In light of Pope Francis’ recent interview, in which he discussed the need for us to embrace the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, I feel moved to recount my “conversion” to Christ, as it happened when I was a teenager. I hope that this will encourage you as you come to Christ!
I was a good kid. I tried to be respectful to authority: my parents, my grandparents, my teachers, the Church, my neighbors. You won’t find much sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll in my story. I fully believed in doing everything as well as I possibly could (still do). I did really well in school. It was pretty clear at a young age that I was pretty smart. I was always towards the top of the class (but never right at the top – and I didn’t need to be, either – I knew I was smart enough). My father was a very good athlete – a basketball player. Not having a court of my own, when I was 7, I hung a book bag on a doorknob in my living room and shot a toy basketball into it. I made a lot of shots. (and that was what life before the Internet was like! Actually pretty awesome). I would eventually get my own backyard court.
I never made it as a basketball player, or an athlete. I was good at intermural athletics and remain so today. I was not the most popular of kids. I was a kid who didn’t want to open his mouth in class if he knew the right answer, for fear of being mocked. I also didn’t want to call attention to myself. I thought I could slide through life in a very private way (so much for that now). I was not outgoing or popular, although I found out later in life that I could be both funny and likable. I was not a “girl crazy” kid, but nor was I uncomfortable around girls.
I was not confident in my physical appearance or physique, as sometimes kids picked on me for both. Nasty personalized comments from peers lowered my own estimation of myself. Eventually, around 11 years old, all that stopped. Still, I found myself more comfortable alone than with others. I read a lot. I made a few close friends whom I spent a lot of time with, but was never naturally the “party” type. But once I got to the party, I would not want to leave. I liked Church a lot, enough to be labeled for it. Early on, that didn’t keep me from loving my Catholic Church, Mother Teresa, and Pope John Paul – Bishop Murphy too!
I loved my family. My mom and dad were younger than most of my friends’ parents. As I was growing up, they were in their 20’s and early 30’s (when my Dad was my present age, I was already 12 years old!). Mom and Dad, I think, grew up with me in some ways, which made life a little more exciting than average. They were not perfect, but that wasn’t and isn’t the point. I never have had a day in my life when I doubted if my parents loved me. That’s what mattered most. They were and remain wonderful parents.
Mom and Dad grew up around the corner from each other in Erie, Pennsylvania, in the city proper. The neighborhood was over 100 years old, and our parish Church and School were our institutions. You see, St. Andrew Parish was formed in 1871. The School was built in 1929. My great Aunt, who would become a Franciscan nun, was in the first classes, which were held in the Church. My grandmother was a graduate of the school, back around the time of Pearl Harbor and World War II. With the exception of some years in the 40’s and 50’s, there was always a member of my family in St. Andrew’s Elementary School. I had as much of an “ancestral claim” on the Parish as anyone else.
Both my grandfathers were World War II vets. One saw combat action – one missed because of a training injury. I grew up around the block from both sets of grandparents. Numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts, 2nd cousins, and so on were surrounding me. Many of the families of the kids I grew up with in the neighborhood had the same family situation. Since mom and dad were young, we spent almost as much time at the grandparents as at home. There were lots of gatherings with young aunts and uncles at both grandparents’ houses, and I was the star of the show (and still getting over that!). It was like we had 3 families: ours, mom’s, and dad’s. Because of this, I have always been very strongly pro-life and pro-marriage/family. My family life was not perfect, but again, I knew I belonged somewhere, and was loved. So, the more time I could spend with family, the better. Even now, I feel that way. I understand when people move cross country, but I would never want to do that.
Such was my life situation around 1992, when I was about 11 years old. God had formed me up to that point with a calling in mind, but I was clueless to it. As a kid, I was a kid, albeit a mature, thinking kid. I always seemed more sensitive and introspective than others. I thought and acted differently than others. I always felt either a step behind or a step ahead, but never really in sync with the other kids. That would all soon change when…….
To be continued next week. God bless!