by Loretta Fritz.
I am a cradle Catholic: baptized, first communion, confirmation. My family went to church each Sunday. Faith was important.
I had an experience of God at my confirmation when I was twelve, but by age eighteen, during Grade 12, I stopped saying the Creed. Much of it I didn’t believe, and I wasn’t going to lie to God by saying it—especially in church!
I am of Norwegian descent, and after high school, I went on a student exchange to Norway. No one my age there practiced their Lutheran faith; their parents didn’t either. Some of the grandparents did.
The nearest Catholic Church was a ferry ride and a drive of several hours. I got to Mass twice in eleven months.
Thanks be to God, I ended up living with a Lutheran minister and his family, so I was always exposed to the living God and a living faith.
I went regularly to the Lutheran Sunday Mass and to a weekly Bible study, but I did not know who God was. Did he even exist? Did it matter if he did not?
While I was in that state of spiritual confusion and emptiness, something happened on a dark, brilliant, starlit night on an island off the northern coast of Norway.
I looked up at the sky and suddenly I knew that God had to exist. He had to. The world would make no sense otherwise. The beauty and wonder would make no sense.
I returned to Canada and started university knowing only that one thing about God. He had to exist. Nature proved it.
God works in mysterious ways. Some of my high school friends who were at that university were involved in CCO (Catholic Christian Outreach). If I wanted to spend time with them, I had to do it there. Because as an ambitious undergrad, I had little time to waste on socializing. My social life had to be efficient.
So, I joined in a Discovery Bible Study, went to Masses and other events, and drove my Bible study leaders crazy with my questions.
The questions in the program we were following were so easy to answer. Read the scripture verse, and there was the answer. So what? My head could find the answers, but nothing touched my heart.
I was so frustrated. These CCO members had something I wanted. There was a joy, a life, and an excitement. But how to get it?
All through that time, I didn’t know who God was or what the Church was, and I continued to have no faith other than "God must exist or the universe makes no sense." (And the more I learned in my science classes, the more wonderfully sensible the universe became for me.)
I only missed Mass twice that year even though I didn’t know why I needed to go. (Well, I knew the rule, but who cared what the Church’s rules said?) But when I did skip Mass, I knew I was missing something very important.
In my second year of university, I continued to go to bible studies—and drove another study leader crazy with my questions.
Then I heard about a mission trip to Poland for the coming June. And I really felt I should go.
Really, really… I needed to go to preach to the Poles about the Catholic Faith!
The only thing I believed about God was that he must exist. I had head knowledge from the bible studies and talks, but I did not know anything about him, really. I certainly did not believe in him.
I had said a little conversion prayer three times, a prayer asking for faith, asking Jesus to come into my life. Nothing happened, even though so many around me immediately met Jesus when they prayed that prayer.
And here I was applying to go to Poland to preach about Jesus Christ as a personal Lord and Savior!
Part of the application process was a questionnaire. One question was, "Describe your relationship with Jesus Christ."
My answer was "A better question would be ‘do I have one?’"
André Regnier, the founder of CCO, was understandably concerned about this. He asked me about it and confirmed the fact that I had a total lack of faith in Christ. Yet I desired to go on the mission anyway.
He said I could not go unless I found someone he trusted who could verify that I should go.
I was utterly crushed. I had a great desire to go, and now I couldn’t. But I knew myself that it was crazy to go preach a God I did not believe in!
Who could confirm that I should go? I turned to a religious sister who was a board member of CCO. I had met her through that organization and their discernment house retreats.
She—thanks be to God—after talking with me, confirmed that I should indeed go on this trip. André then gave me permission to go to Poland.
The couple leading the trip and my small group leader were the only ones on that mission who knew I went there with no faith in Christ.
On that mission, most days included Mass, an hour each of communal and personal prayer, evangelizing door-to-door, and putting on evening skits/presentations.
All this was working on me. So was all I had been exposed to through CCO for the past two years. I knew, without doubt, that it was very, very important for the Polish people to return to their Catholic faith after decades of communism. Yet Christ still seemed irrelevant to me personally.
Then one day I went up to receive communion… as I’d been doing daily for about two weeks. I returned to my kneeler, sat down, and suddenly, I believed. I instantaneously, immediately knew and believed in Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior!
Amazing, incredible joy entered into me. Then I felt a prompting in my heart. "Stand up and say you believe in Me. Stand up. On the pew!"
"No, no, no, Lord! Everyone except three people here think I already believe in you… No! I can’t! It’s too embarrassing!"
He kept insisting.
Finally, after the final blessing, I stood up. I got on my pew and said loudly, "I believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior."
I am not too clear what happened then… Stunned silence, I believe.
I believed. After four years of unbelief and two years of only knowing that God must exist, I believed!! Incredible! Amazing! I had done nothing to make this happen. It was an absolute and total gift.
Since then, I have continued to believe in Jesus Christ. It took much longer for me to believe in his Church. I had to slowly learn about the Church and its teachings, work through them, and then assent to them. It was, I believe, a few years before I could say the whole Creed again, but eventually I did.
I have continued to learn its meaning ever more deeply. And to know and love Christ, too, ever more deeply, and not just believe in him.
To this day, I continue to reflect on how my faith is a pure gift from God—one I must foster and nourish, yes, but still his gift.
I thank him for the graces he gave me that kept me struggling and striving and hungering and searching for him—the grace to not give up the search that for years had seemed so futile.
I think of this immense grace as an example of God hitting me over the head. I tend not to be good at picking up subtle hints. So God grabbed my attention in an absolutely unsubtle way, a way I could not rationalize or explain away.
God is faithful. No matter how far away we wander, or how little faith we have, he really does honor anyone honestly searching for him. He will eventually reveal himself—in his own time.
So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For the one who asks always receives, the one who searches always finds; the one who knocks will always have the door opened to him (Mt 7:7, Lk 11:9).
to be continued
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