I was raised to be a Christian. My rearing began in Protestantism and eventually led me to Catholicism, on a path that seems to be pretty straight forward, but in truth was very roundabout. I was born to a Methodist minister who was ordained in the midst of the Charismatic renewal in the United Methodist Church, which because of the controversy surrounding it, eventually led him, and our family, into the independent Charismatic movement. This eventually led us into the Sacramental Renewal that spread through Protestant denominations and independent churches in the late 80’s and mid 90’s.
This renewal was transformative in many ways, but most importantly in the new understanding that Christ is not only accessible in the Sacraments, but that He is present. In so, life itself is given through these actions, and their importance could not be over stated. It was during this time, as a home schooled youth, my parents changed curriculum to Seton Home Study and my education as a young man took a very Catholic turn. Bear in mind, Seton’s religious path is pre-Vatican II in its nature, so the understanding of Catholicism is strictly limited to the structure before the last great council of the Church. It did however, lead me to a deeper love of the Sacraments and the Catholic Church in general. I was also during this time that my parents, and our family, joined the Charismatic Episcopal Church (http://www.iccec.org), which, not being affiliated directly with the Anglican Communion, based most of their liturgical and sacramental traditions on them. In many ways, the journey to the sacramental way of Christianity had been complete, and would have been settled if not for 2007. As a note, though I had a deep appreciation for Catholicism, and a deep love for it as well, I also had a strong connection to conservative Anglicanism, one that still shapes me in little ways today.
In 2007, my father, a bishop in the CEC, had a massive stroke. I did not totally grasp the outpouring of support that my father’s “people” and friends gave, but it was there. However, I deeply questioned God’s motivation in, not only allowing this to happen, but the purpose behind it. In retrospect, I feel the problem with my line of thinking was that God had anything to do with it in the first place. do not get me wrong, God allowed it to happen, God may even have intended it to happen for His own purposes, but I missed the point. There was no reason for me to blame God or question Him, but I did, and I was angry. In this anger I missed the love that was shown by the people around him, towards both myself and my family. The true Christian outpouring of sacrifice that occurred simply because of who my father was to so many people. I in turn, though not losing belief, lost faith – mainly because I had belief. That may not make sense, but it was because I had more belief then I had faith, I lost the most important part of the equation. I never truly questioned my belief, and in not doing so, I was enabled to lose my faith. My faith was not that, the knowing where you cannot truly know, but was rooted in what I had actually experienced. I had allowed the comfort zone I was in to cloud my true faith, and thus I lost it. In many respect I simply did not care anymore, I simply said the hell with it, and I was prepared to leave it at that, then I met my wife.
To say my wife and I’s relationship is conventional, could only be true in a modern, very humanistic sense. We met and she got pregnant, I moved to Rhode Island from Georgia, and we got married. Less then three weeks later we were blessed with our first child, Katherine. Since then, we have had three more beautiful children – all boys, and obviously, though it has been a blessing, it certainly has not been easy. To read more about the story of Katherine and how me and my wife got together, you can read it here. We knew we wanted to go to church, even though I personally still struggled with faith – I still had belief, and began going, when able, to our local CEC parish in Newport, RI. Though further away then I wanted to travel, I wanted to make it work, but the parish was not what I was expecting. Though part of the CEC (and as a bishops kid I had traveled throughout the CEC with my dad, visiting many churches), it seemed to me to through away most of the sacramental aspects of Anglican tradition – it seemed to me there was a very conscience effort to become, or at least appear, less “catholic.” The emphasis was mainly in the Evangelical and Charismatic streams, and again, I found myself getting angry. To me, it felt like I was finally able to “get into” my faith again, only to be slapped in the face. We still went from time to time, but I could never get fully comfortable with it, and instead of risking perpetual anger, I simply refused to go. My wife, on the other hand, needed a home, and so she went searching. Ironically, the least “catholic” member of our family, my wife, found her home in the Roman Catholic Church, at a parish called St. Patrick Church in Providence. This led us to the process of confirmation, RCIA classes (which thankfully because of my prior schooling and study allowed me to “skip” most of these – in other words, I knew most of the stuff already and had affirmed it). We got confirmed, and we are happy members of our local parish.
In finding our home at St. Patrick’s, we have found a loving community, not only of believers, but of people of faith. St. James says that faith without works is dead. We can have believe, but without the works, without community, the believe cannot take root and can easily be shaken. The faith can, and often times, dies. Our priest, Father James, recently spoke about the importance of community, and for the first time in a very long time, I personally have allowed myself to become part of a faith based community once again, one that is full of faith, and full of the love that faith needs to grow. I have always had belief, but often I have lacked the true faith to sustain it, I have often lacked the community to keep it alive. I am not knocking past communities I have been apart of at all – often, i found myself away from these, sometimes by my own choosing. I spent five years in the Marine Corps, and did not allow myself the time to become part of a community. I spent time in college, I moved to Rhode Island, and again, I – and I emphasis I – sis not allow myself to become part of a community. I don’t believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the only answer – and I often find myself struggling with Roman Catholic belief, but I never struggle with the Roman Catholic faith. I still struggle with the calling I have felt since my youth to become a minister/priest – and yes, I am Roman Catholic, so we know where that road leads, I struggle with belief at times when it contradicts subjects I have studied and take interest in – I studied history and classical culture (and I even did some loose seminary), and have always had a fascination with physics and science. These struggles are fine, at least to me. I am human, struggle defines my existence, but my struggles do not define me – my belief doesn’t truly define me, what defines me is my faith. My belief can be shook, can be battered – it can be crushed, but my faith, because I am surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, both here and in Heaven, is a live and well.
The problem with belief is that it simply isn’t enough, we must be surround by people of faith, and allow our own faith to be cultivated. We must be active believers, yes, but we also must be active people of faith.