Michael’s journey into the Church

My wife Terry is a cradle Catholic. We were married in 2007, but since I was twice divorced, unbaptized, and not religious, she gave up on the idea of marrying me in the Church. We made a weak attempt at annulment, paperwork for which I still have. So we were married in a civil wedding, a beautiful one, actually, full of family and love — but without God.

Had I been asked, I would have replied to a question about my faith as, “Protestant” and “a believer in Christ.” But there was no foundation to either claim. My best friend had been trying to baptize me for years, as had the head of the Religion Department at the Catholic school, Archbishop Carroll, where I taught from 2004-2012. While I was there, I joked how I was “paid to attend Mass.” I knew nothing about it (I now believe that Catholic schools should catechize non-Catholic teachers as a requirement of the job!), but I came to enjoy the solemnity and consistency of the Catholic worship.

In the fall of 2021, two events, which Terry and I believe were of the Holy Spirit, opened my eyes. If you ever wondered what it was like for St. Paul to have gained sight with the Lord and “be filled with the Holy Spirit — “there fell off from his eyes as it were scales” (Acts, 17-18), I can attest. The first was a precursor; the second gave me sight.

On September 11 of that year, Terry and I took the dogs for a walk on the National Mall in Washington, DC. The shutdown was yet palpable, especially in DC, which was turned into an empty lot over the 2020 flu panic and simultaneous riots (which had the deeper impact on the business district), as well as the Congress’s scare tactics over the “insurrection,” which included extended fencing around the Capitol and the Mall, and faded no parking signs on all nearby streets. We easily parked along Independence Avenue and walked around the Freer Gallery and up the Mall towards the Capitol.

Between avoiding other dogs, things that shouldn’t go into their mouths, or tourists wanting to pet them (“They’re so cute!”), walking dogs on the Mall can be tricky. We enjoy it, though, as the wide green space allows us room to roam, and the scenery and people watching is always fun.

This evening, though, we were a bit perturbed, as the September 11th memorial celebrations were, at best, muted. The new president had abandoned Afghanistan, the hysteria over the pandemic, the vaccines, and “Jan 6” were yet politically amped and nationally distressing. Let’s just say there was little patriotism on display or in the heart of the nation — especially on the National Mall. We were there, though, to memorialize the day.

As we headed eastward, away from the Washington Monument, from down the Mall we heard that modulating sound of distant loud music. I got curious, thinking, “Who’d be having a concert today? What’s up with that?”

As we approached the back side of a small crowd before a band and stage, we came upon straggling onlookers, which included a man with a Pit Bull. This, by prior bad experience, we avoid. I dragged the dogs in the other direction and asked Terry to stay with our older one while I took the younger, crazier one with me away from the Pit and to investigate the scene.

I have no idea what Terry was doing through all this, except that what she reminds me of, “You and Mackie [the younger dog] disappeared into the music.”

Closer now, I realized that this was no musical performance — it was a revival. People held their hands high, swaying, mesmerized, to songs about the Lord. I was startled — here? Sept 11? The Mall?

Turns out that the performer, Sean Feucht, had applied to the Park Service for a permit in October, but was granted September 11. He had to scramble and adjust to the earlier date, but found that the date was prophetic. His national tour was inspired by his disgust at the 2020 shutdown. Starting on the Golden Gate Bridge, the site of so much despair, he held public concerts and revivals across the nation. It’s a remarkable story that you can read about here: ttps://www.seanfeucht.com/

I had arrived amidst what Sean calls a “spontaneous” song, featuring Jasmine Tate whose resonant voice rang out “Stone in a Sling.” You can see the entire performance here: Awake America – Sean Feucht – Let Us Worshipgton, D.C. 2021 – YouTube.

I loved it, felt it, and joined it. I just couldn’t believe that this guy braved the hate to put the Love of Jesus on display on the National Mall — and on September 11.

Terry on our porch with a four-leaf clover she found on September 11, 2020

A couple weeks later, I was sitting on my screened porch, browsing the web, far from scripture, far from any Bibles, none of which I had ever owned, and I ran across a rather random comment on an online forum,

Believing that God’s word is truth and that Jesus is the Son of God necesitates [sic] obeying the command to be baptized, by the way.

The comment was random — as random as our encounter with the concert on the Mall, actually. And it stunned me.

“Wait — I don’t have to choose baptism?”

I don’t remember whether it was that evening or the next day, but I said to Terry, “Get me a priest.” She was a bit concerned as to this request from nowhere, but I told her I wanted to be baptized, and she was thrilled.

She spoke with a priest who told her that it would require “a long process,” for which I had neither patience nor comprehension. Instead, I called my best friend who had been trying to get me baptized for years, and said, “It’s time.”

He was a bit taken aback, a bit worried (“Is there something you have to tell us,” he and his wife asked me the morning of my baptism) — and thrilled. We already had plans for a reunion of sorts in lower Pennsylvania, so we decided to figure it out from there. He and another friend arrived before me one Thursday afternoon, and were out walking along an old railroad line that is now a path, and while passing over a ravine, he looked down and saw a winding stream that held a pool by one of the bridge pilons. “This is it!” he told me.

That following Sunday morning, by Holy Spirit, I was baptized, full immersion, in a winding, industrial stream in southern Pennsylvania.

It changed nothing — and everything.

A year later, I was enrolled in RCIA, “just to try it out,” I rationalized, but well on my way towards my next encounter with the Holy Spirit at the Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More, confirmed and blessed by Bishop Burbidge.

I had been consuming books on the early Church, reading the Gospels and trying, rather pathetically, to understand the Apostle Paul’s letters, so I went in to RCIA thinking, “Cool, a free theology class!” I told Terry not to expect much, and we left it at “we’ll see.”

The class was mind- and spirit- blowing, as it were (the winds of the Holy Ghost). Assisted by our catechist, Dave, Father Dansereau led us on a magnificent, passionate and full discovery of the Catholic Faith. By the time we met with Father to discuss preparations for Confirmation, Terry couldn’t believe that she didn’t hear from me any objections to the papacy or to the whatever Protestants always complain about.

I was in, and all in.

Most importantly, and under Father Dansereau’s guidance and with the good hand of Father Paul Bourghat, I received my annulments, and Terry and I were married in the Church at our convalidation ceremony at the Cathedral of Saint Thomas More on the Feast of St. Joseph (whose name I took for Confirmation):

Married in the Church! March 20, 2022 on the Feast of Saint Joseph

To summarize, I don’t know if there is any connection between the concert on the National Mall, the web-forum post, and RCIA, but Ido know that God wants us with him, and he offers us every opportunity for it. I can only thank him for giving me these moments that led me to him.

Easter Vigil Mass, April 8, 2023


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