While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him Then his son said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son." Luke, 15:20-21
A light entered my life at the beginning of this century
At age 19, I rationalized myself into disbelief. I was in college. Catholicism was getting in the way of my "fun" and "freedom" and so I dumped it, and then I rationalized God into nothingness. I spent the next 25 years as an atheist, a sometimes proselytizing atheist. No one is more surprised than me that I have been converted back to God. You might wonder if I took ill or if some hardship befell me. It didn't. In fact, life was good: my marriage going well, we were happy homeowners, with jobs we liked and no real money problems. And yet it happened. There was something needed, something unfinished.
1) We were considering children, natural or adopted, and we thought about how to educate and mold them. How do you give children a moral formation without God? On what grounds do you instruct them to share with their neighbor, tell the truth, restrain their pursuit of pleasure, etc.? I thought I could work out an answer. I spent a lot of time thinking on it.
2) Over and over, psychological studies show that people with strong religious beliefs are more likely to stay married, live longer and just generally be happier than the rest of us. This bothered me. An atheist, I had to say to that, "I'm not going to become delusional just so I can live longer and be happy," but that's a funny protest for someone who prides themselves on fearlessly facing scientific fact and who is certain that this life is all there is.
3) The two years leading to my conversion were dominated by news of Bill Clinton's very un-presidential conduct. I didn't see it as harmless if sordid sexual adventuring but as an arrogant abuse of power on the big and small scales. Big was his contempt for the law and the office he held. Smaller still was his concern for a 20-year-old woman in his employ and his thrall. I was disgusted, but upon what does an atheist base moral objections?
4) I'd discovered radio's "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, a relentless prophet of morality in an era when people feel entitled to the fruits of hedonism. Some find her irritating. She can drive me up a wall too, but that is not what's important about her. Her value is her firm footing in common sense and her fearless refusal to dilute truth. Both qualities have been in increasingly short supply in our culture starting at least two decades ago. (She won my loyalty quickly when she blasted an attempt to equate commitment with possessiveness. I remember the "boyfriends" who used that argument on me in college, with support from other minds in the "free-love" era.)
These states of thought made of me fertile ground. Amazingly, (becasue of my leftist history) it was conservative columnist and editor William F. Buckley Jr. who watered the seed (planted long ago by my parents).
On Dec. 30, 2000, hoping for a mental rest from the depressing saga of Bill Clinton, I went shopping for an uplift. I was looking for a book about Sir Thomas More, a political figure who not only had principals but died for them. It was a paperback bookstore. There wasn't a Sir-Thomas-More book, but in looking for it, I ran across "Nearer, My God," Buckley's faith autobiography, I saw from the blurb on the back. I hadn't known he was a Catholic. I had assumed him atheist. I assume that about lots of people in the mass media and the government. A book about his Catholic faith, huh? To discuss faith is to risk ridicule. My curiosity was aroused.
You might be waiting now to hear what Buckley said that convinced me. He did make some excellent points. For example, he noted that despite heavy persecution especially in its early years, Christianity survived and thrived for 2,000 years. He pointed out that the apostles' behavior after Christ's death was consistent with believing he had resurrected from the dead. Would they have persisted in spreading the gospel in the face of hardship, imprisonment, torture and death for a fraud?
Those are good points. They are points to ponder. But even the best arguments in the world won't bring a person to faith in the invisible supernatural. I have learned the truth of the expression, "Faith is a gift."
I had an unnamed longing - the fertile ground. Buckley germinated a question, the seed of possibility, a real doubt of my atheism.
I explored it. I tested it one step further by attending mass. Actually, before attending mass, I first rode by a couple of churches with the idea of going to pick up the bulletin. I only stood there. I couldn't get myself to go up to the door, I was so terrified.
But on Sunday, Jan. 28, 2001, I attended mass at St. Ita's here in Chicago. Later that day, I took a frightening chance. I said a prayer. I actually suspended disbelief and asked God, if he was there, to have me back
When this prodigal daughter was still a long way off, the Lord saw me and had pity on me and ran to embrace me.
What a great relief. Many returned Catholics use the expression "coming home." It is an apt one.
I have been bursting with gratitude ever since - gratitude to God, every day. Gratitude to Mr. Buckley, to my parents, to the priest who heard my confession when I reconciled with God. To the other believers who have welcomed me, to the priest who guides me now. Sometimes, I feel like I'm going to explode with gratitude. You can't (or maybe you can) imagine how wonderful that is.