person of the Pope, (re-)joining the Catholic Church seemed like the logical thing. Here was an institution that had been around for two millennia; if it didn’t know human nature and how to help one lead a virtuous life, who would? I decided from then on to start going to Mass. And though I knew I didn’t believe everything the Church taught, I considered that day my “official” return.
Doctrinally, I held (without my knowing it) many heretical/Protestant ideas in the beginning. The Church was just a human institution with a common faith and Mass was just a gathering of the faithful where they celebrated their common faith; the sacraments were merely symbols; infant baptism was “invalid” or at least pointless (one needed to understand the sacraments); the three persons of the Trinity were “masks” for the same Person; Jesus was not God, but He was the greatest Creature;… These I held because they made sense to me, but I had always remained open to what the Church actually teaches and eventually, as I began to learn what she does teach, I gave up these ideas in favour of her doctrine. The Eucharist was perhaps the hardest of all, even more than the Resurrection of the Dead. I was open to believing that it truly was the Body and Blood of Our Lord, but I did not believe it. Knowing that I did not believe what the Church did kept me from receiving Holy Communion. Then, one day, out of the blue, it just flashed within that it could only be His Body and Blood and from then on I never once doubted.
Upon returning to the Church and learning more about her, I discovered that what I had despised for so many years was not her, but the image I had of her, of what I thought she was, especially morals-wise. Morally, there was a lot that had to change with me. There were many ideas and beliefs that I had to give up. Some have told me that I am merely being reactionary, reacting against the beliefs I once held merely to distance myself from them and the person I was. And for a long time I did question if that was in fact the case. But eventually I came to realise that it wasn’t a reactionary impulse; that I had always been searching for Truth, and that in finding it (or rather, having allowed Him to find me) I could only submit to it and act accordingly. It took quite some time to make peace with myself, to come to terms with who I had been and who I was to become. Paradoxically, it was “necessary” for me to be without of the Church to come to the conclusion that all I had ever wanted was within it. I had gone on a journey across foreign lands and discovered a wonderous kingdom which was, in fact, the home from which I had left. The prodigal son had finally come home.
And so, here I am 9 years later, a different man than I had once been, and yet at the core, still the same. I have come a long way, and yet each day seems as though I’ve just begun. I walked in darkness, and now am slowly coming to the light. And while the initial zeal and fire (and naivety) has long burned out, with God’s grace I carry on because I have experienced the love of the Son who gave Himself up for me.