I didn’t get here on my own. Many people have helped me out. I owe everything I have to the grace of others. Evidently I am unique from every political pundit around these days. I was raised with the good values. I am bright. I am hardworking. I grew up in the land of the free. I had a scholarship to a good school. When my senior year of college came around, it became quite evident that I had resisted every opportunity to put a bullet in the back of my skull.
I’m not just trying to shock you. I was in a pretty dark place back then; and suicide crossed my mind many times. I had gotten to that dark place entirely by my own power. In fact being alone was exactly my problem. I’ve always been a strident non-conformist. On a good day, one might say I march to my own drum, but on a bad day I just don’t play well with others. By the end of my senior year in college I had created enough tension in the community I was living that several people got together to anomalously slander me. So the university had me evicted. It was a catastrophic loss of community.
If the ideology of American culture was right, then that would not have been such a big deal. I could afford to live elsewhere. I was still bright. I was still hardworking. I was still in a good school. My future was bright, and I didn’t need anyone else.
Moreover, they had lied – I was telling the truth. I didn’t know who was lying, but I knew I was telling the truth. So I took my truth and I withdrew from the world around me. I did what everyone says your suppose to do. I took my reason, my hard work, my truth, and I went off to make myself into what I needed to be.
Of course, I soon became miserable. When I didn’t have others to love, I didn’t feel I had a reason to live. Without the openness to receive love, I didn’t feel I had the will to live. That is how I value myself when I live only for me. But God knew I was worth more than that, so did my family, and so did a very special person, my own guardian “saint,” Jennifer Wells.
I never got a chance to tell Jennifer this, but she probably saved my life that year. It wasn’t any great act. Jennifer just cared about me, and she took me to church. Jennifer’s parish was nothing inspiring by earthy standards, and it only had about a dozen members that were mostly students. I’m sure we weren’t collecting much in the way of offerings. The church’s physical building had burned down earlier the same year, and the only way the church kept mass going was by meeting in the student chapel.
Even that fire was God protecting me because just down the stair case from the student chapel was the family friendly dorms. They were dark and cramped and smelled of urine. Yes, that was the dorm they sent me to live in after my eviction – down stairs from the chapel. To this day, when I think about that year I smell the urine, and then I see the blinding light of that chapel.
Jennifer’s parish was as close as any family could be. They accepted me and loved me completely without ever caring why I was evicted. No mater how I felt six days a week, my heart would long for Sunday, and I made it through. In that church that year, they gave me a life saving restoration of community.
Fast forward a decade later and it’s the day of my confirmation. My protestant father demands to know why I am converting to the Catholic Church. I stammered at first, but the holy spirit revealed the answer and it was a surprise to us both. I was joining the Catholic church because I needed community.
I was raised Methodist, and I am thankful for that. The core of Methodism rests on scripture, reason and tradition. It’s probably heaviest on scripture, and the core Catholicism rests on scripture, tradition, sacrament and community. Until that day, I hadn’t realized how important to me it was that my faith rest on community. The truth is I had read, studied and can quote scripture. My reason is fairly strong and I understood the tradition. But if I was basing my faith on reason and scripture, then it was no different from basing my life on hard-work and intellect. It was a good start, but I knew, I still remembered I could never get their on my own.
Jack Jezreel the founder of JustFaith compares a parish to a lighthouse. If a parish is just a lighthouse then we are just boats, and we are a drift. If we have good maps (scripture) and know what we’re doing (reason), then we’ll be fine at first. But what happens when the storm comes? The maps won’t be enough when we can’t see sky. Our reason won’t help us when the waves force us off course. If we can’t correct quickly, we’ll end up going right into the dark putrid water. Then we see the bright light on the shore, and that’s Gods house guiding us home. That is when we know.
We can’t do it on our own! We don’t want to do it on our own! And by the grace of God we don’t have to! We can reach out to the people in the lighthouse and join the great body of Christ. Of course Jack Jezreel says not all parishes are lighthouses. In about a month, I will have part two of this post where I will try to explain what makes a parish a lighthouse, and not just a clubhouse with a lighthouse theme. But for now I want to give you two challenges. If you are not a member of a parish, join one. Let them know your name. If you are a member of a parish, bring someone with you next week. My challenge to you this post is not to do it on your own. Gather around the lighthouse.
I can’t do it on my own, and I wish I had known that long ago. By Gods grace, I know that now. I am a grace-made man.