The Real Presence and My Reversion to the Catholic Faith

The Real Presence and My Reversion to the Catholic Faith January 7, 2015

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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