All of us have a connection of some sort or another — to a person, a place, an event, whatever. My connection was to a strict Catholic family of 11 children and the Catholic religion. Growing up I was expected to be near perfect by following rituals, regulations and religious practices.
From my earliest memory, sacraments were a key link to what I was destined to become and remain—a “good” Catholic. When the sacraments of confession and communion were introduced to me, I tried to become as good, perfect, and holy as possible.
The first scripture that got my attention before I became a Christian was what I later learned was Hebrews 12:14
“Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”
I thought it meant I had to work hard at being holy so someday when I die I could earn heaven by my good works, including the Mass, sacraments, et al. I thought this lifeline of good works would somehow keep me out of hell and ultimately, when I die, get me into heaven.
The more I tried for holiness, the more difficult it became. When I was thirteen, I was introduced to a ritual called “Solemn Communion”, a time to search my heart and mind to recall all of the sins of my young life in order to make a “General Confession” to a priest covering all my sins to date. The fear of missing any sin haunted me as much as the “confession” and confessional itself. No one I knew enjoyed the experience of going into the dark box to accomplish this routine requirement.
This “Solemn Communion” and “General Confession” triggered long struggles with depression, anxiety and panic attacks that haunted me well into adulthood. The fear of “confession” and not attaining and remaining perfect kept me in a monumental prolonged state of anxiety that dominated all of my relationships and life efforts—education, career, and more. Efforts at relief like medication, psychiatric counseling and group therapy were of little help, if any.
In 1967-68 I met a young Methodist lady, Janet, who would later become my wife. Janet had a unique character and personality and something I desperately sought, wanted and needed—peace, joy, and gentleness! In the midst of my turmoil she loved and cared for me as I had never been before is spite of my emotional handicap. I didn’t know the source of her contentment. I thought her peace and joy came from her being in a small Protestant family as opposed to the large, competitive Slovenian Catholic family in which I was raised.
After many struggles between my Catholic connection and her Protestant connection, we managed to get married in a post-Vatican II ecumenical wedding ceremony in 1969… an unequally yoked union. For the next ten years we toughed it out, co-existing in each other’s religious connections with continuous stress. I manipulated her as best I could to move her to the “one true (Catholic) Church” as she went on loving me in spite of my Catholic connection.
As she continued submitting to me, participating in many Catholic services, soon found us at a “Life in the Spirit” seven-week conference at a Catholic church in Paradise Valley, Arizona. As a result of her ten years of prayer, when an altar call was given at this Catholic conference, I gave my heart to Christ and surrendered to His Lordship with the guidance of a priest no less.
“Therefore, behold, I will allure (you), and bring (you) into the desert, and speak tenderly to (you).” Hosea 2:14
The peace and joy that filled my soul that day has never left me. A hunger for His Word and sharing it with others along with a desire to love and care for others consumed me and remained as I served as Pastor of Care and Counseling at my church. It further remains so in my retirement.
Shortly afterwards I learned that Janet’s love, peace and joy came from the presence of Jesus in her from her surrender to Him as Lord and Savior as a young girl.
The anxiety, depression and all its pain left, never to return. I thank God for my Catholic connection instilling in me a desire for holiness. Later I found that holiness comes not from my religious works and religion but from the gift of Christ’s righteousness in response to His forgiveness of all my sin and my surrender to His Lordship of all of my life.
Janet went home to be with the Lord in 1995. God has since blessed me with a new wife, Phyllis, whom I married in 1999. Together we serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
At that Catholic altar I made an exchange of my black cloak of lifelong sin for His white robe of righteousness. He freely gave me, at age 43, what I had searched for all my life — a righteousness in Christ I could not attain on my own. It was given by Grace through Faith. I had moved from religion and ritual to a relationship with a connection to a new spiritual family. Christ had done for me what I could not do for myself. Praise and glory to His Holy Name!
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD (Father) has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6
“For He (Jesus) has clothed me with the garments of salvation; He has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”Isaiah 61:10b