How I was rescued and pulled back into the church fold.
Just yesterday I published this: It’s Not About Religion But Rather Relationship. Today as I was re-reading it, I realized there needed to be a Part II. While it’s true that our relationship with God is very personal and direct, that all gets enhanced and magnified when we attend church. And I aim to prove that here.
I say that as someone who has only recently started to go to church again regularly. That is until we have been told to stay home during this lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing how I now feel in not being able to go to church only reinforces the point I want to make. I can be home and stream Catholic mass online but it’s not the full experience that is offered when we are actually present with the other parishioners and receiving communion.
Disclaimer: People are of different denominations so I don’t want to discount anyone else’s beliefs. I merely want to speak from my own experience. I want to give a glimpse into what I have learned personally. And for my Catholic friends, I don’t claim to be the ideal representative. I just speak for myself. I still have a lot to learn.
It’s not just because of our current pandemic that I’m writing about my faith. Something else is making me brave enough to proclaim my Christianity. I’m thankful. I’m grateful to be currently healthy and for having a peace of mind (most of the time) despite all that’s happening in the world. And from what I have learned after all these years of living is that I give all the credit for my blessings to God.
I’m not seeking to be a nun, a preacher, nor anything else other than a believer who wants to spread the word. I have always liked to share what has benefited me. Even before social media I did a lot of sharing of different resources and tidbits to be helpful to my friends (that I had then).
This is how it began.
My parents gave me my Catholic foundation by sending me to Catechism (or CCD) classes when I was little. Then, as sometimes happens, as a family we didn’t attend church regularly, only on major holidays such as Easter and Christmas. And then eventually, not at all. My mother became devout again in my 20s. Both of my grandmothers were devout Catholics their whole lives. So I had the benefit of all their prayers, even though I myself wasn’t always going to church. I believed but I wasn’t practicing. I was coasting because of their prayers and I didn’t even know it.
In my 20s, my faith started to reignite. I remember watching a TV replay of the movie King of Kings with Jeffrey Hunter and getting teary over Jesus’s story. There are ways God touches us that we don’t always realize and can’t prove. Also, in my 20s I was having a bit of a mental health struggle, on and off until ’87. During that time, I read the Bible completely through once, and about a quarter through another time. After that I just selected different Psalms to read or picked other random sections. They are comforting to read in times of trouble. And one habit I turned to part of one summer was reciting the lyrics to “Amazing Grace.” Sometimes we start small.
And a side note: If I say I had a mental health struggle, that shouldn’t affect how anyone interprets my actions or behavior during it. There are many ways we struggle in life. A crisis in our mind should not get us discredited any more than having a heart attack would. I was still very cognizant and turned to some good options for help.
In ’87 my mom and I attended a Catholic Charismatic prayer group at St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco and I was prayed over by a priest, Father Dibbles. I fully believe I had a healing. Of course, it’s Jesus that heals but we sometimes need the authority of a priest to intervene in our situations and our prayers. He prayed a simple prayer but it was powerful. I never got to personally thank, Father Dibbles here in the San Francisco Diocese, but I will never forget him.
I had another instance of this in 2018. After I wondered if I had been experiencing a spiritual battle, I sought out spiritual direction. That’s when I connected with Father Jose Lucero, sdb. He was then at Sts. Peter and Paul Church here in San Francisco. Even though I was a major believer and follower of Jesus, I hadn’t been attending church. I was only watching Christian TV. My grandmothers had passed away in the 80’s and my mom had passed away in 2012. Therefore, I no longer had them actively praying for me. I was on my own and I didn’t realize how vulnerable I was.
Even though during my spiritual battle, I sought the advice of a couple of priests and went to confession and a few masses, I wasn’t attending church regularly. I should have been.
Why do I say that?
Because just connecting with Fr. Jose in 2018 was battle. It almost didn’t happen. It seemed like there were forces trying to stop me from even speaking with him. Evidence of a spiritual battle? We had set up an appointment to meet at the church, but when I got there no one answered the door. I left dejected and lost. These were desperate times for me spiritually and it felt as if the bad one was winning again. I drove home in tears. My cell phone was in my purse so I didn’t hear it ringing. When I got home, I saw that Fr. Jose had left a couple of messages. He hadn’t heard me ring the bell at the church. He was still there waiting. I called him back.
Fr. Jose: Where are you?
Me (holding back tears): Well, I left.
Fr. Jose: Why did you leave?
Me: Nobody was there.
Fr. Jose: No, I was there waiting for you. You are always welcome here. Please come back; this is your home. And I want you to know that you were never going to be abandoned.
This was the beginning of my breakthrough. While we can pray on our own, it sometimes takes the authority of a priest to break any spiritual battles. It seems simple but you won’t get it if you haven’t been through a battle. What saves you might seem minor but can still be subtly profound.
On that phone call we made another appointment for me to come in. I live on the other side of town from the church. And it was already late. But I felt totally reassured that all was well again. Just hearing him say that I was welcome at the church and the fact that he didn’t leave me. He followed up with a call to find out where I was. I needed that. I needed the church to pull me back in. It still makes me teary remembering that moment.
Fr. Jose and I spent nine months, meeting once a month. It was nice to have someone to speak to about my spiritual questions. I had never experienced a spiritual battle and didn’t even know if that’s what was happening. Anything spiritually-related is hard to solidify. It was comforting to work through it with his guidance.
After that incident happened, I never wanted to feel left out of the church again. The alternative is too ugly. I know the church isn’t always perfect and we need to use our best discretion in where we worship. I have found good people in my local churches. I tend to make the rounds because we have so many beautiful churches in San Francisco. I donate to three parishes ongoing because we need them. We need the presence of all of our parishes. We need what they offer. The elegance of the architecture is warranted and should be regularly supported to sustain. God is glorious! How fortunate we are.
Fr. Jose welcomed me back in. I don’t know why I felt so left out. I’m not that bad a person. But that’s how dangerous a spiritual battle can be. It can make you feel like you are the most horrible, sinful person who should never ever walk into a church again. When in fact, you might be just a little lost like everyone else at times.
Check out The Parable of the Lost Sheep.
That’s when I began attending church every week, and sometimes other services, such as adoration, and Catholic Charismatic prayer groups. I didn’t become a fanatic. I just enjoyed the peace I got from attending those services. I appreciated sharing mass with other parishioners who were seeking the same faith and of course, getting communion.
There is a point during the mass where we offer each other the sign of peace. It’s nice to see a kind smile from another parishioner, or two or three… Mass is something that refreshes you. It gives you peace. And it literally restores your soul.
I’m missing that during these days that we are in lockdown in our homes. I really appreciate now how important it is to attend in order to retain a peace of mind and a purified soul.
We can pray at home and I do. But when I go to church God imparts extra blessings that can’t be replicated by myself in my little prayer closet.
I know it’s necessary to keep us 6 feet apart from each other and so not huddled together in a church. I do hope that requirement doesn’t last long. Or that some savvy church official comes up with a solution. Church attendance is essential at all times. It’s a part of our relationship with God.