Reflecting upon my return to the Catholic church, I realize that it wasn't just "one incident" that led me home, but a constant series of events that occurred over time. If anyone had told me even five years ago that I'd eventually return, I would have said they were crazy. At the time, the Catholic church had no interest for me. I was fine attending whichever non-Catholic church I chose.
But still, there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind. It was an awareness as I carefully sifted my experiences at other churches. To be honest, I'm not sure if my awareness is part of my internal wiring, or if it was the Holy Spirit gently nudging me. Perhaps a combination of both. At any rate, I was always carefully listening and watching what transpired when I attended church. I longed for the fellowship of other believers but also wanted sound doctrine. I also noticed as I grew older that my fascination with entertaining and polished presentations, decreased. Instead, I wanted something substantial. Something real.
Just as my journey away from the Catholic church started with a desire to be around people who took their faith seriously, my journey back started with me taking my faith more seriously. I began to realize that throughout those years spent inside the buildings of non-denominational churches, I was looking to others to validate my spiritual maturity. Whatever the "hot trend" in the church may have been at the moment, I quickly evaluated how I would adapt to it, because inevitably, the church I was attending would shift its focus to that trend.
The Catholic church, though, isn't into "trends." They've pretty much been the same for centuries. For some, that is a very comforting thought. For others, it is the epitome of boring and lifeless. Some Catholic parishes are lifeless but some are filled with joy. It depends, really, on how aware the parishioners are of their Catholicity. (And if they like being Catholic.)
To me, a good Catholic is seeking first the Kingdom of God. Not their "rights" or even social justice. Everything is shaken out and put together right when we focus on God first. When a parish focuses on God first, they become a light on the hill, a place that draws those who are lost. It's tough to resist a people who have direction.
Back to awareness. People often find themselves doing things they never would do if they were truly aware. They fall into lockstep with large groups because "everyone else" is doing it and they've never given thought to the reasons why. Unfortunately, this leads to being a member of groups that may not be healthy for us. But being aware usually happens in increments. Days, weeks, months, and even years may pass before one thinks, "Wait a minute, why am I doing this?"
I've always been a big proponent of asking questions. Sometimes I've asked questions others didn't want to answer. Sometimes I've received unexpected answers. But if any word could be my watchword, I think "why" would be on the short list. I also highly respect anyone who asks questions, as long as they honestly seek the answer and aren't just trying to impress everyone with their cleverness.
During the years when I was away from the Catholic church, I would be aware enough to look around me and then remember how Catholics acted, or believed, or conducted themselves. I would refer to Catholicism with respect because I knew it played a large part in making me the woman I became. I eventually became aware enough to wonder why other churches didn't see the importance of celebrating communion or why they didn't "get" the concept of suffering.
Awareness is a slow but steady animal. For those who seek Him, it is our best tool. The disinterested and numb are in the greatest danger precisely because they are unaware. It is as though they have lost the ability to feel pain and press their hands closer and closer to the fire. They may burn themselves, but they'll never know it.
My return to the Catholic church is nothing short of a miracle. I know I didn't "make it happen." It was God's pure grace, plain and simple. However, I am feeling a great desire in my heart to see other Catholics return home, and see the treasures that I see.
But... but.... they're not aware. And I realize I can't force that awareness on anyone. It is a gentle, almost organic development that only God can control.
So. I'm going to start to pray that others would be made aware of the voice of our Savior, Jesus Christ; of our Blessed Virgin Mary's voice, and of the saints. I am going to pray that the Holy Spirit will lead those who are astray, back into the fold. The Catholic church is the original Church, unapologetic and boldly confident. As a priest told me, "Other churches are fine, and have good things going on. But only the Catholic church has the truth in fullness." How could he make such a claim?