Source: Why I'm Catholic
"Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you." Is 49:15
My mother died when I was 5. Her death shattered my world. I'm sure she never forgot us but I felt forgotten. I was one of seven. My father later married a widow of 4 and had 4 more for a total of 15 children. In the town where we grew up, this was way too many children.
We were Catholic in a town that believed Catholics got it all wrong. I was a social misfit. I was often told, "You know all you Catholics are going to hell don't you?" Our prayer life consisted of Mass, Stations of the Cross and reciting formal memorized prayers (like the rosary). I usually spent the time "counting down" the prayers rather than actually praying. I paid little attention to the words. I knew nothing of the Bible. I was poorly catechized and poorly formed, but God had not forgotten about me.
In an English literature book, I found a short piece about love. I found it to be so beautiful and brilliantly written I wrote it down in an empty notebook so I could come back and read it again. It began, "Love is patient, love is kind" and was attributed to St. Paul's letter to the Corinthians. I had no idea this was from the Bible. I began collecting other quotes in this notebook over the next few years. I also discovered I had a talent for singing. I found it gave me a way to relieve tension and also gain some social acceptance. My Father even gave me a guitar for Christmas my senior year in high school. God was going to use these later.
After graduating from high school I joined the Navy, which proceeded to erode what little faith I had left. I met up with many who questioned my faith. I wouldn't directly deny Jesus, but I would not defend Him either. I knew of no way to defend the Church. I never prayed and I quit going to Mass completely. If I ever mentioned the size of my family, it only triggered derisive comments.
I began to develop a very cynical view of life. I lived with a Satanist, new agers, lapsed Protestants, lapsed Catholics, hedonists, "bible thumpers" (who I avoided) and the rare faithful Catholic. I fell deeper and deeper into sin, especially sins of the flesh. I accepted the contraceptive mentality that believed sex was for fun and not for children. I was very far from God and I was going the wrong direction. The only thing left uncorrupted was my interest in music. God (I realize this now) used music to call me back. One of my Catholic friends invited me to play at a guitar Mass with his wife and several attractive young ladies. The lure of the women got me into Church and the love of music kept me there. I was in Church for the wrong reason, but I was there. I was not paying attention to the Mass and I was not saying the prayers, but I believe it was St. Augustine who first stated, "He who sings prays twice". The guitar mass lyrics from the mid- seventies were not exactly full of deep theological insight but they did contain some simple prayers. I continued to play at Mass when I could until my discharge.
On leaving the Navy, I then entered college to study music. But, I was a 24 year old Vietnam vet entering college as a freshman and this was a poor fit. After my military experience, I found I wanted more than the superficial life of a college campus. After a year of studying music, I dropped out. Again, God used my love of music to attract me back to Church. My sister's new husband was the music director at a local parish. They convinced me to start playing in Church. I had not attended Mass since leaving the Navy but now, my music had me going again. I joined a guitar group first and later the choir. Now, the songs were much better, and the lyrics were much more refined and thoughtful. I found I could "get into" this music much better than I had before. I did not realize it then, but it was because the songs were based on Scripture. Within a year I was practicing for and singing 3 masses every weekend (plus Holy days). That is a lot of "praying twice".
I was still a very nominal Catholic. I was very modern and modernist. I was willing to try anything new and was always ready to discard anything I viewed as "old", "traditional" or "authoritarian", and I felt that way about much that the Church taught. I did NOT believe in Hell. I especially did not believe in Satan or demons.
I was also very lonely. I went from one empty relationship to another. I realized I was incapable of commitment. I tried reading self help books. I joined various single groups and organizations. I even reread my old notebook and read that quote on love. Then one Sunday, I did something I had never tried before. I prayed for God to show me how to love. Nothing happened, but I continued praying anyway. God gave me an opportunity at every Mass I attended to offer my special intentions, at every Mass I offered the same one, and I was doing music in 3 Masses every weekend (plus Holy days). That's a lot of special intentions. Years passed. I was about to accept that I would be single all my life when God answered my prayers and I met the lady who was to become my wife. She was almost exactly everything I was not. She was a very devout Catholic. Prayer for her was as easy as a conversation. She was very close to her family yet she was one of 9 children. I fell in love with her almost immediately but it took me awhile to convince her that I was the right guy. The fact that I was doing three Masses every weekend (plus Holy days) did help. We married a year later.
Marriage very much agreed with me. I was 31 years old and had a beautiful wife who was all I had dreamed of and I wanted it to last forever. There was only one problem. She wanted to have 12 children. I wanted none. She would not use the pill so we used Natural Family Planning. I was not a believer in the system; but went along with her stronger faith. Eventually, I gave in; we tried for a baby and were immediately successful. She was delighted and I was not. The pregnancy and birth went smoothly and my first daughter was born. I was caught up in the wonder of the moment and decided that this was O.K.. I mean, most of our friends had a child and they are cute in their own simple way. The year passed and we were careless. When the baby was 9 months old my wife became pregnant again. This upset me. I was not ready to have another baby. This pregnancy was difficult; at about 5 months, my wife began bleeding and had to be hospitalized. Her fear and tears of losing the baby made me regret my anger and I resolved to accept this baby too.
But things were no longer going well. My job was becoming more demanding of my time and energy. Our house was too small and we could not save enough to buy a new one. My wife could not get a job which would pay enough to even cover child care costs. I had to remodel the old house we were living in and sell it for enough to make a larger home affordable. I knew it would be hard but we could do it. All my spare time and money were spent towards to finishing the house.
Then we had our third baby. Now work, church, and remodel consumed all of my time. My wife and I only had two arguments, "You don't spend enough time with the children", and "Let's have another one." I was starting to feel my life was out of control and my faith was too weak to know why.
I was discontented with life and my discontent drove me to search for answers. I began doing spiritual reading. I had trouble reading Scripture. The terms and language were just incomprehensible to me. But, I did begin to read commentaries and discussions about the Scriptures. I began to feel a strange solidarity with St. Peter. I mean, here was a professional fisherman who, unless Jesus was around, seemed unable to catch fish or keep his boat from sinking. He walked on water (briefly). Jesus called him Satan. He promised Jesus he would not abandon Him, pulled a sword to defend Him, and then denied he even knew Him all in one night. And yet, Jesus didn't fire him. In fact, He put Peter in charge. I didn't know what Peter had, but I wanted it.
Then, one night, in a dream, I was trapped in a room far from the door. The floor was disintegrating. Beneath the floor was a deep black pit, from which I could sense a terrifying evil presence. I had no where to go, the gap was far too wide to jump, and the piece I was standing on was crumbling away. Then the door on the far side opened, and some men entered with bricks, mortar, and tools and began to repair the floor. I wondered who they were and I heard a voice reply, "That is Jesus and the Apostles." I watched them and wondered, "Which one is Peter?" As soon as I said "Peter" one man's head shot up. He had the most ordinary, plain and unattractive face I had ever seen. His eyes met mine and he pierced me with a look of complete and utter contempt. I was shocked. All the others finished their work, picked up their tools, and left the room while Peter glared at me. Then, silently, he turned, left the room and closed the door. All I could ask was, "What was that about?" The same voice as before kindly but sadly said, "You could have asked 'Which one was Jesus?'." I woke up crying and cried the rest of the night.
I realized my focus was on me and not on Jesus. I decided it was time to start praying. I still wasn't sure about that "old" Catholic stuff but, at my wife's suggestion, I decided to try to pray the rosary. My job involved a lot of driving so I began praying the rosary as I drove between jobs. I mostly just said the prayers without much thought, but I noticed occasionally, when I had a moment of understanding, I would get a little tingle at the base of my skull. Sometimes it would travel down my spine into my shoulders. I began to think of them as the Holy Spirit giving me feedback to let me know when I had understood something correctly.
One evening, while I was reading, my wife (who I thought was sleeping) suddenly began crying. I feared I had done something wrong ( again) but she was crying like I had never seen her cry. It was several minutes before she could control herself enough to explain. She had been praying and she had asked for a glimpse of what Heaven was like, and received the lightest caress that filled her with the greatest love and "the peace that surpasses all understanding" that she had ever known. She was unable to describe it but she said she would be willing to go through anything to feel it again. It was very intense and intimate experience for both of us. I have no doubt that God gave her this "touch of Heaven" to strengthen her for the hell I was about to put her through.
I had been making progress on the house nicely when one morning about a month later; my wife delightedly announced that she was pregnant with our fourth child. I was devastated. I blamed her for not tracking her fertility properly and wanting to get pregnant against my will. MY ANGER against her was the opening for a spiritual attack. This was the first Monday of Lent, and the start of the most significant week of my life. I went to work angry. All day, I argued internally about what I should do. I seemed to have other voices in my head showing me how my anger was justified. I came home seething but I said nothing. I gave my wife the "silent treatment". She tried to talk but I would not respond. I wanted her to know how unreasonable she was about wanting "so many children". I wanted to hold on to my anger to teach her a lesson. Paul gives a warning about anger in his letter to the Ephesians (4: 26-27), "do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity for the devil." It would have been a good warning to heed but I wasn't worried about devils. I didn't believe they existed.
Tuesday and Wednesday were much the same. Always the voices would twist incidents of our marriage to show how I was being manipulated and had been made the fool by my wife and MY CHILDREN. I could not pray. The voices gave me no peace. My dreams were all nightmares but I still felt justified in my anger.
I had choir practice Wednesday evening and went early. I was able to pray before the tabernacle in the chapel next to the choir room and for the first time in days the voices were silenced and choir practice went well. I told my wife we needed to talk, but I got a late call out for work, got into a confrontation with a customer and by the time I got home I was in a rage.
Thursday was awful. I was chewed out by the boss, threatened with being fired, and handed several bad jobs. My anger grew to unbelievable proportions. The whole world seemed to be against me. I hated everything and everyone. I could hardly control my rage; everything set the "voices" off in my head. I felt I was going insane. What little sleep I got was filled with nightmares of the voices.
Early Friday morning, my wife miscarried. She was crushed and I could feel nothing. She said, "Well, you ought to be happy now. I lost the baby." Now the voices were filled with total hatred. I was now mad at God for punishing me for something that was not my fault. Friday was pure living HELL. I quit trying to think and just worked. It was all I could do. I could not have conversations. I could barely speak. I completely gave up trying to pray.
After work, I was determined to continue with the remodel. I needed to cut a hole in the floor of our bedroom closet to access the bathroom plumbing. It was a quick job, with a tool called a Sawzall which, with the right blade, can cut through the floor, nails and all. My wife wanted to go to the Stations of the Cross. I told her to go but I had to work to do. I got out my tools and sat down on our bed which was next to closet where I was to cut the hole.
Before leaving, my wife asked me if I loved her anymore. All I could say was, "I don't love anyone or anything right now." Which was true, I was consumed with anger. She walked away and gathered the kids to leave. Unexpectedly, my 20 month old daughter ran in gave me a hug and a kiss and ran back out. Then they left, and I truly felt our marriage left with them. My heart was breaking. I lay back onto the bed. The room was spinning, and my body felt heavy. I kept trying to force myself to get up and work, but I could not even lift my hands. The voices continued their attacks. Everything I thought about they turned into something repulsive. It felt like a great weight was crushing me into the bed. My heart was pounding painfully and my head felt like it was going to explode. I felt I was about to die.
Then something new happened. I thought of my baby's hug and the voices tried to attack her, but their accusations rang hollow. The baby was innocent. She could have done nothing to me; her love was pure. I thought of my earlier words that I didn't love anyone and realized that I loved my baby. I wanted to love my baby. I wanted to love my wife and my children no matter what they may have done, but now it was too late. God finally cracked my hard heart. I saw how terribly wrong I had been all along. I could see how my pride and selfishness was destroying everything. I wasn't ready to die, but I felt I was near death. I was completely exhausted. In tears, I said, "Jesus, I'm sorry, I can't fight any more. I give up. I don't want to die, but if I have to, please take me."
Then, Jesus took me.
When I gave up, the "voices" stopped. I was lost in a terrifying nothingness for a few moments. Then I received, "Seal your eyes until it is over." This may sound strange but it was not a voice and it was not a command or request, it was a fact. My eyes closed tightly and in fear I began to pray the Lord's Prayer. As I prayed, "Our Father", I had a brief flash of the full meaning of God's fatherhood and I felt a tingle go down my spine. I prayed, "Who art in Heaven." Again I had a flash of the incredible beauty of Heaven, and another tingle. It was if the words were written on a window pane and as soon as I read them, I would look through the glass and see their true meaning. Then, I would be pulled into that reality through the prayer and every time I could feel it enter me as a tingle. "Hallowed be thy name". I received a brief view of God's awesome holiness, and another powerful tingle. Every few words I was shown more and every time the tingles would push further into me. They were like waves, moving down my body until they reached the ends of my fingers and toes and reflected back. The reflected wave would collide with the next one and send ripples out in every direction. I did not want to stop praying. I went from one prayer to another, always being pulled deeper and deeper into the reality of God. I was completely overawed and lost within the Beauty. The Mercy is deep. The Joy is immense. The Love is infinite.
I was vaguely aware that the weight that had been pressing me down was gone and I seemed to be floating above the bed yet at the same time I was laying very heavily on the bed with no feeling at all. I seemed to be in both places at once. I was aware of nothing else but praying and those wonderful tingles. Gradually, they began to subside, and I could feel myself float (if that is the proper term) back down to the bed. I continued to pray, but I could feel that a crisis had passed; the intensity of the tingles lessened and finally stopped. Eventually, I rolled over in bed, then knelt down and said some intense prayers of thanks. I did not understand what had just happened, but I knew God had given me a tremendous grace. My clothes were soaked in sweat and the bed where I laid was wet also. I was physically exhausted.
I heard my wife come home and I heard her tell the kids to stay back. I saw her slowly open the door and look at me anxiously. I looked up at her and said, "I'm back. It's over." We put the kids to bed and had a long talk. God worked a lot of healing.
We had several realizations of how God works over the next several weeks.
First, when my wife left for Stations, she decided she was never coming back. Later she realized she had to return at least to get clothing and necessities. Near the end of stations she began to fear that if she returned she would find me dead. After stations she felt certain that I was dying. She told the kids to pray very hard for Daddy. She prayed, saying in effect, "Jesus, if Tim has to die, I will accept that, but You have to take him. Please don't let him go to hell." She did not realize it at the time, but the Blessed Sacrament was exposed for adoration following Stations. My wife had never been to adoration.
Second, the baby we lost was probably conceived the night my wife had had her "touch of Heaven" experience. I spit in God's face and He still forgave me. That is Love.
Third, I still needed to cut a whole in the floor but I wondered if there would be a better place than the closet. We had a cabinet in the bathroom with a built in hamper. After removing the hamper, I discovered a hole already cut into the floor. I did not need to cut a hole. Later, while working on the plumbing under the house, I kept hitting my head on a pipe that should not have been there. Curious, I traced it out and found it to be an unknown pressurized gas line. It ran over to the bedroom was clamped to two by fours directly under our bedroom closet. Taped to the line were two wires. They were energized. Had I tried to cut through the floor, I would surely have cut through the gas line, possibly in two places, and would have cut into the live circuit. The saw I would have used had metal body and the ground lug had broken off the plug. There were a lot of ways I could have died, if I had just tried to cut that hole on that Friday night. God does truly work in mysterious ways.
Fourth, my wife intended to take my children out of the house to go to stations without having my children say goodbye. She was afraid I would have been cruel toward them. The baby pulled away from her and ran back to kiss me entirely on her own. I am still amazed how God can use such small acts of love.
A Christian musician named Michael Card has written a song called "The Spirit of the Age". He had some profound lines concerning the devil and children.
"Every age has heard it, a voice that speaks from Hell
Sacrifice your children, and for you it will be well.
If he can stop the cradle, then he can stop the cross,
He knows that once the child is born, his every hope is lost."
Children are a gift from God to help us grow up.
I had prayed long before for God to show me how to love. He answered my prayers by giving me the cross of raising children. Once I died to myself and accepted the cross God had given me, I discovered the joy of bearing that cross. I discovered the self-sacrificial nature of love. In Jesus words, "If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Yes, my children are certainly a cross I have to pick up and carry every day. But they are also the only earthly good I can have here that will also last for eternity. They are a very great good indeed.
At the end of John's Gospel, After Jesus has had Peter affirm Him three times, Jesus says to Peter;
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you, and carry you where you do not wish to go." (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him; "Follow me."
Jesus has girded me, he has taken me where I did not want to go. I now know joy I never could have imagined.
Looking back on my life, I can see how prayer was aiding me all the way, but they weren't my prayers for the most part. When I attended Mass, even though I wasn't praying but I'm sure many others were. The Mass contains the Eucharistic Prayer, which is a prayer of blessing and a call to conversion. Good liturgical music is definitely a form of prayer and for me it is the most natural. My wife and children prayed for me before the Blessed Sacrament and that has much to do with why I am here now. Prayers of children are very powerful, that is why the devil fears them. Reading and meditating on Scripture was another form of prayer I was not even aware of. Praying the rosary was more powerful than I realized. I wasn't paying much attention to the words, "pray for us now and at the hour of our death" but I can guarantee you the Blessed Mother was.
Have you ever noticed that in most of the Church's formal prayers, the petitions are in the plural form? "Lord, have mercy on US", "forgive us OUR trespasses", "pray for US sinners", "at the hour of OUR death", the Church's prayers are communal, we seldom pray only for ourselves. And when we pray, we never pray alone. Even if we aren't praying we can be assured that the Saints in Heaven are. I have no doubt my mother never stopped praying for me, even after her death. But even if she forgot me, I know God never did.
Scripture tells us in the first letter from Peter,
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that in due time he may exalt you. Cast all your anxieties on him, for He cares about you. Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experience of suffering is required of your brotherhood throughout the whole world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself, restore, establish, and strengthen you. To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." 1Pet 5: 6-11
My wife has given birth to seven children. Sadly, we have lost eight through miscarriage. Counting miscarriages (and they do count) we have had 15. Three more than my wife wanted, and same number I experienced growing up. The children are a great joy to us. It has been a difficult struggle at times, but somehow things manage to work out. I still wonder if I am crazy for what I have become, BUT I trust God to help me and guide me. I have felt His holiness, His Justice, His mercy, and most importantly His love. My life belongs to Him, and I mean that very literally. I don't know what His plans are for me or my family, but I know He does.
What more could I hope for?
May God bless you,
Tim is still undergoing the wonderful and sometimes difficult process of getting out of God's way. He lives in the windy Texas Panhandle with his seven children, one grandchild (so far) and his fantastic and amazing wife, Rozanne. He will occasionally guest blog at www.gardenofholiness.blogspot.com.
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