On the Morning of My Catholic Confirmation

In just hours, I will be confirmed into the Catholic church. The journey here has been a long one, yet there is no doubt that this is the beginning of the greatest journey of my life.

I was baptized on April 23, 1965 at St. Margaret’s Episcopalian Church in Parkville. My parents served as my Godparents; there were no other witnesses on record.

In the years that followed, I was confirmed at Arnolia United Methodist Church on March 12, 1978. It was a process; it was just what we did when we turned 14. I remember wearing a white robe, and getting silver coins from my brothers. I also remember a girl in my class who was wonderfully pious. Susan radiated a spiritual faith that I envied. I did not understand why I wasn’t like her. She was unlike everyone else that I was friends with in school. As we got older, she continued to get more involved with church; I continued to get more involved with my friends.

As a senior in high school, I was pretty open about being a Christian, and I took part in a few Christmas choir events. I even opened my graduating quote in the yearbook by thanking God for his blessed gifts. But other than that, I don’t recall doing much with my faith, except for living a life of general service to others. There were others, like a guy named Rob, who really served others in Christ’s name. I remember hearing that Rob would go to malls on Friday nights to see who was in need of support. That really struck me, but I didn’t have the guts to learn more.

Then, in 1988, while living with a couple of paramedics in Southern Maryland, I hit a low point in early summer. I felt like my life had little purpose, even though I had just completed my first year of teaching in a small, cutting-edge school on the western shores of Chesapeake Bay. I was empty. On a Sunday night, one of my roommates returned from a spiritual revival. He was absolutely electric. I asked him to tell me all about it. He did. I remember thinking that this is what I needed. Christ filled him with joy; I needed to open up to God and (finally) let Him in.

The next week, he and his friend held a small group bible session with the three of us. His friend had his guitar, and he gifted me a bible, dated June 8, 1988. I considered that my date of spiritual rebirth with Christ. Ten months later, my father died, and I wrote a eulogy threaded with Christian comfort, strength, and love. Christ got me through the hardest days of my life, and I will never forget how powerful His love was for me so that I could comfort others, through Him.

Later that year, I joined a Presbyterian church close to my house, and I became very involved with the theater group that would perform weekly scenes of conflict, resolved by scripture and God’s love. It was the group of churchgoers that I had bonded with, and I found the community so supportive; at Chesapeake Presbyterian, it was the first sanctuary that I called “home.”

The greatest event at Chesapeake was when we performed our version of Beauty and the Beast for 700 children at our summer camp. On that final day, with everyone standing and worshiping, I felt an overwhelming presence of God in that sanctuary. It was a moment I will never forget, a testimony of God’s strength in a worshiping community.

In 1992, I left the Southern Maryland area, and I said goodbye to my church family at Chesapeake. I embarked on a spiritual journey that carried me through the eastern religions: Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. I considered myself a “wandering Taoist among the Christian fields” and studied the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh and others who embraced the similarities between Buddha and Jesus.

What I missed most, though, was that small-group community, that relationship with others as I focused on my own spiritual relationship with Buddha and Christ.

During the next 15 years, I tried desperately to “create” that community relationship through social media, but it all seemed so backwards. About 10 years ago, I was biking with my friend Trina, and I was trying to encourage her to join an online group I had created to celebrate God’s message. Trina was, and still is, very faithful to the Greek Orthodox Church. Her beliefs and practices run deep, and she called me out for my attempts to create social groups out of thin air. She knew that it wasn’t coming from within; I was trying to replace my experiences at Chesapeake with a lot of words signifying nothing. As genuine as the attempt might have been, the content itself wasn’t coming from a genuine place. I think I was more concerned with creating something that had thousands of followers. She saw right through that.

Gradually, the eastern philosophies became less of a religious doctrine and more of a way of life for me. They gave way to a more central focus on Christianity, a quiet practice but one still without a home.

Then, in 2014, while I was writing for The Sun, my editor gave me an assignment to cover a local church’s Easter service being held at Towson University’s new SECU Arena. The minute I stepped in Church of the Nativity in Timonium and met with Kristin, Stephanie, Alison, and a few others, I felt the same affinity that I had felt at Chesapeake. This is where I belonged. Yes, the church itself felt so inviting and warm, but it was the smiling, welcoming individuals resonating God’s love that made me realize: this is home. A few weeks after Easter, my wife Amy (raised Catholic) and I went to an evening mass at Nativity, and we accepted an invitation at the end of mass to take a ten-minute tour and learn more about joining Nativity. We both loved everything about the church, and within a year I decided to begin the long process of becoming a member of the Catholic faith.

I joined their Vantage Point new member class a little late in 2015, and once again I felt the bonds of Christian fellowship. Yet, as we approached the Easter Vigil Mass in 2016 where I would be confirmed in the Catholic church, I did not yet feel comfortable in understanding, fully, what it meant to be Catholic. My faith was stronger than ever; Trina’s words, however, echoed in my mind and in my heart. I did not want to do this unless it was from within. I wanted to spend another year praying to God with an open heart to learn all that I could about Catholicism.

It was a hard decision to make, and I was somewhat sad as I watched the others in my Vantage Point group be baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil Mass in March of 2016. Following Easter, I did not waste any time in learning more about Catholicism and becoming a stronger Christian. In October 2016, I joined Vantage Point again, became an integral part of our large group of catechumens, candidates, and sponsors, and attended every session. Our mentors, Evan, Peter, and John, were both instructive and supportive. Through their own humble teachings, they led us, week by week, through the pillars of the Catholic faith and strengthened my own resolve to be a better Christian through Catholicism.

And now, as I prepare in these final hours for our Easter Vigil Mass this evening and my first communion, I reflect on the journey I have taken to be here. I am 52 years old, and along my winding, spiritual path, I have struggled with my own faith, I have stumbled in my efforts to love and serve others, and I have grappled with understanding and fulfilling God’s calling. As a teacher of high school and college students, and as a father of three, the temptation is great to have my students and children “get it” immediately and understand whatever message I might be teaching. I want them to have that “A-Ha” moment in our experiences; I want to provide enlightenment so that their lives are happier, safer, and filled with more enriching experiences that provide greater opportunities for love, joy, and happiness.

But just as I witnessed Susan’s love for God in my confirmation class at 13 years old, or watched Rob sit with others at a mall on Friday nights when I was 18, or even as I listened to Trina when I was 42 tell me that I wasn’t quite there with why I wanted spiritual companionship, I realize now that I cannot force anyone to be ready to receive knowledge, or spirituality, or even self-love. All I can do is be myself and offer the love God offers me to the world, to resonate the wonderful things that God does for me, and for all of us, and in everything I do. Just as my roommate resonated his love for Christ in 1988, and just as Nativity beamed with God’s love through the greeters and the leaders who welcomed me in 2014, I know that I am now a disciple of Christ to do the same for others.

All I have to be, Lord Jesus, is who you need me to be.

I chose St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writing and journalism, as my saint to look up to and watch over me. Through humility, service, and sacrifice, I hope to use writing and journalism as God’s instruments of peace and love to help others find faith, strengthen love, and embrace peace.

I leave you with the words of St. Frances de Sales, and I humbly thank everyone in my life path who has offered me love, guidance, and support along the way. We cannot do this without each other; I am grateful for this day, and for all of you.

God bless, and in full faith, I am ready to serve in peace.

“Do not look forward to what may happen tomorrow; the same everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually: The Lord is my strength and shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped. he is not only with me, but in me and I in Him. St. Francis De Sales

Embracing The Vision Of An Unparalleled Life

SECUEaster1

I have just returned from one of the most powerful spiritual experiences in my life with Church of the Nativity, compared only to a late summer afternoon 23 years ago at Chesapeake Presbyterian Church in Calvert County, MD. At Chesapeake, we were running a summer camp for kids, and our theme for the entire week was Beauty and the Beast. As the Beast, I had the powerful role of transformation. That experience, in itself, was both humbling and uplifting.

At the end of the week, all 700+ children joined us together in the auditorium for a culminating celebration. As I stood on stage with the rest of the cast, we were brought to tears from the song of 700 voices as they stood, waving their hands, in grace and gratitude. The energy and excitement we felt in that church was beyond any connection I had ever made, anywhere.

I have experienced great moments of solitude on the top of mountains; I have worshiped quietly among the natural sounds immersed in the woods. I have even stood in meditation on the edge of the ocean, with the subtle roar of the water coming and going, washing my feet and feeling the push-and-pull of the tide in the moving grains of sand. Each of these experiences has brought me great strength, and they will continue to provide energy in the years to come.

These moments serve a genuine purpose in our lives; they allow us to return to the core of who we are. They quiet the noise that has surrounded us, pulling and pushing us this way and that for whatever reason – noble or otherwise.

These bigger experiences, with hundreds or thousands of people, are quite similar. We find ourselves surrounded by an even greater energy, a collective spirit that abandons pain, suffering, and anxiety.

Yesterday, I felt such a communion with about 5,000 others at SECU Arena on Towson University’s campus, where Church of the Nativity held their Easter Mass in an event that took me back to Chesapeake and those 700 hand-waving, singing children who filled the auditorium with love, life, and energy.

The service began with a “warm up” that included sports-like introductions, electric guitars, a lip-syncing contest, and a social media scavenger hunt. This was not your typical Roman Catholic Easter Mass.

It worked. The crowd was engaged, laughing and celebrating as the two hosts, Kristin Costanza and Chris Wesley, welcomed everyone to a service about resurrection and establishing a vision for living purposefully, authentically.

SECUEaster3As the band concluded the warm up and Father White watched on stage, I was struck with the beautiful fusion of traditional worship and contemporary praise for recognizing the power of the present, leaving behind the past and all of the pain and suffering that are wrapped up in the archives of those moments long gone. The picture here really captures that fusion for me.

For years now, I have focused on mindfulness and awareness of the energy in the present moment. We carry so many heavy burdens with us from our pasts, and they anchor us into the ground. For some reason, we keep looking to others to break the chains for us; worse, we often feel like we are deserving of the pain, and we become resigned to an existence tethered to what is in the past.

The story of Jesus’ Resurrection reminds us that the past is gone. Rebirth is all about leaving behind what has anchored us from our past.

Still, although we have been released from its pain, its suffering, we wallow in this status quo of what has happened to us, to the ones we love, and to the world. We base our existence on pain and memory. There is great fear in this way of thinking, of living. Unfortunately, it is the premise of an existence for many millions of individuals, struggling every day with depression, anxiety, and pain.

It doesn’t have to be this way for any of us.

At one point in Father White’s sermon, he said, “Excitement overcomes fear; that is what Vision is all about.” This vision that we have for ourselves has to first come from within. The energy that 700 children or 5,000 individuals creates comes from that personal belief, that energy of self-worth and excitement for living today and letting go of yesterday.

This is not easy to do. We are inclined to believe that our pasts have defined us, that we are where we are today because of who we are. But this is not true. This is only who we believe we have been all these years. We have allowed our past experiences filled with pain and suffering to define us. Our perceived self has been a self-fulfilling destiny because we have believed it as if it were truth.

It isn’t. It is nothing more than a false image of ourselves built on fear. Once we realize this, we can begin to diminish the hold this fear has on us, and we can let go of the chains. We can free ourselves to see the beauty and the power of the moments in our present lives.

When we are able to do this, a different kind of fusion happens — the fusion of the self and the greater spirit that is available to all of us. That fusion happened yesterday, as it did all those years ago at Chesapeake. There is a great message here for all of us. We must silence the noise of our pasts and find solitude in quiet worship, but we must also return to our friends, our communities, and share that excitement for our vision of living an unparalleled life.

I offer my thanks to Church of the Nativity for sharing their own vision, bringing excitement back into our lives, and giving us all courage to let go of the fear that has gripped us for so long.

Enjoy this short clip of the final song of yesterday’s Easter Mass, and may you feel the energy and excitement of resurrection in your own life today!