Another school year has come to a close. Four years have come and gone, and for the first time in my life I'm not dreaming about doing "something else" with my life. Sure, I want to be a bestselling author and do book tours... but in the summer. I have found what God has been calling me to do for as long as I can remember.
Each year I reflect on what changes I need to make for the next year. I ask what worked and what didn't work. I can go on for hours on what didn't work and why...
But the real question on this Wednesday morning is this: What made this year so special? The kids? Certainly I always enjoy them, but this group was no better or worse than past years. The staff? Always our little middle school has that family feel even thought they introduced yet a new way to mock me with Flores Fridays. I forgive them. I couldn't ask for a better bunch of people to work with, and even with the upcoming changes I know that special culture we have will not fade.
So was it my wife? My daughter? My family? No, there have been ups and downs there as always, and I do feel that we become closer each and every day, but the real reason has to do with where God has led me rather than some event or person. And all I've done is follow what I truly believe is God's will for me.
I tell people all the time that the biggest issues facing our nation, or us as individuals, are a result of pushing God aside. Most of them claim that our problems aren't that easy. That it can't possibly be that simple. I just shake my head. A living example of what God can do in a persons life is sitting right next to them, but the message is interrupted by doubt. By doing what I once did in my life, pushing away the salvation freely offered to me. I can't blame them; I couldn't see until I could see it. I wish I knew the exact formula, yet I have no idea why a guy like me got it while others, perhaps more worthy, sit on the sidelines contemplating "the meaning of life." And when did we start putting the punctuation after the quotes??? I'm not doing it! I'm not, I'm not, I'm not!
But I digress... back to the journey.
It was my second year as the president of the Lutheran Church we belonged to where I experienced "some not-so-spiritual" moments that had me seeing things from an entirely different angle. It was the first time I started to ask about the Catholic faith in a way that was not merely to show respect for the job I had as a teacher in their school system, but instead because I was beginning to question the theology I was learning. This was more than just awkward: first, I'm the president of a Lutheran Church, second, I knew my wife would be less than pleased, and finally, after reading about Martin Luther and reading his writings, I liked the guy! Much of what he did was bold and courageous. His 95 Theses were nailed to the wall at a time when the church had lost its way.
And on top of all those reasons I really didn't want to "have to" go to Mass every week. I mean, what was wrong with taking off a week here and there? I also knew there was this marriage thing I had to do. And that meant asking for paperwork and asking others to be a part of the process. And then there was the "commitment' of every Thursday night until the end of time. Okay, so it was only seven months, but still...
There were also holy days of obligation and praying the Rosary and the Novena and the... quite frankly, there are so many I can't possibly list them all here! Mainly because I don't know them all! Not yet, at least. And then I would be the victim of all those Catholic jokes I promised Father Mark I would stop telling eight or nine years earlier. All this and I knew for the most part I would be going alone. I knew I would in many ways be traveling this road by myself. That scared me. Plus walking into a Catholic Church can be less than welcoming most of the time. That's one of those issues I hope will change. Perhaps that's one of the reasons God has called me to the church. I don't know. Putting my hand out first has always been a struggle.
So I bothered the 8th grade Religion teacher to no end, and have since added the other Religion teacher to my list of persons to bother about this Saint or this piece of dogma or this doctrine. I gathered the information and started to read, read and read. And so I found myself now in the third year of my presidency of a Lutheran Church, dealing with a new pastor, and suddenly yearning for Thursday so I could attend Mass. Fear crept in. What do I do? I prayed, hoping it was just simply getting use to the change going on in my own church. But it was more than that, and I knew it. I had to come clean. I discussed how I could possibly talk with my wife about this with a couple of trusted friends. It was time. I couldn't hold on to it any longer. I sat down with Tammy and decided now was the time...
And I screwed it ALL UP!
Until next time... God Bless...
So, I have to admit it took me awhile to really 'get' what was going on at Mass. In fact, I even struggled when first attending the Lutheran Church and sitting through the readings and Communion and the Hymns I wished were a bit more upbeat.
But I just knew I was there for a reason. For the first time in my life I was teachable. I knew both churches were filled with a richness that God had not revealed to a guy like me yet. It would come, just like today as I wait to experience the gifts of the sacraments, I just knew it would come. The readings were in context. I had become skeptical of people like I had been in my past that would rattle off one line from the Bible to prove their point of view. And as I drew closer to the Catholic Church I immediately discovered there was no deep, dark secret hiding what they believed. All of it was available to anyone who wanted to know.
I took comfort in that...
But that certainly is not how I have always been. My journey to Catholicism is quite the rocky road. When I was young, I was told the Catholic Church would not baptize me since my father had been divorced. I spent a good twenty-five years with hate in my heart. I had a special dislike for Christianity, but nursed my resentment for Catholics on a daily basis. The fairy-tale, mythical creature in the sky is just one of many ways I explained the existence of God.
And then it happened. Or finally I opened myself up to the power. It was in the midst of the darkest dawn of my life. I was alone. I was scared. I was out of people to blame for the mess my life had become. It was at that moment I realized I was to blame. Tough medicine to take when living a life based on self-reliance. I was lost.
Kneeling for the first time in my life, I prayed a prayer I can't remember to this day. It wasn't very long, yet I remained on my knees long after I finished. A power covered me like a warm blanket as I let go of those 'old ideas' that were killing me. Touched by the love of God, I wept like a child. It was quite profound. Once I lifted myself up, I no longer doubted the existence of God.
That was about as much as I knew at that point. it was my first step towards the Church, however, I certainly didn't see it that way at the time. In fact, there wasn't a church, religion, or spiritual journey that ranked below becoming a Catholic, but I did know one thing for sure; I had some forgiving to do. I also needed to make right the vitriol I had spread over the years about the Catholic Church. It was the right thing to do.
So how did God see fit to make this happen? He sent Father Mark to the business I owned at the time. No need to enter the church. It appeared to me that the Power I had tapped into wasn't making too big of demands of me. I should have added 'yet.' It seems along this journey that He gives me exactly what I am willing to do at the time. He was willing to take the baby steps needed to win over someone like me. Humbling. More so each day I realize the love God has for me. His Only Begotten Son... overwhelming when you think about it.
I love the words of Father Mark once I had the opportunity to sit down and explain what I was doing. "Well," he started, smiling a beautiful smile that shows a deep love of God in his life, "first, Anthony, you could stop talking bad about the Catholic Church. That would be nice, " we both chuckled.
"I can do that, Father," I said without hesitation.
"I would also like you to come to Mass, just once," he continued. At this, well, I just nodded. I would do it, but I figured I didn't have to like it! I did as I was asked checking off of my list one of the many amends I needed to make.
Little did I know that seven years later I would take a job that required I go at least once a week. Just in case you didn't already know, God does have a sense of humor.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. It wasn't as if I started attending Mass every Sunday or even knew who or what God was at that point. But I had learned that priest and pastors were just people. Father Mark may not remember the next time we got together at the Catholic Church in Black Hawk, but it was at that meeting that he shared with me a prayer I read over and over again. He said it reminded him of me. It was as if God was putting yet another human being in my life to show me He cared and loved me.
At this point, I was attending a church on a regular basis. The Catholic faith was right there, but still a million miles away...
Until next time... God Bless...
Anthony D. Flores loves to spend his summers writing fiction. His strong Christian faith and love for this great country find its way into his fiction. His work is also available on Amazon by Clicking Here.