by Julie Green
"O God, you are my God; for you I long; for you my heart is thirsting. My heart pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. . . ." So the psalmist writes, and so the next part of this, for the goal of "saving my soul" does not explain the why of my wanting to do so, or how I began to understand that only the Catholic Church would be instrument to that.
The fact is that I was passionately in love with God. It wasn't a passing fancy or a matter of "being saved"; I had prayed for years, with or without a church, even in the days that I hated Christianity. He was. . .everything.
Nothing wasn't related to him in some way, though I understood little of what that meant. I wanted him to be central in my life, wanted to understand what he wanted of me, wanted to stop my stupid resistance when I knew he was asking something of me.
"Saving my soul" became my way of understanding the commitment that I wanted to make. "Getting to heaven" meant living with him forever; isn't heaven, after all and most importantly, the place where he is? Isn't heaven not just the reunion with old friends and family, but the being with them and with him, in his presence, because of him? Not just the place of no-pain because all is perfect in him there? That was what I wanted: him, always there, to be with in whatever way that would most be.
And being, or becoming Catholic, would be part and parcel of that being. It was very hard. I was in a church where I had a vital, loving community; how could I bear to leave? I was active -- leading prayer groups and lots of adult classes, a lay speaker, organizing prayer vigils and lots of other activities and having a tremendously fulfilling time doing it, but something was missing. It wasn't that what I was doing was bad; it was just. . .insufficient. Not enough. Yet to leave a place that was home in so many ways was scary; leaving the people I loved was wrenching even just in the thinking.
Then one night, while I was praying, I heard a voice: "In (that) church," he said, "you are called into service. In the Catholic Church you are called into relationship with me." I was dumbstruck. Wasn't I in a relationship with him already? Was all I was doing "service"? And, what was so wrong with service anyway? But what I wanted was the being with, the being together, so that never, ever would I be without him; never, ever, would any part of my life not be filled with him.
Is there a way to describe that loving? that hunger? the needing to love him as well as being loved by him? Certainly. It is, as he said, "relationship"; his being present to me as well as my learning to be present to him. The gift of ourselves to each other.
As I began to explore the Catholic Church, I began to see the wealth of helps that were available only there. Not just the Mass and the Eucharist, or the incredible graces in Confession; those would always be the most central, most important, but there was more. Day-to-day, moment-to-moment, the church surrounded her own with treasures beyond description.
I went into St. Peter Cathedral one afternoon to pray; something was happening. The priest was dressed in lots of gold, the hymn was in Latin. In an instant I was transported to the early church, my heart and soul lifted: it was Benediction, and the hymn echoed in my mind for weeks, though it would be long before I learned its name or the name of what I had seen that day.
I sat one day at the foot of the Sacred Heart statue. "Jesus," I said, "I haven't a clue as to what this Sacred Heart stuff is all about. And to tell you the truth it seems pretty strange, so would you please explain it to me?" And I saw, over the next days, his love flowing out of that heart to everyone, in a love that I was to live out in my own life from the midst of his heart.
Novenas. I met them because of an acknowledgment of St. Jude's help in the newspaper, so found a whole book of them and read though, earmarking different ones for particular needs and started praying them. Through them I got to know the saints as they became helpers, friends and companions in my various struggles' I selected those whose problems had been most like mine, who had been faithful, who could help me be faithful.
And the rosary; oh my...I was given one at the end of a retreat and had an overwhelming desire to kiss it, but was embarrassed and didn't; later I went to the chapel and prayed thanks for it, prayed to understand, prayed to learn what it held for me, and kissed it a hundred times. It brought Mary to me as I began to pray it; it was how I began to consider her as mother not just to Jesus and then John, but to the church, and also to me.
Each of these, and more, became not just the treasure of the church but my treasures, the ways to get to know him, to connect to him throughout each day. Not the substance, but the form and the forming of the relationship I was so longing for, that I wanted not just now but forever.