MURILLO, Bartolomé Esteban
Return of the Prodigal Son
Sixteen years ago during Holy Week, I returned whole-heartedly to the Catholic Church.
Who knew that was going to happen?
The Sleeping Years
A cradle Catholic, I had grown deeply asleep in my faith for many years. No wonder—my faith had not been nurtured since my Catholic school days. I had no involvement in the Church, none of my friends were Catholic, we didn’t really live the faith at home. I loved the Lord like I loved a childhood friend, with great fondness and sweet memories but without any ties to the present.
Despite my “God as a forgetful grandpa in heaven” attitude, I went to Mass every week for the sake of appearing to be the good Catholic daughter of a good Catholic family. And half the time, I was convinced that I was a “good Catholic.” So, I was not just asleep, but I was ignorant about my slumber for many, many years.
I had moments of light breaking through the darkness around me. Once in a while, I read the Psalms, though, for they had always appealed to me. The writer in me loved the cadence, the passion, the sorrow, and the fury of David’s words. And the poet in me enjoyed reading the Book of Proverbs and Song of Songs. In rare moments, I would say prayers at night, but mostly God felt far away and far removed from me… if He even existed.
My attitude towards God was like the person’s attitude in the Innocence Mission song “Every Hour Here” who says to Jesus:
“You are like the ticket-half
I find inside the pocket of my old leaf-raking coat,
There all the time, all the while forgotten.
I so often seem to leave you in churches
and other islands, and on my beads… “
So, I slumbered on.
At 22, I married G, my funny, sweet rebellious G … who shocked me by saying that he felt drawn to the Catholic Church and wanted to become a Catholic.
G started attending classes to learn more, but I didn’t accompany him. I knew everything! At least, I thought I knew everything. And I found the faith to be functional and separate from everything else in my life. God was a cozy thought and bore little relevance to the “adult” Veronica. However, I supported (meaning “I thought it was cool yet not directly relating to me”) my husband’s decision to start attending RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) classes. Because of his upbringing, he knew very little about the Catholic Church, but something pulled him towards that direction. He went to see why… and whether it would mean something to him.
Meanwhile, I’d ditch him while he was in class, so I could go home, catch a nap, and watch junk television. You wouldn’t catch me in a class filled with those boring Jesus freaks and their crazy ideas. I’d go to Mass once a week, fine, but that’d be it. No one I knew really lived the faith… and thinking of doing so sounded stupid and naive.
Then, G invited me to attend a class with him. One class. Just one.
G kept inviting me, and I finally decided I’d go to one class. Fine.
A bookwormy catechist put a copy of “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis in my hand that Sunday. I picked up the book at 5 p.m. and read it straight through the night.
It shattered the sleeping spell around me. When sunlight filled the room in the morning, I was crying. “I need to change my life.”
It’s an easy statement to make, but how do you go about changing your life? What do you change? What needs to be changed? Kept?
As a writer with journalist training, I approached my spiritual quest as I approach most aspects of my life. I research and read and think.
I started from the basics: Is there a god? First, I wanted to know if I believed in a god, if there was a solid case for a god, so I began with the basic question… My reading led me through a path of learning about the case for God, the different world religions, the prophecies of a Messiah, the incarnation, etc.
My head was in a book for almost two years. When I wasn’t working, I was immersed in my search for meaning by:
- studying the works of C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, early church fathers, and St. Augustine
- reading the entire Catholic Bible from cover to cover—twice
- familiarizing myself with the Catechism of the Catholic Church
- reading books and magazines from Catholic apologists, works by atheists (for comparison’s sake), conversion stories, The Koran, The Book of Mormon, The Torah, and world-religion comparative works
- watching Bishop Fulton Sheen DVDs
- listening to Thomas Merton audio recordings
- participating in deep conversations about Christianity
- getting into heated arguments about “controversial” Catholic teachings
- talking to priests, RCIA teachers, and directors
- discussing everything I was learning with G
G’s spiritual path was so different from mine, however. He read, learned, and believed… with a child-like (not “childish”) faith and love. He came to the Catholic Church with a gentle, loving spirit. On the other hand, I was God’s combative, argumentative, feet-dragging child. Fortunately, the Church is made up of different types.
To my surprise, I found myself on the steps of the Catholic Church once more. I had returned to the shire after a long, long difficult road and I wasn’t the same person who had left… but I had a deeper understanding and love for the Catholic faith.
So, when my husband received the sacraments, I was beside him, pledging myself to the Lord once more.
I had returned home.
All I did was to accompany my husband on an RCIA class—just to please my husband—and I ended up in the one of the most intense, soul-searching, thoughtful, combative, argumentative, loving periods of my life. God was not going to let that offhand “Sure, I’ll join you in class once” comment to my husband pass him by. God is, as C.S. Lewis often mentioned, an opportunistic God.
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised.
But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
I’m so glad He does.