Ed. This article appeared in The Hebrew Catholic #82, Fall-Winter 2006. All rights reserved.
My Spiritual Journey into the Catholic Church
I grew up on Long Island, NY in a very Jewish community. Everyone on my little block was Jewish and all went to the same conservative shul, except for us. We were different; my parents opted for a Reform Temple. So every Sunday morning I went to Hebrew school and became a Bar Mitzvah and then confirmed. Soon after my confirmation I stopped going to Temple. I became disenchanted with the lack of passion of anyone I ever met at my Temple or any other shul for that matter that I ever attended. I guess I could be labeled as a “bagels and lox” Jew. I decided to do my own searching for God because I always believed that He existed.
In college I discovered eastern philosophy, humanistic psychology, astrology, and every other weird “new age” belief system. I was attracted by some people in the” new age” movement that seemed to really have some passion about life and the universe. Just to be “fair minded” I picked up a copy of the New Testament because I figured there might be some good stuff in there too. At this time, I was not attracted to Christianity because I saw the same lack of passion from every Christian I ever knew. I also realized that Jesus and Jewish seemed incompatible. Eventually my spiritual hunger and journey led me to the Unitarian Church since. I felt comfortable for a while but I just seemed to be missing something.
Then, I met a beautiful Italian young lady right after college and we fell in love and were soon married. As we were both non- practicing in our native faiths we were married by the Unitarian minister. Our families all shrugged their shoulders but were happy for us. It was a convenient compromise between the Catholic and Jewish backgrounds. And we met many couples just like us in the Unitarian movement. We sang in the choir that was directed by a Jewish composer/musician and sang Handel’s Messiah at Christmas. Go figure?
We started our married life off living in Long Island, N.Y.. As married life progressed we wanted to start a family and initially had no success. We finally decided to adopt. The day we learned of our son, Brian’s, birth we also found out that my wife was pregnant. We went the first few months enjoying our new son and excited about another baby. As we approached our first Christmas together, on Christmas eve, tragedy struck. We lost our baby son. We named him Christopher, for his Christmas timing but we were devastated.
The next year my wife was pregnant again, and this time she had to be in bed almost full time. As we approached Christmas again, on Christmas eve day, we lost our second baby, Kristen. This was another deep disappointment. The year that followed was very painful and my marriage was very shaky. I knew that I was just going through the motions because it hurt so badly. The following year at Christmas AGAIN, on Christmas eve, we lost my wife’s father. As I look back now it’s plain to see that God was clearly trying to get my attention but it sure did not feel like it then.
All of these “Christmas” tragedies took its toll on me and my wife. Our marriage nearly fell apart. I was terribly unhappy and I used to escape into the television. Until one day channel surfing I came across a TV evangelist delivering a sermon on forgiveness and this was the first time I ever heard the gospel. I knew then that I needed a fresh start in my life and marriage. I was so desperate that I did not even care that it was Jesus that made this all possible. I was willing to try just about anything. I prayed with that TV evangelist. My life would never be the same. I bought a Bible and started reading it from the beginning and very quickly my life started to change for the better. My wife noticed the positive change in me. She knew this change would have never happened without divine intervention. We both decided to find a good church.
We started to shop for churches. We finally decided on a Lutheran church because I thought it might be somewhat close in structure to my wife’s Catholic background. My wife had been married briefly before we met and I knew enough to know that we could not go back to the Catholic Church without going through the annulment process and at that time I felt that would be too much to ask of her. So we gladly attended the Lutheran church and we grew very quickly in our faith. I and my 3 year old son were baptized together on New Years Eve, 1988.
I became involved in the lay ministry along with my wife. And I voraciously attended Bible studies. I had lots of questions regarding how the Old and New Testaments related. A family in our church who knew I was Jewish introduced us to some Jewish Gospel music. This then led us to discover other ministries and eventually to congregations. It blew my mind that there were congregations of Jewish Christians. Soon we were off in that direction. My first visit to a messianic synagogue and I felt at home immediately. We had the sense that this is what it must have been like for the very first believers and we were so excited to be a part of a “new” movement of God.
I must admit that I am very grateful for the time I spent in that little congregation of ours; we learned a great deal about the Jewish roots of Christianity and the scriptures. We quickly moved up to leadership positions and for the first 4 years or so we were so happy and excited about life. I was involved in evangelism and teaching. I even thought about becoming a messianic leader and began some studies.
Soon after I started my studies I became disenchanted and we left the congregation. I also had a crisis of faith. I grew weary of fancy sermons and “new teachings” and competing personalities. I remembered as a Lutheran how special communion was. After all, even if the sermon was meaningless I knew that I could always count on communion. I occasionally attended Catholic Mass because I knew that I could always count on communion. Looking back I can remember how special Catholic Mass seemed to me without understanding why, but I was not ready to make this leap of faith. I believed that becoming Catholic was not an option for me or my wife so we finally decided to attend an Episcopal church because we could all have communion every week. And yet, something was still missing…
We later moved off Long Island and into the Midwest, Indianapolis, where my wife grew up. We would church shop and hop and not feel “right” anywhere. I soon just stopped trying and floundered for many years without feeding my soul anywhere. I was struggling to build a business in our new location, so Church and God did not seem to “fit into” my schedule. But God would get my attention once again. Our son, now approaching his teens, was struggling with some mental health issues and our lives turned upside down again. My son needed expensive treatment, and I did not know how we were going to afford this. And that is when I let God know that if he would help us with our son that I would be willing to give Him anything and everything. God did provide miraculously, and our son is on the road to recovery. God would not forget my end of the deal.
God would once again get my attention through a death. My mother in law, who I was very close with, died after a long illness. We attended her funeral Mass, and it really touched me. I could sense the Lord’s presence, and something was happening inside me but I could not put my finger on it. We had another Catholic funeral Mass to attend, and I remember being angry when the Priest said that only Catholics could receive communion. This provoked me to find out why that had to be. After all, every other church allowed anyone to receive as long as they “believed”. What was so different about Catholic communion? I would soon have my answer and my end of the deal would be unfolding soon enough.
By chance one day riding through the community looking at new homes, which is one of our favorite things to do, my wife and I met a couple. We thought they could tell us if they liked living in that neighborhood, but they did not live in that neighborhood. God had other plans in mind and we struck up a conversation, and soon we discovered they were from NY, like us, and we were telling them about a great place to eat pizza. In return they asked us if we went to church anywhere and somewhat embarrassed we said no. They invited us to their Catholic church and we exchanged phone numbers. Now that we knew someone there it was just a matter of time before we would visit. On the anniversary of my wife’s mom’s death on a Saturday night, I convinced my wife to go to Mass at that Church.
At Mass I began to recognize some of the “Jewishness” of the prayers that are part of the Mass. It felt comfortable and I sensed God`s presence, although at the time I could not have explained that. I know now that I had a mystical experience that night with Jesus in the Eucharist. I could sense clearly that God was calling me to become a Catholic. “Oy vey!”. I knew there would be many hoops to jump through from this point on because I still had many unanswered questions. For instance, what about all the antisemitism that I perceived that came from the Catholic Church and Catholics?
Would I hear anti Jewish homilies from the Priest? What about Mary and the saints and so on. Was I the only meshugena Jew to join the Catholic Church? Would I be able to maintain my Jewish identity as a Catholic? Where can I get these answers? I searched the internet. And that is when I found the Association of Hebrew Catholics (AHC). I was so pleasantly amazed. I learned that there have been so many Jews who discovered the truth of the Catholic Church. I read their stories and it gave me the hope and confidence that I was on the right track. Many of the questions that I had concerning the major issues were answered on the AHC web site.
Through the AHC resources I discovered just how Jewish the Catholic Church is. I discovered that Catholicism is “ post-Messianic Judaism” and is Biblical Judaism fulfilled. I discovered the Jewish roots of the Mass. I was surprised and amazed to find that I had finally found the true place where all the first believers and apostles ended up, the Catholic Church. After all my searching, I began to realize that loving the Jewish Messiah and being Catholic was the most Jewish thing I could ever do. I joined the email discussion group and found great compassion and some very devout Hebrew Catholics who have become my friends and mishpochah.
I began to study and attend Mass as often as possible and still do. But I was craving the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and I knew in order to receive the precious Eucharist I needed to join the Church. After almost a full year in RCIA I had my first communion and confirmation at Easter Vigil, 2005. My wife finished her annulment process, and we have had our marriage blessed in the Church. We are so happy to be able to worship God together in the Eucharist at Mass. I am looking forward to growing in my new faith with my wife and family and discerning what God would have for me and for us to do.
As I write, this is my first Christmas as a Catholic. Only God can turn so many tragedies into unspeakable joy. How ironic and how typical of the way our God operates. My hope and prayer is that many of my Jewish family and brethren will also come to know their Messiah and feel at home in the Catholic Church.