What was your relationship with God like as a child?
As a child I was confused about God and the Holy Trinity. We would go to Spanish mass regularly and I wasn’t able to comprehend how 3 beings could be one in the same. My parents taught us the Our Father and we would pray it before a trip, my mom would read to us before bed or tell us Bible Stories.
What about your teen and college age years?
I focused on other things- sports, school, serving in the military and going out with friends. I didn’t stop to think much about God, I just lived in the moment. While I was at Marine Corp Recruit Depot San Diego, California for 13 weeks of Marine Boot Camp I did attend Catholic Mass every weekend. It was my first time being away from my family and alone, but also a time to get away from the Drill Instructors and have some peace. I would pray to survive the upcoming week and ask God to keep my safe from injury. While in the Marine Corp I was tasked with the duty of being an Assistant Casualty Assistance Call Officer. This position was for Staff Non-Commission Officers, I was not even a Non-Commission Officer at the time. I was a 20 year old Lance Corporal. I was chosen because of my knowledge of the city and I was bilingual. Our job as CACO was to notify next of kin of any deceased Marine inside 300 mile radius of Houston. In 2004 the war in Iraq was at its worst. I remember doing 3 calls in 1 -2 weeks. Besides notifying next of kin, we also stayed with the families daily till ask to leave, transportation of the fallen Marine and burial ceremony. I was also part of funeral ceremonies for Marine veterans who had passed away and families asking for military honors. We averaged 3 a week. In 2004- 2005 I attended many churches of all types of religion, but I was only there for funerals. This experience in my life pushed me farther away from the church. I battled with alcoholism and depression to erase the pain I saw in so many families.
What people or events led you to explore the Catholic Church?
After my parents passed away, I decided I needed to take more control over my life. I also had the burden of my mother who always insisted that I complete my sacraments and return to the church. In a journal we found after her death she had asked God to show me the way. I also met my future wife and when we started talking about getting serious – marriage – she made it clear that she wanted to be married in the church. I took that as an opportunity to reflect on my faith and determine if I also wanted to marry in the church and begin the steps / commitment required to go back to the Church.
What was the RCIA experience like for you?
I started with much skepticism and fear. I was worried I was going to be judged for my past – for being away from the church for so long. But, I found the people very welcoming, encouraging and the Wednesday night discussions were very open. I felt very comfortable expressing my views and questions. Also expressing our sense of God in the readings to other Candidates and Catechumens was a big part of my conversion. All of us were on different journeys but to the same destination. I learned so much from listening to their thoughts, struggles and prayers. They would ask a questions that I was too embarrassed or afraid to ask. Every Sunday it would be a different person who would inspire me to continue on the journey to become closer to God. We became our own little community before being apart of the full community. I also enjoyed the way the RCIA was not a classroom setting or a specific time frame. Being born Catholic but not a practicing Catholic, I knew it was going to take time for me. I was a person who didn’t believe, until I saw it type person. At the beginning I did struggle with the readings and finding God’s messages in my life. It wasn’t till 10 months in when I read John: 20 24-29. St. Thomas reflected my attitude towards being Catholic and knowing who God really was. God’s words took the breath away from me and I surrendered my total will power to God at that moment. I felt God’s love and the true meaning of faith was born.
How did you change?
In so many ways, I now know that God has always been there for me – even though I didn’t always acknowledge him. I am more aware of all my blessings, and I am more open to the faith itself. I’ve discovered that there is no way to know everything – but rather that living in the faith is a journey – in which we are always learning and reflecting.
What was initiation like for you?
My God, words could not explain it. I was nervous but so hungry for the Eucharist. After doing reconciliation several days prior, my heart, mind and soul were ready to receive the true body and blood of Christ. The fragrance of the Chrism oil was the most beautiful smell ever. For a second I believed that all the parishioners at St. Theresa wore the same perfume/cologne when they came to congratulate us into the community. There’s no words that can explain my feelings because anything I thought that I could put into words would be an understatement. The excitement of my wife and family being witness to my communion was special for me. Throughout RCIA I always held my emotions pretty well, but tears rolled down my eyes after taking the true body and blood of Christ. I was like a child, a child of God. The Eucharist was the missing part of my life. I still get emotional after receiving the Eucharist, and I hope that feeling never changes.
Now that you are a practicing Catholic, how is life different?
Sundays are now started with Mass (instead of sleeping in until I have to go play in a soccer game). I look at life totally differently. I try my best to help the people in need. The hungry, the poor and the sick. My heart has always had a soft spot to help others because I know God helped me and my family when I was young. Being Catholic is not a part time thing, it’s a way of life.
How has your relationship with God changed?
I am not blind to God and his blessings. There are no more coincidences. I serve God first and not myself.
Looking back, can you see how God acted in your life?
Yes, he was always there – in the good times and in the bad. I once thought that bad things happened, just because. But now I know they happen for a reason and perhaps they weren’t always bad – most likely, they happened because God had a higher purpose for those things to teach me something that I would later reflect on / leverage in some way.
What are the joys; the challenges; of living the Catholic way of life?
The joy of living the Catholic way is that God is a loving God. That God will always forgive us of our sins. My challenge is to practice my faith and stand up for it when I am alone, to put my faith in God at all times.
What would you say to someone thinking about exploring the Catholic faith?
Go to the Wednesday night inquiry session. Ask questions, go back as many times as you need to. No one will judge you.