I stood in my dorm room, willing myself not to chicken out.
“Just go,” my best friend urged me. “It’s only lunch. If the blind date is a bust, you’ve only wasted an hour.”
She had a point.
That blind date in the Corps of Cadets dining hall at Texas A&M turned into the first chapter of a fantastically awesome love story. That handsome, Catholic cadet and I have been married 20 years and God has blessed us with six, sometimes feisty, children. Every Easter season I find myself reflecting upon that untraditional meeting, our courtship and our life together.
You see, I grew up as an evangelical Protestant. I’ve been baptized three times—Methodist, Nazarene and Disciples of Christ. And, I’ve been a member of more churches than I count. I was raised on good praise and worship music, Wednesday night youth group meetings, Bible studies, living nativities, altar calls and Christian summer camps.
When I met this well-catechized Catholic boy in college, there was something about him. He was confident and sure of his faith, even if his Sunday Mass attendance wasn’t exemplary. Sorry, honey. It’s totally outstanding now! We would often attend church and then follow it with lunch at Bennigan’s where I would quiz him, Jeopardy style, about everything I’d just seen and heard at Mass.
Even when I asked him questions like, “Why are all the popes named John Paul?” or, “Are priests really allowed to leave the church for lunch?”, he never laughed at the innocence of those inquiries. He would chuckle at my curiosity, kindly answer and then discreetly pass me a French fry so I’d slow down with my rapid-fire questions.
During marriage preparation, religion became quite the topic. There were teachings I struggled with mightily—Natural Family Planning, Marian devotions and pro-life teachings—and others I embraced—social justice and the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. But it was our priest, Scott’s hometown pastor, who helped me fall head over heels in love with the Catholic faith. He was so open and honest with me. He challenged us to properly prepare for the sacrament and he refused to skirt the big issues. He did, however, recognize my love and desire to be Catholic before we married. In a grand and generous Pope Francis-like gesture, he was able to arrange my confirmation prior to our marriage and it has forever changed the trajectory of my faith.
I wonder how our candidates and catechumens are feeling as they enter into these last few weeks of preparation before their full initiation into the Catholic Church. Are we making them feel worthy of God’s love? Are we inviting those we know to see the beauty, generosity and love of our faith? Or, are we looking at those around us and deeming their actions too sinful, their lifestyle too un-Christian, their choices too severe to ever be Christian?
How are we living out the Gospel?
If Lent is a time for transformation—for real change—I pray that our fasting, prayers and alms giving have been worth it. Are you different today than on March 1, or have you just been going through the motions? Did you dig deep or did you just post your fasting woes on Facebook for everyone to see how good you were at Lent? I can’t lie. It’s in these final weeks where the rubber meets the road and my wheels start to fall off. But, may I offer the good news? Our God is a God of second chances. Come running back to him like the prodigal son. His grace, and his forgiveness, is sufficient. Our humanness makes us imperfect, but His love fills in the gaps. If our life is one long Lent, His love is one long Easter.
Recently, a Catholic speaker was asked how a life-changing event had affected her faith life. Her answer rocked me: “I pray I am worthy of the gift I have received.”
Let us all look to these final weeks of Lent, not as checkboxes of good versus bad choices, but as opportunities to live the life God desires for us. And, may we be ever mindful and always gracious with those who desire to join the church. It is likely your example that will lead them home.
This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of The Catholic Spirit.