The Real Presence and My Reversion to the Catholic Faith

My reversion to the Catholic faith was in some ways launched in full force when I was on a trip to San Antonio, touring about, and failed to feel the presence of God upon entering a Catholic Church.  I tell the whole story here, and here’s the bit about Texas:

But I wasn’t really happy.  I spent several years trying this and that in the spiritual cafeteria.  We attended the local Unitarian Universalist congregation, but it never really took.  On a trip to San Antonio I discovered the depth of my departure from God when I visited one of the historic mission churches, still an active Catholic parish: I entered the church, and could not feel the presence of God.

I knew then that I had gone terribly, terribly astray. Something had to change.

Later that year, driving home by myself from a road trip in Virginia, I prayed to God in desperation.  I received an immediate response: An inner voice told me to quit doing nothing, and to just jump in and practice whatever faith was at hand.  Buddhism came to mind.  Back home, Jon observed: This is the South.  It’s Christian.  Let’s start there.

I skip over quite a bit in my telling of what happened after, and today I was reminded of something important that happened shortly before my radical conversion experience.  I had read Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain, a gift from a lapsed-Catholic relative to my lapsed-Catholic husband, and between my interest in things spiritual and a good review at the Wall Street Journal, I read the book.  (The conversation: Tom Zampino mentioned he’d read it just before his reversion, too.  We’re like reversion twins.  If that’s a thing.) If I recall correctly, I took the book with me on yet another spousal business trip that was vacation for me, this time to Hawaii.

While the husband did work things, I took the rental and wandered the island.  In a small town, I parked and wandered around.  There was a beautiful historic Episcopal church, and since I like architecture, I popped in and admired it.  I picked up a nice tract on Christianity, which I would go on to take home to the hotel room, and read, and be edified by.  But still there in town, I wandered across the street to the local Catholic church.

It was not beautiful.  It was one of those dowdy 1970’s things, more or less church-shaped, which is a consolation, white with wooden accents, and a weak slope to the roof like it couldn’t quite decide between traditional and contemporary — think the suburban three-bedroom ranch of sacred architecture.  Inside it was bright and drab and unimpressive.

Also inside: The unmistakeable, palpable Presence of God.

I wished Catholics could have nice churches.  But I knew that this artless place was the one for me.  Art is good, but God is better.  I shouldn’t have to choose, but if I did, I knew which one I wanted.

File:Gabelbach St. Martin 389.JPG

Artwork by GFreihalter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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