Friday, May 23, 2008

One Man's Journey in Christ

by Anthony John

Dear Sister Kelly,

Hi, I wanted to share with you my awesome experience of my Confirmation on April 22nd, 2008. I had been waiting eagerly for the moment to be "fully" Catholic for ages.

As you know, I was born Catholic and baptized into the faith as a baby. However my mother was only nominal so I never received any post-baptismal catechesis in the Faith. My mother then married my step-dad who was Baptist, so I was raised as an Evangelical. Later as I grew I became radicalized into an anti-Catholic Calvinist Protestant by Evangelical websites. However in my High School years I was moved by God's Grace to see the Biblical and historical evidence for the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ. I soon was led to the RCIA program at my local Catholic parish and my journey Home began.

It took a long time, but after about two years of catechesis, struggle, and working with God's Grace, I was fully initiated into the Body of Christ through the Mysteries of Confirmation and the Eucharist on April 22nd 2008. By the Grace of the undivided Trinity, I believe and confess that the Holy Spirit of God descended upon me allowing me to personally share in the outpouring of Pentecost. After my anointing with the sacred chrism, I was allowed to come to the Lord's Table where I received the Sacred Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. I had been waiting for that moment all my life!

In the past few months prior my Initiation, I struggled with deep questions. My spiritual father, Deacon Bob Pierce, was instrumental in my eventual overcoming of these gnawing doubts and for that I am ever grateful. As you are aware I did not receive the sacraments in the spring of 2007, because of my own scrupulousness and a lack of trust in God. As the months approached close to the date of Initiation this year I was fraught with doubts, scruples, and anxiety. There was nothing factually that would cause me to doubt as my spiritual father and my parish priest noted to me many times, no, rather it was a feeling of uncertainty that my Confirmation may be invalid (although again, nothing factually suggested that it would be). I was also plagued with fears that I had committed a mortal sin, even though I was unaware of committing one prior to my Initiation. I have discerned, after a long discussion with my parish priest that these anxieties and doubts were the work of the Evil One.

So, I turned to the Lord my God and made a heartfelt act of Faith in Him. In short, I told Him that despite my doubt I choose to believe in His Word regardless of my doubt and that I would live my life as if there was no doubt and that I would trust that God would one-day grant me confident Faith. I let go, with tears, of my inhibitions and feelings, and I clung to my Savior, to His promises and His love. I surrendered my will and fears to His Will, trusting that He would be Faithful. Still, the act of faith did not do away with my feelings of worry or doubt. However, I had placed my trust in God's Holy Word and had "set my face like flint" to do His Will.

On the morning and afternoon of the day prior to the celebration, my worst episode of satanic attack hit me. The fear boiled down to my scruples in which I feared that I had committed a mortal sin. If I had committed a mortal sin, I would be unable be Initiated. Fear swept over me like a cloud and I prayed for God's Grace and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin. I made an examination of conscience and determined that I had committed some sin, however as far as I could discern they were not grave sins and I was not sure that I had committed any grave sin. Still I desired to come to Jesus in the sacrament of Confession prior to my Confirmation to allay my fear, but after desperate attempts to locate a priest I was unable to find one who could hear my Confession.

At that point, which was about 20 minutes prior to the actual Initiation Liturgy, I was faced with a choice:

Would I give in to my fears and doubts, even though as far as I knew there was nothing substantial to those feelings?


Would I place my trust in the Lord God, and cling to His promises to be Faithful to His Holy Covenant?

By God's Grace, I chose to trust in God.

My Church has a parochial school next door, so I entered the school cafeteria to sit and wait for the procession into the Church. Due to the discernment of our parish pastor, I was to be confirmed with some of the middle-school kids. This kind of annoyed me since I was eighteen at the time. There was a girl there whom I had met before though, who showed me Christ. I should probably mention her somewhat to make this recollection more comprehensive, as I will never forget her face.

Her name was Emma Platte, and she is a devout cradle Catholic of 12 years. I had met her at the Confirmation Retreat, and my first impression of her was that she was truly blessed. I remember thinking and later telling her that she will one-day become a great saint. Despite her age, she exuded a love for the Lord Jesus and His Bride. At the rehearsal, a day before the Initiation, she had asked me why I had not gone to Communion with the other kids. When I responded that this Confirmation Mass would be my First Communion her eyes lit up and she told me she was so happy for me. Her love for the Lord shined and I saw Christ in her. Seeing her eyes filled with joy brought some much needed comfort to my soul.

….But back to the story……

When the time came for the procession into the gym (which was tastefully modified into a "church" for the Mass), we all lined up in the waiting room and made our way to the gym. After processing in under the crossed swords of a group of Columbian knights, we sat down and waited for the service to begin. Emma was sitting a few seats away from me and, thanks be to God, the 8th grade kids finally were being quiet. The Mass began with the usual rites including of course Bible reading which focused on God the Holy Spirit within the Scriptures. After the readings, the dean of our diocesan deanery gave a stirring homily. Since we didn't have a bishop at the time for my Confirmation, the dean came in the authority of the Diocese. Anyway, his preaching rivaled that of any down-home Southern Baptist preacher! In his homily he urged us (the candidates) to remember that we are salt to the world. He urged us to go out and proclaim the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. His homily moved me and I will no doubt never forget those words, which, I believe, were the Words of the Holy Spirit.

Then came the time to renew my baptismal promises. Due to the fact that I was baptized as an infant, the profession of Faith necessary for salvation was made for me by my parents and godparents in union with the whole Church. Now that I was of age, I was called to profess my faith myself which I did with all the conscious will I could muster. In that moment, I renewed before God and His Church, the ancient creed of Christianity. After we professed our Faith, the dean and our parish pastor (who was also administering the Sacrament) raised their hands over the crowd of candidates and called down the Blessed Spirit in prayer. This moment was the "laying on of hands" spoken of in the Bible. After the holy prayer of epiclesis, we filed up to either to the dean, or in my case, our pastor to receive the anointing and the sacrament of Confirmation.

I was in the second row praying earnestly for God's Spirit to come upon me, to complete what began almost 19 years ago. When it was my turn, I walked up to the pastor with my hands clasped along with my sponsor. With closed eyes, I felt my priest trace the Holy Cross on my head with the chrism and thus I was Chrismated on my forehead. After the words of Chrismation were said, I gave a hearty "AMEN!" which my priest smiled at. After exchanging with him the sign of peace (which I messed up saying in my excitement), I went back to my seat. I soon realized, even as I was going to sit down, that some, actually quite a bit, of the Holy Chrism had gotten on to my hands. I was delighted! I could smell the sweet balsam mixed into the holy oil and I thought: "I am a sweet fragrance for Christ!" As I was sitting in my seat waiting for the others to be Confirmed, I engaged in prayer. I lifted up my heart to give God thanks for the gift of His Spirit, and even though I could not see the Holy Spirit, I knew that with the imposition of the Chrism I had been forever sealed. I was now and for all eternity a true bond servant of the undivided Triune God. Placing my hands to cup my face, I breathed in the sweet and beautiful scent of my new life in Christ.

After the Chrismations had been completed, it was time for prayer. We beseeched the Lord to hear our prayers as we made intercessions for the world. When we were done, we all sat to wait as the sacred altar was prepared for the Sacrifice of the Eucharist. As the Table was prepared, I again prayed for God's Grace. I realized that the moment I had so long awaited for was soon about to take place. Soon I would partake of Jesus Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist. When the gifts had been brought and the altar prepared, we stood for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. I bowed my head in adoration at the anaphora when by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of Christ the bread and wine changed substance (i.e. metaousiosis/transubstantiation) into the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Through the Thrice Holy Hymn and the anamnesis I professed my Faith in Christ's life and work, and I worshipped my living God. I then gave my assent of Faith with the Great Amen along with all the Church. Then the entire Church, as one, prayed the Lord's Prayer in the words Christ taught us. After which we made the sign of peace. As I gave the handshake to my newly Confirmed brothers and sisters in Christ, I came to Emma. I gave her God's peace and with a deep love in my heart called her my sister.

Then came the Lamb of God when the Eucharistic host was broken, in liturgical memory of Christ being broken to save us. I meant every prayer with my heart especially when I said, "Lord I am not worthy to receive you…but only say the word and I shall be healed."

Very soon after this came the moment of Communion when the priests, deacons, and extraordinary ministers came down and went to their stations. As the Communion hymn started to play and the kids started to file up, my hands began to tremble. I prayed to the Lord professing to Him my faith in His spotless, immortal, and life-giving Mystery of the Eucharist. I told Him that I really believed that this was His Body and Blood, and furthermore I asked Him to commune with me in the Eucharist. Soon, it was my turn to approach our pastor who held the cup containing the Sacred Flesh of Christ. My hands trembled as I went up and upon the words, "The Body of Christ" I gave my heartfelt Amen. I was saying with my heart, "Yes Lord, I believe this is really your Body!" After professing my faith with my "amen", I received the spotless and glorious Body of Christ on my tongue and gnawed on and then swallowed His Flesh. With hands still trembling, I then approached the extraordinary minister who held the chalice containing the Blood of Christ. This Sacred Blood, poured out to cleanse me of all my sins, was offered to me with the words of Truth: "The Blood of Christ." With another true Amen, I drank of the Blood of the Risen King. After I had received Communion I went back to sit down, with hands still trembling.

At that moment I knew that I, like Mary, carried Christ within me spiritually and physically. I thought to myself and prayed that now my Savior had become the Flesh of my flesh, and the Bone of my bone. Halleluyah! All glory, praise, and honor be to the Lamb of God!!!

As I sat there contemplating how long I had waited for that moment and what it meant, I felt tears begin in my eyes. At first, I wanted to cry but I think I was hesitant to do so. I had never cried before in Church and I was surrounded with kids I didn't know. But a post-Communion hymn soon began to play called "All in All."

Anyway, the woman who sung it praised the Lord beautifully. The lyrics of the song made me think about what Jesus meant to me and all the blessings and favors and love that He had done and showed to me in my life prior to that day. I couldn't help it and quite frankly I didn't want to stop it. I took my glasses off and I cried. It wasn't like loud wailing, but rather, a gentle sort of cry. Tears welled in my eyes and my chest trembled as I cried inside. It was like a quiet sobbing and I knew that others could see me but I didn't care anymore. As the song continued to play I worshipped God without even praying. It was love for Christ, gratitude for what He had done for me, but also the love that I felt knowing that He did it for me out of His Love. That was the message of the song and it touched me. All the stupid and immoral things I had done: Paganism, sexual sin, whatever, none of it had cancelled God's love for me. And God proved it to me by allowing me to consume Him and be with Him intimately as if it was Heaven on Earth. Now that I look back, I like to imagine it that moment as if I was laying my head on Jesus' chest sobbing in His arms.

So I sobbed for as long as Communion lasted. I finally forced myself to stop, but I think I may have started again spontaneously. Anyway, I eventually stopped noting that I wasn't the only one crying even though I wasn't sure who was. We as a Church thanked the dean for coming in place of the bishop, and for his awesome Spirit-filled preaching. Then there was a benediction and we processed out and around the Hall to a place where we were to take a group picture. I remember seeing Emma. She stood next to me and told me, with her gentle, loving voice, something to the effect of "Why did you have to go and cry? You got me started." Not knowing what to say in response and feeling very clumsy (as so often happens when I am around girls) I blurted out a "sorry" which she met swiftly with "I am so happy for you." After being temporarily blinded with flashing camera lights, we were allowed to go to our families for a dinner/reception. Before I went to my parents I stopped to speak with Emma. Her face yet again shined with Christ (not to mention gleaming Chrism), and we talked for a few seconds. She told me that she was so happy for me and that she had, "nothing of value except this," and with that traced the sign of the Cross on my chrism-covered forehead giving me her blessing. I was moved to the heart and I returned the gesture blessing her likewise as my sister in the Lord Jesus. Never before have I seen such depth of Faith in someone so young.

The rest of the story is little more than some fellowship, hugs, and smiles. There was great love in my church that night. The love was palpable. As so often happens to me, a man who I didn't know came up to me and basically asked me if I was going to become a priest. With the many instances of this I am beginning to wonder whether God is trying to get my attention.

As I typed this originally, I could smell the sweet Chrism's scent on my head. With a mere nod of the head I was reminded of my new life in Christ. I can no longer smell the Sacred Myron, but I can remember the sweet smell of it and I will never forget what that scent means to me!

After trying to find happiness Paganism and finding silence; after indulging in sexual sin and finding emptiness; after running from God only to learn that I cannot live without Him; I am finally Home where I belong: In the arms of Jesus Christ, He who knew me in my mother's womb and knit my flesh together, He who love me and redeemed me on a cross of wood, and He whom I love and desire to love even more.

The peace of the Triune God be with us all,

-Anthony John


Joe said...

I am stunned by Bro. Anthony's testimony (even though I read most of it already in a forum of less than good repute among Catholics). I don't know if he will read this, but I have to say that his testimony deeply touches me the whole of it. But when I was just reading it, that last reflection on his confirmation is what brought me to tears (and let me tell you ... my tears do not come easily now):

"I can no longer smell the Sacred Myron, but I can remember the sweet smell of it and I will never forget what that scent means to me!"

That is beautiful and it reminded me so very strongly of my confirmation that it brought me to tears. Also, I thank Bro. Anthony for this testimony.

Yours in Christ,

Augustine said...

I'll second that opinion!

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian who worships in a Southern Baptist church where my husband is the Pastor. Yours is a glorious testimony of your full acceptance of the love of Christ into your life and is extremely heartfelt. Not long ago, my husband and I learned and began practicing the ancient Catholic art of "Lectio Divina" and our individual personal devotional time with God has been increasingly blessed. Keep growing.